Choosing the best broadband plan for your needs involves managing your budget and speed needs, as well as the technologies available to you.
Choosing the best NBN plan
When you’re choosing a fixed-line broadband service, there are a a few key criteria you should consider, even when connecting on a theoretically "level playing field" connection such as FTTP or FTTN NBN. You'll also need to ensure you can access the NBN at your address.
What to consider
- How much data will I really use? Many plans offer unlimited data, which is a great peace of mind if you’re not sure, but could lead to you paying more for your connection than you really need if your needs are modest.
- What speed is right for me? Data suggests that a substantial proportion of Australians are signing up for the lowest tier 12/1Mbps NBN plans, and if you’re living alone that may well be enough. For heavy users, or those with families where that 12Mbps peak is split amongst multiple users, signing up for a faster tier may lead to fewer connectivity headaches down the track.
- Do I want bundled extras? Some NBN providers are pure data players, offering just a pipeline for you to use as you see fit, while others include additional services alongside your data pipe. A landline-style service is the most common, with VOIP telephony on tap, but some providers also offer entertainment options or discounts if you have other bundled products with them.
Choosing the best Cable plan
Australia’s HFC Cable services are set to be rolled into the NBN in the next couple of years, although the scheduling for that switchover is rather more open than for the FTTP/FTTN NBN builds. As such, those with access to Cable services now are more likely to see the Cable switchover in 2018 or beyond on the grounds that they’ve already got access to potentially high-speed broadband services.
What to consider
- How soon is the NBN coming? Australia’s cable networks will eventually be part of the NBN, although it appears that not much of Optus’ actual physical networks will be used. Still, that means that signing up to a longer-term plan could limit your choices when the NBN does roll into town. If you’re a couple of years away from NBN availability this is much less of an issue
- Do you want or need extra speed? You don’t get quite the same speed choices as you do with fixed line NBN, but it’s possible to pay for a full-speed connection if that tempts you, or save a few bucks and opt instead for the basic speed connection.
- How many of my neighbours are already on the line? The allure of switching to cable, especially if you’re on ADSL2+ is the speed, but straight HFC cable is a shared spectrum product, which means that if a lot of folks in your neighbourhood are already using it, speeds can drop markedly.
That being said, you’ve got access to only two cable service connection types for the vast majority of Australian homes serviced by Cable, with the choice between Optus and Telstra’s cable offerings. The offerings differ slightly, as Optus’ cable plans all come with unlimited data and possible FetchTV options, while Telstra’s plans have data limits but the possibility of bundling Foxtel and Telstra’s Telstra TV box in with your cable plan. A choice of two makes it all but impossible to call out a "best" option, so we’ll call it a draw.
Choosing the best Mobile Broadband plan
Mobile broadband services run on the same newtworks that supply your mobile telephony, but there’s an entire range of products that work only in a mobile broadband sense, including SIM cards for putting into tablets or laptops, USB modems and full mobile broadband hotspots designed to serve mobile broadband to multiple devices at once.
What to consider
- How mobile does your data need to be? If you’re after mobile for metro areas it’s less of an issue, but those who travel rurally or regionally and want to maintain access could do well to check relative coverage areas.
- One device or many? If you’re only looking at a single device such as a tablet, a simple SIM-only data product can be an easy solution, but if you want to connect multiple devices, a hotspot device is a better bet. You need to be careful though, because there are no unlimited data plans in Australia for now, so every extra device could be sucking up expensive data on the go.
- Would my phone be enough? If you only need very intermittent mobile data for your device, a plan with a decent data provision for your mobile might cover your needs, simply by tethering your phone as a portable hotspot instead.
Telstra’s network rests on its reputation for coverage and speed, and in this context they’re hard to overlook as your best overall option throughout Australia, with more points of high speed 4G connectivity than their competitors, especially if you travel regionally.
If you’re more of a metro mobile broadband user you can benefit from the fact that Optus, Vodafone and their resellers offer data at lower access prices, which has its appeal as well.
Choosing the best ADSL plan
ADSL is the grandaddy of what can be considered consumer "broadband" in Australia, even though dial-up did bring many Australians their first taste of Internet connectivity in the mid to late 1990s. Like other technologies it’s due for a progressive switch-off as the NBN rollout progresses onwards, although that will naturally depend on where you are on nbn co’s rollout map.
What to consider
- How long until the NBN comes to town? As with other connectivity methods, ADSL is on borrowed time in terms of its accessibility. Most ADSL providers will happily switch you to NBN once it’s available, but that benefits them more than you, as they get to keep you as a customer whereas you don’t get to shop around for your best deal. For ADSL more than any other technology, carefully consider before signing up for a two year plan.
- How far away is the exchange? ADSL providers will quote speeds of "up to" (typically) 20-24Mbps, but this can be somewhat deceptive. Aside from any other factor, ADSL scales downwards with distance, with connections up to 5km from the exchange getting significantly lower speeds than those right next to an exchange. At 5km you’d be lucky to see more than 1-2Mbps, whereas those folks right next to the exchange might burst up to 15-20Mbps at times.
While the number of ADSL providers is going to naturally shrink in the next few years, there's a lot of pressure for existing players to offer relatively good terms for ADSL plans in order to woo in customers that they'll hope to convert into NBN customers when the appropriate time rolls around. As such, bargain hard, because as the customer you're in the driving seat, but be wary of long term deals as they'll reduce that flexibility once the switchover to NBN services commences.