Which broadband plan is right for me?

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CNET Editor

Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.

If you're switching to broadband for the first time or contemplating changing your Internet Service Provider (ISP), the range of plans on offer can be quite staggering. This guide will break down the key features you need to consider before signing on the dotted line.

Plan types

How much you'll pay for broadband used to revolve mostly around speed, but these days you've also got to take into consideration factors such as wireless coverage, data allowances, rapid transfer provisions and whether or not you're bundling in other services. Still, there are some common factors that any broadband provider should be able to supply to you for the sake of comparison.

Whether you're connecting via ADSL/ADSL2+ on your phone lines, cable, fibre or even wirelessly, you're constrained by the speed rating of the plan you're offered. It's worth bearing in mind that ISPs typically state the maximum theoretical speed of a plan with lots of "up to" provisos thrown in to keep the lawyers at bay. At the lower speed end this is usually not much of a problem, but don't buy a high speed ADSL2+ plan and expect to get the full 24Mbps speed unless you happen to live in an exchange or ISP's headquarters.

ISPs state the speed of plans in terms of download (data coming to you) and upload (that's data you're sending out) speeds. So a 256/64Kbps plan offers a download speed of 256Kbps and an upload speed of 64Kbps. The lowest speed currently on offer is 256Kbps and is still called "broadband", although frankly it's an embarrassment in world broadband terms. We'd be happier thinking of broadband starting at 1000Kbps and better, and so should you.

All forms of broadband will require additional equipment if you're moving up from dial-up internet. In every case you'll need a new modem — different for each type of broadband technology. If you're signing up with an ISP for a long-term contract, it's worth checking if they'll include a modem (or router) as part of the package. While these aren't terribly expensive for the most part, you may as well get the most value possible.

Understanding the different broadband types

ADSL — up to 8Mbps down • 384Kbps up
Availability: high | Speed: low to medium

Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) uses your standard phone lines to deliver broadband access. It's generally a resold Telstra service, and so has widespread availability and is offered by nearly every ISP.

Good availability, works at a longer distance from the exchange than ADSL2+
There's not much pricing competition — that fight's currently in ADSL2/Naked DSL spaces.

Best suited to: those on limited budgets, or who need broadband for its "always on" functionality rather than data speed or high throughput.

ADSL2+ — up to 24Mbps down • 2Mbps up
Availability: low | Speed: high

ADSL2+ offers higher speeds than ADSL, but at the cost of needing to live closer to the exchange. A number of ISPs also have their own equipment (called DSLAMs) installed into exchanges, meaning the market is quite price competitive. Upload speeds are typically limited to a maximum of 1Mbps, but if your ISP supports something called Annex M, this can go higher to 2Mbps.

Faster than ADSL, competitive pricing.
Need to live closer to the exchange, often simply not available in regional areas.

Best suited to: speed freaks on a budget.

You may have also heard of Naked DSL — a subset of ADSL2+. Non-Telstra carriers are able to strip out the phone line signal — hence "Naked" — which means you get the speed and price competition of ADSL2+ and you don't have to pay for line rental at all. Unfortunately, these cost savings are often neutered by ISPs requiring you to sign up to a bundle deal with Voice over IP (VoIP), conveniently costing about the same as a plan plus line rental — only now you're paying the ISP instead of Telstra.

It saves you money on line rental. Bundled VoIP plans can save you a packet on local and international calls.
If you don't want VoIP, you're essentially wasting around the same money you would on line rental anyway. You quite literally don't have a working "phone" line either — even if your ISP has supplied you with a VoIP account to "replace" this, if your internet connection goes down, your entire communications set-up goes down with it. Additionally, some phone-based services such as security systems don't play well with VoIP lines.

Best suited to: those who only use mobiles anyway and want low overall communication costs.

Cable — up to 30Mbps down • 1Mbps up (Telstra) | Up to 20Mbps down • 512Kbps up (Optus)
Availability: very low | Speed: high

Uses the cable infrastructure laid down for Pay TV in the early 1990s. Currently very limited areas can get cable.

While Telstra has separate and distinct plans for cable, Optus operates differently — you choose an internet plan first based on usage, your address is then assessed, and the best available broadband solution is chosen for you, preferencing cable if it exists. Good for those who want all the thought taken out of setting up the internet and don't care about the pros and cons, but not so great for those who want control of their destiny.

High download speeds.
Despite claims, upload speeds can often leave a lot to be desired. Limited competition between Telstra and Optus has seen plan values compare unfavourably next to Naked DSL and even most ADSL2+ plans.

Best suited to: those who can get a decent bundle with other services, or can't get ADSL2+ and want the speed.

Fibre — up to 100Mbps down • 5Mbps up
Availability: extremely low | Speed: very High

Fibre is only laid in very limited areas at the moment, but the government's National Broadband Network (NBN) will see it spread across the nation in the coming years.

Incredibly fast speeds, approaching Ethernet (only the upload speed holds it back!). In many cases, fibre will be faster than some servers will willingly send you data.
Extremely selective availability, usually limited to new housing estates. Still quite a price premium.

Best suited to: those who want the internet in their backyard.

Wireless broadband — up to 21Mbps down • 1.92Mbps up (Telstra only, others slower)
Availability: extremely High | Speed: medium, although variable based on location

Also called "mobile broadband", it typically uses the same infrastructure as 3G mobile phones, although some limited regional set-ups use alternate technologies such as WiMax.

Apart from Telstra, everyone runs on a 3.6Mbps down, 384Kbps up network, despite the existence of 7.2Mbps devices. Telstra offers more leg room, with the 21Mbps down, 1.92Mbps up with a specific modem as listed above, but even it admits the most you'll likely see is 8Mbps.

Wireless internet uses the mobile phone network to send data, giving you lots of movement capability, whether it's by using your mobile as a "tethered" modem, or getting a USB modem to plug into your computer.
As with your mobile phone, the quality of the signal can vary quite widely, making it generally less than suitable for high-speed internet activities such as gaming. Some wireless data plans also offer very low data caps, and can be horrendously expensive, especially if you go over said data limits.

Best suited to: those renting accommodation, or those who can afford the higher wireless data rates.

Satellite — up to 4Mbps (typically only 1Mbps) • 512Kbps up
Availability: requires infrastructure installation | Speed: low to medium

Satellite uses either a combination satellite and phone line or two-way satellite for broadband access. Typically, satellite isn't very fast or suitable for high bandwidth applications such as VoIP or gaming, but may be the only option for remote areas. It's also comparatively expensive, but the Australian Broadband Guarantee can provide some relief in that aspect. Satellite typically maxes out at 1Mbps down and 512Kbps up; however, some services can push this to 4Mbps down, depending on your location.

The last ditch effort if you can't get any other form of broadband.
Expensive, requires satellite installation, not particularly impressive speeds.

Best suited to: those who can't get anything else and must have broadband.

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gavolo posted a comment   

how do I find out which options are available in my area?


Voip Reviews posted a comment   

Right now the best service providers are those like phonepower, phone.com and vontastic. All of them are available for under $30. I found a great deal on my recent purchase at www.voiprater.com - they had a 30 day trial link for ringcentral which is the provider I chose for my home business line.


Which Broadband plan posted a comment   

Phone & Broadband Bundles are the most popular at the moment but you can easily compare plans at www.BroadbandGuide.com.au/


rugrat01 posted a comment   

Thanks for the great info am considering adsl because telstra wireless is useless now i moved 70km out of Darwin drop outs all the time an very slow if the wind blows keep up the good work there an thank-you once again!!!


terrawarra posted a comment   

I recently (3 months ago) upgraded from dial-up to broadband. I did the mormal trawling through all of the "best deals" on offer but was put off by some of the reviews of those top names such as, Soul, Dodo, TPG and so on. It appears that to get the best deal, you have to talk to someone in Singapore, China, or India and that isn't a good thing if you live in Australia. I googled, "The best broadband company in Australia and it came up: "WESTNET". What an absolute pleaure it's been dealing with these people. They answer the phone within seconds and I talk to a real live person who speaks "Aussie" as I do. What's more,their plans are such good value and most important, the speed and connection is so damn consistently good. I'm so happy that I signed up with Westnet.


tobb posted a comment   

nice! now i understand what broadband means... and the other stuff... thats a meatiful info! Thanks so much!


hammer posted a comment   

great imformation, found most helful


fickle posted a comment   

1 more choice that customers have is to connect Naked ADSL broadband. This is a new technology (been around for about 1 year) which allows us to connect ADSL2+ Internet without having to pay a monthly line rental.
You will still need to connect the phone line initially but you will not be required to pay the ongoing monthly line rental. I discovered this on the following website www.cheapbroadbandplans.com.au & apparently it seems that they use the Optus ADSL2+ backbone. this is what i was able to gather when I spoke to them.
At the moment very few companies are offering Naked ADSL2+ broadband. I also discovered that www.iinet.com.au is another one that offers naked adsl
But feel free to check both the above companies.
You will also want to set up a VoIP service with this kind of connection so that you use a cheap phone service in conjunction with your broadband.


130274 posted a comment   

I agree totally with all the previous comments, this has been most helpful and informative..Thank you so much, witten speaking for myself in laymans terms, so is easy to understand and well explained, and has been most helpful. Very much apreciated :)
Thank you


kipriyanka posted a comment   

You are bridging the gap between cuatomers and ISP'S, great effort, thank you so much

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