Over the next 6 month or so, many NBN users will be getting a free speed upgrade through their retail providers. We’ve seen the vast majority of NBN retailers offering this upgrade, providing users connections are capable of supporting the higher speeds. This is undoubtedly part of the NBNs plan to get rid of the lower speed tiers, pushing all users to higher speeds after NBN Co showed its hand a year ago, boosting CVC to cope with higher daily demands on the network.
The premise of this is pretty simple, users are going to be given a taste of something better and enough time for it to become “normal” and then it will be taken away. At the end of the 6 months, your options are to pay for the upgraded speed — NB. there are price changes in effect now — or go back to the previous speed you were on.
I’ve been one of the many NBN users who have received a free speed upgrade from my paid option (100/40) up to the “Superfast” 250/25 speed and that’s shown me — perhaps confirmed is perhaps a better phrase — a couple of things.
Download speed is great, but it isn’t everything
I’m not going to lie, having literally 2.5 x the download speed I previously had is pretty nice. While I don’t often download large volumes of data that maxes out my connection, when I have (since the upgrade) the downloads are coming through Superfast. ← See what I did there?
This is significant enough of a difference in speeds that even when I’m downloading game updates on steam or FTP transfer large files, other streams in the house aren’t interrupted. In fact, we can maintain multiple video streams in HD or better and still not interrupt my gaming experience.
To put this into some context, some basic maths:
- SD Streaming needs around 3Mbps
- HD needs around 7Mbps
- 4K needs a minimum of 25Mbps, with a recommendation of around 40Mbps per stream – this allows for live streaming and some of the complexities there
So in reality, for the average family, a 100Mbps connection should be enough for streaming entertainment if you work on the theory of a single 4K stream to the main TV and a couple of HD streams to tablets or phones. The big advantage — other than bragging rights — to having higher download speeds is if you’re transferring large files on a regular basis. Your upstream speed can make a lot more difference than download speed if you’re doing more than streaming.
I lost upload speed and that hurts
But I lost quite a bit of upload speed, dropping from a 40Mbps upload to 25Mbps has created a bit of a bottleneck for me at times across a number of areas in my regular usage patterns.
Are we in the new normal?
Part of my paid work-life involves a fairly significant number of video calls. That’s using a fair whack of upstream data to project my face onto the screens and into the homes of people I work with and the people we help. But, aside from “you’re on mute”, a common theme of those calls is people’s video often not working well and that’s usually users with low upstream speeds.
Moving big chunks of days around
When we do reviews for Ausdroid, it’s not unusual to upload 30 or more photos at 4 – 6 megabytes per photo. That’s hundreds of megabytes to upload and despite the fact it goes at close to full speed, it feels slow, really slow, compared to 40Mbps.
If you’ve got a bit of data stored at home that you access remotely eg. from a NAS, the loss of upload speed could be significant. For me personally, I use Plex regularly and stream media from home to my mobile devices regularly. Thankfully, 25Mbps upstream is sufficient even for (in theory at least) a 4K stream, but in combination with other factors of data transfers and outbound streaming, I have noted some occasional buffering which I haven’t had since connecting to the NBN.
Gaming, where ping is King
The final area I noticed a degradation of service is when I’m gaming. While it’s only minimal, if I’m playing an online FPS, the kids are running a stream on the TV and my wife is watching Netflix: Since the drop from 40Mbps upload to 25, I can see roughly an 8ms increase in my ping times. It’s not causing major issues, but if you monitor these things you can quantify the losses.
What options are out there?
Because the NBN controls much of the residential space, you’re going to need to choose a speed and be happy with what you get. I’m lucky enough to be on FTTP so I’m usually nudging the theoretical full speed of my connection. I have a number of friends who are struggling to get 50Mbps downstream at offpeak times.
Frankly, the NBN’s fractured construction: FTTN, FTTC, HFC and FTTP versus the originally proposed fully fibre construction causes the majority of issues that are being seen by users. There are still some minor differences between providers. some will give you better evening speeds, where others have a touch more variety in the plans they offer and speeds across certain areas.
With all of that being said — like with anything technology-based — I’d happily recommend you get the best (in this case highest speed) you can afford. But you need to think about your usage patterns and needs to understand what’s going to yield the best results.
Don’t be fooled by the download speed trap, it’s only part of the story!
For me: When the free speed change period is finished, until our needs exceed the capabilities; I’ll be heading back to the 100/40. At the end of the day, as nice as it is, the upload speed we lost has had more impact on daily use than the extra download speed has given us.