Note: This article initially incorrectly stated Optus was the only provider not to force customers to take a telephony service alongside their NBN connection. This was incorrect: Several providers — notably Primus and Internode, do offer plans without a bundled telephone line. However, Optus is the first ISP to promote this as a ‘Naked’ offering similar to Naked DSL plans.
opinion Well, colour me extremely surprised. Optus’ National Broadband Network plans released today are among the best so far, and represent a level of innovative thinking about the next-generation infrastructure that has so far been missing from all previous NBN commercial pricing options.
Sure, the ISPs’ pricing options have been broadly satisfactory in terms of the raw prices which customers will pay to access the predominantly fibre infrastructure as it’s rolled out around the nation over the next decade. There have been low-end deals cheap enough to satisfy even the most aggrieved Coalition MP. There have been stellar mid-range options to satisfy the mainstream. And there have been decently priced top-range plans for mega-downloaders.
However, the problem with all of the NBN plans released so far is that they’ve been trapped in the previous paradigm gradually evolved for the current generation of copper-based ADSL infrastructure. Insufficient quota limits which could be breezed through in a few days of hard downloading, unfair shaping speeds and compulsory fixed telephone lines which many customers will never use; all of these idiotic ideas have been ported wholesale from the world of ADSL broadband.
And when the odd innovative idea has popped up — such as Exetel chief John Linton’s proposal to charge on a pure usage model — it quickly gets squashed.
It is because of the ongoing frustration I have had with previous NBN pricing plans that I am so enthused by the launch of Optus’ commercial options this morning. The telco has introduced a number of ideas into the NBN pricing paradigm that reflect fresh thinking on the issue — and a desire to part with many of the mistakes of the past.
Let us count the firsts contained in Optus’ announcement this morning.
Firstly, and most critically, the telco today became the first NBN provider to explicitly and up-front promote a broadband plan without a bundled telephone line, in what is one of Australia’s first “Naked NBN” plans. The significance of this cannot be overstated.
Right now, there are hundreds of thousands of Australians who have already signed up for Naked DSL, starkly demonstrating their desire to avoid having a fixed telephone line at home. Most of these people probably use a combination of their mobile phone and a (often free) Internet telephony line to make all of their calls. They do not want or need to use or pay line rental for a traditional telephone line.
The attempt by
every major ISP apart from Optus (edit: It looks like Primus, Internode and perhaps iiNet may be doing this as well, but it’s not as obvious in these cases) to bring these people back into the analogue telephony world has been nothing short of an extortionate attempt to bundle additional charges on top of a basic broadband connection. Voice, in an NBN world, will be a commodity, and the concept of line rental irrelevant.
Secondly, Optus today became the first NBN provider to do away with the pathetic 12Mbps entry level speeds which NBN Co is offering (except on Optus’ most basic plan) and standardise instead on 25Mbps speeds. Unlike all of its competitors, Optus will charge users nothing extra for 25Mbps speeds. You just get it as part of your package. And, sensibly, you’ll only need to pay an extra $10 or $20 extra per month to get 50Mbps or 100Mbps speeds. It’s that simple.
Lastly, Optus today became the first provider to bundle mobile plans with its NBN options.
Sure, the company’s offer is pretty pathetic, and we expect Telstra to easily beat it when the big T launches its own plans, but we’re not sneezing at $10 off our broadband plan if we’ve got a mobile plan with the same provider. And, with companies like iiNet and Exetel already selling some mobile offerings, there is simply no reason why they couldn’t have done what Optus did and bundle them into their NBN plans.
They just didn’t bother.
Now, don’t get me wrong — this morning’s Optus revelations aren’t all roses. The company’s prices are broadly more expensive than those of several of its rivals (a $129 terabyte plan at 50Mbps, with a bundled phone line? No thanks, we’ll take iiNet’s for $99.95 per month), the company still shapes speeds down to 256kbps, has re-implemented artificial on- and off-peak quota divisions and it doesn’t seem to be offering its FetchTV service as an additional bundle. However, these are problems which by and large aren’t unique to Optus — most of the other NBN providers also suffer from some or all of these annoyances. Optus is not alone in its faults.
In addition, we really hate how Optus has avoided actually stating the actual speeds which users will achieve under its planning, choosing instead to label them with a series of nausea-inducing marketing doublespeak terms such as ‘Stay Connected’ for 12Mbps, ‘Social’ for 25Mbps, ‘Multimedia’ for 50Mbps and ‘Multimedia eXtream’ for 100Mbps. And we’re also suspicious of the telco’s labelling of data quotas as “Up to 40GB”, “Up to 120GB” and so on. What does “up to” actually mean? We’re betting it means “Up to whatever the hell Optus says it means” — as defined by an odious and overly complicated standard usage agreement, which nobody outside of the company’s gigantic legal team will ever be able to completely interpret.
However, at least Optus is thinking outside of the box, and playing to its strengths in bundling and mobile access provision. And that is a damn sight more than all of the other NBN providers so far can say.
Kudos must go today to the team at Optus for some innovative offerings. Perhaps there’s some life in the old dog yet.