Broadband internet is a dream technology for anyone who likes information, connectivity and flexibility. However, if you haven’t had a dream like experience with broadband internet, then you can be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about. When you connect with the wrong ISP, to an unsuitable plan, with a less than optimum connection, then broadband isn’t an ideal way to get online, it’s slow, unreliable and expensive.
However, if you know how to compare and review the plans from the leading ISPs, you will be able understand how to choose and tailor a broadband package to your needs and budget, and optimise your online experience.
What is broadband?
Broadband internet is a type of high speed internet which can be delivered to your home either via DSL, fibre optic, cable or satellite. Each connection type has its own benefits and ideal uses, and the most common form of broadband connection is DSL as the market is very competitive, and you can secure some great deals.
If you are looking for broadband internet you will be choosing from one of the following four types:
- DSL, Digital Subscriber Line. DSL broadband runs through the same cables as your phone service, yet because it uses different wires to your telephone, your phone service is not affected. This means you can be on the phone and on the internet at the same time, without any interference on either medium. However, it is important to remember that the speed of your DSL will be slower the further you are from the exchange, so it is important to check the speeds available to your home with the ISP before signing up.
- Cable. Cable broadband runs through the connection used for cable TV services such as Foxtel. Cable broadband is more reliable than DSL, and the speed is not affected by the distance from the exchange. However, cable broadband speeds can be slowed when there are high levels of traffic in your area, so remember that the speeds quoted by your ISP are often the speeds you could achieve if you were the only person using the connection at the time.
- Fibre optic. Fibre optic is the fastest, most affordable, most reliable and newest type of broadband internet available in Australia, and is the system which will be used for the National Broadband Network. However, this also means that the fibre optic cables are not yet available in all areas of Australia yet.
- Satellite. Satellite broadband is an ideal option for those living in rural areas who want faster speeds than dial up internet can deliver, but are not on the network to be connected to cable, DSL or fibre optic broadband. While satellite is slower than other types of broadband and can be more expensive to install due to the need for a dish, the ongoing costs once set up are on par with other types of broadband internet.
The Benefits of Broadband
Before you can know you’re getting the best from your broadband internet, you need to know what to expect. Therefore, if you are considering a broadband internet plan, you could soon be enjoying:
- More bandwidth. When you are using an internet connection like DSL or cable broadband which offers greater bandwidth, it will enhance your online and overall experience, as having more bandwidth allows your computer to more easily multitask, for example, running several browser windows at a time, or streaming music while you work online.
- Networking computers and mobile devices. With a broadband connection you can also connect more than one computer or mobile device to the internet at the same time. You can network your computers through a standard or wireless modem so that the entire family can be online at the same time, improving your productivity if you need to take work home, and putting an end to fights over homework and social media.
- Online gaming. If you are interested in playing online games, then a broadband connection will give you all the benefits of speed and reliability you need to make a fast get away or strike the perfect kill shot.
- Availability. While not all types of broadband are available in all areas the chances are good that you will be able to connect to at least one type of high speed internet connection. For example, if you are too far away from the exchange to receive high quality DSL, you may already be linked to the cable network.
- Always ready. When you have broadband internet installed in your home, you can get online at any time, because the connection is always ready to go. Your modem keeps you connected to the internet at all times, and the connection is only broke if you unplug the modem – or if you forget to pay your bill of course. It just takes one click on the browser icon, and in seconds you are online, with the internet at your fingertips.
How to Connect to Broadband Internet
Connecting to broadband internet is simply a matter of choosing a broadband provider and plan, and liaising with your ISP, to organise and set up the following:
- Your broadband plan. The first step to connecting broadband internet in your home or office is choosing the plan which will provide you with enough data and bandwidth, while still fitting into your budget.
- A phone line. To connect to broadband internet you need an active phone line. Your modem or router will plug directly into the phone line, and you will often need to provide your phone number to your ISP to confirm whether broadband is available to your property.
- The modem or router. The modem or router is the device which converts the broadband signal into something readable for your computer to present the internet to you. If you already have a modem, you can use it for a new broadband connection, but it can be worth checking with your ISP whether there is a more compatible modem which will optimise your online experience.
- A filter. Because your broadband and phones use the same line, it is possible to experience interference on one, from the other. This is why you need to install a filter, which can be installed as a central filter behind your phone plug, or you can plug in a filter yourself by connecting it between the modem and the phone line.
- Changing ISPs. If you are moving to a different provider but you already have broadband connected to your property, don’t cancel your old service before your new ISP connects you. Your new ISP will handle the transfer of services and will notify you when it has been completed. You can then contact your old ISP and they will cancel their service. This ensures a minimal amount of disruption to your online experience.
How to Choose an ISP
Your choice of ISP can have a significant impact on your broadband internet experience, as each provider has different experience, uses different technology and will offer a different level of customer service, which is particularly important when you come to rely heavily on your broadband connection and you need to quickly and easily troubleshoot problems.
Each ISP will have their own area of expertise and will tailor their broadband packages to a certain type of broadband user. Therefore, you need to take into consideration your needs and usage patterns, while finding an ISP whose core business matches your needs. In most cases, people searching for a new ISP will look at just two things – price and speed. While these two factors are important, you cannot rely on these factors to help you choose the best ISP for your needs, and you also can’t always rely on the speeds quoted to you by an ISP.
As websites and online activity have become more sophisticated, the speed of broadband has become a more important factor. Therefore, where the 56 kbps speed of dialup was once sufficient for most users, we have now come to expect much higher speeds, because even the slowest DSL connection still runs at around 128 kbps. Not only do we expect a high speed connection, but we also expect that connection to be reliable. However, as with any form of technology, broadband internet is not going to run smoothly all of the time. Instead, you need to choose the ISP which has the best combination of service, quality product, choice and value. To help you to know what you’re looking for when choosing an ISP, learn more about each area of service:
With the fast pace of life and business, the increase in competition and the decrease in brand loyalty, our expectations of satisfaction aren’t held to such high standards. We will often switch brands and products over any slight issue, rather than holding a particular provider to account. Therefore, perhaps this is why the overall customer satisfaction rating for Australian ISP customers is at a high 73%, because we’re willing and able to shop around, and move around, until we get the product and service we deserve.
The speeds and reliability offered by Australian ISPs rated highly too, at 73% and 80% respectively. However, only 56% of Australians are satisfied with what their ISP charges them, which could be due to the fact that no one likes to see money disappearing from their bank accounts, because when it actually comes to being satisfied with the value you’re getting, speed and reliability are the primary factors, and rated highly.
If you’re still thinking about the type of broadband connection you should go with, consider the fact that ADSL2 and ADSL2+ users were the happiest, where 81% were satisfied overall, compared to only 70% of ADSL and cable customers being satisfied, and 58% of wireless users. When looking at the speeds of ADSL2+, 80% of users were satisfied, and 65% were happy with the cost of their service – perhaps feeling they’re getting better value at a faster speed.
When looking at a service as fluid as an internet connection, your level of satisfaction will be a balance between the pros and cons of the service – how your ISP performs in each area, and which areas are most important to you.
When you have a broadband connection, you will come to rely on it in the same way you do your right arm, and if it suddenly stops working, or stops behaving in the way you need and expect it to, you want the issue to be fixed right away. While you will research the reliability and service of each ISP before committing to a plan, the reality is that there will be technical issues with your connection from time to time, and you may also need to ask questions when getting a new computer, or need help when moving house for example.
Therefore, support is an important part of the comparison of ISPs, however, the two biggest ISPs in Australia – Telstra and Optus – are actually trailing many of the other smaller ISPs for customer support satisfaction levels. For example just 51% of Telstra ADSL2 customers are satisfied with their customer support, and 49% of Optus ADSL2 customers. Telstra is also at the back of the pack for ADSL support at 41%, 47% for cable and 40% for wireless support. The average level of satisfaction with ISP support amongst the remaining providers reaches an average of 62%. However, it is important to remember that these figures may not be entirely indicative of the true levels, as Telstra is the only supplier in some regions of Australia, and does not face any competition.
However, the need for support should also be considered, and issues such as connection troubles, drop outs and slow speeds are the most common. However, if you look at the figures for the users who experienced few or no problems with their broadband, you can see the reliability of broadband services across Australia. In this example, a higher percentage relates to fewer users having problems, where overall connectivity rated at 69%, where a connection failed less than once every three months. Where a dropout occurred less than once a quarter, the rating was 65% however, speed rated at just 54% and 22% of users experience a slow connection at least once per week. another type of support needed can be when there is an issue or mistake with a bill, however 80% of users have not had a problem with their ISP’s billing.
It is Internode who leads in support and troubleshooting when it comes to ADSL broadband, where their connectivity is rated at 83%, their uptime is 78% and the speed is rated at 63%. Coming in behind Internode is Westnet who rates at 74% for connectivity, 68% for uptime and 54% for speed.
Internode is also at the top when it comes to comparing ADSL2 with connectivity rated at 88%, uptime at 79% and speed at 80%. However, Westnet and Exetel are very close behind in this case, with 86% and 87% connectivity rating respectively. Westnet rates at 83% for uptime while Exetel reaches 80% while Westnet speed satisfaction rates at 74% and Exetel at 70%.
When it comes to the bigger players, Telstra and Optus are not far behind. Telstra achieved a connectivity score of 78% for example, while Optus were able to lock in 57% on their speed.
We are all using the internet more than we ever have before, and therefore, we need to get more value from our broadband plans. For example, where you may have only had one computer in the house several years ago, and a light data plan was sufficient, now every person in the house has their own computer and wants to be able to log into fast and reliable internet at any time. Plus, more and more mobile and technical devices are diverting your data allowance than ever before, and between desktops, laptops, tablets, game consoles, smartphones and the TV or media centre, there is a lot of data flowing in and out of our homes.
For example, 22% of Australian households use a tablet to connect to the internet, and 16% use their netbooks. However, 44% of us are using our smartphones to connect to their internet and if you think about how often you turn to your smartphone to check your bank account, look up a question on Google or play a game with your friend you will realise that that is a lot of data. Luckily, home broadband plans often offer more affordable data packages than mobile phones, so when you are using your smartphone at home, you should be connecting to your home broadband, to save your data allowance on your phone for when you’re out and about.
To easily connect all of your mobile and online devices to your home broadband plan, you can use a wireless router. This means you won’t have cables running throughout your house to each computer, and you won’t have to sit by the router to browse the internet on your tablet or smartphone. Many ISPs will include a new broadband router in your plan when you sign up, and this ensures you are using the newest technology, and the router which is best suited to your internet connection.
Broadband plans are more inclusive than ever with their access too, where many offer unlimited downloads so you can be freed from tracking your usage throughout the month, or worrying about excess usage charges. However, unlimited plans can often be more expensive, and are also usually governed by the ISP’s fair use policy, so that you actually are limited to a certain amount of downloads and uploads, to avoid abuse of the plan. Therefore, many ISPs are now offering plans with very high limits, as we do more and more online, and don’t want to be slowed down by a small plan, or shaped usage. While a 10GB broadband plan is a common choice for a standard household, it is also possible to choose from plans with up to 150GB of data allowance each month.
You will also need to check what is included in the plan’s data allowance, as ISPs previously only metered downloads, allowing unlimited uploads. However, with more people uploading to social media sites, file sharing sites and backing up their files to the cloud, part of your data allowance is likely to now be taken up by uploads too.
Types of Broadband to Choose From
In some cases your choice of broadband provider will be dictated by the type of broadband connection you choose, or can connect to. For example, some providers offer a wider range and more competitive prices on ADSL plans, while if you want cable broadband you need to go through either Telstra or Optus. Therefore, if you are looking at cable broadband you will only have a choice of two providers, or you may only have either Telstra or Optus which services your area for cable broadband, so your choice is cut even further. As a result many Australians are moving away from cable broadband and waiting for the National Broadband Network to come into place to reinstate some competition in the market.
ADSL2 and ADSL2+ remain the most popular types of broadband connection in Australia, as the competition between the providers of this service is strong, so you have a good chance to shop around and secure a good value plan. Plus, ADSL2 and ADSL2+ offer comparable speeds to cable broadband, because if you are well placed for an ADSL2 connection, your speeds won’t ever be affected by the number of other people on your node, in the way that cable broadband can be.
It has also become a more popular choice to opt for wireless broadband, which is different to Wi-Fi, which connects to a third party hot spot, such as a library or café. Wireless broadband connects you to your ISP over the air, and you don’t need a phone service, cable or any other wired connection. This makes wireless broadband ideal for people who are renting, or even just those who don’t feel they need a home phone.
The speeds you will be able to browse the internet at will also be affected by the type of broadband connection you choose. Your broadband experience isn’t just affected by the reliability or the amount of data you can download, but is also significantly affected by your connection speed. That is why it is important to compare the quoted speeds of each type of broadband and plan, but also know what the real speed is likely to be as well. Your ISP should be able to tell you how much speed will be lost by the time the broadband connection reaches your property, or you can ask friends and neighbours about their experience, and look at the results of broadband speed tests for the broadband providers you are considering.
How to compare broadband providers
There are a number of factors which will contribute to your choice of ISP, based on your needs, your budget, your location and the devices you are using the connect to the internet. Therefore, while this seems like an overwhelming amount of information to review and compare, following are several easy steps you can use to compare broadband providers:
- Shop around. It may seem easier to stay with your current provider, or just contact your phone company about their broadband packages, but there is so much choice out there and so many new plans and options being released every day, that it is important that you make an informed decision based on all the information.
- Consider the broadband provider themselves. Don’t just look at the plan and the inclusions you can get with each ISP, but also take the time to compare the broadband provider themselves. Look at how long they’re been in business, what their history is like and whether there have been issues with their service or customers in the past. Also look at what other services the broadband provider offers, as you may be able to bundle services and secure a discount.
- Look at the contract term. Make sure that you are happy with the term of the contract your broadband provider is offering. Think about whether your circumstances are likely to change during that time, and whether there are any cancellation fees if you need to change or leave the plan. This is also where you can look for any set up fees, and consider which type of broadband will be the easiest and cheapest to connect to.
- Know the cost. While you will probably be more worried about going over your plan limit, it is also important to look at whether there are any minimum charges on your contract, for the months when your usage may be lower.
- Find out about the modem. Ask whether there is a modem included in your broadband plan. If you already have a modem, make sure it is compatible with your connection type.
- Know how you’re billed. Find out whether the ISP sends out monthly or quarterly bills, whether you can pay by credit card, BPAY or are required to pay by direct debit. Also find out whether you are billed in advance, or whether the cycle is based on the previous month’s usage. You will also want to know whether your data usage is charged at peak and off peak rates, and what those rates and times are, before you receive a shock on your next bill. Some plans will also shape your connection and slow your speed if you exceed your data limit, others will apply excess usage charges.
- Understand specials. There is nothing wrong with taking advantage of a plan offered by a broadband provider who is running a special. Just make sure you understand all of the conditions of the special – for example, if the ISP is offering a free connection special, they may require that you enter into a 12 or 24 month contract.
- Get everything in writing. If you have asked these questions and the broadband provider has given you more information or assurances about the service to be provided, make sure that you have this information in writing in case there is ever a dispute.
The Future of broadband and the NBN
When the National Broadband Network is rolled out across all of Australia you will have a choice of broadband providers who have been approved t distribute the new high speed network. Currently 12 broadband providers have been short listed as intending to offer access to the new fibre optic cable network.
Optus had yet to complete the on-boarding process in time to be able to provide test services in the first release of the NBN. Optus also showed initial reservations about joining the NBN, but the company is still included in the initial list of ISPs. The four companies who are likely to offer the first mainland connections to the National Broadband Network are iiNet, iPrimus, Telstra BigPond and Internode. There are also a number of less well known ISPs included in the NBN list, which is intended to ensure that the smaller companies are not squeezed out of the market, and Australian broadband customers can still make genuine choices between broadband providers.
Following on from the test phases carried out by the first four ISPs, another eight retailers will be ready to go ahead with commercial sales once the initial tests are completed. These broadband providers are – Optus, AAPT, Exetel, research network AARNet, SkyMesh, Comscentre, Nextgen Networks and Platform Networks.
Just as no two online experiences are the same, even from one day to the next, so too is the choice of broadband providers always fluid. New technologies, businesses, ideas and plans are always being released, and if you are in the market for a broadband internet connection, or you’re just wondering whether there is a better service out there, make sure you take the time to carefully compare each Australian broadband provider.