While NBNCo would like us to all wait patiently for their trucks to roll along our streets and connect us to the national network, the reality is that a combination of impatience and mixed reports of network performance have many people considering the alternatives. While the NBN garners lots of attention and a connection to your home is mandatory, you don't actually have to use that connection. There are alternative services that mean you can sidestep signing up with the NBN/RSP combination. Here are some of the alternatives.
The fastest residential NBN plans available offer 100Mbps downloads. There are some faster connection options for the fortunate folks who were able to get fibre-to-the-premises connections during the early days of the project. But for most of us 100Mbps is the best we can get.
However, a bunch of smaller providers are popping up and providing fast services either in specific suburbs or in new developments. For example, earlier this week we looked at Fiber Corp, which is bringing high speed fibre to new developments in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. It's offering up to 2Gbps - that's 20 times faster than the NBN. And there are so-called "fibre through the air" services like Uniti Wireless, which is providing 100Mbps connections to customers in Adelaide and Melbourne.
So, what are your non-NBN, fast internet options?
HFC Cable If You Can
I moved into my place last year and I had the option of HFC cable with a 100Mbps connection so I took that. If you live in an area where that's an option, it should offer better performance and, at least in my experience, reliability over ADSL if you can get it.
Here's a selection of HFC Cable plans that offer good value for money:
If you don't have a need for lots of data then it may be plausible to use a cellular connection. All three major carriers as well as many MVNOs offer cellular data options with enough bandwidth for email, web browsing and a reasonable amount of streaming with up to 250GB of available data. And, until the NBN came along, those connections often delivered faster uploads than most of the fixed carriers. Many of my colleagues would turn to cellular data connection to upload large files rather than wait with their ADSL or HFC connections.
Here are some hand-picked options that are worth considering:
And let's not forget the impending arrival of 5G services which will lift the performance bar substantially.
When you start searching for NBN alternatives, there's a lot of rhetoric and many promises. There are companies offering plans with up to 500Mbps for both uploads and downloads but when you scratch the surface, their coverage is limited to small pockets of major metropolitan centres or simply lead to inquiry forms where there's a promise of someone getting back to you when they can service your area.
In other words, there's some vapourware around.
At the end of 2016, we published a complete list of the Australian suburbs that were getting their internet upgraded to the NBN in 2017. Fast forward to 2018 and the rollout plan has changed significantly. Read on to find out when your area will be getting connected.
Open Cloud Communications is based in Bundaberg - the home of the Mon Repos sea turtle nesting grounds and a rum distillery. Their website doesn't offer a lot of information but they tout themselves as a "a high speed Internet service independent of the NBN". At the moment it looks like they're limiting their footprint to the Bundaberg region.
Uniti Wireless offers wireless broadband services in Melbourne and Adelaide with plans to expand its network into metropolitan Perth, Sydney and Brisbane before the end of the year. The company has been around since 2014 and offers 25Mbps, 50Mbos and 100Mbps plans starting at $29.95 per month although monthly charges increase if you go month-to-month rather than locking into a longer-term contract.
Also in Melbourne, there's Spirit. It promises connections of up to 100Mbps in both directions for $85 per month. But they are limited to two areas in Melbourne's inner city suburbs of Fitzroy and Collingwood.
Rather than sitting back and hoping it will all work, South Australia made broadband an election issue earlier this year and there are now three fibre network projects on the go. But while that's brewing, NuSkope is offering some fixed wireless plans although they seem to be capped at 40Mbps.
Kern WiFi is also offering better than ADSL performance with up to 1TB of monthly data in Perth. And Pentanet offers 50Mbps plans but they get pretty expensive if you're a heavy user. It doesn't look like there are a lot of alternatives once you get out of the city in the west. Red Broadband offers some fixed wireless options but they're limited to 12Mbps in rural areas.
You can find Pentanet's chief plan offerings below:
Tracking down local NBN alternatives in New South Wales is tricky as there are a number of local providers servicing small areas. It seems that Sydney's hilly terrain makes large-scale fixed wireless deployments a challenge so providers are focussing on where they can get the required links to work where the local geography isn't a major issue.
OpalNet is an option offering 1Gbps up and down of your budget can stretch to almost $340 per month. But a 50Mbps connection is just $79.90 per month. W3 Networks offers 100Mbps "AirFibre" connections for under $100 per month. Both those services only operate in limited areas.
We thought we were going to enjoy 100Mbps of speedy internet access. Then the politicians got involved and we ended up with something of a dog's breakfast - or dog's vomit according to some. So, what are the connectivity options that the NBN will deliver and how do they differ? Let's take a look.
The reality is that while the NBN will eventually reach into almost every home and business there are alternatives. My advice is to closely monitor local Facebook groups and other community noticeboards. Chances are that if a new provider decides to offer services in your area that they'll either advertise there or you'll be able to seek recommendations from other locals.