Compare broadband plans and bundles to make sure you get the best deal.
These days broadband is as important as electricity, but how do you choose the best plan for your needs? We've rounded up everything you need to know so you can get a fast connection with all the download allowance you need without spending a fortune.
What are my broadband options in Australia?
In Australia there are five main types of technologies used for broadband connections:
- Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL): This uses the existing copper telephone network for your broadband connection, and is the most common option. There are two main flavours: slower ADSL, the faster ADSL2+. The options and speeds you can get and the providers available depend on what's available in your nearest telephone exchange, and how far away it is. ADSL will eventually be replaced with connections via the National Broadband Network (NBN).
- Cable Internet: Cable Internet uses the HFC (hybrid fibre-coaxial) networks built in the 1990s to enable pay TV services in Australia. Optus and Telstra each built their own independent networks, which are largely located in capital cities. Cable connections can be faster than ADSL, but tend to slow down as more users in an area connect to the network. Both HFC networks have been sold to the NBN, which means that in 2016 you'll be able to buy cable services from providers other than Optus and Telstra.
- Mobile Broadband: Mobile broadband uses the existing 4G (and 3G) networks built by Optus, Telstra and Vodafone, delivered either through a dedicated hotspot or dongle or by "tethering" to a connected mobile phone. 4G networks can deliver surprisingly high speeds, but the charges for data tend to be much higher than with other broadband technologies. In some regional areas, the NBN offers wireless broadband services, which use a different spectrum to the regular phone network.
- Satellite: Satellite connections aren't as fast as other options, but they're the only viable option in remote locations where the cost of cabling any other service is too high. The NBN already has an interim satellite service for regional customers, and has launched its own Sky Muster satellites which will offer services from mid-2016.
- Fibre. Optical fibre offers much higher speeds than any other broadband platform. The original rollout of the NBN offered fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) connections which replaced all copper wiring in some areas. More households in Australia will eventually get a slightly slower fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) connection, which connects fibre to a nearby "cabinet" but then uses the existing copper phone network to link to individual houses and businesses. Some Internet service providers also have their own fibre networks connected to apartment blocks in capital cities, often referred to as fibre-to-the-building or fibre-to-the-basement (FTTB).
When is the NBN coming and what options will I get?
The National Broadband Network (NBN) project aims to provide high-speed broadband connections for all Australians. The company building the NBN, somewhat confusingly known as nbn, is using a mixture of new rollouts and existing networks; it sells access to the network to individual ISPs, who then design plans and sell them to consumers. That means you'll have a choice of providers no matter where you live.
The NBN uses a range of technologies, but typically only one will be available to any single household -- so whether you get a fibre, cable, satellite or wireless broadband connection will depend on where you live. The NBN is scheduled to be connected to 8 million Australian households by 2020. Learn more about the different NBN technologies in our detailed guide.
How to compare broadband plans
These are the key factors you should consider when choosing between broadband plans and providers:
- How long is the contract? Most broadband plans are offered on a 24-month contract. This can make plans cheaper, but restricts your flexibility if you plan to move house or decide you're not happy with your current provider. Plans that run for shorter periods or on a month-to-month basis also exist; typically with these you'll pay higher installation costs, and will often have to buy your modem/router/connection device outright. For mobile broadband, you can sign up for long-life prepaid plans that run for much longer periods (up to two years in some cases) without tying you to a contract.
- How much data do you get? The data allowance for broadband plans is typically measured in gigabytes (GB) per month. The higher the amount, the more you'll pay each month. (Note that on virtually all current plans in the Australian market, both downloads and uploads count against your total, though this wasn't always the case.) Some providers offer "unlimited" connections, though these will invariably include an "acceptable usage policy" that allows customers to be cut off if their usage is deemed excessive. There aren't any unlimited options for mobile broadband.
- Are there unmetered options for services like Netflix? Some plans don't count viewing on Netflix, Stan, Presto or other streaming entertainment providers. That can allow you to opt for a lower (and cheaper) download allowance. Obviously this isn't a concern if you have an "unlimited" plan.
- What's the connection speed? For most technologies, you won't have any effective control over the speed -- it will be the "best available" and is likely to vary based on your location and the condition of cabling and wiring. On NBN fibre and some pay TV cable connections, you can opt to pay more money for higher download and upload speeds.
- What's the monthly cost and minimum total cost?While you're likely to use the monthly cost as your basis for comparison, also look at the minimum total cost. If you sign up for a longer-term contract, you'll often get a discount on installation fees and hardware, but you'll be stuck with paying out the whole contract if you decide it's not suitable.
- Bundling discounts: Providers will often offer a discount if you bundle your broadband connection with other services such as pay TV, mobile phone or landlines. While this can save you money, make sure that all the bundled services are suitable for your needs and that you're actually saving money. Bundled deals will also usually require you to sign up for a 24-month contract..