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

The main difference between older ADSL and cable connections with the NBN is speed. You'll get speeds up to to 4 times faster with the NBN.

With the NBN officially rolled out across Australia since December 2020, older ADSL and cable technologies have been phased out. But how does the NBN compare to the older ways of connecting to the Internet?

The NBN is capable of faster speeds, but that's not all that differs. We'll cover the different features including modems, setup and more.

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.

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Select the exact address from the list:

1 - 10 of 50
Name Product Data Allowance Typical download speed Price Hid Compare Box!
Dodo NBN50 Unlimited Finder Exclusive
NBN
Month-to-month
EXCLUSIVE OFFER: $70/mth for the first 6 months, then $80/mth. Eligibility criteria, T&Cs apply. Ends 27.2.24
Exclusive
  • Month-to-month
  • BYO modem or purchase for $79. T&Cs apply
Unlimited Data
Data
Unlimited Data
50Mbps
nbn™50
Speed
50Mbps
nbn™50
$70
per month
Min total cost is $70 for first month
Price
$70 per month
Min total cost is $70 for first month
TPG NBN50
NBN
Month-to-month
  • Month-to-month
  • BYO modem or purchase for $99.95
Unlimited Data
Data
Unlimited Data
50Mbps
nbn™50
Speed
50Mbps
nbn™50
$74.99
per month
Min total cost is $74.99 for first month
Price
$74.99 per month
Min total cost is $74.99 for first month
iiNet NBN100 Liimitless
NBN
Month-to-month
OFFER: $89.99/mth for the first 12 months, then $99.99/mth. Eligibility criteria, T&Cs apply.
  • Month-to-month
  • BYO modem or $0 modem if you stay connected for 24 months. T&Cs apply
Unlimited Data
Data
Unlimited Data
90Mbps
nbn™100
Speed
90Mbps
nbn™100
$89.99
per month
Min total cost is $89.99 for first month
Price
$89.99 per month
Min total cost (incl delivery + fees) is $89.99 for first month
Dodo NBN100 Unlimited - Special
NBN
Month-to-month
OFFER: $75/mth for the first 6 months, then $85/mth. Eligibility criteria, T&Cs apply. Ends 27.2.24
  • Month-to-month
  • BYO modem or purchase for $79. T&Cs apply
Unlimited Data
Data
Unlimited Data
95Mbps
nbn™100
Speed
95Mbps
nbn™100
$75
per month
Min total cost is $75 for first month
Price
$75 per month
Min total cost is $75 for first month
Belong NBN Premium Broadband
NBN
Month-to-month
OFFER: $80/mth for the first 6 months, then $90/mth. Eligibility criteria, T&Cs apply. Ends 31.1.24
  • Month-to-month
  • BYO modem or purchase for $84. T&Cs apply
Unlimited Data
Data
Unlimited Data
100Mbps
nbn™100
Speed
100Mbps
nbn™100
$80
per month
Min total cost is $80 for first month
Price
$80 per month
Min total cost is $80 for first month
Tangerine NBN Value Plus
NBN
Month-to-month
OFFER: $59.90/mth for the first 6 months, then $79.90/mth. Eligibility criteria, T&Cs apply.
  • Month-to-month
  • BYO modem or purchase from $139.90
Unlimited Data
Data
Unlimited Data
50Mbps
nbn™50
Speed
50Mbps
nbn™50
$59.90
per month
Min total cost is $59.90 for first month
Price
$59.90 per month
Min total cost is $59.90 for first month
Southern Phone NBN Fast
NBN
Month-to-month
OFFER: $75/mth for the first 12 months, then $85/mth. Eligibility criteria, T&Cs apply. Ends 31.1.24
  • Month-to-month
  • BYO modem or purchase for $78. T&Cs apply
Unlimited Data
Data
Unlimited Data
100Mbps
nbn™100
Speed
100Mbps
nbn™100
$75
per month
Min total cost is $75 for first month
Price
$75 per month
Min total cost is $75 for first month
Optus Plus Everyday Fast nbn®
NBN
Month-to-month
OFFER: Introductory offer: $89/mth for the first 6 months, normally $99/mth. Eligibility criteria, T&Cs apply.
  • Month-to-month
  • Optus Ultra WiFi Modem Gen 2 included for $0 if you stay connected for 36 mths. T&Cs apply
Unlimited Data
Data
Unlimited Data
100Mbps
nbn™100
Speed
100Mbps
nbn™100
$89
per month
Min total cost is $395 for first month
Price
$89 per month
Min total cost (incl delivery + fees) is $395 for first month
More Value Plus NBN
NBN
Month-to-month
OFFER: $0/mth for the first 3 months for CommBank customers, then $79.20/mth. Eligibility criteria, T&Cs apply. Ends 31.8.24
  • Month-to-month
  • BYO modem or purchase from $139.90
Unlimited Data
Data
Unlimited Data
50Mbps
nbn™50
Speed
50Mbps
nbn™50
$88
per month
Min total cost is $88 for first month
Price
$88 per month
Min total cost is $88 for first month
Tangerine NBN Value
NBN
Month-to-month
OFFER: $49.90/mth for the first 6 months, then $64.90/mth. Eligibility criteria, T&Cs apply.
Finder Award
  • Month-to-month
  • BYO modem or purchase from $139.90
Unlimited Data
Data
Unlimited Data
25Mbps
nbn™25
Speed
25Mbps
nbn™25
$49.90
per month
Min total cost is $49.90 for first month
Price
$49.90 per month
Min total cost is $49.90 for first month
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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.

More guides on Finder

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    The ACCC regularly releases its rankings for the fastest NBN providers in Australia by testing NBN speeds during peak hours.

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    NBN 250 and NBN 1000 are the newest NBN speeds available for households to purchase.

  • Best NBN plans for December 2023

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  • Why is my NBN so slow?

    If the NBN isn't delivering the speeds you were promised, here's how to fix it.

  • NBN outages: What to do when your internet goes down

    When the internet goes down, turning it off and on again is sometimes a viable solution.

  • NBN 50 plans

    NBN 50 plans are the most common type of NBN plan in Australia due to its balance between affordability and speed.

  • Cheap NBN plans

    Cut down on your Internet bill with these cheap NBN plans for under $50.

  • NBN FTTP plans

    FTTP, or Fibre to the Premises, uses fibre optic cables to deliver the fastest NBN speeds available.

  • How to connect to the NBN

    From comparing NBN plans to technical installation, we guide you through how to connect to the NBN in 5 simple steps.

Get the best deal on your Internet plan

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