When NBN and TPG are battling for your broadband budget

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When NBN and TPG are battling for your broadband budget

[Blog post] What to do when you have too much fibre in your diet.

I'm in an incredibly fortunate position - I've got three fibre providers competing for my dollars in my apartment block.

NBN just recently became the latest to install its equipment in my basement, alongside TPG and Open Networks.

The situation arose after my block's executive committee decided it didn't want to wait for an uncertain period of time for the NBN to come along, so last October contacted Open Networks to provide a fibre connection to our basement, which offers wholesale speeds of 100Mbps down and 40Mbps up.

TPG arrived in February - just after it became subject to the government's new carrier license condition - and installed fibre in the basement, which apparently piqued NBN's interest and got it moving.

NBN installed its equipment in August, and this week I received my "NBN connect kit" in the mail.

But with so much choice, how would your average Joe know which option to pick?

TPG's decision to extend its fibre network to cover 500,000 metropolitan apartments - combined with NBN's mandate to cover 93 percent of Australia with some form of broadband - means this is a pickle many other city apartment dwellers will face.

Undoubtedly, historical rollout delays and uncertain timelines with the NBN may also propel other multi-dwelling units to contact companies like Open Networks to ensure dwellers have access to the same level of broadband as others in the new developments constantly popping up in major cities.

Is having too much choice a bad thing? How do potential buyers know which network will provide the best value for their apartment?

For the greater public good (you're welcome), I donned a non-techie's hat and embarked on an effort to work out the pros and cons of my three potential fibre providers, and how your average prospective user might be able to tell the difference.

Let's start with NBN

A lot of people were very upset when the previous government's fibre-to-the-premise model was canned by the Libs in favour of the multi-technology mix - and judging by conversations with non-technical family and friends, most aren't really sure what the NBN now involves.

So how does the 'NBN connect kit' help clear this up?

It speaks a lot about great speeds - "even when the whole household is online at the same time" and makes it pretty clear that I'll need to move my existing phone and internet services to the NBN before February 17 next year, because this won't happen automatically.

It also tells me that I'll need to take action if I have a medical alarm, emergency call system or monitored security alarm system by calling the manufacturer and asking what I need to do. 

Installation for the NBN is free (nice) but if I want it all the way up into my apartment I'll have to pay extra (not so nice).

I can keep my existing home phone number, but I need to ask my phone company or internet provider if I can move to an NBN plan. 

Fairly straightforward.

It would, however, be helpful to make it a bit clearer NBN is a wholesale network, maybe by listing the names of several RSPs I could contact. 

Next: I'm told to go to nbn.com.au to find a list of providers. Right up the top of the page is a menu item that invites me to check my address to see if I'm NBN-ready. 

It recognises me, but in contrast to my letter, tells me I have until April 14 2017 to make the switch, not February 17 2017. Ok then.

I select the option to display a list of providers, and I've got six to choose from - Exetel, Dodo, Optus, Telstra and its Belong subsidiary, and iPrimus.

Each company's mention is linked to their NBN plan webpage and their phone numbers are clearly listed. Great! Let's give them a call.

Here's where it gets interesting.

The first one I call tells me I can get the NBN plan straight away, but I'm not sure how the sales guy knows since I haven't given him my address. I'm dubious and hang up.

The second provider I call checks my address, but tells me I can't sign up yet because NBN Co needs to do further installation work. I need to call NBN Co and speak to them before I can sign up with the provider, apparently.

The next provider says I can sign up with them now, but before the service actually goes live, NBN will need to send a technician out to do a bit more work in the basement.

But the provider will handle all that, the salesperson says, and hopefully once the order is placed it shouldn't take longer than a few weeks. (He wasn't too complimentary of how NBN Co goes about the process, either, telling me stories of NBN techs abandoning work they considered too hard).

Another internet provider has a handy address checker on its website, which helpfully informs me I can't get the NBN in my area yet. I call anyway, and am told I do in fact have fibre to the basement.

The sales person doesn't know too much about FTTB "because it's so new" - a reoccurring theme with the NBN resellers I've contacted - and has to go check how it all works.

She says I can get a service but an NBN technician will need to do some "jumpering" before I can start using it, which could take a few days or a couple of weeks, depending on how available NBN's techs are.

Maybe TPG will be easier? 

I hop on to TPG's website and punch my address into its coverage checker, and bingo, I've got fibre.

It takes me to TPG's Wondercom retail arm for FTTB, which tells me I am eligible for its home phone + broadband bundle, for the low price of $69.99 a month.

That's great, except I don't want a home phone. And there's no other option. 

So TPG's out, let's try Open Networks then.

My block is listed as covered on Open Networks' map, and there's apparently six providers I can choose from.

The Open Networks site lets me know that because my building is covered by fibre-to-the-node, a technician will need to come out and complete the connection for the service to go live - but retail service providers can handle that for me.

Cool, let's give the service providers a call and see what they can offer.

Will I be able to get an Open Networks service - which promises the same speeds as NBN and TPG - faster than the several weeks it will likely take to get me on the NBN?

No, or, maybe, it turns out.

One service provider advises me that because a technician needs to come out and install a box in my apartment, it will take between 25 and 30 days to get me on to the faster speeds.

That's double the amount of time the NBN resellers said it would take me to get on the national broadband network.

Another says it won't be that long, it will probably be a more reasonable 10 business days.

Cheap = best?

So timing doesn't seem to make a difference, maybe my choice will be made easier based on price?

Turns out that's not so simple either.

On the face of it, pricing for NBN and Open Networks on the same speed tier appears to be pretty similar.

Let's say I'm after 100GB download per month at the 12/1 speed tier.

On Open Networks, pricing at that level can range from $39.95 per month to up to $60 monthly. Seems pretty reasonable at face value.

There aren't as many 100GB plans for the NBN in my apartment block, with only two service providers offering either $39.95 per month or $50 per month for that amount of data at the 12/1 speed tier.

I'd need to go up to to 200GB and therefore pay somewhere between $60 and $80 per month to get the data quota I was after from most of the other service providers offering NBN in my block.

So, based on that I should go with Open Networks - but digging a little further I found I was way more likely to get slugged with hefty activation and hardware charges on Open Networks resellers than I was with NBN service providers.

So who did I go with?

Well, I'm not going to tell you that. 

But the whole exercise did teach me that for someone not au fait with the current fibre environment in Australia - but who still wants to get bang for their buck - it's a daunting task.

I'm also guessing your average metropolitan Joe would be quietly wondering why we're spending more than $41 billion in part to roll out broadband to those who already have plenty of fibre in their diet.

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Allie Coyne

Allie Coyne is a Sydney-based journalist and the editor of iTnews.

Coyne started on iTnews in 2013 after almost two years running the website of technology channel publication CRN.

Coyne won best new journalist in the 2013 Microsoft IT Journalism Awards, and was named best business technology journalist at the same awards in 2015, again in 2016, and won best security journalist in 2018. She left iTnews in 2018.

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