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Is nbn™ fixed wireless better than ADSL internet?

Woman on couch stares confused at her laptop

Are you living in the nbn™ fixed wireless footprint and still using an ADSL service?

Change is something we all put off from time-to-time, especially when there are a bunch of myths floating around that impact our decision-making process.

In this article, we’ll give you all the information you need to decide for yourself whether nbn™ fixed wireless is better for you than ADSL.

What is ADSL?

ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) was the saviour for internet users back in 1999 when Telstra launched the first ADSL service in the Australian market.

It made internet life-after-dial-up feel like travelling on a bullet train.

But just like your old dial-up service did, ADSL relies on your copper phone line to connect you to the internet.

The most noticeable difference being that you can make calls from your landline and use the internet at the same time on ADSL.

Back in the dark days of dial-up, it was an either/or situation. You couldn’t do both at the same time.

What is nbn™ fixed wireless?

nbn™ fixed wireless delivers the internet to your home via radio signals in much the same way a mobile phone receives 4G internet.

The signal transmits from your local fixed wireless tower to an nbn™ antenna on your roof which communicates with your router so you can enjoy a fast and reliable internet connection.

View video transcript

Is nbn™ fixed wireless more reliable than ADSL?

ADSL is living on borrowed time

When it comes to the future of ADSL in Australia, the writing has been on the wall for a very long time.

ADSL, ADSL2 and ADSL2+ all work on legacy infrastructure from a now very outdated network of copper lines.

The Telstra owned copper line infrastructure that ADSL uses is the same network your landline telephones also use.

It is ageing and expensive to repair.

Those copper lines, after all, can be over a century old.

Back in 2013, the ABC published an article that said Telstra’s annual copper network maintenance costs were commonly regarded as ranging from several hundred million dollars to over a $1bn.

That’s a lot of money.

Heavens know what that bill is worth in the year 2020.

In Telstra’s own words:

Telstra currently remains tight lipped about the state of its copper.

But that wasn’t always the case. The first significant quote comes from the April 1998 edition of Australian Communications. At the time, Telstra wanted to build a Fibre-to-the-Node network as a competition blocker and get rid of ADSL-based internet.

Telstra’s Group Manager of Corporate Affairs (in 2013), Martin Ratia, said: “We are not going to keep archaic technology going just for a couple of service providers who do not want to upgrade… We cannot keep a copper network in this country for half a dozen ISPs who want to make a quid.”

[Source: September 2013]

What impact does the weather have on ADSL and nbn™ fixed wireless?

Jolly good question!

Weather has the potential to impact any type of internet connection, but some more than others.

Heavy rain is a well-known cause of outages for ADSL services. It comes back to those 100-year-old copper lines in the ground which are only as good as their access to those aforementioned expensive maintenance regimes.

Additionally, ADSL users may experience outages triggered by ground movement that can break copper lines during cold weather.

But it is also true that extreme weather events and temperatures can have as much of an impact on a fixed wireless connection as it can any other connection type.

Checking mobile on a rainy day

What impact does distance have on each connection type?

Another great question.

The further you are away from the ADSL exchange, the worse your experience is going to be.

You can use a tool like this one from adsl2exchanges which will allow you to see how far you live from the closest exchange to you.

nbn™ operates its fixed wireless network differently though. They conduct a site survey before each premises is connected to the network to ensure the speed of your service will always be faster than ADSL.

Is nbn™ fixed wireless faster than ADSL?

Compared to internet connection types available now, ADSL starts to look a little sad and tired.

Think about how long ago ADSL was introduced to Australia.

You would expect that technology has improved dramatically in the 21 years that have passed.

And yes, we know that there have been iterations of ADSL technology in that time.

Even so, ADSL2 and ADSL2+ are still not the fastest or most reliable technology available to rural Aussies.

“Avg Australian ADSL2+ speed is 8Mbps”
[Source: WhistleOut]

Man trying to get his router to work

Let’s compare the tech

Featurenbn™ fixed wirelessADSL2+
Price$60 – $90 per month$80 – $100 per month
Max speeds75/10 Mbps25/2.5 Mbps
[*Source: WhistleOut and nbn™]

Our most educated guess is that there are approximately 156,000 rural Australians currently paying for ADSL that could be enjoying a faster experience with a fixed wireless connection.

In terms of understanding what internet speeds you actually need, here’s a quick example.

The below speeds are recommended by Netflix for you to enjoy a single video stream:

  • 0.5 Megabits per second – Required broadband connection speed
  • 1.5 Megabits per second – Recommended broadband connection speed
  • 3.0 Megabits per second – Recommended for SD quality
  • 5.0 Megabits per second – Recommended for HD quality
  • 25 Megabits per second – Recommended for Ultra HD quality

If your household needs more than one stream at the same time, you will need to at least double or maybe even triple the speeds recommended above.

Will nbn™ fixed wireless get any better?

You can bet that nbn™ fixed wireless will just keep getting better.

Over the past couple of years, nbn™ have invested mega resources into their fixed wireless offering.

In time gone-by – in some fixed wireless locations – some people have undoubtedly had experiences with the slowing of their service.

This happened because far more people than expected connected to a fixed wireless service in the early days. This was what ultimately prompted nbn™ to invest heavily in upgrading their network infrastructure.

What impacts fixed wireless speeds?

The nbn™ fixed wireless speeds you experience will be influenced by the:

• distance you are from your local tower
• obstacles (such as trees, and metal objects like Colorbond roofs and steel sheds) between your home and the tower
• number of people sharing your connection at any one time
• severe weather events
• congestion during busy hours (7 – 11pm).

In 2018, nbn™ committed an additional $800 million investment to improve the customer experience on the fixed wireless network. The investment has been allocated until 2022.

Infrastructure improvements were always going to be a massive undertaking.

However, the upgrade project has already meant more people than ever have been able to take advantage of the faster 50/20 Mbps speed tier.

The pie charts below show this well.

They show that between the 2018 financial year and the 2019 financial year, nbn™ improved the fixed wireless network enough to support a 43 per cent growth in users on the 50/20 Mbps speed tier.

You could also look it as follows:

In the 2018 financial year, 91 per cent of fixed wireless users were on plans with maximum speeds of 25/5 Mbps or slower.

Only one year later, in the 2019 financial year, that figure had swung dramatically with 52 per cent of fixed wireless users on plans with maximum speeds of 50/20 Mbps.

nbn™ Fixed Wireless Speed Tiers
FY18 Actual Uptake

NBN Fixed Wireless Speed Tier FY18 actual uptake graphical representation

[source: nbn™ Corporate Plan 2020 – 2023]

nbn™ Fixed Wireless Speed Tiers
FY19 Actual Uptake

NBN Fixed Wireless Speed Tier FY19 actual uptake graphical representation

[source: nbn™ Corporate Plan 2020 – 2023]

Then in the 2020 financial year, nbn™ introduced a whole new speed tier: 75/10 Mbps. A move that represents their confidence in the upgrades to the fixed wireless network capacity.

Here’s another interesting table below. It further challenges all the myths out there about fixed wireless speeds.

“More than 80 per cent of  nbn™ fixed wireless customers are getting speeds of at least 25 Mbps during busy hours”
[Source: nbn™ June 2020 Monthly Progress Report]

Fixed wireless bust cell performance categories: June 2020

The percentage of cells performing within specified monthly busy hour cell performance categories between <3 Mbps and >= 25 Mbps. The percentage of cells in each category is calculated using the number of cells in the relevant category divided by the total number of active cells on the nbn™ fixed wireless network at the end of the relevant month. [Source: nbn™ June 2020 Monthly Progress Report]

This table clearly shows that as of June 2020, more than 80 per cent of nbn™ fixed wireless customers are receiving speeds equal to, or higher than, 25 Mbps during busy hours! 


Monthly busy hour cell performance categoryPercentage of fixed wireless cells in category
<3 Mbps0.00%
3 to <6 Mbps0.05%
6 to <12 Mbps2.02%
12 to <25 Mbps17.06%
>= 25 Mbps80.87%

What is a fixed wireless cell?

Every fixed wireless transmission tower is fitted with multiple radios/antennas that each service a number of premises. The area surrounding these premises is known as a fixed wireless cell.

All the cells on an individual transmission tower combine to form what is known as the nbn™ fixed wireless rollout region.

View video transcript

In summary

There was a lot of information in this article but to really break it down, here’s what we’re saying:

nbn™ fixed wireless gives you the same limitless data access for a similar price on a faster, more reliable and constantly improving network than any ADSL service.

Why don’t you check whether fixed wireless is available at your place?

Find out if you can get nbn™ fixed wireless where you live
Woman on couch stares confused at her laptop
Louise Hughes
Written by Louise Hughes

Louise has had a life-long love affair with beautiful words; writing because it drives her, and reading because it feeds her soul. She's the luckiest woman alive to be able to create clever content and intelligent customer experiences for a living.

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