Technology Training

Why your NBN is slow (and how you can speed it up)

There’s nothing worse than a slow internet connection. Slow internet gets even worse when you’ve been promised – and are possibly paying for – a fast internet connection. While the quality of NBN service has gone up in Australia over the last year, NBN slowdown is still a relatively common issue, and there are plenty of possible causes.

Fortunately, there are also plenty of possible solutions and I will walk you through each problem you might be experiencing and how it might be solved. NBN slowdown is a complex topic and what I suggest may not work for every single circumstance.

 

So what are the main reason for slow NBN?

  1. Network congestion
  2. Distance from the node
  3. Plan speed
  4. General connection issues

What is network congestion?

Much in the same way that traffic on the road can slow down during peak hours, the NBN can too. And for pretty much the same reason. NBN connections tend to slow down in the evening, when everyone is jumping online to stream, surf, download and more. Why is this? Well, internet service providers buy access to the NBN in bulk. They assess the number of connections in a certain area, then predict how much bandwidth they need. Bandwidth is capacity: think of it like the width of a road.  The wider a road the providers buy, the more cars can travel, but at a higher price to that provider. The narrower the road, the less bandwidth there is to share, and everyone’s performance takes a hit. It’s quite literally a traffic jam.

So how much do NBN connections slow down at night? It varies from provider to provider, but as a rough guide, these are the typical speeds you might experience on your NBN plan during peak times (7pm-11pm), according to the ACCC.

Speed Tier Maximum Speed Evening Speed
Basic (NBN 12) 12Mbps 7Mbps
Standard (NBN 25) 25Mbps 15Mbps
Standard Plus (NBN 50) 50Mbps 30Mbps
Premium (NBN 100) 100Mbps 60Mbps

 

While this might seem like a drastic slowdown, there’s good news. Not all NBN connections slow down by this much, and some barely slow down at all. If you’re mostly experiencing slow NBN speeds in the evening, you might want to change provider.

So, what can I do about network congestion?

Change NBN provider

Up until recently, Australians had little way of knowing how much or how little congestion was affecting their connection’s performance. Thankfully this has changed thanks to ACCC rules and recommendations that now require NBN providers to be more transparent about the services they sell. Now, any telco slinging NBN connections must disclose the speeds that you can expect during peak hours. This is also known as an “evening speed”. The result of these rules is that many providers have considerably improved their evening speeds, although some are much better than others.

Try mobile broadband

If you can’t get a decently speedy NBN connection at home, you might be best off cutting the cord and going wireless. As the name suggests, mobile broadband is a connection powered by the same networks used by smartphones. While it can be hard to quantify the exact speed of a mobile broadband connection – coverage can drastically affect performance – most Australians should be able to expect speeds of between 20Mbps and 100Mbps. Mobile broadband may be right for you if you can’t get a good fixed-line connection at your current address, or you’re constantly on the move for work or leisure. It also makes a great backup if your current connection is unreliable.

Sign up to a faster speed tier

If you suspect your NBN plan is the issue, there’s an easy fix. You can simply sign up for a faster plan. If you don’t know the speed of your NBN plan, you should be able to find it listed on your bill. I’d suggest that most Australians should be signing up for an NBN 50 plan (also known as Standard Plus Speed) at a minimum. NBN 50 is a massive speed boost over ADSL, and the plans tend to be excellent value. They’re also a great option for families. That’s because your NBN speed is a shared resource. If you subscribe to an NBN 50 plan, your 50Mbps is shared between every person and device in your household. For example, if you’re streaming a movie on Netflix, the internet will be slower for everyone else using your connection at the same time. Faster NBN speeds mean there’s more capacity to share: you can stream all the video you want and no one else will notice any slow-down.

 

What is distance from the node?

If your home is connected to the National Broadband Network using Fibre to the Node (FTTN) technology, the distance from your house to the node can make a huge difference in the speed and performance of your service. That’s because the NBN signal is carried from the node to your home using old copper wires, and the further the signal has to travel over copper, the more speed may degrade along the way. NBN Co estimates that about 90% of homes on FTTN should be within 700m of the nearest node, but even at this distance the signal can degrade quite a bit. This is referred to as “attenuation” and it’s one of the key reasons why many people experienced slow ADSL2+ speeds on their old ADSL connection. Basically, a house sitting next to the node will get a great speed, while houses further away will experience slower speeds. The greater the distance from the node, the slower the maximum achievable speed.

 

And what about the plan speed?

This might seem like a dumb suggestion, but one of the reasons for slower-than-expected NBN speeds could be the plan you’re on. There are four different NBN speed tiers, ranging from 12Mbps (Basic Evening Speed) to 100Mbps (Premium Evening Speed). If you’re on a cheaper plan, there’s a chance you’re on a 12Mbps connection. The problem with a 12Mbps connection is that it is designed to operate at speeds roughly equivalent to an old ADSL2+ connection. If you’re switching to the NBN and expect a big improvement in performance, you’ll be disappointed if you sign up for an NBN 12 plan. In some cases, providers don’t offer speed options, but will offer “speed boosts” instead. These work the same as choosing a higher speed tier, and often cost the same; between $10 and $30 extra per month, depending on how fast you want your connection to be.

 

How can I check for connection issues?

Networks are complicated and there are plenty of opportunities for small issues to create big problems. Especially on a network the size of the NBN. These issues can occur in the wider network or inside your home. Sometimes even both. In terms of the wider NBN, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) has fielded plenty of complaints that relate to good old-fashioned incompetence, delays, and faulty equipment. This isn’t unique to the NBN, but it’s frustrating nonetheless – especially because the solution can often be outside of your hands. If there are issues you just can’t solve, you may simply need to contact your internet provider and see what they can do.  No one should accept a faulty connection.

In terms of your home, there are plenty of factors that can affect the speed of your internet. These can include a dodgy modem, faulty wiring, or even how your furniture and appliances are arranged.

Troubleshooting

If think your NBN problems might exist inside your house, here’s some a few things you can try before you burn your modem, move to a cave, and swear off the internet forever.

The first step is running a speed test with your computer directly connected to your modem. By this, we mean plugging a laptop into the modem using an Ethernet cable – not testing using Wi-Fi.  There are a number of reasons why your Wi-Fi connection might suck, so testing over a cable is the best way to get a clear on the situation.

If you don’t have an Ethernet cable or your computer doesn’t have an Ethernet port, run a speed test with your laptop sitting right next to your modem. The results won’t be quite as conclusive, but they’ll still help diagnose the situation.  In either case, if your speed test is significantly faster over Ethernet (or when your device is right next to the modem), your Wi-Fi could be the culprit. The wireless signal might just not be powerful enough to cover your entire your house, or there could be other appliances – such as microwaves – creating inference.

The modem you were sent by your internet service provider could be to blame. We’ve heard several stories about how a replacement modem made all the difference in connecting the devices in a home with a decent, solid connection. I know that buying a new modem and setting it up is a pain in the neck, but it might be the difference between mediocre internet and getting the service you pay for. Just make sure you unpack the modem carefully and keep your receipt: if you find that the modem is not the culprit, you’ll want to return the new one.

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