Understanding the different NBN speed tiers will help you choose the best value plan for your needs.
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When comparing the various NBN plans on offer from your ISP, it’s important to consider the different speed levels. After all, just because an Internet plan has the word NBN, doesn’t necessarily mean it will be sufficient for your particular household.
In some cases, choosing the wrong speed tier could result in worse speeds than what you’re already getting with ADSL or cable. On the flip side, higher speed plans come at a premium and you don’t want to be paying more per month for additional speeds that you’re not using. To avoid these issues, it’s important to select the correct tier right from the outset.
What do the different speed tiers actually mean in practical real-world terms?
Breaking down the NBN speed tiers
The NBN offers four different speed tiers for connecting to the Internet, starting from 12Mbps and ranging all the way up to 100Mbps. Here’s what you need to know about each of them.
NBN12: The bare minimum for everyday residential use
The base-level speed tier offers 12Mbps down and 1Mbps up, which is largely comparable to the real-world performance of an ADSL2+ connection. If your Internet usage mainly consists of light web browsing, email and the occasional upload of photos to social media sites such as Facebook, then you might be able to get away with these speeds. Everyone else, including those who live in a household with two or more people, should look at something faster.
Prices at this speed tier typically start from $29.95.
NBN25: For the moderate user and budget conscious
The NBN25 tier is probably the most common speed offered by an ISP and the pricing tends to be very competitive. As the name suggests, it comes with up to 25Mbps down and a bump up to 5Mbps in upload speeds. Some ISPs also offer an additional boost up to 10Mbps for upload speeds, which could be handy for small business users.
While 25Mbps isn’t technically a big jump from ADSL2+’s theoretical maximum speeds of 24Mbps, most users should notice the difference in performance, particularly when it comes to tasks that involve sending data, such as making a VOIP call, sharing photos to social media or uploading files to cloud services such as Dropbox.
Speeds of up to 25Mbps also open the door to streaming HD video from services like Netflix. However, sharing the bandwidth with multiple users will quickly bottleneck the connection.
As with all broadband plans, prices vary depending on the amount of included data and the length of the contract. At a minimum, you should expect to pay at least $49.95 per month with a reasonable amount of data.
NBN50: Heavy Internet user
Jumping up to 50Mbps down and 20Mbps in upload speeds, NBN50 is well suited to heavy Internet users. If you live in a household where 4K video streaming, online gaming and downloading large files is a regular occurrence, then this speed tier could very well be for you.
The problem with the NBN50 tier is that its pricing is comparable to the faster top tier NBN100 plans that offer twice the speed. For most of the major ISPs, the price differential can be as little as $5 per month, making this particular tier tough to recommend over the top drawer NBN100 plans.
NBN100: For the busy household or small business
NBN100 offers ample bandwidth for a household filled with heavy Internet users or a small business that has several employees using the connection simultaneously. Large data backups to the cloud will be faster, multiple 4K video streams will load almost instantly, online gaming should be responsive and sharing video to social media will be painless.
The significant boost to upload speeds (40Mbps) makes this tier a real boon for small business owners as well. For instance, sharing files between clients and employees should become a seamless affair and the quality of video conferencing should be crystal clear (so long as the connection on the other end can keep up).
Pricing for 100Mbps/40Mbps plans typically start from around $64.95.
The speed tiers ISPs actually offer
While the NBN offers four speed tiers at the wholesale level, it’s ultimately up to the individual ISP to pick and choose what they will offer to their customers. TPG and iiNet, for instance, don’t offer a 50Mbps speed tier while Telstra and SkyMesh do. Other smaller players such as MyRepublic only offer plans around the top tier speeds.
Similarly, very few ISPs offer the option of upgrading the upload speeds from 5 Mbps to 10 Mbps on a tier 2 plan, effectively forcing customers who desire faster upload speeds to upgrade to a higher overall speed tier plan.
With this in mind, it’s worth shopping around until you find the ISP that offers the speed tier you’re after and the data quota you desire at a price you’re willing to pay.
Advertised speeds vs what you actually get
As was the case with ADSL2+, don’t expect to get the actual advertised speeds in real-world, day-to-day use. The advertised speeds are the theoretical maximum speeds, but there are a number of factors that can impact the speed that you receive at any given point in time.
Internal factors such as the quality of your modem or router, the level of Wi-Fi interference and the amount of users simultaneously using the connection are all things that can make Internet speeds plummet.
How a service provider handles network congestion, particularly during peak usage times, also has a significant bearing on performance. The more capacity a particular ISP has on the network, the less likely congestion from other users in your area will affect you. Unfortunately, ISPs aren’t required to list this information with their plans, so you might have to jump from provider to provider until you find the best possible performance.
However, one way to avoid any nasty surprises would be to ask the service provider about the average speeds you are likely to experience during peak times which should give you a good idea of what to expect.
It’s also worth noting that not all speeds greater than NBN25 will be available at all premises. The NBN uses a mix of technologies to connect premises to the network that varies depending on the location. Some areas will use a fibre-optic cable all the way from the exchange to the premises (also known as FTTP) and can technically achieve access speeds far greater than 100/40 Mbps.
Fibre-To-The-Node (FTTN) uses the existing underground copper network for the last mile connection between the NBN node in your street to your premises. The distance from the node to your house and the quality of the copper can affect your Internet speed.
Then there are parts of the country that will be connected by a fixed wireless or satellite signal, which maxes out at 25/5 Mbps. Factors such as signal strength or obstruction of the line of sight can impact Internet speed.
Looking to the future
Ever since the rollout of the NBN began in 2013, data quotas have become much larger and the faster speed tiers have come down in price quite sharply. This trend will only continue and will cause more people to spring for the faster speed tiers as they become more affordable.
Advancement in speed tiers that go well beyond 100/40 Mbps will also start to take shape. In fact, some ISPs have already started to offer 200/200 Mbps plans to those who are connected to the network with FTTP.
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