The first flyer has arrived in your letterbox announcing the national broadband network (NBN) is coming to your area soon. A giddy sense of excitement follows. The spectre of your new life appears before your eyes: streaming Netflix in glorious high definition from every device in your house simultaneously, while uploading your photos to the cloud and finally being able to work from home without disruption.
But it isn't long before panic sets in. You've heard about the NBN, sure, but you don't know the first thing about what you need to do. Suddenly you're hit by the realisation that it's happening and you don't know where to start.
If you haven't upgraded your internet plan in a while, the move to the NBN is going to be a big one. There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle. The internet is your conduit to a world of entertainment, the way to stay in touch with others and often the first and last port of call for everyday life.
Ask yourself these questions:
What do you need the internet for?
How much do you want to spend?
What does your household look like?
Do you enjoy catch-up TV and streaming such as Netflix or Stan?
Do you need a home phone?
How old is your router?
Do you need wireless coverage?
How do I know when the NBN's coming?
If you haven't heard from nbn (the creatively-named company rolling out the NBN) or from a service provider, it probably means the work hasn't started on connecting your area to the network. If you want to check when you're likely to see the network at your place, there's an interactive rollout guide. It will also tell you your 'flavour' of NBN if you want to know what type of connection is coming to your place. If you want help understanding the more technical side of things, such as the different types of NBN services, see our NBN Q&A guide for a full explanation.
What does my household look like?
To help you decide what kind of NBN plan you need, conduct your own census on your household. You want to tally up how many people use the internet, the number of internet-connected devices and the main things you do using the internet. This will help give you a picture of your needs and should help when deciding what type of NBN plan to buy. It has to be said, this is just your starting point as many households find they tend to use more internet once they're connected to a faster, more reliable service. See where you match our household descriptions below and then once you've read through the sections explaining the speed tiers, consult the Guide to choosing an NBN plan table below to locate what type of plan might fit your needs.
I'm in a single/couple household
There might just be one or two of you in a house so naturally your needs will probably be lower than a household with many people all vying for the internet. This is a generalisation though, you may have heavy data needs because of how you work or because you spend your downtime playing online games and watching high definition movies on a streaming service. On the other end of the scale, you might be a pensioner who doesn't have huge internet needs so you'll only want a modest plan to avoid spending money on something you won't use much of.
I'm in a multi-person household
You might be a family with several adults and children or a large share house, but either way you're likely to have a significant demand for the internet. It's likely you'll have several people using the connection at the same time. A typical scenario could include someone streaming their favourite show while another may be gaming and then you've got someone doing their banking while another is writing emails. A plan on a speed tier of 25Mbps should be adequate, and 250GB or more per month will give you plenty of data with a load of headroom for those inevitable weeks when someone has a bit of downtime to binge-watch an entire series or has a busy week of working from home with large files.
I'm in an entertainment junkie household
If your place lives by the internet for all your entertainment, then you'll know it. You probably don't know what an ad break is and you've long forgotten to record shows. You grab it on catch-up TV. You have several subscriptions to streaming platforms such as Stan, Amazon Prime and Netflix. You love multi-player online games, you stream your music and regularly buy movies from iTunes or the Google Play store. You have a need for speed and loads of data to go around for everyone.
I'm in a tele-work household
You live in the cloud with files and photos stored and transferred through online data services, and one or more of you works from home on a regular basis. This means you need fast internet with a large data cap to handle all of your e-work needs and to give you capacity for browsing, as well as streaming and catch-up TV for when you knock off work.
You want to be comparing apples with apples. To do this, we've sketched out the main things you'll need to have on your list as you review different providers. The basics such as speed and data allowance are easy to compare, but it can get more complicated if you're factoring in bundling discounts, upfront costs for the first connection and/or new equipment. Your compare list should look like this:
New connection fee?
Contract length or month-to-month
Cost of any new technology such as modem or router included or extra?
Cost for extras such as international calls?
Music and Netflix/Stan streaming deals?
Any bundling discounts or special offers?
What speed do I need?
One of the most contentious things about the internet is speed. So let's be honest here. The speed you're quoted when comparing plans isn't the speed you're going to get every time you use the internet. You're buying a 'speed tier' where you're subscribing to a category with a theoretical maximum speed for your connection. First and foremost, the real world speed is affected by the type of NBN internet connection in your street, then the number of other users, the condition of the copper wiring to your house, and other factors.
You usually see two speeds quoted. The first relates to download speed, which affects browsing, streaming movies and downloading files to your computer. The second is the upload speed, which relates to saving files into the cloud, sending attachments and any other internet traffic that leaves your computer.
The speed is defined by how much data can be transferred per second to and from your computer. It's expressed as 'megabits per second' and is usually abbreviated as Mbps. For the technically minded, a megabit is one million bits, where each bit is a single unit, or a '0' or a '1', of digital information.
Speed 12/1 Mbps
This isn't really regarded as fast broadband. It's good for people who use the web for basic tasks and is similar to ADSL2+.
Music streaming, YouTube, standard definition (SD) Netflix streaming
Speed 25/5 Mbps
This is the lowest category of what's deemed to be 'fast broadband' and is good for general web usage with some online entertainment.
Streaming TV and movies
Speed 50/20 Mbps
If you're in a household with several people who need the internet for a range of tasks above and beyond general browsing, such as online gaming, working with large files and consuming entertainment in one or more streams and in high definition, this may be suitable.
High definition (HD) streaming
Tele-work with large files
This is the top speed category for the NBN, although this speed may not be available to you depending on where you live and the type of NBN connection at your place.
Ultra High definition (4K) streaming
Tele-work with large files
Multi-player/responsive gaming online
How much data do I need?
The amount of data you need will depend on how, and how much, you use the internet at home. It's worth noting that with higher speeds and more reliable internet service, which you should get once you've moved to the NBN, you're likely to use more data. That 50GB or 100GB plan that seemed so generous with your old service might soon seem a tight squeeze to stay under once you've made the move. If you haven't tried online movie and TV streaming, it might be time to take a free trial and see if it's to your liking once you're on the NBN. To find out all about the different streaming platforms and where to find the shows you're interested in, see our comprehensive streaming services comparison and getting started with streaming articles. If you're looking for a guide, here's some help on what you may or may not be able to do most days on different plans.
Guide to choosing an NBN plan
VoIP e.g. Skype
Music streaming e.g. Spotify/online radio
SD Netflix/Stan streaming
Household size (people)
*Note: This is an example of the cost you could pay for this kind of plan per month. It will vary according to provider, discounts for bundling, length of contract and special offers such as movie or music streaming. It's not a calculated average or medium cost and doesn't include new connection or equipment costs. It's for fixed line connections, not satellite or wireless and is a snapshot as at May 2017.
How much will it cost?
The cost of NBN plans vary between providers and depending on speed, data allowance and any bundling discounts for having multiple service with the one provider. It's important to compare with the same criteria when looking at the options for a new NBN plan. To do this, here are some simple things to keep in mind:
There is no separate phone line cost with the NBN unlike most existing ADSL services.
Compare one- or two-year contracts vs total month-to-month costs for the same period.
Check if a new connection fee is payable with all NBN providers you're comparing.
Check if there is a charge for new equipment such as NBN gateway (modem/router).
Check if there are late fees, penalties if you terminate a contract, paper bill or plan-change fees and any other charges.
The higher speed tiers tend to cost more per month.
The higher data plans tend to cost more per month.
Check if the plan includes calls to mobile or international numbers, or are these extra?
A plan for the elderly?
There have been many stories of elderly people who end up paying for internet and mobile services they don't need and don't use. It can be particularly difficult for older people to choose the right plan for their needs when they're not confident with the technical terminology or they may have impairments such as being hard of hearing or just not know where to go to find information on comparing plans and costs. They can often end up being talked into things by sales people or just choosing the first thing they're offered or taking the least stressful path of staying on an old, outdated plan even though it may have been superseded by newer, better value plans.
Ask about pensioner or veteran's discounts on phone and internet services.
Opt for month-to-month rather than a 24-month lock-in contract if you may move into residential care within the next two years.
Request a phone-only service when you move to the NBN if you don't need the internet.
Ask a relative or friend to go through your mobile, home phone and internet bills to calculate your usage then check if your plans match closely to your needs.
Compare plans from NBN providers by searching through the list at nbnco.com.au.
If you mostly use a home phone for calls, opt for a pre-paid mobile phone plan with a long expiry on the credit so you only pay when you use your mobile, and avoid post-paid contracts with lots of included calls and SMS that you don't need.
Use Skype on your computer to call overseas and don't pay for international calls or text messages if you don't regularly use these features.
Don't pay for a mobile plan with a large data allowance if you don't regularly use a smartphone for browsing, Facebook, banking etc.
Looking for a phone that just makes calls without all the extra bells and whistles? See our reviews of simple mobile phones.
Do I have to stay with my current provider?
Short answer is no. It might seem like the path of least resistance is to sign up to the NBN with your current service provider, but we'd strongly suggest shopping around. Sure it takes time and can be a bit of a hassle, but you might find a better deal with another provider. If you're not sure where to start, the nbn website has a list of providers that are available in your area. Choose several and then click through to the websites to compare the plans.
Do I have to sign a contract?
Not necessarily. It depends on what provider you choose to go with for your NBN service and what they're offering. Once it was the case that most internet plans came with a two-year contract, but there are now service providers offering month-to-month plans. Just check if you'll need to pay for a new connection and equipment charges and if there are any penalties for breaking a contract.
Do I need a new modem?
You will most likely need a new modem/router in your house (sometimes called a gateway). Your new NBN service provider should include the gateway as part of your package when you sign up and that way you don't have to figure exactly what you need. You then connect the gateway to your computer and it connects to the hardware boxes installed by nbn to deliver the internet to your home. If you want to buy your own gateway because there's a particular brand or model that you want, ask the service provider first to check if they allow BYO devices.
You should be able to plug your existing phone into the phone port on the new gateway (modem or router) provided with your new NBN connection. These devices should come with a built-in converter to turn the analogue voice into a digital signal that can travel via the internet. There should be a port labelled 'voice', 'UNI-V' or with a phone symbol to indicate where to plug in the phone. The new NBN router should be equipped for Wi-Fi and your wireless devices should be able to reconnect when you've set up your new wireless network.
Likewise, your computer, smart TV, games console and any other gadgets that need a wired connection will plug into the ports on the back of the device marked 'LAN', 'UNI-D' or with a computer symbol. You should be able to keep your phone number, although you need to check with your service provider.
The other thing to know about the NBN is that your phone will need power to work. If there is a power outage your internet and your phone service may not work. You can opt to have a backup battery attached to the network connection box, but you may also want to have a charged mobile phone available if you don't want to be out of communications for any length of time.
See our latest Smart TV reviews to find the best telly to stream your favourite shows.
NBN connection timeline
18 months+ to disconnection of existing services
nbn and internet service providers send letters advising that NBN is under construction and will soon be coming to your street. To check the status on when services will be active and to find out what connection type you're getting at your house, go to nbnco.com.au/connect-home-or-business/check-your-address.
18 months to disconnection of existing services
The new network will be declared 'ready for service' by nbn, which means that the providers can go ahead and start connecting people and moving them off the existing services such as ADSL or cable.
< 18 months to disconnection of existing services
The service providers will be supporting both existing internet and new NBN services as it migrates customers from legacy to new NBN services. Consumers have up to 18 months to move to a new NBN service. Take your time to compare plans, ask questions about new equipment, new connection fees and contract length or month-to-month options.
< 6 months to disconnection of existing services
Now is the time to get ready to change to the NBN, if you haven't already, by choosing a provider and ordering a new plan and any new equipment. Don't be pressured by sales pitches or scare tactics that you may lose your phone number or face a penalty if you don't move. You have up to 18 months guaranteed by nbn. Only terminate your existing service when your new NBN service is up and running.
It's D-day and you've hit the end of the 18-month window and existing services will be turned off. Check that you're not continuing to be billed for your old service and have everything running by this date so you're not in a panic when the old service is terminated. It can take several weeks for a technician to come to your place and install the connection box for your house or apartment, depending on where you live and your provider's schedule. Then you'll need to have the service turned on, set up the new gateway (the modem or router), plug in the phone and test that the service is active and running. You want to do this at least a few months ahead of this final date so you're not caught out. If you do miss the disconnection date, all is not lost. Act quickly and sign up for a new NBN service and then you can request that your existing service is restored while you wait for the NBN connection to be activated – there is only a five-week window to ask for reconnection of existing services while you wait.
What if I'm not happy with my NBN service?
In an ideal world, you get the NBN and your internet woes become a distant memory. Your internet connection, and therefore your life, runs smoothly and quickly with no timeouts, dropouts or zone outs. Unfortunately, we live in the real world where things don't always run perfectly. The NBN like anything can have its bad days and particularly as it's a multi-technology network that blends copper, pay TV and fibre technology, there can be hiccups. Internet providers may need a little time to fine tune the new NBN services, particularly if large numbers are moving to the new network, and they need to provision enough bandwidth for everyone. If you have problems, it's best to contact your internet provider and ask for some assistance. If the service is problematic on an ongoing basis, it becomes a more serious problem.
The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) is the industry watchdog where you can lodge a complaint if you can't get it resolved satisfactorily by your service provider. nbn itself is a wholesale provider of the network and as such it won't handle direct consumer issues and will most likely send you back to your service provider if you try to make a complaint. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has information on your consumer rights when it comes to internet services, including how to make a complaint to the ACCC if the issue falls under or fails a consumer guarantee.