The big thing in the broadband world at the moment is naked DSL. By my count, there are currently 12 service providers offering naked DSL products in Australia, a number that I would expect to grow, and there are nearly 90 plans to choose from.
Such diversity of plans is always a pain for the customer, since it results in very wide variations in price and therefore plan value. This analysis might not answer all your questions, but it should help you get started.
First, let's get an accurate understanding of naked DSL. It does not involve, as is so commonly stated, “getting rid of your landline”, but rather, turning off a particular service.
Traditionally, most copper lines terminated to a voice telephony switch in the Telstra exchange. That's natural enough, since for most of the century-plus history of telecommunications, the copper line and the voice service were effectively the same thing.
When DSL-based broadband arrived, it put a high-frequency signal over the top of the voice-frequency signal. The voice service remained the same, but the high-frequency data signal was split from the service in the telephone exchange, and handed to whichever service provider was delivering the broadband.
Until recently, however, the copper still terminated to a voice service. You were, in effect, buying a bundle: the connectivity on the copper, and the basic voice telephony service that the copper connected to.
In naked DSL, the basic telephony service is unbundled. The “landline” – in the sense of the copper connecting your premises to the telephone exchange – still exists, but it no longer connects you to a Telstra voice telephony switch. If you opt for a naked DSL product, the service is unbundled from the connection. But the connection still exists – as you'll learn quickly enough if someone puts a backhoe through the cable.
You need to pay attention to one important aspect of the naked DSL business: since you're no longer connected to the Telstra voice switch, you'll have to make other arrangements to buy voice telephony. In general, providers offering naked DSL also offer voice services, mostly delivered over VoIP infrastructure.
Since the early days of naked DSL, there's been a minor flurry of entrants into the market. It was led by companies that own DSLAMs in telephone exchanges, since they already had the components in place to create the service. Lately, a number of DSL resellers have entered the market, selling naked DSL services that are delivered on other companies' infrastructure (Optus is the most common wholesaler chosen by naked DSL resellers).
In this article, I have looked at the plans offered by twelve ISPs and carriers offering naked DSL services: Adam Internet, Amnet, Dodo, Engin, Exetel, GoTalk, Highway1, iiNet, Internode, Netspace, Optus and TPG.
Range of Plan Allowances
There's a huge range of plan allowances in the naked DSL market, which makes direct comparison difficult. A 100 GB per month plan may be much better value than a 1 GB per month plan, but it also involves a much higher outlay.
In addition, nearly every plan – except business plans that generally have high basic allowances – includes extras. A handful of providers include both off-peak and peering allowances in their plan pricing, while most at least offer a peak / off-peak split.
Peering allowance may need explanation: to help lower their own traffic costs, ISPs establish agreements to exchange traffic between their networks without charging each other. That way, if traffic is travelling between two ISPs who use different upstream providers (for example, to connect to international networks), they don't use their expensive upstream services for that traffic, but instead, exchange it directly through “peering” links.
Because of the huge variety of plan allowances, even in this relatively small market, I've analysed prices in different bands. While the analysis includes price per Gigabyte with extras included, the bands were derived from the peak data allowances in the following bands:
- Up to 5 GB;
- More than 5 GB, up to 10 GB;
- More than 10 GB, up to 30 GB;
- More than 30 GB, up to 65 GB;
- More than 65 GB, up to 180 GB.
I excluded two extremely high-allowance plans of 200 GB and 300 GB because they were only offered by one provider, Highway1.
The calculation is simple. This analysis reports:
- Price per GB – off-peak and peering excluded;
- Price per GB – including off-peak and peering allowances.
In addition, please note that this analysis focuses on the unbundled service price. Plans which require bundling with (for example) voice or mobile services are not included.
Up to 5 GB
While Dodo offers the lowest subscription price in this band (at $39.99), it is for a 1 GB per month service. Most naked DSL services at up to 5 GB per month cost between $40 and $50 per month, peaking at $68.95 per month (Amnet 5 GB with 7.5 GB off-peak). Best value in this range is from Internode; its Home Naked Extreme 5 GB plan at $49.95 per month offers an effective per-GB price of $9.99. This service is, however, only available on Internode DSLAMs.
GoTalk, Adam Internet and Dodo all have sub-5 GB services in the $10-to-$11 per GB range.
Over 5 GB, up to 10 GB
The per-GB price falls dramatically in this range. In fact, the overall best value seems to be in this range of services, rather than in the higher-allowance offerings.
The lowest “raw” subscription price in this range is for Exetel's NAK2A service at $45 per month. It has a 6 GB peak data allowance with 54 GB off-peak. This plan includes a $3 per GB excess fee; Exetel is the only surveyed provider using excess charges for naked DSL products.
Three providers offer services at under $6 per GB (peak allowance only): Adam Internet's “Medium” Naked DSL product (10 GB per month peak for $59.95), Internode's Home Naked Extreme 10 (10 GB per month peak for $59.95) and Dodo (10 GB per month peak for $59.99).
When all allowances (peak, off-peak and peering) are taken into account, Exetel's NAK2A (75 cents per GB), Highway1's Business Naked 1 ($1.73 per GB), and Dodo's 10-100 (55 cents per GB) service offer the three lowest per-GB prices in the range.
Over 10 GB, up to 30 GB
Subscription prices here range from $55 per month (Exetel NAK2B 12G + 54G off-peak) up to $109.99 (Optus 30G). Including peak allowance only, TPG has the best value in this band, at $2.40 per GB for its 25 G + 25 G service at $59.99. When peak and off-peak are both included, Dodo's 20 G + 100 G ($69.99 per month) package works out at 58 cents per GB.
A large number of other providers offer services at an effective price of less than $2 per GB including off-peak: GoTalk, Highway1, Netspace, Amnet, Engin and iiNet. Optus tops the price on a per-GB basis at $4.67 (15 GB unbundled plan).
Over 30 GB, up to 65 GB
In this range, the lowest subscription price is from Exetel (NAK2D at $75 per month), but its NAK2E product is better value on a per-GB basis ($1.67 excluding off-peak, versus $2.29 for NAK2D). Based on plan inclusions only, this is a competitive segment, with Exetel, Internode, Adam Internet and iiNet all offering services at under $2 per GB.
When all plan inclusions are taken into account, Dodo, iiNet, Exetel and Netspace have services at less than $1 per GB.
Over 65 GB
Only four providers offer services at the premium end of the market: Adam Internet, Highway1, Exetel and Internode. Adam Internet and Internode pitch premium services to residential customers, while Exetel and Highway1 only offer business services in this range.
Exetel's B15 (120 GB per month), at $120, has the lowest per-GB in this class of product.
Readers should note that I have not included the costs of delivering telephony service in this analysis. For a residential user, this will mean acquiring a VoIP service either from the ISP or from a third party (if a landline telephone is required). SMEs would need to choose between hosting their own VoIP (with an external provider to supply PSTN connectivity) or buying a hosted VoIP service.
It should also be noted that providers are not consistent in measuring traffic levels. Some providers count both upload and download traffic against the quota; other provides do not count uploads.