Why Your NBN Speeds are Slower Than What You Pay For

Why Your NBN Speeds are Slower Than What You Pay For
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NBN speed tiers seems pretty straight forward. The higher the number the faster the connection. But what your plan says you should get isn’t what you actually receive in the real world. Here’s why.

Different NBN Speeds explained

NBN plans are categorised by their speed tiers. This basically means they are defined by the maximum download and upload speeds available via an optimal connection. This is measured in megabits per second (Mbps).

For example, an NBN 100/20 plan means it can theoretically get 100Mbps down and 20Mbps up.

But just because a connection is capable of going a certain speed doesn’t mean it will. In fact, it generally won’t. This is because not all internet connections are made equal and a number of factors can impact the end result.

Some can get overly technical. For example, if a telco overcrowds a port. But you’re really getting into the weeds at that point. Here are the more likely and significant reasons for slower NBN speeds.

NBN congestion

You may have noticed that NBN service providers will advertise their “typical” evening speeds. This is important because it tells you how fast the connection is likely to be during the busiest time of day – 7pm to 11pm. This is when most users are using the network simultaneously.

It’s also the most significant factor when it comes to speed being impacted. The more people online, the more congested the network.

It’s such a crucial element that the ACCC releases a quarterly report that ranks the typical evening performance of Australian NBN providers.

While every service provider experiences congestion, it’s not in equal measure. Here’s how major NBN providers fare:

So why does congestion happen? The main culprit is Connectivity Virtual Circuit (CVC).

CVC

On top of paying for access to the network itself, NBN service providers like Aussie Broadband and Optus  pay a CVC charge to NBN Co to access bandwidth. The more CVC a provider reserves, the more bandwidth they have available to guarantee NBN speeds during peak hours.

This is how NBN Co explains it:

“Think of this as the thickness of a pipe that determines the maximum amount of water flowing through – which is why the peak time of day is considered when determining how much flow through an RSP needs to adequately serve its customers. While the amount of CVC purchased limits the total volume of data being passed between the two networks, the more practical impact of not purchasing enough will constrain the observed speed during busy traffic times.”

CVC is so crucial to NBN speeds that NBN Co released 40 per cent extra CVC to all NBN providers during COVID-19. This was because of the sheer number of people who began working and studying from home, as well as staying indoors more often in general.

While the offer was only supposed to be in effect for a couple of months, it has been extended twice due to the state of the virus in Australia.

Interestingly, several Australian telcos don’t seem to like the CVC model. You can read Aussie Broadband’s take on it here. Telstra even backs the company up.

There’s a little more to it…

But it isn’t just CVC that needs to be purchased by service providers to keep NBN speeds at a decent level. They also need backhaul and transit.

Backhaul is the connection between your telco and NBN Co. Transit is the connection between your telco and the wider internet.

Both backhaul and transit are cheaper than CVC but can still impact the speeds if an adequate amount isn’t purchased. In general a telco will buy the same amount of backhaul and transit per customer as CVC.

NBN Connection Type

There are seven different NBN connection types in Australia, with some being superior in terms of speed and service than others.

The problem is that NBN speed tiers are often available across multiple connection types – but that doesn’t mean you’ll get the same speed.

For example, NBN 100 is available across several different NBN connection types. But a Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) connection is generally going to be faster than a Fibre to the Node (FTTN) connection.

Here’s a break down of those different connection types:

Fibre to the premises (FTTP)

What is it?

Fibre to the premises (FTTP) connects your home directly to the NBN via a fibre optic cable. A multi-fibre ribbon runs from the closest fibre distribution hub and your home gets its own dedicated fibre from it.

Speeds available on FTTP

FTTP is generally considered the fastest connection as it has the lowest speed degradation and highest potential for download and upload speeds due to how close and direct the connection is.

FTTP is one of only two NBN connection types that can access the fastest possible speed tiers NBN 250 and NBN 1000.

It can also access NBN 100, NBN 50, NBN 25 and NBN 12.

Real world speeds will be dependent on your plan and network congestion. Not all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have the same speeds. You may also  find your speeds impacted during peak hours. This is the same for every type of NBN connection.

Fibre to the node (FTTN)

What is it?

Fibre to the node (FFTN) utilises existing copper phone and internet wires to connect your home to the NBN. These wires runs from a premises to a central node in your neighbourhood. A fibre optic cable then runs from the node to the nearest fibre distribution hub.

FTTN is generally slower than FTTP due to the older cables and lack of direct fibre connection to the home.

These copper cables could all get replaced in the future. But considering NBN Co bought an extra 50,000km of copper wire to finish its network roll out in June 2020, don’t get your hopes up.

Speeds available on FTTN

FTTN can access four of NBN’s speed tiers — NBN 12, NBN 25, NBN 50 and NBN 100. NBN Co advises that your home needs to be within 400 metres of the node to hit NBN 100 speeds.

Fibre to the building (FTTB)

What is it?

Fibre to the building is specifically designed for apartments and buildings. A fibre optic cable connects the building’s basement or telco room. From there, individual cables will run into your apartment or office.

What type of cable this is depends on the age of the building. In most cases it will be the old copper cables. However, newer buildings may use Ethernet cables.

Speeds available on FTTN

FTTN can access four of NBN’s speed tiers — NBN 12, NBN 25, NBN 50 and NBN 100. Because the fibre connection point is closer than FTTN, and there’s less copper involved, you’re more likely to hit these speeds.

Real world speeds will be dependent on your plan and network congestion. Not all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have the same speeds. You may also  find your speeds impacted during peak hours. This is the same for every type of NBN connection.

Fibre to the Curb (FTTC)

What is it?

Fibre to the curb (FTTC) involves running a fibre optic cable straight to the curb or driveway. From there one of the older copper phone cables connects the NBN to the premises.

While not as good as FTTP, it cuts down a lot of the speed degradation experienced by FTTN. This is because the fibre part of the connection is closer to your home than the node.

Speeds available on FTTC

FTTC can access four of NBN’s speed tiers — NBN 12, NBN 25, NBN 50 and NBN 100. Because the fibre connection point is closer than FTTN, and there’s less copper involved, you’re more likely to hit these speeds.

Real world speeds will be dependent on your plan and network congestion. Not all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have the same speeds. You may also  find your speeds impacted during peak hours. This is the same for every type of NBN connection.

HFC

Hybrid Fibre-Coaxial (HFC) is the oldest NBN connection type. It generally re-purposes existing pay TV cables, like Foxtel, to connect a home to the NBN.

Speeds available on HFC

A few years ago HFC was the slowest NBN connection available. But it has gotten some beefy upgrades and is now one of only two NBN connections that can access NBN 250 and NBN 1000.

It’s important to note that only 7 per cent of HFC-ready premises can actually get NBN 1000. And only 70 per cent can get NBN 250.

HFC is also able to access NBN 12, NBN 25, NBN 50 and NBN 100.

It also doesn’t get hit with speed degradation like FTTN due to distance from the node.

Real world speeds will be dependent on your plan and network congestion. Not all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have the same speeds. You may also  find your speeds impacted during peak hours. This is the same for every type of NBN connection.

Fixed Wireless

What is it?

Fixed wireless is an NBN solution for people in rural areas. It utilises fixed 4G towers to deliver the signal to the premises via an antenna on your roof.

We’re likely to see improvements to this type of NBN connection as 5G rolls out further.

Speeds available on fixed wireless?

Fixed wireless has access to NBN 12, NBN 25 and NBN 50. However, a unique speed tier has also been developed for fixed wireless – NBN 75, also known as Fixed Wireless Plus.

Real world speeds will be dependent on your plan and network congestion. Not all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have the same speeds. You may also  find your speeds impacted during peak hours. This is the same for every type of NBN connection.

Fixed wireless speeds can also be impacted by large obstacles between your premises and the tower. It can also be more prone to congestion than most other NBN connections due to being wireless.

NBN Satellite Sky Muster

What is it?

Satellite NBN, or Sky Muster, is similar to Fixed Wireless in that its for rural areas that can’t connect to the NBN in any other way. However, it takes it a step further as its able to service remote areas that don’t have stable 4G access.

A satellite ground station sends the connection to a satellite, which sends it back down to a rooftop satellite on the premises.

Another option for Satellite NBN in Sky Muster Plus. This allows data-free access to some basic online activities, including email, phone and computer updates, some text-based social media and messenger services and text-based web browsing.

Speeds available on Satellite NBN

Due to the degrees of separation Satellite NBN has less speed options than its grounded counterparts. Generally you can only get NBN 12 or NBN 25 speed tiers.

Real world speeds will be dependent on your plan and network congestion. Not all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have the same speeds. You may also  find your speeds impacted during peak hours. This is the same for every type of NBN connection.

Satellite NBN can have the same elevated congestion problems as fixed wireless due to not being a wired connection.


Knowing your connection type is important because it is not factored into the typical evening NBN speeds that telcos advertise. This is because these speeds are just an indicator of what you should get on a optimal connection. But as we can see from the above, not all connections are optimal.

Other NBN Speed factors

There are a couple of other things that can impact your NBN speed. It’s possible that you have old wiring in your house. You might also have a less than ideal modem or router.

Replacing these (admittedly the wiring would be a big job) could help improve the download and upload speeds in your home.