Fixed Wireless: How NBN's Best Alternative Stacks Up

In late 2017 I signed a thirty year mortgage on a house in Melbourne's northern suburbs, in an area due to be connected to the NBN in "early 2018". With the ink barely dry on the contract, NBN Co announced it was halting all planned rollouts until further notice. Cable was not available in the area, so I assumed my only option was ADSL.

Raj Deut, a web developer in Moonee Ponds, tells a similar story. Mr Deut purchased an apartment in an area earmarked for fibre to the premises. The promise of world class internet speeds was a major factor in his decision to buy into the suburb.

"Each year the government changed their strategy with the NBN in my area and with each change came a delay. Moonee Ponds has been pushed from Fibre to the premises, to fibre to the node, to fibre to the curb, and now, I don't really know." NBN Co's website now advises that more information will be forthcoming.

"I had no choice but to connect ADSL and sit and wait," Mr Deut says. That was three years ago."

Fed up with ADSL speeds, he began researching alternatives and discovered a fixed wireless internet provider had recently set up shop nearby.

"Uniti Wireless had just installed a tower in my suburb and I was one of their first customers in Melbourne," he says.

"From my initial phone call to installation was less than 48 hours. They came out, put a small directional dish on my roof and ran a single ethernet cable into my apartment. It was completed in under an hour and the link held a solid 100Mbps down and 40Mbps up on their highest speed plan.

"Since then I've maintained the same speeds."

Fixed wireless technology makes up part of the NBN multi-technology mix, and is used to blanket large areas in regional Australia. But until hearing Mr Deut's story, I was unaware there were wireless ISPs available today, in major metropolitan areas.

Peter Dillon, a photographer in Caroline Springs, first heard about fixed wireless from an unlikely source.

"I was put on to fixed wireless from the technician hooking up my ADSL line", Mr Dillon says. He has to upload gigabytes of photos per day, and as the technician was running the line test, Mr Dillon recalls him saying "Wow, you're not going to like this".

Mr Dillon's potential ADSL speeds were around 4Mbps down, and around 200Kbps up.

"He told me to call MelbourneISP. He was a fixed wireless subscriber himself, and he convinced me to give it a go," Mr Dillon says. He now he says he's getting a consistent 80Mbps down and 40Mbps up.

Finding a fixed wireless provider can be tricky. The technology relies on a "line of sight" connection from a dish installed on your home to the provider's antenna; hills, buildings, even trees can affect speed, so most providers will do a speed test at your home before committing to installation. I had to call six providers before finding one that covered my area.

The company, Hyperwave, offers up to 200Mbps down for commercial customers, with 25/5 on their residential plans. While these speeds are less than some fixed wireless providers, they're much better than the 8/1 I was getting on ADSL; and over the last few weeks, those speeds have been consistent. Hyperwave is committed to increasing residential speeds later this year.

"Ageing phone lines and Melbourne's recent development boom cause constant issues for internet users. This is commonly seen as slow speeds, dropouts and 'no ports available' when applying for ADSL," says the company's managing director, Chris Page.

"The major telcos are hesitant to spend money sorting out these problems because NBN is coming. As with Adelaide, Melbourne's close by hills and ADSL black spots mean we can use our wireless technology to deliver fast, reliable internet at a similar price point to ADSL."

Like those major telcos, I was hesitant to commit to fixed wireless, with the possibility of NBN coming to my area in that time. It the end though, ADSL was unbearable, and literally unworkable. My day job requires me to remote in to work, and with less than a 1Mbps up, that was impossible.

Page is confident he'll keep me as a customer, even if the NBN eventually makes it to my street.

"Our network is a direct alternative to NBN. A small number of customers have left us for the NBN, mostly to FTTN, however 30 per cent have returned within four months".


This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald's home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.

This story has been updated since its original publication.


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