The different types of broadband Internet

Tips & Hints

15 April 2002

You’ve probably seen the ads for broadband Internet. The future is here at zillion times faster than the old Internet. The Internet will never be the same. So what is broadband Internet and is it worth the hype?

Basically broadband is a term for any Internet connection faster than a dial-up modem account.

Apart from the speed, the biggest difference between a broadband and dial-up access is the billing. Dial-up accounts are generally calculated on a time basis while broadband are calculated on a download and speed basis.

The main reason for this is that you are always connected on a broadband account. A dial-up account has to dial the Internet provider when connecting to the Internet.

While the costs of broadband access look high at first, for many users they can be cheaper than a dial-up account. With a broadband connection you don’t need another phone line and you are not paying a connection fee each time you connect.

The danger with broadband accounts is that you can run up a huge bill if you exceed the monthly download limit. Optus cable users don’t currently have an excess-usage charge but they will boot off users who use too much.

There are four basic broadband technologies available to homes and small businesses. ISDN is not worth bothering with. The other three are satellite, ADSL and cable. Each product has their own benefits and disadvantages.


Cable is the most common broadband option in Australia at present. It uses the pay-TV cables to access the Internet. Obviously to get it you must have pay-TV in your street. Unfortunately this rules out over half the country.

If you already have cable-TV then you can probably get cable Internet installed. If you don’t already have the cable installed then the cable company will have to connect you. This will involve running a cable into your house.

Cable is a fairly stable technology but it is hampered by the lack of coverage in many areas. There appear to be no plans to extend cable in the major cities.

Optus Cable
Bigpond Cable

IiNet Cable (WA only)
Neighbourhood Cable (regional Victoria)


ADSL is a newer technology that uses the existing phone lines. It needs special equipment at the local phone exchange and you cannot be more than 3.5km from the exchange. Some areas are fitted with pair gain equipment that also restricts ADSL availability.

The earliest days of ADSL in Australia have been marked with chronic unreliability. The Telstra service had a habit of breaking-down for hours (even days) at a time. These problems appear to have eased in recent months.

A major advantage with ADSL is that it will run on your existing phone line. You don’t need any cables run into your home. However it will not run through Commander, PABX and FAXstream systems.

ADSL is the most competitive broadband option. While Telstra is the biggest, many companies are now offering their own ADSL service. ADSL coverage is patchy at the moment but growing fast.

Pacific Internet
Telstra ADSL


As the name suggests, satellite broadband carries the signal via a satellite. This gets around the problem of not having cable or ADSL capable phone exchanges. But does have its own disadvantages.

The cheaper satellite option uses the satellite to send the data to you, while you send your data through the phone line. This slows the connection and can be expensive for a rural customer.

The other option is two-way satellite. While this overcomes a lot of the drawbacks with one-way satellite This can be very expensive should you go over the download limits. It is, however a realistic option if you are in an area where ADSL and cable aren’t feasible.

Ihug Satellite
Australis Satellite
Telstra Satellite Internet Services

Pricing Plans

As the options and competition for broadband grow, the broadband industry is developing like the mobile phone business with a confusing array of plans.

Generally there will be a connection fee that will include a modem and a technician setting up your system. This fee varies depending on the term of the plan you sign up for. Generally, the longer you commit to, the cheaper the up-front charges.

Like a mobile phone plan, the biggest trap for users are the excess-download fees. These can easily run into the thousands of dollars.

When shopping for a plan it is worthwhile asking if the provider has a usage meter so that you can check the downloads. It is a good idea to find if it is easy to change plans should you find the plan is too expensive.

Even if you think you won’t use much, remember you will use it a lot more than you would a dial-up account. Every e-mail, every webpage, every moment of audio and video counts towards your total. It is very easy to exceed 300Mb in a month as many people find when they get their bill.

With a faster, always on connection broadband changes how you use the Internet. As broadband becomes cheaper and more accessible we will see more people getting it. At present, the pricing and availability is restricting its use.

Useful links

The best guide to Australian broadband services is The Whirlpool. We highly recommend it, not just for broadband but for general Australian Internet issues.

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