Monday, 23 July 2018 10:22

Experts differ on reason for slow Australian broadband speeds Featured

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Two experienced commentators on Australia's national broadband network, the NBN, have drawn different conclusions from the broadband speed data by Ookla, the company that provides the online Speedtest application for testing download and upload speeds.

According to the Ookla data, Australia, while doing well in mobile download speeds and ranking 8th globally with speeds of 50.53 Mbps, has fallen to 54th position in fixed broadband download speeds with an average of 30.82Mbps.

Rod Tucker, Laureate Emeritus Professor at the University of Melbourne and a member of Labor's Expert Panel that advised on the NBN, compared the speeds of Australia, China, the US and Singapore, and pointed out that an important turning point was clearly visible in 2013 and 2014.

"In 2013, the Coalition won the federal election in Australia, and wound back the rollout of fibre-to-the-premises. Around the same time, many other countries were experiencing an increase in FttP deployment," he told iTWire.

"The result is that countries like the US, New Zealand, and China surged ahead of Australia, and Australia began to fall behind not only other advanced economies.

"What is even more astounding is that Australia started to fall behind the average world average download speed in 2013, and the gap between Australia and the rest of the world is increasing."

broadband speed

But Robin Eckermann, who led the creation of TransACT and served as its chief architect during the 2000-2003 network rollout, said one of the key reasons for fixed broadband speeds languishing was the pricing model adopted by the NBN Co, the company rolling out the NBN.

"For affordability reasons, many Australians are choosing 12/1 or 25/5 Mbps plans – even though their connections are often capable of vastly higher speed. These choices are dragging down Australia's average performance," he told iTWire.

"It's a pity that NBN Co has replaced the old ADSL2+ model (where you get whatever speed your line is capable of) with a model where they charge more for a higher-speed connection. This really inhibits Australia's progress in the digital era."

When construction of the NBN was begun, the Labor Party was in office and it envisaged fibre being rolled out to the premises for 93% of the populace, with the remaining 7% to be supplied with connectivity through either fixed wireless or satellite.

The rollout became a political issue when the Coalition Government that took power in 2013 decided to change the technology of the network to what it called a multi-technology mix.

The MTM includes fibre-to-the-node, HFC cable, satellite, and wireless, apart from fibre-to-the-premises which is being provided only to new dwellings.

As the MTM plan and the connections provided have come under increasing criticism, fibre-to-the-distribution-point, which considerably reduces the copper lead-in to premises — what the network builder NBN Co calls fibre-to-the-curb — has been introduced as well.

Eckermann said other speed bottlenecks could occur in CVC and backhaul capacity provisioning, especially for regional Australians. Bu, he pointed out, these also had nothing to do with technology, and (ultimately) all to do with pricing.

"Of course, there are also those for whom cost isn't the limiting consideration, and who would welcome higher speeds than their current connection is able to deliver - for example, those in overloaded fixed wireless areas, those on satellite connections, and those a long distance from the node in FttN areas," he said. "They need to be a priority for network upgrades beyond the initial rollout."

Tucker said the future for broadband in Australia was bleak. "NBN Co continues to roll out fibre-to-the-node, which is barely able to deliver 30 or 40 Mbps to many premises. The capital expenditure thrown at the FttN network is now sunk, and the prospects for upgrading to FTTP in the short to medium term are doubtful," he said. "In the meantime, FttP is surging ahead elsewhere in the world."

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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