ADSL vs cable vs NBN: What’s the difference?

With the NBN almost completely rolled out across Australia, see how it compares to older Internet technology like ADSL and cable.

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Fibre Optic cables and Ethernet plug

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ADSL, cable and the NBN are all ways to get connected to the Internet, with the NBN replacing the other two, older technologies. Of all three, the NBN should be the fastest, but how do they all compare?

What's the difference between ADSL and NBN?

The main difference between these two connections is how much copper they use, which affects their speed.

ADSL uses copper telephone cables, which quickly loses signal strength over distance. That means the further you are from your local telephone exchange, the slower it gets – if you're more than two or three kilometres away, your speed will be significantly impacted. Unfortunately, most people live too far away from their local exchange to get decent ADSL speeds, which is why ADSL has a reputation for being slow.

The NBN instead uses mostly fibre optic cables, which don't have this same loss in speed with exchange distance. Fibre optic cables handle speed a lot better. Even though many NBN connection types do include some copper, most notably Fibre to the Node (FTTN), there is much less copper involved compared to ADSL, making NBN faster and more reliable overall.

Is NBN faster than ADSL?

In almost every case NBN is faster than ADSL. Here's a table of ADSL's and NBN's maximum and typical speeds (the average speed when everyone is online, as reported by industry watchdog ACCC).

Connection type/NBN tierTypical download speedMaximum download speedMaximum upload speed
ADSL9.4Mbps24Mbps1Mbps
NBN 2525.1Mbps25Mbps5Mbps
NBN 5047.3Mbps50Mbps20Mbps
NBN 10094.1Mbps100Mbps40Mbps

NBN fixed wireless vs ADSL

NBN fixed wireless is a lot less reliable than a fixed-line connection. Fixed wireless NBN uses radio signals transmitted to an outdoor antenna connected to your house to get you connected to the Internet. Since there are no fibre optic cables connecting you to the closest fixed wireless NBN tower, these signals are a lot more vulnerable to interference that can cause slower speeds.

NBN fixed wireless is technically capable of speeds in excess of NBN 50. This means, overall, you'd expect fixed wireless to outperform ADSL the majority of the time. However, during busy periods (7-11pm), fixed wireless connections can plummet to just 6Mbps, which is actually slower than your average ADSL connection.

Are NBN modems different to ADSL?

They can be a little bit different, especially as ADSL modems tend to be older models. Here's what your modem may need to connect to the NBN:

  • Ethernet WAN port. This is usually yellow and will be labelled "WAN" or "Internet" on the back. If your ADSL modem has this, it should work with Fibre to the Premises, Hybrid Fibre Coaxial, Fibre to the Curb, Fixed Wireless or Satellite NBN services.
  • DSL port. DSL ports are usually grey or blue and will be labelled "Line" or "DSL". Even if your modem has a DSL port, you'll need to make sure that the modem is VDSL2 compatible by checking it with the manufacturer or your Internet provider. Fibre to the Building and Fibre to the Node services need this.

What's the difference between cable and the NBN?

The coaxial cable used in cable broadband is actually fairly similar to the NBN's fibre optics, although it can't achieve anywhere near the same upload speeds (2Mbps compared to the NBN's 40+Mbps). In fact, many of these older coaxial cables have been integrated into the NBN and make up part of its Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC) connections.

Since cable Internet doesn't use any copper wires, it doesn't fall off as sharply with distance to the exchange as ADSL does. In terms of performance, it sits somewhere in between ADSL and most NBN connections.

Compare NBN plans

Ready for the NBN? With most homes in Australia switching to the NBN, compare your plan options below. You can pop your address into the space below and we'll show you NBN plans available in your area.

Frequently asked questions

Is NBN VDSL or ADSL?

ADSL is a completely separate technology to what the NBN uses and is employed with copper telephone lines. VDSL is an upgraded version of ADSL and is used in two types of NBN connections: Fibre to the Building and Fibre to the Node. However, VDSL is not used in other NBN connections like fixed wireless or Fibre to the Premises.

Will the NBN replace ADSL?

Yes, NBN will be used across almost the entire country. After the NBN has been installed in an area, the copper telephone lines that make up ADSL connections will be cut off within the next 18 months, removing it as an Internet option. The only place ADSL may remain is in remote rural or regional areas, where the copper lines will be kept to allow for home telephone services.

Can I use my ADSL modem for the NBN?

You might be able to as long as the modem has the following:

  • A "WAN" port if you have Fibre to the Premises, Hybrid Fibre Coaxial, Fibre to the Curb, Fixed Wireless or Satellite NBN services.
  • A "DSL" port if you have Fibre to the Building or Fibre to the Node. Check its specifications to make sure it's VDSL2 compatible.

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