Fairfax Tech Column

Fairfax Tech Column

08.3.2019 Fairfax Tech Column 137

The most exciting technological aspect of the 2007 election was the promise of a ‘super fast’ national broadband network (NBN). The initial proposal was to see 98 per cent of Australian households connected to the new technology. Over the last twelve years a lot has happened. One significant change in government saw a disappointing change in direction for the NBN with a hybrid model that was designed to save money.

While we can argue the merits of this change, the latest report from the global rankings company, Ookla, shows Australia in a disappointing light.

Australia has fallen to 60th place in download speeds. That is behind a raft of developing nations but most disappointing is that we are now behind New Zealand. We can’t beat them at Rugby but at least we used to have better Internet speeds…until now.

Australia’s average fixed line speed was just over 33Mbps and the average upload was 13Mbps. To put these numbers in perspective, Singapore topped the list with download speeds of 197Mbps. We are now behind nations like Malta; Andorra; Qatar and Trinidad and Tobago. We have slipped five places from last year when we were in 55th place and a separate study in 2017 had us at 50th place.

If you contrast this with our mobile speeds, we are in 6th position with average download speeds of 56Mbps and upload speeds of 13Mbps. With our mobile providers just starting to roll out 5G we can expect to see these speeds increase even further and push Australia even higher.

What is hard to fathom for many people (including me) is that the mobile speed is 70 per cent faster than the fixed line speeds. There has already been significant discussion in the industry around how much the latest mobile technologies will start to erode the penetration of the NBN. With many users who only require lower amounts of data already using mobile data in preference to fixed-line connections, the advent of 5G and better mobile coverage will see even more users turn off the NBN altogether.

The NBN does have two tricks up its sleeve though. Firstly, anyone that has high data usage requirements (translate: kids) will still want to use NBN with its cheaper pricing for large data amounts. Secondly, in particular with the premises connected with fibre, it is relatively easy for the NBN to turn up the speed. The technology is already there to deliver 1000Mbps for example, so surely we will start to see more options along these lines to keep the NBN competitive against the 5G threat.

Whichever way we look at it, we need to increase the speed and reliability of the current model NBN to stay competitive in the world – and at least beat our Kiwi counterparts at something.

Mathew Dickerson