NBN Co has announced that some customers will get better options over the next few years, but it doesn’t know where those customers live yet.
NBN Co has announced that some customers will get better options over the next few years, but it doesn’t know where those customers live yet.

Mystery of whether you’ll get faster internet

The national broadband network that "completed its rollout" in June will now spend a further $3.5 billion building new fibre networks in areas where the network underperforms.

It means two million lucky Australian homes and businesses will be able to have more choice in what internet speeds they're able to pay for by the end of 2023.

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NBN Co CEO Stephen Rue. Picture: Aaron Francis/The Australian
NBN Co CEO Stephen Rue. Picture: Aaron Francis/The Australian

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Where those two million people live is still a mystery: NBN Co CEO Stephen Rue told news.com.au the government-owned company still "need to operationalise this".

"We will be looking at the best areas for us to choose to build out," Mr Rue said.

"I would expect around half will be in regional areas, I also expect it to be across the whole country, every state essentially."

He said the decisions would be made "based on a range of factors, for example where we would see high demand coming for higher speeds".

"Areas where there are lots of business for example, areas where there is perhaps less capability today, and that would clearly go in the mix of a range of reasons why those areas will be selected."

Funds raised through private debt markets will provide NBN Co with $3.5 billion it said will be spent on "network investments that will benefit homes and small businesses across the fibre-to-the-node (FTTN), fibre-to-the-curb (FTTC) and hybrid-fibre-coaxial (HFC) networks".

Currently FTTN connections perform so poorly some telcos, (including the country's biggest), won't sell you anything faster than a 50mbps connection if you have to rely on an FTTN connection because it can rarely deliver it.

The goal is to have 75 per cent of premises connected to a fixed-line service that gives them "access to peak wholesale speed tiers of 500mbps to close to 1gbps", which require fibre.

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Your friendly neighbourhood NBN node.
Your friendly neighbourhood NBN node.

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Around six million customers connect to the NBN via fibre technology, whether through the old HFC network, or fibre to the curb or premises.

More Australians currently connect to the NBN via fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) connections than any other type, which rely on the old copper phone network to go from your house to a neighbourhood "node" that connects to the fibre network.

The new plan is to build smaller fibre networks from the node through the neighbourhood, and if you want to connect your home to the fibre network there will be a way for your telco to make it happen (which could and likely will cost you extra)

The most recent Measuring Broadband Australia report from May said that 10 per cent of NBN services "underperform", and 95 per cent of them are FTTN connections.

A service underperforms if it routinely gets closer to the speed offered by the speed tier below the one the customer is actually on (for example if you're paying for a 50mbps plan but your speed is more frequently below 37.5mbps than above it, your service is underperforming).

If you're on one of those plans then there might be relief on the way at least, if you're lucky enough to be selected in the roughly two million new premises.

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New fibre connections should provide more options to some NBN customers.
New fibre connections should provide more options to some NBN customers.

Already, 16 per cent of Australians are dissatisfied with their current home internet speed, according to the Consumer Sentiment Tracker conducted by comparison site Finder.

Finder editor-in-chief Angus Kidman told news.com.au the announcement that two million more homes and businesses would get access to fibre is an "interesting" one but "there's so much we don't know yet".

"We've been given what sounds like a very ambitious timeline and I think it's worth remembering that at every stage of the NBN, the timelines were optimistic and the costings were optimistic.

"The one thing I can confidently say is that this won't be finished by 2023 and it will cost more than they say it'll cost now, that's just the nature of these large projects."

A former NBN contractor echoed the sentiment on Twitter.

Mr Rue said, at least from an NBN perspective, there will be no additional cost to consumers from the cost of expanding the fibre network, or from the company's newly announced "line speed uplift program" aimed at resolving in-home cabling issues for premises on the FTTN network.

"What is apparent is that there are challenges in some people's homes regarding the in-home wiring they have where the signal disperses, there's interference effectively and you can get lower speeds and sometimes lower reliability."

Mr Rue stressed this is outside the NBN network and is a problem with the customer's home.

"What we'll do is have technicians who either, on connection or selected visits or a normal instance where they'd go into a home to remediate an issue, will also look at home wiring to see if we can resolve some issues they may have in either speed or reliability.

"We know there are homes that can receive higher speeds than they're getting purely due to their home situation," Mr Rue said.

More neighbourhoods will get their own fibre networks to connect to the local node.
More neighbourhoods will get their own fibre networks to connect to the local node.

If you're told you have cabling issues however it's likely it will be your responsibility to fix (or the landlord who owns the house you rent).

Mr Rue said the expansion of the fibre network "enables more consumers who may wish to order higher speeds to order those higher speeds from their chosen retailer".

"All we're doing is enabling more choice across a wider footprint to basically have the ability to order speeds, those products will be sold by the retailers and they may bundle up other things, our pricing mechanism to retailers is not changing at this time."

Mr Kidman said that was where consumers could potentially see prices go up.

"The fundamental economics of the NBN has always been 'if you want more speed you'll have to pay more for it' and there's no reason to assume that will be any different as new speeds come out."

Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) CEO Teresa Corbin said the announcement was great news "for Australians who need superfast speeds, such as those who run data heavy businesses from home or at the office".

She also predicted those who wanted faster internet will have to pay extra.

 

"It's important that consumers remember that faster NBN plans will inevitably come with higher costs.

"Current 1Gbps plans can cost around $150 per month, so consumers should carefully consider if these plans will be right for them.

"For most households that use the internet to stream TV shows and movies, read the news and browse social media, an NBN 50mbps plan may be a more cost effective choice."

Originally published as Mystery of whether you'll get faster internet