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NBN speed tiers: everything you need to know to choose the best Australian NBN plan

Australia’s national broadband network (NBN) rollout is slowly speeding up, with over 5 million premises already hooked up to fixed-lines services – that’s an average of about 250,000 homes and businesses becoming NBN-ready each month. 

NBN Co aims to service 60% of the country by 2020, meaning more and more people will need to understand what the new broadband service can do for the end consumer.

While you may not have a choice on the type of NBN connection that will reach you (be that FTTP, FTTN, FTTC, HFC or something else), once fibre reaches your local area, you’ve got a choice when it comes to the maximum speed offered by your specific NBN subscription plan.

In fact, the cost of the plan will largely depend on the speed tier you choose, alongside the amount of monthly data you need for your household.

NBN speed tiers

Currently, NBN Co offers four broadband speed tiers, known as NBN 12, NBN 25, NBN 50 and NBN 100. 

However, it’s up to individual internet service providers (ISPs) what speed tiers they offer their customers. Most of the bigger players offer only NBN 12, NBN 25 and NBN 100 (NBN Co is a wholesaler, so you won’t be able to sign up directly with the company).

The four speed tiers roughly represent the maximum download speed you should get, starting with 12Mbps at the bottom, through to a top speed of 100Mbps.

NBN 12: The lowest speed tier comes with the cheapest plans – with prices starting at around $30 a month – but the speeds won’t be any better than an ADSL 2+ connection on a copper wire. In fact, real-world NBN 12 speeds could well be slower. That said, NBN Co does make it very clear that this isn’t exactly a ‘superfast’ connection. Customers on this plan can hope to get a maximum download speed of 12Mbps and a maximum upload speed of 1Mbps. It’s suitable for households needing just basic day-to-day phone and internet usage. While a 12Mbps connection is still generally enough to stream Netflix, Stan or Foxtel Now in Full HD (aka 1080p) – or use any other streaming service, for that matter – you’ll find that doing more than a couple of streams simultaneously could pose problems. As such, if you’ve got more than a couple of online video fans in your household, you might want to consider the faster options described below.

NBN 25: If you’ve got a family with kids, where the internet will be used more intensively during certain times of the day, you should consider this next speed tier. NBN 25 plans provide a maximum download speed of 25Mbps and a maximum upload speed of 5Mbps. However this jump in speed does come at a slightly higher cost than the NBN 12 plans, with monthly plans starting at around $49 – potentially adding over $220 more per year, something that might be worth factoring in if you’re particularly budget conscious. NBN 25 is what you want for 4K Netflix and Stan streaming and should easily support a couple of streaming devices being used simultaneously, although you could still be fighting over bandwidth, depending on how populous your household is.

NBN 50: With a maximum download speed of 50Mbps and an upload speed of 20Mbps, this tier is more than enough to meet most households’ entertainment, gaming and regular surfing needs. It will keep the family constantly connected with plenty of bandwidth to ensure everyone can do their own thing without impinging on any other family member. Of course, this luxury comes at a higher cost than the previous two tiers; plans start at about $60 a month.

NBN 100: This is the speed tier that NBN Co calls its ‘superfast internet’ option, with a maximum download speed of a whopping 100Mbps and an upload speed of 50Mbps. Gaming, 4K streaming, working from home, multiple devices and anything else you can throw at it should be no issue – there’ll be plenty of bandwidth to keep everyone happy, and then some. Plans for the NBN 100 speed tier are also, obviously, the most expensive, but you could get one that's only just a dollar more than an NBN 50 plan if you don't need unlimited data. On average, however, NBN 100 plans start at around the $75 a month mark.

Other factors that affect NBN speeds

The NBN speed tiers look impressive on paper, but end users can’t always expect to get the advertised speeds. Note that these tiers represent the theoretical maximum speeds that you can achieve, not the speeds you will actually get at home.

It’s also worth noting that all speed tiers may not be available at a particular address, so you might want to check with your ISP before making a decision.

A number of factors will determine what speeds you can expect once you sign up for an NBN connection – inside your home, those can include the quality of your modem or router, Wi-Fi interference from, say, your landline if it’s too close to the router, and the number of people surfing the web at the same time.

If you’ve got, or will be getting, a fibre to the node (FTTN) connection, the speed you get at home will also depend on how far you are from the node. If you’re less than about 400m from the node, you should (theoretically) get the maximum speed you’re paying for, up to that maximum of 100Mbps. But, like with ADSL, customers living further away from the node will generally experience speed degradation.

If you experience slow speeds during certain times of the day, you can blame network congestion for that, perhaps because your entire neighbourhood needs to use the internet when you do. 

Network congestion has become a problem with the NBN because resellers – ie. your ISP – often found it too expensive to supply sufficient bandwidth to support all the extra speed  that NBN customers require, particularly during peak times. This should (hopefully) be less of a problem as of June 1 2017 however, when NBN Co made it cheaper for ISPs to buy bandwidth.