The National Broadband Network (NBN) uses a variety of technologies to deliver broadband services, including fibre to the premises, fibre to the node, HFC cable and satellite. In some areas, it uses wireless technology connected to a specific location called ‘fixed wireless’.
NBN Co chooses the technology for each area based on factors such as existing infrastructure, population density and distance to the local telephone exchange. Fixed wireless is typically found in rural and regional areas, but may also be used in outer metropolitan centres.
Fixed wireless transmits data over radio signals, using similar technology to mobile networks. Your internet service provider (ISP) should have told you if you are connected to a fixed wireless service and you will also have an external antenna fixed to your property.
You can find out what NBN technology you are using by going to the NBN website and entering your address.
In fixed wireless areas (unlike other parts of Australia), the copper network is not being switched off and there is no obligation to migrate to the NBN. Even if you decide to migrate to the NBN, there is no obligation to disconnect your voice or ADSL service. If you decide to keep your ADSL service active along with a fixed wireless service, you will need to pay for both.
If you choose to stay on an existing ADSL or landline service, you can still connect to the NBN at a later date and then cancel your ADSL or landline service. There is no fixed time in which you must move to the NBN in fixed wireless areas.
However, if you don’t want to use an ADSL or landline-based voice service, you can cancel your landline service when you activate your fixed wireless service.
The original design of the fixed wireless network has been unable to meet higher take-up rates and changing usage patterns. This has contributed to ongoing congestion issues affecting parts of the fixed wireless network.
Given the nature of fixed wireless, the speed of your service may vary throughout the course of the day and may be considerably lower than your maximum plan speed. You may experience congestion in the form of reduced speeds (e.g. below 6 Mbps), particularly during busy hours (7–11 pm).
NBN Co monitors the fixed wireless network. In order to avoid or address congestion, it will schedule an upgrade where it forecasts that too many services are regularly active at once.
Issues affecting speed for fixed wireless broadband include:
- environmental factors
- network congestion
- other factors.
The quality and maximum speed of a fixed wireless connection can be impacted by:
- the distance of the consumer’s premises to the fixed wireless tower
- whether there is a clear line of sight between the antenna on the roof of the premises and the fixed wireless tower, or if there is an obstruction
- weather conditions such as extreme heat or heavy rain.
A ‘cell’ is a group of premises that share the same radio network to the tower.
Each fixed wireless cell has a set amount of capacity (e.g. a certain number of megabits per second, or Mbps), which is shared between the households connected to that cell. When more households in an area are connected to a particular cell and/or those households increase their usage beyond the capacity of the cell, the cell can become congested.
Approximately 3 per cent of cells were congested as of March 2019, although NBN Co has set a target of reducing this to below 1 per cent of all cells.
The impact of network congestion on how you use the internet will depend on the bandwidth that is required for the particular activity you are engaging in. Activities such as browsing web pages or conducting short transactions may be less impacted as these typically require less bandwidth than streaming video or using multiple devices at the same time.
The following factors affect the quality of all broadband connections and may also impact the speeds you may experience on fixed wireless:
- the number of household members and devices that are online at the same time
- the Wi-Fi router location and the extent to which obstructions in the premises (e.g. walls) may affect the Wi-Fi signal
- the quality of your networking equipment (e.g. Wi-Fi router).
As part of the ACCC’s NBN wholesale service standards inquiry, NBN Co committed in a binding undertaking that it will publish metrics on its website that report on the performance of its fixed wireless network.
As a result, NBN Co publishes monthly reports on the percentage of fixed wireless cells that fall within various busy hour speed performance categories (e.g. 0–3 Mbps, 3–6 Mbps, 6–12 Mbps), and also the average number of hours per day that the cells are congested.
NBN Co is upgrading capacity on the fixed wireless network and has set a target to reduce the proportion of congested cells to less than 1 per cent by September 2019. The upgrade program is expected to continue even after this time, to maintain the performance of the network. An additional $800 million has been allocated for ongoing investment in the fixed wireless network until 2022.
While these network upgrades on the fixed wireless network will improve speeds, the higher speed plans may still experience reduced speeds in some of the busy evening hours.
The ACCC is considering whether any additional measures are required.
If you are considering fixed wireless we suggest asking your ISP the following question prior to making an order:
Will I be connected to a congested cell?
Your ISP may be able to tell you whether you will be connected to a congested cell. While your ISP may not be able to confirm this until after the technician installs the service, they can give you an indication of whether it is more likely than not. Asking this question can help you decide whether or not to order a service, or plan for how you could use the service until the cell is upgraded.
You can also talk to your neighbours who are already connected to fixed wireless and ask them if their service is congested or suffering from slow speeds during busy hours, bearing in mind that you may be connected to a different cell.
Your ISP should be able to tell you the timeframe that NBN Co has forecast for upgrading any congested cells that you could be connected to.
Delaying your fixed wireless order
If it is likely that you will be connected to a cell that is congested, and you have an ADSL service that is working well, you may want to consider delaying your fixed wireless order, or not cancelling your ADSL service, until the cell is upgraded.
In areas served by fixed wireless, there is no obligation to move over to the NBN as the copper network is not being switched off and some ISPs continue to offer ADSL services in these areas.
You can keep your ADSL service active along with an NBN service if you want, although you will have to pay for both services.
If you are a current fixed wireless user, we suggest asking your ISP the following questions:
What is the usual speed I can expect outside the busy hours and what is the usual speed I can expect during the busy hours?
Always ask this question if you are considering a higher speed fixed wireless service, as whether you can receive these higher speeds in full at any time of the day will depend on your particular circumstances.
What online applications won’t work well over my connection?
Ask your ISP about performance at different times of the day. If you have a fixed wireless service that is on a congested cell, you may have difficulty using certain applications and doing some online activities during the busy hours.
High-bandwidth applications such as streaming video, or other applications that require a real-time interactive connection, are more likely to be impacted by congestion during these times. This may result in buffering or a significantly lower quality video than would be available if you streamed the same video outside busy hours. Video conferencing, VoIP calls and home-based work to a cloud server are three other online applications more likely to be impacted by congestion.
If you have a particular online application that you want to use your service for, make sure you advise this to your ISP when ordering your fixed wireless service.
When using multiple applications at the same time, for example, by different household members, the impact of congestion will be more noticeable.
Some applications are less susceptible to congestion, for example, general internet browsing, social media and messaging services, and short duration transactions such as financial services and travel reservations.
When is the congested cell expected to be upgraded?
Your ISP should be able to tell you the timeframe that NBN Co has forecast for upgrading the congested cells.
If I am connected to a congested cell, can I switch to an alternative one?
In some cases, it may be possible to connect you to a different cell, while in other cases there won’t be any alternative cell available or the alternative cell may also be congested.
Can I switch to a cheaper plan if I’m not getting the full speeds of my plan?
Consider asking whether you can drop back to a cheaper plan should you not be able to achieve your full plan speeds. Otherwise you may end up paying a premium price for a basic service.
Not all ISPs may offer a choice of a cheaper plan, in which case you may need to swap to a different ISP that does offer a cheaper plan (unless your current ISP will offer you a discount to stay).
Changing providers or plans
If you are connected to a congested fixed wireless cell, changing ISPs is unlikely to improve your experience, as fixed wireless network congestion affects users regardless of the particular ISP.
Upgrading to a higher speed plan (e.g. from 25/5 Mbps to 50/20 Mbps) will not improve your experience during busy hours while the cell is congested. Even during the non-busy hours, the maximum speed of your fixed wireless service will be limited by how far you are located from the tower and whether you have a good line of sight to it. If this maximum speed is not much more than the speed of a cheaper plan, you may wish to consider whether the cheaper plan would be better value for you.
Improving your speed results while you wait for your cell to be upgraded
- Internet video services will automatically try to adjust the quality of the stream to minimise buffering and ensure the stream can still be delivered. If you are still having issues, consider manually decreasing the resolution. When viewing video on a smaller screen, a lower resolution may not impact your viewing experience as much as it would if you were using a larger screen.
- Shifting some of your internet usage to outside of the busy hours of the day may improve the quality and speed of your internet service, without significantly impacting your experience.
- Netflix, Stan and Amazon Prime Video allow you to download content to watch later on certain devices. Plan what you want to watch in the evening beforehand, then download it overnight or during the day. Doing this will eliminate buffering and you may also be able to watch your preferred content at a higher resolution.
Online movie rental services
- Online movie rental services usually allow you to download movies in advance to a local device. Plan what you want to watch in the evening beforehand, then download it overnight or during the day. Doing this will improve your viewing experience and eliminate buffering.
Software and game downloads
- Windows updates often download automatically without notice. Setting your Windows PC to metered connection mode during busy hours can improve your experience. This setting allows you to defer downloading non-critical Windows updates and make some other programs more conservative in the use of your bandwidth.
- Game updates and downloads that occur during busy hours can affect other applications you might be trying to use. Steam has functionality that lets you schedule updates during off-peak times. PlayStation 4 users have the option to start a download remotely from the PlayStation web store, so you can start downloads during the day while away from home.
- You can switch off the automatic download of software and game updates for your smartphones, computers and tablets and manually update them instead during non-busy hours. You can also schedule the update so that it occurs during the off-peak period.
Your consumer rights
ISPs have a responsibility to deliver a service that meets the speed and performance that they advertise. When ISPs are unable to supply a reasonable service that is consistent with the advertised plan, they have a responsibility to provide the appropriate remedies, operational support and information.
The consumer guarantees in the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) apply to fixed wireless services, including in circumstances where the maximum speed of your service is lower than the advertised speed of your plan. In addition to requiring services to be fit for purpose, the ACL also prohibits false or misleading representations or conduct.
If you are not satisfied with the performance of your service you should contact your ISP. We recommend you run a number of speed tests at different times, including during busy hours, and inform your ISP of the results.
If your fixed wireless service is not delivering the advertised speeds, you may be entitled to:
- downgrade your fixed wireless plan to a lower speed plan at a cheaper price without any plan change fees
- receive a discount or some other value for the period that your service was and/or continues to be affected by congestion
- exit your contract without fees (i.e. early termination charges)
- move to another type of service if available, such as ADSL or mobile broadband, without early termination charges.
You should consider which of these options, where available, best suits your individual circumstances and needs. For example, if you do not use your service much during busy hours and off-peak speed is more important to you, then a downgrade to a lower speed plan may not be the best option.
If the fixed wireless cell that you are connected to is due to be upgraded soon, waiting for that to occur may be a better option than changing to a different technology.
If you are experiencing reduced speeds on your fixed wireless service, the following troubleshooting guide may help you.
Fixed wireless speed scenarios
Your speeds are slow occasionally
Weather conditions such as extreme heat or heavy rain may impact your service speeds. Keep note of the conditions when your service was impacted (e.g. was it rainy, foggy or very windy?). Your service speeds should improve with better weather conditions. If your service speeds do not improve, you should contact your ISP and ask for this to be investigated.
Your speeds are slow in certain parts of your home
There may be an issue with the Wi-Fi router provided by your ISP or how your home network was set up. Your ISP may be able to help you solve these problems.
Your speeds are slow most or all of the time
There may be a fault on the fixed wireless tower or with the NBN Co network equipment installed at your premises. Run a number of speed tests at different times and contact your ISP to lodge a fault report for this to be investigated. Discuss the timeframes for repair and what your options are until this matter is resolved.
Alternatively, you may be connected to a congested service. Contact your ISP to ask if NBN Co has identified whether your cell is congested and what your options are. Changing ISPs is unlikely to improve your experience, as network congestion affects users regardless of their ISP.
Your speeds are acceptable during the day, but your service slows down considerably or you have difficulty using some applications during the busy hours (7–11 pm)
If your service slows down considerably at similar times each day, this could mean that your cell is congested. This occurs when more consumers in an area are connected to a particular cell and/or those consumers increase their usage beyond the capacity of the cell.
Contact your ISP and ask if NBN Co has identified whether your cell is congested, when it is scheduled for an upgrade and what your options are until the cell is upgraded.
In the meantime, you can take steps to improve your viewing experience. These include shifting some of your internet usage to outside the busy hours of the day, manually decreasing the resolution of your video stream, or downloading content overnight or during the day.
If you have a complaint about your broadband service, you should first try and resolve it with your provider. If you cannot resolve the problem, you can lodge a complaint with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.
You can also report the issue to the ACCC.