December 17, 2019
The NBN was still only an idea when Patrick Cheah moved into his home.
A decade later he still can’t connect. But he’s no longer waiting
In one of the last suburbs in the country to be connected to the National Broadband Network, cables are being run into the homes of occupants who may never use them.
New buildings in Maidstone, in Melbourne’s northwest, are being wired to have the best internet connectivity.
But some of the cables being laid in this suburb, and others like it around the country, might never be used to connect to the NBN.
For months now, netizens in the area who have previously had to make do with only ADSL2 broadband connections have been experiencing speeds up to four times faster than even the highest speed tiers available on the NBN in surrounding suburbs.
Patrick Cheah is one of them.
The 40-year-old moved into his Maidstone home about a decade ago, around the time the company in charge of delivering the NBN was established.
Despite hearing about the NBN for as long as he’s lived there, Mr Cheah has never connected.
The household — Mr Cheah, his wife Wing, 39, their daughter Clarissa, 2, and Wing’s mother Ada, 68, — had previously made do with ADSL2.
Now, after being on Optus’s 5G Home Broadband plan for about two months, he said he’ll probably never connect to the NBN, even when it becomes available, given the price and quality of the service he’s getting.
The 5G plan costs $70 per month, about the same price or cheaper than most NBN plans.
It also offers unlimited data like many NBN plans, but the speeds being received put the alternative to shame.
“On a good day it’s around 400Mbps (megabits per second),” Mr Cheah told news.com.au. “It’s a solid average of around 300-350Mbps. Once when it rained, the speed dropped a little bit but it was still within the 50Mbps guarantee.”
5G Home Broadband customers are guaranteed a minimum connection speed of 50Mbps, and you can get out of your contract without any extra fees if you’re not satisfied that’s what you’re getting.
This is the same speed claimed by the most popular tier of NBN service, but services often fail to reach that speed in real world use.
A 100Mbps tier is the fastest offered to consumers on the NBN.
Optus says its 5G Home Broadband plan is designed to complement the NBN rather than compete with it, and is focusing its initial rollout in areas that have been so far underserved by the NBN.
The NBN was intended to help bridge the digital divide between city and country areas.
The fractured rollout of the NBN means there are now select areas that have high-quality fibre, while others make do on sub-par wireless connections or ones that mostly use outdated copper wires the network was supposed to replace.
Mr Cheah estimates he’s 600 to 800 metres from the nearest tower and, although he might have faster speeds closer to the connection point, he’s not complaining.
“It’s been really solid. I’ve had the connection up and running around two months now,” he said.
The supplied modem makes it easy to set up your new home network, and a lack of excessive cables means you can move it around your house to find the strongest connection for you.
“It was pretty straightforward (to set up). There’s not any extra requirements; pretty much plug and play,” Mr Cheah said.
“The only thing that was tricky was the positioning of the modem, but I got help from Optus over the phone.”
After experimenting with a few different locations in the home, Mr Cheah decided the best place was its initial position in the study.
He said the new plan was capable of meeting his family’s demands.
“We’re very heavy streamers. Every day we’ll be on Netflix or YouTube for the toddler, every one of the adults will be on the phone streaming something and I think I’ve got about 20 devices connected throughout the home,” he said.
Mr Cheah, who loves gaming with his daughter, has experienced issues with latency, the lag time between sending data from a gaming device to the server and back.
“To be honest, the latency was better on the ADSL2. The latency on that wasn’t more than 20ms (milliseconds),” he said.
Because the 5G network uses radio waves it can fluctuate based on environmental factors, but Mr Cheah said the latency differences were minor.
He added the latency had improved since he first set up the network, and the difference could in fact be a “psychological thing”.
“It was a slower speed, so I didn’t experience any lag or anything, but I was always checking the speed,” he said.
Mr Cheah estimated about 50 per cent of the 10 hours a week he’d spend gaming was online, but the faster speeds also helped for offline single player gaming by reducing download times for games, patches and updates.
“One thing about gaming is: whenever I turn on the PS4 (PlayStation 4), new games have a lot of patches. When I’m sitting down waiting for the patch, it was incredibly fast, 10 times faster than before, which is a great experience,” he said.
Mr Cheah recalled talking to a friend while they waited for a game to download and update. While his friend had an estimated wait time of about four hours before they could jump in and play, Patrick’s update was set to take just 20 minutes.
“Big files and downloads are no longer a worry now,” Patrick said. “When I look back two months ago I’d worry about downloading a file.”
He has no regrets bypassing the NBN and adopting 5G, and neither have several neighbours he’s talked into doing the same after acting as a guinea pig.
“I like the 5G plan because it has a satisfaction guarantee. The price point was pretty much what I was paying for ADSL2. I thought I’ve got nothing to lose, I jumped on the bandwagon and I’ve got four of my neighbours connected as well,” he said.
“I told them I put my first foot forward and it works, so I’ve got four guys joined. The only problem I heard from one of the neighbours was that the placement of the modem left a few black spots.”
Mr Cheah said Optus sent someone out to help set up a mesh Wi-Fi network to improve connectivity in his neighbour’s home.
He was excited to see how the network improved as the rollout advanced and the technology came closer to its theoretical capabilities in the real world.
“400Mbps is good, but I imagine it will only get better in the next few years. I’m excited to see how it goes … I don’t think it’s going to go backwards,” he said.