Urunga Mylestom Chamber of Commerce guest speaker Ian Scott

Urunga Mylestom Chamber of Commerce president Steve Allen with NBN's Ian Scott at the breakfast meeting
Urunga Mylestom Chamber of Commerce president Steve Allen with NBN's Ian Scott at the breakfast meeting

Choose your retail service provider wisely, was the main message from NBN’s community affairs manager Ian Scott at the Urunga Mylestom Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting on November 8.

Rollout of the fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) network in Urunga is running slightly ahead of schedule and should be complete in January rather than March, he said.

However, there is no rush to switch over as existing networks will not be decommissioned for 18 months, which would be mid-2019.

In fact, one of Ian’s tips for the assembled business owners was to hang back a little and take the opportunity of learning from the experiences of local early adopters.

He warned that people in Urunga were about to be bombarded with offers from RSPs, but going with the cheapest option on the assumption that they all offered much the same speeds and services may be a false economy.

“In the past, there’s been an expectation that an NBN service is an NBN service, irrespective of whom you go with,” Ian said. “And the retailers like to perpetuate that as an idea, but doesn’t mean they are all the same.”

The ‘pipe’ supplied by NBN itself to your premises is the same, but the RSPs buy a certain amount of capacity for each client based on usage forecasts, and if they skimp on this your internet performance will degrade, particularly during peak periods like school holidays and in the evenings when everyone hits Netflix or iView.

Audience members wanted to know why there couldn’t be more transparency regarding which RSPs have  congestion problems. 

NBN does have this information, but as a wholesaler whose clients are the RSPs, it doesn’t publish it. 

Ian’s tip was to do your research, talk to your business peers about their experiences with particular RSPs, and look for flexible deals rather than fixed term contracts, so if one RSP disappoints, you can easily switch to another.

You need to identify those people in your community who are particularly tech savvy and do the research, ask what’s your experience locally with provider ABC?

Ian Scott

Another factor affecting performance is how close you are to your designated node, with speeds of 100 Mbps down and 40 Mbps up being the maximum on FTTN.

“Under 450 metres you can get that kind of speed,” Ian said. “As it gets out towards a kilometre, it tapers off to the minimum we’re allowed to deliver, which is 25 Mbps down and 5 Mbps up.”

An RSP can check the theoretical maximum upload and download speeds for a particular address by logging into an NBN service portal.

“So if you say ‘I’m at 123 XYZ Drive’, they will see the forecast line speed for your premises,” Ian said. 

“Let’s say it’s 67-87 Mbps down and 29-35 up. They can advise you at that point if you choose the 50/20 speed, you’re going to be able to get all of that. If you choose the 100Mb down, 40Mb up package, you’re only going to get 90 per cent of that, maybe 70 per cent.”

Both Optus and Telstra were recently forced to give refunds to customers who had been sold packages promising speeds that were unattainable given the technical capacity and congestion level of the line.

An idea floated at the breakfast meeting was that it may be the smaller players, those who have to rely on word-of-mouth customer satisfaction rather than big advertising dollars to build market share, who are most likely to offer a true premium service, both in terms of speed and responsiveness.

On the Bellingen Shire NBN Facebook group, Aussie Broadband has received ticks of approval for reliable service, with comments such as:

”Aussie Broadband is great for FTTN, as they specifically don't oversubscribe their lines to prevent peak hour slow downs”; 

“[I] second Aussie Broadband, they have a deal for a month free at the moment, and no contract or connection fee. They don't provide unlimited plans, but any RSP that does will likely suffer from congestion during peak hours due to not enough CVC”;

“I have been really impressed with them since I moved over.”

Another option for businesses is to seek advice from a third party who can do an audit of your requirements, help choose a provider and draw up a transition plan to make the switchover as painless as possible.

One such consultant, Lachlan Hockings, was at the breakfast meeting. He runs Fibre Network Choices, which offers NBN planning advice; resolution of account issues and internet speed health checks.

* Updated 12 November 2017