My NBN Story: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

I live in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs about 20km from the CBD and we recently just got connected to the NBN.

As I’m sure anyone who is reading this, you will be curious to know yet another perspective as to how it all went and if all of these online reviews are true or “FAKE NEWS!”.

I am expecting this to be the biggest post on my blog to date, so I’m going to break this article down into 5 stages being.

  1. NBN Connecting Our House
  2. Signing up with an ISP
  3. ISP Setting Up Our Connection
  4. Our real-world results after setup’s completed
  5. Conclusion and Where to From Here

Before I start getting technical, I will say that not everything went as I expected and some stuff I have to say you might be surprised to hear, but it’s not all negative if anything it balances out to be neutral or slightly positive in the long run.

NBN Connecting Our House:

Telstra_pit

We got connected to the NBN via High Frequency Coaxial (HFC). This is the same type of connection that Foxtel uses for it’s TV coverage.

 

We learnt from the guys installing at our house (who had been doing it for 2 years), that:

  • Areas with a lot of Foxtel users are more than likely to end up with HFC because of less work required.
  • The setup takes anywhere from 30mins up to 2hrs to complete, unless you have an incredibly complex setup with cables underground. Ours took 1hr 15mins with them having to dig a trench where the cable would come into the house right next to the brick wall but they did not need to dig up half our front garden to install the new cable. This was the case for Labour’s NBN and the installation guys said it was an absolute pain to do for the amount of work they got done.
  • They somewhat agreed that the majority of the issues that are happening on the NBN are in Fibre To The Node (FTTN) areas.
  • They do not do houses in sequence but more jump between houses depending on complexity of the setup and time to complete. NBN has all of these details documented and they take photos to keep on file as they complete the process.
  • Out of the 2 guys installing, the one doing the majority of the work lives in Sunshine which is the opposite side of Melbourne from where we are, and they are not even scheduled for NBN anytime soon. I joked with the guy saying he should take some cable home with him and set it up himself, but he laughed it off.
  • These installers knew everything when it came to the actual cables they were installing etc., but don’t know really anything about what is compatible with the NBN, such as fax machines etc. (SPOILERS: Neither did the NBN installers that did the final cabling to the modem).
  • From what I saw I believed the installer did everything really well and to a high standard. Not sure if it’s because I was watching or not obviously, but otherwise he did it well.
  • They left the copper network installed and do not touch it so the existing ADSL2+ connection was still working since they installed it. Not sure if I was being optimistic or not, but I thought the copper network was a hair slower than before the installation but that was probably the time of day I checked it.

So overall after this stage was completed, I came to the conclusion that if there were any issues in the future, it would not be because of how these guys installed HFC to our house.

Signing up with an ISP:

iprimus

Our home has been connected with iPrimus for internet ever since AOL days 17 years ago. That means it was AOL, then rebranded to Primus Online then rebranded to iPrimus quite a few years ago now. In short we have been with them for a bloody long time.

The day after we got connected to NBN we decided we would ring iPrimus to renegotiate and get a better deal.

For a basis of comparison we had an ADSL2+ connection with 200GB per month and getting a real-world speed of 10Mbps (12Mbps at best), included local and national calls, but had to pay for 1300 numbers and calls to mobiles. Our monthly rate averaged around $105 per month. The entire time we had been with our 200GB plan (which we had been out of contract for a couple of years until we waited for the NBN before resigning a contract) we had only capped out internet maybe 3 times, and last month we used about 170GB, without any HD streaming. Forget 4K, we were watching the majority of the video streaming content in 360p, and reckon about 100 out of the 170GB’s was video streaming alone. We used 360p because of the lack of data allowance and speeds not being able to keep up with our devices, especially over Wi-Fi but more on that later.

So we rang up iPrimus thinking we would get them in Collins Street West in Melbourne, but was incredibly surprised that they follow suit with all other telcos and ISPs to move their call centre to the Philippines. At this point we came to the conclusion that if you get any Aussie talking to you from iPrimus via phone, they would be a technician and not related to sales. (SPOILERS: Technicians are all in the Philippines as well).

We started what we didn’t realize was going to be a lengthy phone call due to delays in call connection to the Philippines, with a few questions so we knew what we were signing up for and how best to set it all up in our home. Listed below are the questions we asked in bold and then the worded answers.

Are we able to connect two separate handsets with the same business phone number to the same modem/router? E.g. one to fax machine and one to cordless phone base station so other one works in kitchen?

If you have two handsets that you want to connect to the same modem provided by your ISP, even if there is 2 ports for phones on the back of the included modem, you would need to buy a $12 splitter from them (#hiddencost) to split the same phone number over two handsets. Such as one in the same room and one in the kitchen if they do not communicate wirelessly.

Do you support fax on the NBN via iPrimus on HFC?

No they do not. They explained that because we are in a HFC area that we would not be losing our copper network for the foreseeable future (meaning more than 18 months which is the normal cut off date). Because of this, the fax can continue to work with our existing home phone (with Telstra) as it currently is, so we decided to just leave it as it is.

We were looking into Fax to Email solutions of which we found Crazy Domains had the best offer for this service, but are more inclined to keep the home phone for receiving calls and because my mum works in the medical industry, fax to email is likely a lot less secure than straight fax to fax via copper.

With our HFC connection, do you know when the DOCSIS 3.1 update is being rolled out? And will we need a new modem when this comes out?

The guy on the phone said they have not heard anything about the update yet so is likely not anytime soon.

For those that don’t know, DOCSIS 3.1 is a firmware update which will make the HFC speeds go from what the cables are currently capable of providing (but restricted by ISPs to 100/40mbps), from 300/70mbps to 1000mbps download and 100mbps upload, which is virtually the same speed but maybe not quite as stable as true fibre to the home which offers 1000mbps download and 400mbps upload.

Can you change the Wi-Fi SSID and Password that’s written on the back of the modem/router provided via settings via a desktop computer?

Yes this is possible via the IP address process in a web browser on the same network. If you have any technical issues or want to change this contact your ISP and they’ll explain it very easily.

(SPOILERS: Once setup you go to a web browser on a computer connected via cable and type in 192.168.1.1 and change settings under WLAN).

If we sign up for 100Mbps and get nowhere near that speed, can we change the contract to be 25Mbps?

We were told that the network will obviously be slower if people are on in the area, of which I said well I’m not that thick, but they went on to say that if you are getting around 30% of the speed that you signed up for, you can opt to go to a lower plan. So if you are getting around 30-40Mbps max in anyway possible in your home instead of 90-95Mbps (likely real-world use) then you can ring iPrimus to downgrade your plan but keep the contract going (from what I understand).

What is the best deal you can offer for unlimited 100Mbps internet & 1 phone line? Can you compete with MyRepublic for same package at $70 per month, both including unlimited local and national calls?

This is where the ugly part of the article starts.

MyRepublic offers a service for $60 per month at 100Mbps download and 40Mbps upload (theoretical) and $10 add-on for unlimited local and national calls, bring it to $70 per month.

iPrimus offered this exact plan but at $110 per month.

We knew fully well and not trying to be unreasonable going into the call that they would not be able to price match MyRepublic, but was hoping they’d be able to give us enough of a discount to keep us as a loyal customer like we had been for the past 17 years.

The person in the Philippines fully understood what we were saying but because of their limited systems (as they put it), the best offer they gave us was our 2nd month free ($110 credit), and then in short their final best offer was a $140 credit over the 24 months, which would work out at paying $6 less per month, down from $110 per month to $104 per month.

They did say they have this Plan Price Guarantee which they do not advertise which is designed for loyal customers, but this is where it gets incredibly stupid.

Say you are going to buy a new car. If it’s $30,000 and you try to negotiate them to get it to $28,000 you would not give them any money until you have agreed on the final price. This is the exact opposite with iPrimus.

The iPrimus representative said that you have to commit to the 24 month plan that you want at it’s full price (in our case the $110 per month) and then iPrimus will provide us with the relevant contact names and phone numbers to renegotiate how much we are paying for the new plan, but this is designed only for people who have been with iPrimus, I assume just as long as we have. The catch with this system is that there is no guarantee of a price drop and if we do commit to $110 per month, we could have very well just paid the same price as a new signup. #soberupiprimus

Now we were not trying to be unreasonable but we thought for 17 years of loyalty, this was absolutely shit. We pounded them with the same message for what felt like 30mins to get them to provide a slightly better offer, but they did not do any better, so we asked if they would provide that offer if we called them back later and they said yes they recorded it against our file.

So we got connected by NBN on Monday afternoon, then we rang iPrimus on Tuesday afternoon and then once again on Friday afternoon when we sealed the deal.

This Friday afternoon call was just almost as difficult as the first call, so we rang them up and spoke to completely different people in the same department. We got offered in chronological order:

  • 2nd month free ($110 credit), which was worse than our best offer the other day.
  • $140 credit, which matched our best offer the other day.
  • $150 credit, which was hardly any better.
  • $150 credit, plus free modem + free setup, but we were signing up to a 24 month contract so these were included for free anyway. NICE TRY!!!
  • $200 credit, which brought it down to an average of $101.67 per month over 24 months.
  • $240 credit, averaging out at $99.90 per month over 24 months and this is what we committed with.

The reason we took the $240 credit and didn’t go any further, is because:

  • We took at least an hour on this 2nd phone call, to get to this point and for how much more effort we’d have to go to, we’d struggle to get any further.
  • This $100 per month on average, equalled the majority of other ISPs for the same unlimited internet with 100/40mbps internet.
  • We tried to stick with iPrimus because we were very satisfied with their network for stability/reliability, it was just price we had to argue.
  • We also took the opportunity to change the paper statements to statements via email to save almost $3 per month, so that saves another $72 over 2 years.
  • The additional calls on 1300 numbers and mobiles were primarily from my Dad who works from home, so we’ll upgrade his phone plan to get more credit to get all of that included (without necessarily paying anymore month-to-month), saving more money each month through iPrimus.

When we committed, we learnt the following:

  • There is a $15 fee to send the modem via a courier to our home address, which is compulsory even if you get a technician to come to do the setup, e.g. cabling from the iPrimus modem into the NBN box outside your home on the brick wall.
  • They would send out an SMS for when to expect the technician to come to complete the setup, but would not provide a rough estimate as to how long it will take for them to come around to do it. Everything we read online suggested it would be within a week, not multiple like some other ISPs including MyRepublic.
  • This whole Price Plan Guarantee to do once you’ve signed up is just a load of crap because you can convince them to lower their price before committing, just use the car example explained earlier.

ISP Setting Up Our Connection:

nbn_hfc
Internal setup for HFC Connections

So the day that our service was suppose to be available had been and gone (as in the last revised date), but we eventually saw on the NBN website just under two weeks afterwards saying that the service was available at our house.

It was the following week we got an email from NBN saying yes it is available and sign up to an ISP now, then the next day iPrimus rang us to sort out installation dates etc.

On this call, we got the installation organised for just over a week from the time of the call. They gave us either the option of a 4 hour window of 8am-12pm or 1pm-5pm so we picked the afternoon option. The modem was also getting priority delivery by Toll courier, which is why we had to pay $15 for shipping and handling of the modem.

The Toll courier eventually came with the modem a couple of days later and we learnt that the modem comes with the modem/router, power adapter and lengthy power cord, 2 phone cables and 2 yellow ethernet cables which are around 1.5 metres in length each.

Then we thought about how they would execute our installation because we had 2 phone lines and the internet in the house, so I spent at least 1hr underneath the house trying to figure out what cables needed to be redirected etc. and we were completely wrong.

The NBN guys ended up coming in the end around 9:30am because they were already in our area and other people were not home to get their’s done despite already arranging an appointment. It was a good thing we got rid of a lot of the cobwebs for them the other day because they ended up installing an entirely new HFC cable from the box on our outside wall done over a month ago, straight to the back corner of the house where our modem, and there was no mention of cost for this cable which was probably 20m in length.

The NBN guys setup a new Network Termination Device (NTD), which is a black box that sits on next to your modem which gets the internet into your house, to then go to the modem/router that your ISP provides. This black box is the NBN connection box on the far right in the last image above.

This NTD took quite a while to get connected and they were done within an hour, but the issue was that we were getting far to strong of a signal. I believe the reading is based on decibels (dB) or mega hertz (MHz), but anyway the guys said we needed a signal to be in a safe range of -3 or 4 (yes negative is good they said) and positive 9 or 10. We had positive 25 initially so the signal was far to strong and would not work as far too strong, but they got it down and stable presumably to around positive 9 or 10 dB. They activated our service via their phones via an online database and said we had to wait one hour until we could do it, so we decided to do it that afternoon to be sure, but after that hour was up our ADSL connection was already disconnected, so that was basically the prompt to do it.

We left it a couple of hours but that afternoon, we started the setup process with our iPrimus modem, by connecting it to the NTD and then a cable to a desktop in the same room and this is where it got ugly again.

It said that we could not connect to the internet and wanted us to put in a username and password that we had never seen before or had in any documents provided anywhere, and no it wasn’t the one on the back of the iPrimus modem didn’t work.

Since we have mobile data on our phones, I was able to look up if iPrimus were having an issues and as it turns out, iPrimus just happened to be having issues basically Australia wide at the exact hour that we were connecting to the network. #terribletiming

So we rang iPrimus tech support to see the issue was them or our home, and it took us about 8 calls before we finally got a ring-tone, because they obviously disconnected the phones because they knew they had issues. When we got through to one guy who by the sounds of it was in the Philippines, we explained the scenario and he said “let me just pull up your details here.” and then he hung up on us about 3 seconds later, which was incredibly rude and probably the worst experience we have ever had with iPrimus. They were obviously doing this just to a) get through all the calls and b) find out where the outages are.

So we could not do anything for a while but the internet eventually started working automatically to the point of being able to do a speed test, which we got 93Mbps download and 37Mbps upload so we knew that we could get essentially the full speed to our house, but the internet kept dropping in and out all afternoon.

We rang iPrimus again to explain the scenario and they said they’ll SMS us when everything had been fixed and it should be working at our address, but they said it could take 24-48hrs until it was all working again. It was all working fine the next day in the morning but we never got the SMS from iPrimus even after then.

A few days later we then had another brief outage around 8:30am for about 20-30mins but it has worked perfectly after that and we have not had any drop-out for at least a week now.

Our real-world results after setup’s completed

macbookproretina

I did a speed test just before we started setting up the NBN iPrimus modem and we were getting around 10Mbps download and 0.5Mbps upload.

And after this I can show you the following results and all Wi-Fi results are using 5GHz because of the stable connection it provides compared to 2.4GHz:

Ethernet Best Speed: 94Mbps Download, 37Mbps Upload.

Ethernet Average: 70-85Mbps Download, 30-35Mbps Upload.

Wi-Fi Average Same Room: 75-80Mbps Download

Wi-Fi Next Room (1 Wall): 50-60Mbps Download, 20-25Mbps Upload

Wi-Fi through 2 Walls: 50-60Mbps Download, 10-15Mbps Upload

Wi-Fi through 3 Walls: 45-50Mbps Download, 10-15Mbps Upload

Wi-Fi opposite end of house with up to 6 walls: 5-10Mbps Download, 5Mbps Upload.

That was all out of the supplied iPrimus modem but I planned all along to get a router to put more in the middle of our house where we already have a data point to under the house.

I got the ASUS RT-AC68U AC1900 router which will do the job for the internet in our house. This was to be used instead of a far older D-Link router that only support 802.11n Wi-Fi up to 300Mbps on 2.4GHz only. Got the ASUS router for $225 at MSY, which an equivalently specced model (not this exact one) would be about $300-350 at retail and online stores like JB Hi-Fi, Good Guys or Harvey Norman.

So I setup the router in the middle of the house, which reduces the number of walls to the far end of the house down to 3 or 4 walls (due to angles) but 1 or 2 of the walls (due to angles) are solid brick walls from the outside of the house. At that far point of the house I got 20-30Mbps Download and 5-10Mbps Upload which is definitely a vast improvement, but we could not use it in all parts of the far family room, because in some cases it has to go through the kitchen including a metal fridge with a couple of additional walls and we could not get a 5GHz connection at all, but we could get a weak 2.4GHz signal but that was still better than on our ADSL connection.

Now with these speeds, not every single service is capable of downloading content at those speeds, however I have noticed the following:

  • The Bureau of Meteorology and some webpages load a lot faster, but not all webpages, likely because of processing power in computers and with multitasking etc.
  • Downloading music for offline listening on Apple Music via iTunes is now 1-2 seconds instead of a minute or two per song.
  • Downloading the latest Planet of the Apps episode via Apple Music on iTunes on MacBook Pro via ethernet cable took 2hrs for the 2nd episode on ADSL2+ but took 7 minutes on NBN.
  • YouTube is a lot faster, downloading videos at a rate at best of 63Mbps via cable and makes any resolution available currently watchable now, including 4K and probably even 8K.
  • App updates via Apple App Store on iPhone and iPad are incredibly faster. Again few seconds vs. minutes.

Conclusion and Where to From Here:

Overall I would have to say that it was quite stressful looking into how best to get the internet throughout our house at the fastest speed possible in all places, but after going through this experience I would rate the entire transition from ADSL to NBN a 7.5/10. It wasn’t the smoothest transition, but if it weren’t for iPrimus being down when we were connected and the difficulty to get the price reduction through iPrimus due to loyalty, that number would of been 9 or 9.5 out of 10.

To sum it up I have learnt the following things that you should take note when it comes to the NBN for your household because everyone will eventually have to go onto it if you want home internet:

  • Almost all call centres are based overseas, even if your provider has physical stores in Australia. Only one I’m aware off is MyRepublic which is in Sydney, but not heard of the best from them for reviews.
  • You will never ever get the speed that you pay for, but you should get pretty darn close to it. Hence paying for 100Mbps download and getting 93-94Mbps at best of times so that is in the real world, spot-on.
  • If you are on the 25Mbps download option, I would imagine you’ll get 20Mbps at best, which is faster than ADSL but not drastically.
  • I would recommend the 25Mbps option and take the saving money approach, if you do not fall into any one of the following categories:
    • Have an IT nerd in your home,
    • Intense Video Streamer such as multiple people watching Netflix or YouTube in HD at the same time,
    • Download large files that are multiple gigabytes in size very frequently, or
    • Work from home.
  • Do not spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on a router if you are just going to put it at one end of the house and expect it to work for everywhere in the home. Think of it like putting a light globe in your bedroom and expect it to provide light at night to every room in your house, it just doesn’t work.
  • You are better off spending $100-$200 on adding a data point to a more appropriate spot in your home and buy a cheaper router around the $200-$300 range instead of buying a $300-$700 router for one spot in your whole home.
  • Do not be afraid to question every single thing that is happening with the NBN, especially if you are not up with it.
  • If you are in a HFC area, it is likely that they will insert HFC to the box on the outside of your home, then likely (but no guarantee) get a separate HFC cable straight to the wall in the office, which is all completely separate for us from our home phone and fax copper line, which we might get rid off for reasons outside of the NBN.
  • iPrimus can be difficult to deal with when it comes to price and ringing back a few days later might actually help you with reducing the price, but only you can determine if a couple of hours of handling and stress is worth a couple of hundred dollars in savings.
  • There are new routers coming out with 802.11ad but from videos I’ve watched including this one, it shows that you have to literally be right next to it, or in the same room and have a clean line of sight only, so it’s not worth it.
  • Any router that is advertised/marketed as more than AC1900 is completely unnecessary for the NBN speeds available today on a large scale.
  • The router I got is capable of real-world data transfer up to 570Mbps which is marketed as an AC1900 router, so even if we got 1Gbps connection which is 10x faster than 100Mbps, the router will be able to deliver half that full speed easily but to get the full 1Gbps speed you’d need an 802.11ad router and at least $1000 to get it.
  • For comparison with loading times compared to ADSL2+, 1080p video is loading instantly, 1440p in 1-2 seconds and a 4K/2160p video in about 3-4 seconds of buffering, which the later is far better than waiting a couple of minutes previously to then buffer again some point in the video.
  • Make sure routers wherever placed in your home are:
    • High up from the ground.
    • Ideally have external antennas which will provide better directed coverage.
    • Direct external antennas in direction you want it to work best but keep in mind that Wi-Fi is omnidirectional (360 degrees from router).
    • Have Ethernet as the data into the router to then go wireless out. We had a Wi-Fi repeater which was wireless in and out on ADSL and that exponentially made the internet only slightly usable at the other end of the house. We’re talking 1-2Mbps download.

As to if the NBN is now setup and that’s it, no I personally still have work to do.

My aim prior to signing up to the NBN was to make the internet become almost invisible throughout the entire home and not have to worry about slow loading speeds or unstable connections such as not being able to watch more than 1 YouTube video via Wi-Fi in a row, in any part of the house by getting the fastest speed possible in all parts of the home.

The furthest part of our house was getting 1-2Mbps in ADSL2+ and now is getting more like 10Mbps download, but that’s only with one device in the room at one time so we will likely setup a data cable from the office where the iPrimus modem is straight to the kitchen/family room, which is the furthest point away in our house and setup the ASUS router there.

If and when we do this, I’ll update this post with how much better the internet is in there once setup.

But in short:

  • I am glad we went on the NBN,
  • We have had tons of communication from iPrimus but none from NBN directly besides a survey after setup,
  • We are basically getting the speeds via ethernet cable that we should, with at the very least 7-8x faster speeds then before,
  • There is obviously no guarantee and I am not one going to guarantee that because we had this experience in our setup that everyone will get the same, which is clearly not the case with Bill Murrow CEO of NBN saying 15% of households are having issues, which is higher percentage of issues than normal for a large scale project like this.

Also on a side note, if you do intend on doing lots of online video watching, or download large files frequently like I do with Xcode and Android Studio updates, be sure to go on an unlimited plan. I feel ISPs should only be offering unlimited these days with policies about overusing the service and charge based on the speed you actually want.

Be sure to like this post and follow me on Twitter to get updates on how the NBN plays out over the next few months and for more posts like this in the future.

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2 thoughts on “My NBN Story: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

  1. See they are digging trenches. FTTP was cheaper in the end. HFC is absolute waste and will leave people offline for weeks.

    Major economies get absolute waste.

    “The setup takes anywhere from 30mins up to 2hrs to complete, unless you have an incredibly complex setup with cables underground. Ours took 1hr 15mins with them having to dig a trench where the cable would come into the house right next to the brick wall but they did not need to dig up half our front garden to install the new cable. This was the case for Labour’s NBN and the installation guys said it was an absolute pain to do for the amount of work they got done.”

    The crappy insecure HFC modems I have confirm can barely do 100mbps. Its worse with firewall filtering on that is why they leave it off. People’s security is at severe risk here. You have to bridge to that crap.

    They treat you with complete contempt. HFC can go down at any stage like it does on me. They provide no status update and leave you offline for days. There was a power outage and suspect equipment at the exchange needed someone to physically reboot it ! It took them 3 days to do that ! Modem would fail to connect. I was unable to get any work done at all. I had to pay $45 in mobile data to barely function.

    None of this would ever happen on FTTP. With FTTP you have the opportunity of using a Ubitique GPON device to have fibre connected directly. No modems whatsoever. You bridge to your own router.

    HFC has no upgrade path to fibre. The whole point of the NBN is to have got rid of telephone lines as communication also. So people have to use that noisy crap which always breaks down as communication !

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