Consumer Broadband Needs – Choosing a Broadband Service
If you are only using internet broadband service for some browsing and maybe watching a YouTube clip every now and again, you are unlikely to need a broadband package with large download allowances or the fastest advertised speeds.
If, once you start using your broadband service, you find you need a broadband package with faster speeds or a greater download allowance, it is more likely that you will be able to upgrade to a more suitable plan with your ISP mid-contract. Downgrading from a higher-priced product to a cheaper one is not always allowed within your current contract period. If you enjoy downloading high definition movies, streaming television shows or you enjoy online gaming, then you are probably a heavy user.
Families are more likely to be heavy users of broadband, especially families with older children. It is also more likely that there will be concurrent use of the internet, with several people connected via multiple devices. You should explain this to your ISP to ensure you choose a package that will suit your needs.
What is really important for consumers is getting the best available service, suitable for their needs at the right price point. Below are several factors you may want to consider when purchasing a broadband service, to help ensure it meets your requirements.
Types of Broadband Technology
There are several different broadband technology platforms (fixed line, such as, copper-based DSL, HFC, or fibre-based technology; fixed wireless, mobile broadband or satellite broadband) and your premises may have more than one option available to it. You can use the government’s national map service to explore an indication of technologies available to you, or see the nbn™ rollout map for nbn specific information.
If you do have more than one option available to you (for example a fixed line option and mobile broadband option), as a starting point, you should consider the number of users in your household; how you are likely to use your service (general web surfing or streaming video content) and flexibility of the service (for example, one with no fixed term contract or one that is easy to transfer if you’re planning on moving). These factors will be relevant to which plan has the features best suited to your needs. These plan features are discussed further below. The speed and data requirements listed are provided as a broad indication.
The first step is to consider what you will be using your broadband service for. The below chart lays out the various speeds considered optimal for different uses.
WHAT AM I USING MY BROADBAND SERVICE FOR? WHAT SPEED DO I NEED? Basic web surfing and email 5 Mbps Web surfing and email, with occasional streaming and online gaming, shared among a few connected devices 5-10 Mbps Moderate high-definition (HD) streaming, online gaming, and downloading files, shared among several connected devices 10-25 Mbps Heavy HD streaming, online gaming, and downloading, with many connected devices 25-40 Mbps Hardcore streaming, online gaming, and downloading, with a large number of connected devices 40+ Mbps
You can also read our background section on broadband speed, which explains broadband speed and the factors that impact it in more detail.
nbn™ network note
nbn offers network download access line speed tiers to Retail Service Providers (RSPs) at 12Mbps, 25Mbps, 50Mbps, 100Mbps, 250Mbps, 500Mbps and 1000Mbps.
The actual broadband speed you experience will be influenced by many factors, including your RSP and the plan you choose. Generally speaking, the actual broadband speed you experience will be less than the network speed offered by nbn.
Speed factors to consider
There are a number of factors which can impact your speed, and which you may want to consider when choosing your broadband plan.
This linked image from nbn provides an overview of some of these.
This diagram is for illustrative purposes only. It does not and is not intended to capture all network configurations or all possible elements affecting network performance or speeds.
If you have specific concerns, the points below may address them, or you can see more information in our troubleshooting section on broadband speed.
- Do you use Wi-Fi or is your device connected via a cable? A service using Wi-Fi can be impacted by the distance from your device to your modem, interference (e.g. from other Wi-Fi networks) or whether there’s a wall or other equipment in between you and the modem.
- Are you using the RSP’s recommended equipment? Not using the recommended device from your service provider may impact your speed.
- Is your computer free of viruses or malware? These can impact your speed.
- What content are you downloading? Some content is cached (or stored) within Australia and other content needs to be downloaded from servers overseas. Congestion on overseas communications cables can impact speed, and latency (delay) – proportional to the distance between you and the server you are accessing - can also affect performance. Performance can be greatly improved when accessing content from Australian servers.
- The speed in which specific content reaches you will also depend on the capacity of the server that’s sending it.
- Are you accessing the internet at peak times? If there is a lot of "traffic" (i.e. lots of people downloading data at the one time) your internet speed can be impacted, much like congestion on a busy road.
- If you have many people in the same household trying to upload or download at the same time, you’re likely to experience slower performance.
For services that are subject to a monthly data allowance, you should consider how much you are likely to need in any given month, and whether both uploads and downloads count towards your monthly allowance. If you want to download large amounts of data, such as regularly streaming video content, or upload large files, you should consider services with large monthly data allowance.
WHAT DO I USE IT FOR? WHAT MONTHLY DOWNLOAD LIMIT DO I NEED? Browsing and email 1-10 GB per month Browsing and standard definition on-demand TV 10-20 GB per month Browsing, high-definition on-demand TV and movie and music downloads 20-40 GB per month Browsing, on-demand TV, movie and music downloads and online gaming 40+ or unlimited GB per month Browsing and email 1-10 GB per month
Generally, ordinary web-surfing can easily use around 2.5MB per minute, while streaming video can use anywhere between 0.3GB per hour (low quality picture) to 7GB per hour (Ultra HD quality picture), although it is common to use around 1-3GB per hour. You should also check any data usage advice on the on-line content sites or gaming services you regularly use. Similarly, if there are multiple users in your household using the internet or streaming video you are likely to need a plan with a high monthly data allowance.
For further information, you may want to look at WhistleOut.com.au’s Broadband Usage Guide.
Contracts and service
Prices for retail broadband services may vary because of things such as the technology, the service features and inclusions, and bundling of the service with other services. There is usually a recurring monthly fee, applied for the length of your service contract, and there may also be one-off connection or set-up costs. There may also be other charges that apply to the service, such as excess data charges (although these will only be incurred if you exceed any included data limits) or any early termination fees which may be incurred if you wish to break a fixed-term contract prior to expiration of an applicable contract period.
Are there peak and off-peak data allowances?
Some broadband services have separate peak and off-peak data allowances. This is more likely on technology platforms that have limited capacity (such as satellite broadband services) where it is used by providers as a tool to manage network traffic and achieve reasonable overall service performance for all users. You should check if there are separate peak or off-peak data limits, and if so, consider whether these are sufficient for your anticipated usage during those times of day, or alternatively consider how you can manage your internet habits (for example, leaving your computer to download a large file overnight during off-peak times).
What is the Contract Length?
You may want to consider whether you wish to commit to a fixed term contract. Some providers offer discounts or free inclusions on fixed term contracts. They might, for example, include some customer equipment (e.g. a modem/router) for no charge over a 24-month contract term. Alternatively, month to month plans offer convenience and flexibility.
What Customer Equipment is Included?
Some providers may provide a modem/router as part of their broadband service plans or optionally for a fee. Modems/routers can vary in quality and performance and providers should have details about any modems/routers they supply on their website. Other providers may allow you to use your own modem/router, commonly referred to as ‘bring your own device’ or BYOD. If you already have a modem/router that you wish to use, you should confirm your intended supplier allows BYOD. However, you may want to consider upgrading your modem/router to ensure that you get the best performance out of your broadband service. If you have a large house you may also wish to use a Wi-Fi extender to boost signal strength throughout your house to the areas from which you plan to access your service. Service providers can recommend which equipment could meet your needs.
Does the plan bundle other services?
Broadband services can be bundled with other services, such as voice (fixed line or mobile) or entertainment services (such as subscription television or an over-the-top streaming service e.g. Stan or Netflix). You may want to consider whether it would be in your interests (for example, if there are discounts or for convenience) to bundle your broadband service with other services that your provider offers.
What kind of technical support does your supplier provide?
You may want to consider the level of tech support that a provider can offer you with your broadband service to address any service disruption or faults. Some providers offer more comprehensive tech support than others. You may wish to ask whether the provider assists the customer to identify the root cause of any instances of poor performance. Details of a provider’s tech support are usually located on a provider’s website. Support may include, 24/7 tech support, on-line chat options and/or self-service apps.