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ADSL or NBN – Whats Best?

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There is no doubt that where fixed line NBN has replaced ADSL then in every respect the service on offer is better.

However, in areas where NBN has provided Fixed Wireless or Satellite ADSL services may still be available in many cases. Then the choice is not so clear.  In some respects ADSL may still offer some advantages. This is especially in the case of Satellite where the time delays can be large.

Although most ADSL has disappeared as the NBN has rolled out there are a few places where ADSL remains a choice. Also, there is no requirement to withdraw copper phone lines or ADSL in areas where the NBN have deployed either Fixed Wireless or Satellite.

So, if you are in this position which one would you choose?

ADSL v Fixed line NBN (FTTB/C/N/P or HFC)

First of all if you are in one of the few remaining areas where fixed line NBN is still being completed then eventually there will be no choice. Once NBN is available there will be a limited amount of time to change over.

Its difficult to think that there is any advantage to keeping ADSL if NBN fixed line is available.

The technical characteristics of fixed line NBN are all better than ADSL. Even if you have FTTN or FTTB where the final connection is on the old copper phone wires then these are upgraded technologies to ADSL.

ADSL v Fixed Wireless

Even if you have NBN Fixed Wireless available where you live you may still be able to get a phone line with ADSL.

An advantage of ADSL in this situation is less congestion from other users in your close neighbourhood. Fixed Wireless has been prone to high demand. Although the NBN have been doing upgrades its still possible that you might experience congestion of the airwaves where you are.

Although its true that the ADSL headline speeds may be lower they may be more dependable.

Another point that comes up from time to time is that the Fixed Wireless service may have to be turned off for maintenance. Certain maintenance jobs require that riggers climb the mast. So, for safety reasons the transmitters have to be turned off. Since they need daylight for such tasks these maintenance periods tend to be during the working day.

So, an ADSL service may be subject to fewer interruptions during working hours.

ADSL v NBN Satellite

You would certainly notice the increased latency (time delay) of the NBN satellite service when compared to ADSL. The increased delay is about a quarter of a second each way. Or about half a second for the round trip from you to a server and back. That may not sound much but its effects are easily felt.

I have some friends with a farm in regional NSW. They found video conferencing very difficult when trying to Work From Home.

Even web browsing can be come sluggish over satellite. Its not about bandwidth. Its about latency.

Also the bandwidth is much more expensive and the plans are either highly restrictive in how much data you can use or very highly priced.

My friends have teenagers and they were spending over $150pm because of the amount of video streaming they do. Video streaming worked well and isn’t affected so much be the delay. But it uses a lot of data and that makes it impractical for a lot of people.

So, if you have ADSL available in an NBN satellite area, I’d suggest that it might be the preferable option for most people. The speeds can be slow. But the usability from the lower delay is much better. Video streaming even at HD only requires a few Mbps and is within the capability of most ADSL lines. Also, unlimited data for a fixed price on ADSL is usual these days.

ADSL is still more useful than you might think

We have become used to people talking about high internet speed these days. You might be forgiven for wondering if the relatively modest speeds available on ADSL wouldn’t allow you to do much that’s useful.

Well, most of what we do doesn’t require superfast speeds.

Email and Web Browsing are important uses that don’t require much bandwidth. Unless a website has been poorly built with lots of over large images it should load just fine on even 1 Mbps or less

Video streaming has become far more important. I know that personally I see most video content on demand now rather than off air. But again, streaming even in HD only uses a few Mbps per stream. If you have a 4k TV then a UHD stream is going to be 15-20 Mbps. Not many ADSL lines can achieve that.

Areas where you will probably find that ADSL doesn’t work so well are video conferencing and synching large files to the cloud. The upload speed of the ADSL services offered by Telstra are limited to around 870 kbps. Although a video conference or chat will adapt to a lower quality to fit into the available bandwidth you won’t want more than one person in the home using it at once. And your photos will eventually synch to the cloud, but they will take a long time.

However, if you are using ADSL you will find that its still a very useful service and also has some advantages particularly over satellite as we will come to further on.

The Price Difference of ADSL v NBN

Its difficult to compare like with like. But if you look at Testra pricing for ADSL and NBN then its similar.

Before the NBN rollout there were a number of companies such as iiNet and Internode who put their own ADSL infrastructure into some local telephone exchanges. But they only served the most profitable locations with lower cost backhaul to the major cities. They also didn’t have the same level of redundancy in their network.

By contrast the NBN have to provide a service everywhere and meet all requests for a service. This is going to cost more than just building a network to those who are easiest to get access to.

So, you may think that the cheapest NBN service today is more expensive than some of the cheaper ADSL services that we used to have. But the NBN is a very different set up. And its not really comparing like with like.

Alternatives to NBN Fixed Wireless and Satellite

If NBN Satellite or Fixed Wireless are not for you, and you don’t have ADSL available there may be a couple of other options that you could have.

You could try and see if a mobile network is available. Many rural areas are serviced with either 4G or 5G. Even Telstra’s own signup page for ADSL promotes 5G as an alternative. So I think that tells us which way things are going.

There is also Elon Musk’s Starlink service. This is provided by a constellation of LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellites. Since they are close to the earth they do not suffer from the delay of the NBN satellites which are in geo-stationary orbit. The Starlink system is quite expensive when compared to ADSL. But if you use a lot of data its comparable or often cheaper than NBN satellite.