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12 things you should know before connecting to the NBN

If you live in or around Swan Hill you will have received a few letters by now from service providers offering to connect you to the NBN.

While there are some useful online NBN resources out there we thought we'd have a go at writing a guide specific to people in the Swan Hill region but our recommendations are relevant to people living in any part of regional Australia.

Digital54 has no affiliation or commercial arrangement with any NBN providers and we're not in the business to gain financially from the NBN. We simply want to research the right deal for our needs and to pass on the results of our research with anybody else looking to connect to the NBN .

All we ask in return is that you consider liking our page on Facebook. The more likes we get the more motivated we'll be to keep updating the blog!

While every effort has been taken to make this resource as accurate as possible, we cannot guarantee it is error-free. We recommend you also conduct your own research and form your own opinions before signing on with an NBN provider. 

Now, if you're not a fan of long articles, you can always jump straight to the bottom and read the Conclusion if you're impatient!

Where to start?

The first realisation we came to is that despite our pretty reasonable grasp of plans from internet, mobile phone and electricity providers, choosing an NBN provider can be a daunting task. There's a learning curve with regards to the jargon and no two plans appear to be alike, making comparisons confusing and time-consuming.

It is worth pointing out that moving to the NBN is not automatic. You'll first need to research and select an NBN service provider that services your address and register with them. They will, in turn, connect you. Start the process sooner rather than later to avoid connection delays.

We'll also flag early some top tips we learned at the NBN information session in June 2016 (see the blog post from that info session):

  1. Monthly contracts are preferable and you should avoid 12/24 month contracts - the NBN market is likely to change a lot in the coming years and the last thing you want is to be locked in to an (expensive) contract and unable to take advantage of attractive new money-saving offers.
  2. Prepare early - If you want to access the NBN on the day it is activated in your town, register with an NBN service provider as soon as you've finished reading this article . Do not wait and sign up with a provider once the NBN has arrived in your area - you run the risk of waiting weeks to be connected by your provider. Referring back to point #1 above, sign up for a monthly contract with a provider, get in the queue to be signed up and you can always change one month later if you've found a better deal!

A good place to start to compare NBN plans is the easy-to-use WhistleOut website.  Once on the website, add your address and make sure the results "include NBN plans".

A key difference between NBN and ADSL2+

A similarity between the NBN and ADSL2+ (ie. the technology before the NBN) is that consumers can choose their monthly data allowance based on their needs. A light user can opt for a 100GB plan and a heavy user a 1,000GB plan. NBN is similar - you choose your monthly data allowance based on your needs all the way up to "unlimited" data. 

A key difference between the NBN and ADSL2+, however, is that businesses and consumers who connect to the NBN will no longer have to put up with slow data speeds (download and upload) caused by everyone in the same street sharing the thin copper wire from the telecom exchange.

Tired of your Netflix movie buffering or showing a blurry image? Fed up waiting an eternity for your Facebook or YouTube video to upload? Consumers can now select (and pay more for) a faster service meaning, as we heard one person at the 2016 NBN information session in Swan Hill say, "you could stream 6 movies at the same time (for example on two TVs, two tablets and two phones) and not notice any deterioration of your service". 

Will I receive the NBN through fixed line, fixed wireless or satellite? 

Generally-speaking, built up areas like Swan Hill will access NBN services through underground fixed lines, which provide maximum download speeds of 100Mbps.

Less built up areas like Lake Boga are likely to have a dedicated NBN fixed wireless tower which will have maximum download speed of 50Mbps provided you are within 10km and in line-of-sight of the tower.

If you are on a farm and not near a fixed wireless tower, then you'll unfortunately get the roughest deal of them all and need to sign up with a provider to access the Sky Muster satellite service. On the surface, maximum download speeds of 25Mbps (5Mbps upload) are 3-4 times better than anything we've personally experienced in Swan Hill on the ADSL2+ network but the reality is we're yet to meet anyone who has a nice thing to say about their Sky Muster service. We've heard it's expensive, unreliable and can be down for days at a time. We checked and it's around 2-3 times more expensive than fixed line and data usage is capped at 150Gb a month. So while we 'townies' can take advantage of "unlimited" offers, satellite customers have a much lower monthly allowance which will be extremely challenging if they have kids living under their roof, streaming TV and using mobiles and tablets over the wifi.

To find out how your NBN service will be delivered, go to nbnco.com.au and enter your home or business address. This will tell you when your service will be available and whether it will be delivered by fixed line, fixed wireless or satellite.

How fast does my NBN package need to be?

When our home office was located in Federal Square, Swan Hill, we were less than a kilometre from the Telstra Exchange near the Commercial Hotel and we would average ADSL2+ internet download speeds of around 8Mbps on a good day (0.5 - 1 Mbps upload). We're now located in Gray Street, possibly 3 times further from the exchange (and 3 times further for the data to travel to our house) and we tend to average a download speed of around 6Mbps (0.5Mbps upload). These speeds were fast enough to get most things done. Web-browsing was generally OK until the kids started playing internet-connected games on 3 tablets while we were working. Our Netflix was also slow at times and it would take an eternity to upload a work video to a website such as YouTube. This uploading problem meant we could not do any work whatsoever while a video upload was in progress - a massive inconvenience.

The reason for the long backstory is to illustrate that every NBN tier (or package) is at least two times or more faster than anything I am used to!

The 5 NBN tiers (Tier 1 cheapest, Tier 5 most expensive):

  • Tier 1: 12 Mbps download, 1 Mbps upload (starting around $49/month-$65/month)
  • Tier 2: 25 Mbps download, 5 Mbps upload (starting around $65/month and upwards)
  • Tier 3: 25 Mbps download, 10 Mbps upload
  • Tier 4: 50 Mbps download, 20 Mbps upload
  • Tier 5: 100 Mbps download, 40 Mbps upload

The first thing you will notice is that "Tier 1" is faster than what we have in Swan Hill today although anyone taking up Tier 1 is unlikely to notice a big difference. Tier 1 will appeal to people who are budget-conscious and are happy to have a speed marginally better than they have today.

Clearly consumers (and small businesses) will notice marked speed improvements as they move up the tiers. We've noticed that each tier tends to cost around $10 more as you climb them so you could save yourself $30 a month or more by plumping for a Tier 2 package which is still 4 times faster than we've seen before the NBN!

Tips:

  • Start with Tier 1 if you've got a tight budget and move up to Tier 2 the following month if need be.
  • If you've put up with 6Mbps up until 2017 then Tiers 2 and 3 are probably going to be more than enough to meet your needs. By all means jump up to Tiers 4 and 5 and pay an extra $20+/month for the privilege but we suspect you may not notice a tangible difference for most daily activities over Tiers 2 and 3.

What kind of NBN user will I be?

The data usage needs of a family watching Netflix nightly and kids with mobile phones and tablets draining the wifi will be different to a couple with no kids living under the roof. As a result a family might want to lean towards a 500 gb or an "unlimited" monthly data allowance while a couple without kids might be satisfied (and possibly save $20/month) with a 250 gb or 500 gb allowance.

Tips:

  • Check your monthly data usage on recent bills to get an idea of how much you might need.
  • We've read elsewhere that NBN customers tend to use more data than they did pre-NBN because they can do so much more! In this case, you might want to select a data allowance slightly superior to what you had pre-NBN.

Do I need to pay setup fees?

Some (more well known) providers charge a setup or "activation" fee while many new providers we've never heard of offer great deals without a setup/activation fee.

A decision on this will have to come down to the results of your own research and recommendations from friends.

TPG and iinet customers have the highest overall satisfaction according to Canstar Blue research and yet these providers charge setup fees. On the one hand, maybe it's worth paying that little bit extra at the beginning if a provider is recognised for their excellence. On the other hand, perhaps some (older) providers are inefficient and have high operating costs which force them to pass on an activation cost while newer, presumably smaller and more nimble providers who are solely focused on the NBN can charge less because they have fewer staff and overheads?

You'll have to work this one out for yourself.

Can I keep my existing phone line and equipment?

We put in a call to Telstra and two things became clear:

  • It does not make financial sense to keep your landline phone service with Telstra while getting NBN services through another provider. We'd like to keep our landline to receive business calls only and we were quoted $45/month for a Telstra "casual" business plan. We've seen NBN providers offer phone line packages from as little as $0-$10/month so clearly it makes sense to move your phone services to a new provider and bundle it with your internet than to keep your line with Telstra. 
  • You may need to pay extra money to Telstra to keep your modem if you are breaking your contract early. In our case our 2 year contract had already expired and they confirmed we could keep our modem - we called them to double-check. Note - not all modems are compatible with the NBN - you should check and take this into account when shopping around for an NBN deal (many NBN providers include modems in their packages but you can save $100+ if you bring your existing NBN-compatible modem).

Avoid peak/offpeak restrictions

There are plenty of deals out there that let you use the internet 24 hours a day. Don't be tempted by a seemingly attractive data allowance only to learn that you can only use half of it during the daytime?

To bundle or not to bundle?

We are keeping bundles out of our guide. Entertainment pack included or not? Modem included or BYO? Calls included? 

Our guide would be 10 times longer than it already is if we tried to take all of these variables into account.

Customer service considerations

There are two customer service considerations that may be important to you:

  1. Is the customer support located in Australia?
  2. Is the customer support 7 days a week?

If either of these points are important to you then make sure you check with providers before you sign on...

Customer satisfaction awards

It's early days in the life of the NBN but Canstar Blue has already rated TPG and iinet ahead of Optus and Telstra for overall customer satisfaction. Check here for the latest ratings table.

Medical alarms and home security services may be affected

Home security services may need to be upgraded (check with your supplier) and don't forget to add your medical alarm to the NBN register.

Conclusion

As we said at the beginning, while every care has been taken to produce our guide you will ultimately need to do your own research and ask your own questions. Our main tips are:

  • Go to the NBN Co. website and enter your address to find out the date NBN services will be available to you and whether you will access NBN via fixed line, fixed wireless or the Sky Muster satellite.
  • Research NBN plans on the excellent WhistleOut website.
  • Contracts - Favour monthly contracts ahead of 12/24 month contracts - this gives you to switch to better deals at short notice!
  • Moving to the NBN is not automatic - Register with an NBN provider asap to ensure you are connected to the NBN the day it is activated. As we said just above, take out a monthly contract just to get in to the queue - once you have the NBN you can always change provider.
  • Money saver - Have a think about your needs and what kind of user you will be - if you don't need the fastest package or the largest monthly data allowance you'll 
  • Speed - You can save money by being realistic about what speeds you need. The cheapest and slowest tier (tier 1) will be, in theory, around 2 times faster than past ADSL2+ services in Swan Hill. The NBN says tier 1 is suited for "households with basic phone or internet usage". Maybe this is good enough for your initial needs? If not, you can upgrade your package each month until you find the one with the speed best suited to your needs. The NBN says tier 4 is suited to homes where multiple people are online at the same time, so families with teenage kids might opt for this tier from the beginning. 
  • Speed - It is hard to imagine many people or businesses needing tier 5 packages (100Mbps download speed) which will cost around double that of tier 1 packages. The NBN describes tier 2 and tier 3 packages (both with 25Mbps speeds) as "fast broadband - perfect for your everyday use."
  • Monthly data allowance - check your past phone bills to see how much data you typically use each month and base your future needs on past usage. It has been suggested that NBN users may use more data than they did when on ADSL so if you want to be prudent you could go for one level above your past ADSL usage.
  • Your existing phone line - it makes financial sense to move your phone line to your new NBN provider as they may offer a phone calls from as little as $10-$20/month which is much cheaper than keeping your calls with Telstra.
  • Bring your own Modem? - Check if your existing modem is NBN-compliant as you could save more than $100 if you use it with your new provider.  Your existing provider might charge you for the modem however if you are breaking a contract and want to take the modem with you.
  • Setup / activation fees - be aware that some providers charge a fee at the beginning of the contract while other providers do not. Fees can sometimes be avoided if you sign a 12 or 24 month contract - personally we'd rather pay a setup fee (if it's a reasonable figure) and have the flexibility of no contract which we can terminate in favour of a better deal when we see one.
  • Peak/off peak use - Avoid these deals if possible: there are plenty of deals out there that let you use the internet 24 hours a day. The NBN is complicated enough - why add peak/offpeak limits to your usage limits? 
  • Register medical alarms with the NBN and check whether your home security system needs to be upgraded. 
  • Concessions - If you're a pensioner, check if you qualify for a discount for phone and internet services with your service provider.
  • Installation - Always check the installer's ID. Installers will never ask you for money (you pay your provider, not the installs).
  • Research - do your own research! Ask friends! Ask your butcher, hairdresser, everyone, and search for online reviews for NBN providers. Websites such as Canstar Blue and Choice magazine are very useful resources.

So which package did we go for in the end?

Our needs:

  • a home-based business creating and uploading an increasing amount of client promotional videos to YouTube and Facebook
  • Netflix TV streaming (mostly at night)
  • Kids too young for mobile phones and internet (for now)

Target package - a tier 2 package (25Mbps download speed / 5Mbps upload speed) and 500Gb monthly data allowance.

With these 3 things in mind we'll go for a tier 2 package given 25Mbps maximum download speeds are 4 times faster than ADSL2+ provides. 5Mbps maximum upload speed is likely to be 5-10 times faster than ADSL2+ allows for which should make our business videos upload a lot faster to social media.

We currently use around 300Gb - 400Gb data per month with ADSL2+ so we might start with a 500Gb monthly allowance or maybe unlimited if the difference is minimal. 

We might upgrade to tier 3 if the 5Mbps upload speeds are too slow for our video uploading needs (unlikely) or tier 4 (50Mbps download speeds) with unlimited data once the kids get to the age where they become heavy users of internet. The NBN says tier 4 is suited to homes where multiple people are online at the same time, so families with teenage kids might opt for this tier from the beginning. 

 

If you've made it to the end of our guide - congratulations! If you found our guide useful, we'd appreciate it if you would like our page on Facebook! The more likes we get, the more motivated we will be to keep the blog updated!

 

 

Digital54 Pty Ltd   -   P.O. Box 887, Swan Hill 3585 Victoria, Australia   -   tel +61 (0)3 5033 1668   -   email paul@digital54.com.au