Three charts on Australia’s growing appetite for fast broadband


David Glance, University of Western Australia

This piece is part of our new Three Charts series, in which we aim to highlight interesting trends in three simple charts. The Conversation

The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ latest figures on internet activity in Australia show a huge jump in the number of people with advertised speeds of greater than 24 Mbps (that’s megabits per second, a measure of data transfer speed).

That trend is significant because it suggests that Australia’s appetite for faster broadband is growing apace, and that the NBN may be helping to drive adoption of higher speed internet.

Starting from Dec 2014, the number of subscribers in Australia with internet advertised as being capable of 24 Mbps or greater rose from 2.3 million to 7.8 million. Or, expressed another way, from 19% of all internet subscribers to 58% of all subscribers.

(It’s worth noting that the growth is in people who have signed up to packages that advertised internet speeds capable of reaching 24 Mbps. That’s not to say that speed is actually delivered all of the time; there is variation and one doesn’t always get the advertised speeds.)

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This increase is due, in part, to the roll-out of the national broadband network (NBN) and access to broadband at higher speeds – but that’s not the whole story.

True, the number of NBN subscribers over the same period rose rapidly from 322,000 to 1.7 million but that doesn’t explain the other 5.5 million subscribers who moved to faster broadband in that time.

Looking at the types of connection, there was an increase in the number of subscribers using internet delivered by fibre and fixed wireless. This tallies with what NBN data show.

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It’s likely that with the advent of the NBN and its standardised speed tiers, internet service providers started offering services that were on a par or better than those being offered on the NBN. Competition may be at work, and the technology itself is improving.

However, data reported by cloud computing services firm Akamai in their State of the Internet reports – frequently cited by the press – showed Australia’s broadband to be woefully behind most other developed countries.

Indeed, in the same time that Australia saw a huge increase in subscribers on internet speeds of 24 Mbps and above, Akamai was reporting that average internet download speeds had increased by a mere 27%, an increase to an underwhelming 10.1 Mbps. That puts Australia down the list in terms of average speeds.

With ABS data showing that 58% of the population is now on plans capable of delivering speeds of 24 Mbps and above, such a paltry rise in the average internet speed is somewhat surprising.

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It is, of course, possible that the advertised speeds of Australian internet plans are, too often, misrepresenting the true speeds available.

The way that Akamai calculates its figures is not spelled out in its report – it says that it “includes data gathered from across the Akamai Intelligent Platform”. So perhaps it would be wise to take claims about Australia’s rank in the world on internet speeds with a hefty grain of salt. Things may be better than we are being told.

More data is needed to make sense of the impact of the shift of subscribers to higher speed internet. Projects like the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s plan to “test and report on the typical speed and performance of broadband plans provided over the NBN” will help build a more accurate picture.

David Glance, Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australians could get faster broadband with more kerbside NBN connections



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The National Broadband Network comes to Hobart.
STRINGER Image/Shutterstock

Rod Tucker, University of Melbourne

The latest complaints about the National Broadband Network (NBN), including concerns about slow download speeds and frequent dropouts, show that all is not well with the NBN. The Conversation

A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) also flags Australia’s broadband speeds as among the worst in the OECD, beating only Mexico, Chile and Greece in terms of internet speed and penetration.

This raises questions on NBN’s continued use of fibre to the node (FTTN) over a large proportion of the total NBN footprint.

When the coalition government came to power in 2013, it instructed a new NBN management team to stop rolling out fibre to the premises (FTTP) and instead build a multi-technology-mix (MTM) version of the NBN.

But, as predicted, it is becoming clear that the FTTN component of the network is inadequate for Australia’s future needs.

Who’s to blame?

NBN chief executive Bill Morrow has deflected some of the blame for low speeds away from NBN and onto retailers, suggesting that their networks might not be up to the task.

He has correctly pointed that part of the problem is that many customers are opting for cheaper, slower services rather than the more costly faster ones.

In defence of its network, NBN points out that existing slow-speed ADSL services dominate the speed data quoted in the OECD report. It suggests that rolling out the NBN out across the entire country will help to improve Australia’s broadband ranking.

But this argument ignores any future developments in other OECD countries. There are numerous broadband initiatives in the OECD, and many of these initiatives use FTTP networks, which offer much higher speeds than FTTN.

Faster speeds overseas

Worldwide, the proportion of fixed broadband services using FTTP has increased by 77% in the past year and those using copper, such as FTTN, have decreased by 11.6%.

While the OECD and the rest of the world are moving forward with ramped-up FTTP deployments, Australia is moving backwards with its continuing rollout of FTTN.

New Zealand, for example, currently sits three places ahead of Australia in the OECD report. But in New Zealand, the telco and internet provider Chorus is installing FTTP around the country.

It announced in September last year gigabit-per-second services across its fibre footprint, starting at a wholesale price of NZ$60 (A$55) per month. This follows the announcement of gigabit services in Dunedin in 2015.

In Spain, more than one-third of customers have access to FTTP and this fraction is growing. A similar surge in FTTP connections is taking place in France.

In the United States, fibre rollouts are expanding, and countries such as Sweden and Finland already have a large penetration of fibre in their networks. Many countries in Southeast Asia either have rolled out, or are rolling out, high-speed FTTP networks.

One of the reasons why FTTP deployments are expanding worldwide is that newer construction techniques and cabling technologies are driving down the cost of FTTP.

Enter Fibre to the Curb (FTTC)

NBN Co announced last September that it will roll out Fibre to the Curb (FTTC) to around 700,000 premises originally slated to use an upgraded version of the Optus HFC network.

FTTC is a relatively new technology in which fibres link the local telephone exchange to small existing pits in the street, outside a home or business. FTTC potentially provides speeds in excess of 500 Megabits per second.

Up to the pit, FTTC is essentially the same as a FTTP. The key difference is that in FTTC, a small waterproof electronic box in the pit connects the fibre to the existing copper wires that run into the home.

But FTTC is largely untested in large deployments such as Australia’s NBN. So a rollout of FTTC will carry a degree of technological risk.

NBN says it will cost about A$2,800 to roll out FTTC to each premises, which is only $630 more than FTTN. Like FTTP, the cost of rolling out FTTC will decrease over time using newer construction techniques. FTTC and FTTP are both becoming more cost competitive.

With speeds as much as ten times higher than FTTN, FTTC has the potential to improve Australia’s rankings in broadband speeds and accelerate Australia’s transition into the digital economy. These were the original objectives of the NBN.

In a blog post, NBN’s chief network engineering officer, Peter Ryan, says that FTTC and FTTN are closely related, and uses this premise to paint a picture of how easy it will be to upgrade from FTTN to FTTC.

But FTTC has a natural relationship to FTTP and not to FTTN. In FTTN, fibres feed a cabinet on the side of a road that is connected to nearby 240-volt power lines. The power supplies backup batteries and banks of electronics that connect to the premises via the existing copper wires.

In FTTC (and FTTP, for that matter) the expensive powered node is not needed, meaning that the cabinets in the street could have to be trashed when FTTN is upgraded.

In an attempt to bolster its arguments for FTTN, NBN has asserted that those cabinets are “an extremely valuable asset … which can be used for a range of purposes”. But it is very hard to imagine what these purposes could be.

Taking stock

Despite the excitement over FTTC, it’s getting harder to cancel contracts for FTTN and move to a more sensible strategy.

Ryan points out it’s not possible to “tear up 18 months” of FTTN planning as that would only delay some connections for two to three years.

The NBN network is like an enormously long train; you can’t just bring things to a complete stop and change direction, it just doesn’t work that way and never will.

Rod Tucker, Laureate Emeritus Professor, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.