GUIDES & RESOURCES

How Internet Speed Works

Slow Internet can be a real drag (pun intended). If you're looking for enough speed to stream your favourite show or download an important file – and not so much that you’re paying for speed you don’t use – read on!
Young man streaming high bandwidth game

*iSelect's partnered with CIMET to help you compare a range of internet plans and providers. Not all plans or providers in the market are compared and not all plans or special offers are available at all timesthrough all channels or in all areas. Not all plans available from CIMET's providers are compared and due to commercial arrangements, area or availability, not all plans compared will be available to all customers. Learn more

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Updated 13/10/2023
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Updated 13/10/2023

What changed?

New content added, updated sources
Our aim is to help you make better informed decisions. That’s why iSelect’s content is produced in accordance with our fact-checking and editorial guidelines.

Find out more about how we make money.

View our Privacy Policy.

Compare NBN plans the easy way

Save time and effort by comparing a range of NBN plans and providers online*

What would we do without the Internet? If your answer is, ‘have an actual conversation with an actual human’, well then … hi Mum, we’re working now, we’ll call you later.

For most of us, having a functional Internet connection is essential for most aspects of our lives. That’s why it’s so important to find out how Internet speed works, how much you might need and what you can do to push it faster. Luckily, your good friends at iSelect are here to help you out.

How do I measure Internet speed?

The most common measure for Internet speed is Mbps: megabits per second.

For those of you who aren’t shameless tech nerds like us, a megabit is just a measure of data. It’s a useful measure because it’s not too big or too small. Kind of like how we measure the distance a car travels in kilometres rather than centimetres.

An Internet connection that can download more megabits per second can get the data to you faster. This includes how quickly it can stream video from services like Netflix or receive content when you game online. Generally speaking, here’s a breakdown of comfortable speeds for different online activities:

Activity Recommended download speed1
Sending emails, making phone calls Less than 12Mbps
Browsing the web and social media, streaming music, streaming video in standard definition Less than 15Mbps
Streaming video in high definition (1080p), downloading files, playing online games, videoconferencing Less than 30Mbps
Streaming video in high definition (4K), downloading large files Less than 60Mbps
Streaming video in 4K and 8K at the same time, downloading game updates more quickly, downloading and uploading large files more quickly  Less than 150Mbps

What Internet speeds can I get as part of the NBN?

Most providers offer a range of plans for people who are connected to Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN).

A lot of different names for Internet Plans get thrown around. On top of the names individual providers might use, you’ll often see ‘NBN’ written with numbers after it – say, NBN50 or NBN500. This is the way the NBN used to categorise its tiers,2 and the way providers usually still do. The numbers are meant to correspond to the plan’s download speed,3 so they can be a handy way to check what speed you can expect on a particular plan.

To keep you on your toes, NBN Co (the company that operates the NBN) now uses different terminology for its speed tiers. If you’re thinking it’s a lot to keep track of, you’d be right! Don’t worry – we’ve outlined the loose tiers and the different names you might see for them below.

NBN tier4 Estimated download speed (peak hours)5 Closest equivalent NBN number6
Home Basic I Less than 12Mbps NBN12
Home Basic II At least 15Mbps NBN25
Home Standard At least 30Mbps NBN50
Home Fast At least 60Mbps NBN100
Home Superfast At least 150Mbps NBN250

The NBN offers one additional speed tier, Home Ultrafast, but they don’t specify its download speed.7

If you’re not sure what download speed a plan is offering, look out for its Key Facts Sheet on the plan’s webpage. Key Facts Sheets are official documents summarising the details of financial agreements, so you should generally be able to find the download speed on there.

How much upload speed do I need?

When you browse Internet Plans, you’ll see the download speed displayed more prominently than the upload speed. It makes sense: when it comes to things like streaming TV, your download speed is more important. Also, you generally need a higher download speed.

That doesn’t mean the upload speed isn’t relevant. Basically, if you’re using the Internet for activities that involve sending data elsewhere – say, online gaming or videoconferencing – you want to make sure that your upload speed will let you do those things smoothly. Here’s what you’ll need for a few of those activities:

  • Videoconferencing: Remote meetings – everyone’s favourite way to use the Internet! At Zoom’s highest quality setting, they recommend an upload speed of 3.8Mbps.8
  • Live streaming: Are you a YouTube star, or do you want to be? To follow your dreams, you’ll need an upload speed of between 3 and 40Mbps, depending on the resolution and frame rate you choose.9
  • Game streaming: Need an online audience for your Fortnite victories? To broadcast on Twitch at the highest quality setting, you’ll need an upload speed of around 6Mbps.10

The NBN doesn’t advertise the upload speeds of its tiers, but you can get some clues from the types of activities it lists under each. To upload data for videoconferencing or online gaming, NBN Co recommends its Home Standard tier.11

If providers are still using the old NBN numbers to categorise their tiers, the number corresponding to the download speed is often followed by the upload speed. So, a plan labelled, say, NBN100/20 has a rough download speed of 100Mbps and an upload speed of 20Mbps.

Does it matter how many people use my Internet connection?

Absolutely! Imagine you’re driving on the information superhighway. The top’s down, the sun’s setting, the wind’s in your hair … and there’s so much traffic on the road you’re at a complete standstill.

Yep, ‘traffic’ on the Internet works the same way as on the road. The fewer people sharing the space, the faster you can reach your destination. The more people in your lane, the likelier you are to get stuck in second gear.12

That being said, some NBN Plans are set up to handle more traffic. Here’s the maximum number of users the NBN recommends for each of its tiers:

NBN tier Maximum number of users13
Home Basic I Not specified
Home Basic II 12
Home Standard 3–4
Home Fast 5+
Home Superfast 5+
Home Ultrafast 5+

What else affects my Internet speed?

The type of Internet Plan you pick usually has a huge impact on your Internet speed. It’s not the only factor, though. There are a lot of things that can bring your Internet to a crawl, and while you can adjust some of them, you won’t be able to control others.

Technology type

This is a big one. If you’re one of the few Aussies who still uses ADSL, it’s unlikely you’ll see download speeds anywhere near even the most sluggish NBN Plan.14 The different types of NBN Connections also differ in speed. For instance, Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) has a (slightly) higher speed profile than Fibre to the Node (FTTN).15

Location

Not only does location determine your technology type – that is, you could be in either an ADSL or an NBN area – it also determines the quality of your network. For example, some NBN areas require more copper cabling than others. The length of copper cable can reduce your Internet speed, as copper conducts data less effectively than fibre-optic cables.16

Hardware

The type of modem you use to access the Internet can make a big impact on your speed. If the modem is out of date, your connection can suffer.17 But it’s not just your modem; if you’re connecting your 10-year old PC to the network, that can also affect your download speed.18 Your Wi-Fi will only work as quickly as the device it’s connected to.

Restrictions

If your Broadband connection has a data limit, you may find that your speed decreases once this limit has been reached. Fortunately, unlimited data plans are now pretty standard. Hello, unlimited streaming!

How should I compare different speeds?

There’s a bunch of different ways you can compare Internet Plans. However, one big-brained approach is to compare like with like.

For instance, it’s pretty rare that you’ll find a NBN500 Plan at the same price as a NBN12 Plan. Comparing the two probably won’t give you a great idea of how much value you’re getting for either. Instead, you’d be better off comparing the price tag and benefits of one NBN500 Plan with other NBN500 Plans.

You can also give this strategy a spin with us online. iSelect has partnered with CIMET to help you compare a range of Internet Plans and providers.* So get started comparing Internet Plans online, or if you prefer, give us a call on 13 19 20. Our friendly team will be more than happy to answer any questions you might have!


Sources:
1 NBN Co – You have a choice of speeds
2 The Sydney Morning Herald – NBN ditches speed 'tiers', introduces new names for plan types
3 Australian Competition & Consumer Commission – Broadband performance data
4 NBN Co – You have a choice of speeds
5 As above

6 Tangerine – Making sense of the different NBN speeds
7 NBN Co – You have a choice of speeds
8 Zoom Support – Zoom system requirements: Windows, macOS, Linux
9 YouTube Help  Choose live encoder settings, bitrates, and resolutions
10 Twitch – Broadcasting Guidelines
11 NBN Co – You have a choice of speeds
12 Australian Communications Consumer Action Network  What affects the quality of my broadband?
13 NBN Co – You have a choice of speeds
14 Aussie Broadband – nbn® vs ADSL: Why you should make the switch today
15 Australia Competition & Consumer Commission  Broadband performance data
16  The Conversation – NBN upgrades explained: how will they make internet speeds faster? And will the regions miss out?
17 Australian Communications Consumer Action Network – What affects the quality of my broadband?
18 As above

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