After years of waiting, my home has finally been connected to Australia's halfbaked NBN. Our street was connected with hybrid fibre-coaxial and I'm now enjoying internet speeds our American friends took for granted in the nineties. As I had to change internet providers, it was a good time to test the latest home networking products available.
For context, I'm currently living in a single story double brick dwelling, just oddly shaped enough that a standard router would struggle, so using a mesh networking solution was key. I've tested them all over the years, and would only recommend three providers: Google's Nest Wifi for the novice, Ubiqiti's UniFi for the dedicated nerd with a passion for tweaking every detail, and Netgear's Orbi as a middle ground between those extremes.
By 2020, every household in Australia is expected to connect to the NBN - and those who don't will have a raft of telecommunications products and services switched off. The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has put together an infographic explaining five things you need to know to ensure the big switch runs as smoothly as possible.
As a nerd who doesn't want to spend too much time troubleshooting, I'd been using Netgear's Orbi Mesh access points for the past few years. Despite a few bad months of firmware updates that would see the satellite unit randomly disconnect I was relatively happy with Orbi.
The system had just enough of the nerdier features that kept me happy, including multiple Ethernet ports on both the base station and the satellite, which meant the computer, network storage, and printer in my home study was wired, as was the TV, Apple TV, and various consoles in the entertainment unit.
My general philosophy of home internet is any gadget that doesn't move should be connected via Ethernet, to allow greater bandwidth to the countless wireless devices in our home.
My plan was to test all three providers' latest hardware but after a few weeks using Google's latest Nest hardware, I'm happy to count myself as a novice. The Nest Wifi is just too easy to set up; after plugging the base station into an Ethernet port of the NBN supplied modem, and choosing a wireless name and password, it did the rest.
The Cheapest NBN 100 Plans:
I was honestly shocked at how easy the setup was, and how simple it was to prioritise speeds to my console over a few dozen smart devices. This is the kind of easy networking experience Apple once owned with its Airport base stations and Express satellites. The satellite is also a Nest speaker, giving our home an extra Google Assistant in the bedroom, and blanketing the house in Wi-Fi.
At first I was disappointed by the limited Ethernet on the base station — after the connection to the modem there's just one I'm using for my server — and there are no Ethernet ports on the satellite.
As we've pointed out, there is also no way to set the Nest to bridge mode and keep the mesh network, something possible with other mesh networks, including Orbi and Ubiqiti. Bridge mode on either your router or modem is useful to ensure all your devices can be seen outside your network, and without it you may find issues with online gaming or connecting to personal servers.
In my testing, all my consoles were able to navigate the network and connect, as could my Synology server, albeit only through Synology’s web interface. But then, if you have a house full of servers, Google’s Nest was probably never on your radar and you’d better served with Ubiquiti, for total control.
But these are nerdy and niche needs, and honestly I haven't missed wired connections when the wireless speeds and reliability from the Nest have been flawless.
When choosing an NBN plan, it can sometimes be hard to work out your priorities. Should you concentrate on a fat, juicy data limit, a proven track record for reliability, speed or affordability?
Naturally, you should aim to combine all of the above in a way that matches your usage levels. Here are the best options for each type of user.