The National Broadband Network has the potential to supercharge the average Australian internet connection, but how fast is fast enough? Are you making the most of the megabits you're paying for, or are you missing on the best the web has to offer?
What is Mbps?
Mbps stands for Megabits per second, and is the most common measurement for expressing internet speeds. One megabit is equal to 0.125 megabytes. In order to get download speeds of 1 megabyte per second, you'd need an 8Mbps connection.
While a megabit is technically one eighth of a megabyte, you'll often see it equated to a tenth as shorthand. For example, you could expect 10 megabytes per second on a 100Mbps connection.
What speed NBN can I get?
With fixed line NBN connections, there are now four different speed tiers available to subscribers. Not all internet service providers offer all four speeds options, but the below is what you'll commonly find available.
|Tier||Max Download||Max Upload|
More often than not, you'll sign up for a NBN 12 or NBN 25 plan, and get faster speeds by paying an extra monthly fee for a "speed pack" or "speed boost".
It's worth noting that speeds aren't guaranteed; they're indicative of maximum speed it's possible to get on your plan.
What would you use NBN 12 for?
NBN 12 is ostensibly your basic internet connection, roughly equivalent to the average speeds you'd get on ADSL2+. If you're managing to hit 12Mbps (as advertised), a NBN 12 connection is more than enough for day-to-day internet usage. It won't wow you, but it's still enough to streaming high definition video through the likes of Netflix, Stan, YouTube, or Presto.
However, a NBN 12 connection may get stretched thin in a multi-person household, especially if everyone is trying to stream video at the same time.
What would you use NBN 25 for?
NBN 25 is the next step up, and the minimum you'd want for streaming 4K video through Netflix, Stan, or Amazon Prime Video. 25Mbps is what's typically recommend for a high quality 4K stream, but advances in compression mean 4K streams can kick in at as little as 15Mbps now.
That being said, if you're hoping to stream 4K video on a 25Mbps connection, there won't be much bandwidth left for anyone else on your network.
What would you use NBN 50 for?
NBN 50 is ideal for a family of constantly connected internet lovers. 50Mbps ensures that everyone in the family is able to partake in their favourite online activities, whether it's streaming movies and music, online gaming, sharing dank memes, or video calling with overseas friends and family.
What would you use NBN 100 for?
NBN 100 is currently the fastest (widely available) internet connection speed tier that money can buy. It's not quite the Rolls Royce of broadband, but it's a huge up from ADSL2+.
NBN 100 is best for who are downloading or uploading large files on a regular basis. For example, if you're working with video on a daily basis, or if you're a gamer who predominantly (and regularly) buys games through digital storefronts like Steam, the Xbox Store, or PSN.
NBN 100 speeds are also great if you want to keep regular offsite back-ups through services such as BackBlaze, OneDrive, Dropbox, iCloud, or Google Drive.
What's the difference in download times?
So how much a difference does a faster connection make to your download times? Below we've got a list of common files you might download paired with how long it would take to download them on each tier of NBN connection.
|Download||NBN 12||NBN 25||NBN 50||NBN 100|
|An album (approx. 100MB)||1 min||33 sec||16 sec||8 sec|
|Photoshop (approx. 1GB)||12 min||6 min||3 min||1.5 min|
|A HD movie on iTunes (approx. 5GB)||59 min||29 min||14 min||7 min|
|A new release game (approx. 50GB)||10 hours||4 hours, 45 min||2 hours, 20 min||1 hour 10 min|
Do I need different equipment if I want faster speeds?
In most cases, you won't need to change your modem or router if you take up a faster speed pack for your NBN. However, better hardware can help if you've got Wi-Fi connectivity issues for example, which may make it easier to take advantage of your improved speeds.
Can I swap speed on fly?
If you're on a NBN plan that has the option for speed packs, you can typically change your speed pack once per month.
Why am I not getting the advertised speeds?
While NBN plans are advertised with a theoretical maximum speed, your connection could be slower than what you're paying for.
If you've got a fibre-to-the-node NBN connection, the most common reason for slower-than-advertised speeds is distance from the node. Customers within 400m of a node should be able to get speeds of up to 100Mbps, while customers further than 700m will start to see more significant speed degradation.
Congestion is another possible cause of slow down. If you're only noticing slower speeds at certain times, it's probably because everyone else in your neighbourhood is trying to pirate Game of Thrones simultaneously.
CVC - the Connectivity Virtual Circuit charge - is typically blamed as the leading cause of congestion on National Broadband Network, given that it is impossible for ISPs to buy enough to guarantee every single customer the speeds they're paying for at peak times.
NBN charges ISPs a base of around $15.25 per Mbps per month, which can go as low as $8 per Mbps per month under volume discounts.
If you look at Telstra, which will often charge over $100 for a 100Mbps NBN connection, the company would need to spend a minimum of $800 per month to facilitate those speeds under NBN's new pricing structure, not counting other costs associated with providing access to the National Broadband Network.
Obviously, Telstra isn't spending $800 per customer, and as such, if too many Telstra subscribers are online simultaneously, none of them get the speeds they are paying for.
NBN CEO Bill Morrow has accused ISPs of drastically under purchasing CVC in order to deliver the cheapest prices on NBN connection, and said the average CVC purchased across the industry works out to be 1Mbps per user.
A failing modem can also impact your internet speeds.
What's the difference between download and upload?
Your download speed refers to how quickly you're able to get files from the internet, while upload speeds relate to how fast you're able to send files to other places online. For example, your upload speeds will determine how long it takes send an email with a large attachment, back your photos up to Google Drive, or plonk a big document on Dropbox.
Upload speeds can also affect video calls, Voice over IP, and gaming, as these use cases all require both sending and receiving data.
Do I need fast upload speeds?
The average Australian internet user is a lot more reliant on download speeds for the majority of their broadband usage. However, if you regularly use video chat or Voice over IP applications, rely on cloud-based backup services such as Dropbox or Google Drive, or tend to send clients large files, you'll see big benefits from getting a connection with faster upload.
Ethernet Cables Connected to Internet Switch image from ShutterStock.