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It doesn’t matter if you’re new to Australia or you’ve been here forever; understanding all the ins and outs of Australian broadband technology can often be a right headache to the uninitiated. While it can sometimes be as simple as finding the best internet providers, it can get a tad more complex when it comes to the NBN.

Since it was first announced, the NBN (or, as it is more formally known, the National Broadband Network) has been a consistently divisive enterprise. An Australian owned and government subsidised venture, the national wholesale open-access data network project was designed and implemented with the intent to make Aussie internet faster and more reliable. Though many will tell you that this has been achieved in certain cases, many more will tell you that the performance of the NBN’s supposed upgrade has left them bitter and disenchanted. Plagued with rollout delays as well as a popular perception that is less than flattering, it could safely be said that things have not smoothly for the NBN.

So what went wrong? Well, first of all, let me play devil’s advocate, if only momentarily; while part of the blame almost certainly rests with the NBN (and more on that in just a second), it’s not fair to allocate them with the entirety of the blame. Some of the disappointment stems from some popular misconceptions about what the NBN Co is and what it’s supposed to do.

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One of the more persistent misapprehensions about the NBN is that punters tend to assume that everyone who switches over to the NBN is on the one same universal speed. This is simply not the case. There are in fact four speed tiers on the NBN network. Now, some NBN providers offer all of the speed tiers to customers, while others only offer a select few. The speeds are expressed in terms of how fast your downloads will be during the peak period in the evening (7pm-11pm).

Here are the speeds you can get and what they’re usually referred to as:

- Basic evening speed: No minimum

- Standard evening speed: Minimum 15 Mbp

- Standard plus evening speed: Minimum 30 Mbps

- Premium evening speed: Minimum 60 Mbps

Last year, in an exclusive interview with Compare Broadband, Executive Manager at NBN Co Tony Brown told us that he considered it the responsibility of the end-user (ie. you, the customer) to do their research before signing up with an NBN plan.

“The most important thing for an end-user to do is to make sure they sign up to the right plan for them on the nbn network. This means doing a bit of homework before they sign up to try and find out which provider is right for them so it’s a good idea to ask friends, family and neighbours what provider they are using and if they would recommend them. In addition, it is a very good idea for end-users to avoid signing up to a long term contract until they are sure they have found a provider they are happy with; most retailers will provide monthly plans for end-users who wish to try a service before signing a longer term contract.”

When we asked Mr Brown what public perception challenges the NBN Co were facing, he replied that many still thought that the NBN Co was the sole supplier of NBN rather than a wholesale service that dealt with different NBN providers.

“The biggest misconception about nbn is that we actually sell and deliver broadband services to end-users — the reality is that we do not. Nbn is a wholesale-only operator and we only sell services to phone or internet retailers who then in turn sell and deliver services to end users.”

Mr Brown added that if you’re having difficulties with your provider, the best thing to do is let them know.

“If the end-user is experiencing any issues with their service then it’s a good idea to contact your retailer who will then try to resolve the problem with the assistance of nbn. It is worth remembering that the problem could also be with some equipment in the end-user premises such as a poorly set-up Wi-Fi network or faulty hardware.”

So that’s all well and good. But things start to get out of the customer’s hands when it comes to the NBN Lottery…

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The NBN is a mixed technology network, and the “lottery” is the term used to describe the luck of the draw customers have to face when they are provided with their NBN connection. As Mr Brown said, there are many different internet service providers and broadband plans to get your head around when switching over to the NBN; but on top of that, there are different forms of NBN access technologies that you need to connect to the NBN. Each connection has its own pros and cons, but unfortunately, customers don’t get a choice in which one they end up with. It completely comes down to where you are located. Many NBN users have (rightly) found this somewhat frustrating.

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The different connections are as followed…

. FTTP stands for “Fibre to the Premises”. The name refers to the fibre-optic cabling that is connected directly to your home or office. It is also referred to as FTTH (Fibre-to-the-Home). As far as NBN comparisons go, Fibre to the Premises ranks highly, as it is known to deliver optimal NBN speeds. As such, it is often the most sought after.

. FTTC stands for “Fibre to the Curb”, and is so named because its fibre connection is connected through a Distribution Point Unity (or DPU) that is typically situated in a street curb close to your premises (though technically it is often alternatively installed within a pit). Fibre to the Curbs quicker and cheaper mass installation factors were favoured by the Turnbull Government when trying to speed up the lengthy process of the NBN rollout, resulting in FTTC becoming a mainstream NBN connection. Though it is known that the inferior copper lines that FTTC uses can limit broadband speeds, the data only has to travel a short distance from the curb to your home, and it is less prone to regional network traffic congestions. Because of this, it is generally perceived to be the second-best choice after Fibre to the Premises.

. FTTB stands for “Fibre-to-the-Building”, or sometimes “Fibre-to-the-Basement”. It is generally what’s used in communal buildings such as apartment complexes, and it’s delivery speeds are not dissimilar to Fibre to the Curb.

. HFC is the common shorthand for “Hybrid Fiber-Coaxial Cable” and refers to the system of broadband that combines and optical fibre and coaxial cable. Essentially it is new technology plugged on top of the previously existing pay-TV infrastructure, and its detractors have maligned the hodgepodge nature of the tech, reporting speeds inferior to the aforesaid connections.

. FTTN stands for “Fibre to the Node”. It refers to a connection in which a fibre optic cable is run from your telephone exchange to your local node, with the node, in turn, connecting it to your premises using previously existing copper wires. However, as some of these copper lines are literally decades old, it can have a negative impact on your internet speed, to the extent that it’s sometimes considered worse than the above connections (including HFC).

. Fixed Wireless NBN Connections are often used in remote regions where it is too costly and unfeasible to physically install fibre-optic systems. Instead, the fibre optic cables are hooked up to a local tower which is hooked up to the NBN so it can then wirelessly beams the data into people homes (so long as they have installed the required external antenna).

. Sky Muster Satellite is not too dissimilar to the philosophy of Fixed Wireless, only the NBN broadband access is delivered via satellite, as the name would suggest (specifically, it’s delivered by two satellites). Rather than an NBN antenna, a Sky Muster Satellite recipient is required to have a satellite installed on top of their premises. Besides mainland Australia and Tassie, Sky Muster Satellite is also used on Christmas Island, Lord Howe Island, Norfolk Island, and various other remote regions.

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Ultimately, there’s not a great deal you can do about what version of the NBN is allocated to your area, but if reliable internet speed is important to you, then it’s worth investigating what type of NBN is in the property that you’re thinking about renting or buying. There have already been numerous reports of the high demand for NBN affecting property prices, and it’s expected that trend will continue as the NBN rolls out. But if you don’t have the luxury of choosing your house around the area’s internet speeds (and most of us don’t), then may Lady Luck be with you! And of course, you can always help Lady Luck out by increasing your data, or you can simply find a better internet service provider for your area. Good luck!

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