The NBN trucks have been working in my neighbourhood and, according to the advertising material in my letterbox, I'll soon be able to access faster speeds and all the goodness that comes from this major nation-building infrastructure project.
As I already enjoy 100Mbps downloads thanks to Telstra's HFC network, I'm looking for what the NBN will offer that's better. Sadly, it turns out that faster plans are invisible or non-existent.
Originally, when Lifehacker's editor and I discussed this story, the plan was to do a round-up of all the NBN plans on the market that offer really fast connections - better than 100Mbps downloads and at least double-digit uploads. So I dutifully went into research mode.
I started by looking at the NBN Wholesale Market Indicators Report. I looked at this report recently, and while it indicated that the number of fast NBN plans was plummeting, it gave me a good idea of where to start looking.
The National Broadband Network has become a bit of a crapshoot - with emphasis on 'crap'. Depending on the technology deployed in your suburb and the type of plan you plump for, you could be getting speeds as low as 20 megabits per second. This clearly isn't good enough.
The list it provided was:
- Telstra Corporation Ltd
- Optus Fixed Infrastructure Pty Limited
- Vocus Communications
- Aussie Broadband Pty Ltd
- MyRepublic Pty Limited
- Other Access Seekers
So, I went to each RSP's store and looked for the NBN plans that offered better than 100Mbps plans.
Here's a look at how some of these providers price their unlimited NBN 100 plans.
As you can see, all of these plans come saddled with a disclaimer similar to the below:
Speeds on NBN 100 plans are variable and you will typically experience slower speeds than the maximum access line speed available on your Plan, particularly during peak times (7-11pm).
The advertised average download speeds aren't what the phrase "NBN 100" would seem to suggest - and upload speeds are barely mentioned at all.
Almost no one is promising 100Mbps on their "NBN 100" plans
The first thing that I noticed was that even though plans are named according to the NBN's system for using a round number for the download speed, most plans are only promising around 80% of the theoretical maximum speed.
That's good as the ACCC's crackdown on over-promising and under-delivering on service quality is working. In most cases, the best you can expect is about 80Mbps downloads during peak periods.
But as mentioned, upload speeds are rarely advertised.
But I want more than 100Mbps
When I looked through the advertised plans from service providers only one had an obvious path to potentially ordering a service that's faster than 100Mbps.
Aussie Broadband lets you create a custom plan with options for 150Mbps and 250Mbps. Based on comments made by Lifehacker readers, the good news is Aussie Broadband won't let you sign on for a fast plan unless it is sure it can deliver it.
The downside, the cost of a 250Mbps plan started at close to $200 per month although you can customise your plan by adding a download quota to create a more affordable option.
The company's CEO, Phillip Britt, recently explained why there are so few plans that are faster than 100Mbps saying the main challenge is technology. So, the current plan of using a multi-technology mix rather than the original Fibre to the Premises plan is the cause.
I've been told that Telstra has some unadvertised plans that offer faster connections but when I spoke with their live chat, they told me the best they could offer was 100Mbps with 30Mbps uploads. That's a big improvement on my current upload speeds.
Optus' support was a challenge. I asked its online support for information on fast plans. The best they could offer was 90Mbps download and 30Mbps upload. They pointed me to an NBN Spec Sheet but that told me nothing about uploads. I had to extract that after asking the online support person (I actually asked if I was talking to a real person as the answers I received in the chat seemed very scripted).
With Vocus, the focus is on business accounts so they're probably not going to be on the radar for residential customers.
TPG offered the same sorts of plans as the others, with 100Mbps plans the fastest it offers although their typical evening speed was on the low side of the market at 71.4Mbps.
MyRepublic offered simian;lr deals although they say the typical evening speed was a little faster, at 83Mbps.
So, fast is relative
When I talk to friends overseas, it's clear that we are paying a premium for speed - and what we're getting isn't all that fast in global terms. The vast majority of Australians, who want a really fast connection, will have to pay for their own fibre connection. And they are effectively paying for their neighbours to get access to a faster network as well.
But the fact I cannot even ask for a faster service and that RSPs are being unnecessarily opaque about upload speeds is annoying. While most of the indicators suggest Australia's broadband performance is getting faster, the rest of the world is accelerating faster than we are.
In relative terms, we are drifting backwards. And the NBN remains a shadow of what could have been.