Internet Access Alternatives
There are a wide range of Internet Access alternatives: wired and wireless, mobile and fixed, low and high usage. This page aims to briefly summarise the likely alternatives for PCUG members, with links to other sites with more information and comparisons of these alternatives.
Lower Usage Access
To support basic email sending and receiving and modest web usage, with both wireless and dialup wired options possible.
The Mobile Broadband service is provided using mobile phone technologies. In all cases a suitable mobile subscription (and SIM card) will be needed, with some amount of data included. This subscription may be either pre or post-paid, with data either included in the base subscription, or purchased using some form of "add-on" data pack. The basic choice here is which major network (Telstra, Optus or Vodafone) you choose to connect to, and whether to purchase your subscription from them or from one of their resellers (Telstra - Aldi, Kogan, Boost, etc; Optus - Amaysim, Virgin, Vaya, Woolworths, etc; Vodafone - PennyTel, GoTalk, etc ). There are a very large number of alternatives available.
You need to consider the mobile phone coverage area of the chosen network for the locations you want to access the service from, and be mindful of the various communication systems in use (3G-850/NextG, 3G-900, 3G-2100, 4G / LTE) as this will affect the hardware you will require.
There are several possibilities for accessing this service:
- using a mobile broadband hotspot - this is a small device that creates a small local wireless hotspot that several devices can connect to (including laptops, mobiles, tablets, wifi e-readers, etc) to share the mobile broadband link it manages. This is a flexible option that allows one link to be shared by several devices. The mobile SIM for this link is installed in the hotspot, and you would typically use a data-only mobile broadband subscription (either pre or post-paid).
- use of a tablet or smartphone with a data plan to directly access net services - where you tablet has a SIM with mobile (rather than just WiFi) data capability, or you have a smartphone with mobile SIM. You can use the applications provided on these to access Internet services using the respective data-only mobile broadband, or general mobile with data added, subscriptions on the device.
- share your smartphone's data connection - extending the above option, you could configure your tablet/smartphone as a WiFi hotspot to share it's Internet connection with other devices. The details for how to do this depend on the type of device you have. Please be aware that using a mobile phone to share Internet access may incur significant data charges after exceeding the data limit that is set on certain plans - check your monthly data limit and usage frequently with your mobile phone service provider if you choose this option.
Fixed Wireless Broadband
This service also uses wireless technology, but differs from mobile broadband in having a fixed access node attached to your house (or other building) that provides a direct link back to the provider's wireless tower. Because this uses a fixed node with a larger antenna, it can cover a wider area from the wireless tower, and hence may be able to reach into areas that mobile broadband does not. Availability of this service very much depends on the provider's infrastructure, but in the Canberra region, NetSpeed's Longreach Broadband service supports this option for those in suitable service areas.
A continually decreasing number of ISPs also still offer dialup Internet access using a modem connected to your phone-line. However this provides limited speeds and download capabilities, and support is being discontinued by ISPs due to increasing costs. This is unlikely to be a long-term option.
Higher Usage Access
To support those with heavy web usage and/or significant multimedia downloading or streaming.
National Broadband Network (NBN)
The National Broadband Network (NBN) was originally devised as a fibre to the premises (FTTP) and is currently under construction in Australia. It was planned to provide extremely fast download speeds to 93% of Australian homes and businesses, however this is currently under review following the change of Federal Government and is likely to be reduced in capability. The remaining homes and businesses would be covered using fibre to the node (FTTN), wireless and satellite technologies. Its fibre network will replace most other wired (telephone twisted pair used by ADSL and coaxial cable as used by Bigpond & Optus in some major cities) connections. Once the NBN passes a location, these other wired networks will be shutdown 18 months later. Note that in limited areas of the ACT, Transact already provide a separate FTTP service. This FTTP network is in the process of being purchased by NBN Co.
To access the Internet via the NBN, you need to be connected to the NBN, and have a phone and/or Internet subscription with an NBN provider. More information on the NBN rollout, and NBN providers is available on the NBN Co website.
Asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) provides broadband data access over legacy (twisted-pair) phone-line connections much faster than a dialup modem, whilst still allowing standard phone calls to occur at the same time (unlike using dialup). In recent years this has been the main broadband alternative of choice, with a large number of providers offering it. However in Australia it is expected to be superseded by the NBN rollout in coming years.
To use ADSL for Internet access you need an "ADSL Gateway" (likely including a WiFi access point as well) in your home, which connects over the phone-lines to a "digital subscriber line access multiplexer (DSLAM)" at the local exchange. One key distinction between providers is whether they own their own DSLAMs you connect to at the exchange, or whether they lease access to these from another provider (usually Telstra).
In the ACT region there are many suppliers offering an ADSL service (for now, until the NBN rollout completes). If you have an existing TransACT ADSL service, then you will most likely want to choose one of the TransACT ISPs, either Grapevine or one of the others (which they don't make very obvious, but there are a number). The Whirlpool Broadband Choice page can provide more information on them.
In the ACT region TransACT provides a wired (VDSL1 or VDSL2) service to many areas of Canberra that can provide phone, broadband internet and payTV.
At the time of writing, activity on rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN) has slowed. Internet service providers are examining, testing and installing networks that they believe will fit whatever broadband model is decided to complete the NBN, and remain in place even when the NBN is operational.
One such technology is VDSL (or sometimes VHDSL) - the 'V' stands for 'very fast', and 'DSL' is 'digital subscriber line'. VDSL (more correctly identified in Canberra as VDSL(M))has been used in various places since 2002, and the second generation (VDSL2) since 2006.
To get an idea of world use of VDSL, there is an article here
VDSL(M) raised an upgrade problem when transitioning to VDSL2, so a 'whole of precinct' upgrade was required in those cases.
In Canberra, VDSL uses its own cable infrastructure for the most part and does not depend on Telstra, except in some unit blocks.
As with copper wire infrastructure, performance depends on distance from the node. For VDSL, the optimum range is about 300m.
VDSL has typical optimised download speeds of 8 Mbps, while VDSL2 can range up to 60 Mbps. VDSL2 upload speeds are about 4 Mbps.
At this moment (March/April 2014) VDSL is retailed only through TransACT. TransACT is a wholly owned subsidiary of iiNet (who also own Internode) and the expectation is that the three businesses will eventually merge totally or share plans, pricing and infrastructure. TPG are working in the wings, and may become a player soon.
From the cable at the house service point, VDSLx (ie, VDSL and VDSL2) is wired to a convenient point inside the premise using a 4-wire connection (sometimes Cat 5 cable is used if the length inside the premise warrants it.) However, each installation depends on a number of factors, and there will be variations from place to place. But there will be some physical cabling work required in a typical installation.
The normal internal termination is a modem (supplied at a cost by TransACT, with the router feature disabled) and a set-top box (STB). Some users prefer to obtain a Fetch STB to replace the one supplied. A wireless router will be required if wi-fi is to be used.
TransACT 'owns' all of the internal wiring and the modem.
The STB will deliver all but the free-to-air (FTA) channels. For FTA, you need to plug an aerial into the STB and run an aerial wire to the TV. Other channels will depend on any subscriptions you may have.
TransACT insist that you include your fixed-line phone in the installation. You can churn your existing phone number if you want.
Is it available at your location?
Go to the TransACT page and click on 'Can I get TransACT?' There are not many gaps in Canberra. It would be useful to know where the supernodes are in relation to you, but that information is not provided.
There is a mix of options available for you to choose from. Information is here for mixes of phone, broadband, Pay TV
Go to Critical Information for useful details and costs.
TransACT no longer has an association with ACTEW. Whereas previously there were bundle options available, this may now only apply to legacy customers. If you are making enquiries about signing up for VDSL, ask about possible savings.
In the ACT region TransACT provide a cable (VDSL1 or VDSL2) service to some areas in Canberra, that can provide phone, broadband Internet and PayTV. These may be a suitable high-speed internet access option for those in cabled areas, with the VDSL2 upgrades being capable of 30-50Mbps. You will want to choose one of the TransACT ISPs, either Grapevine or one of the others (which they don't make very obvious, but there are a number). These services are not subject to the shutdown after NBN rollout.
In some other major cities, Telstra and Optus operate a coaxial cable network that provides similar services. These may be subject to shutdown after the NBN rollout.
The following sites may assist with additional information. Whirlpool in particular has a large amount of comparative information, and user supplied commentary, on many aspects of Internet access.