Why your NBN is underperforming
MORE than 10 per cent of Australians connected to the NBN aren't getting the speeds they're paying for, and overwhelmingly it's because of the inferior connection technology they've been pushed on to.
The Measuring Broadband Australia Report has been tracking the performance of Australia's broadband internet since 2017.
The eighth report, conducted by independent internet measurement and analysis platform SamKnows, was published by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission on Wednesday.
It showed 11 per cent of NBN customers were not getting the speeds they were paying for.
While it's a dire figure it is at least an improvement over the last reporting period, where one in every eight customers' connections were underperforming.
A service is classed as underperforming if it can't meet 75 per cent of its advertised speed at least one time in every 20 measurements, at which point it is closer to the speeds of the NBN bundle tier below it rather than the speed that's advertised.
Two thirds of NBN customers are on 50Mbps and faster plans.
If you're on one of those your service is underperforming if you can't regularly achieve speeds above 37.5Mbps.
Same goes if you're on the highest 100Mbps consumer plan but don't regularly experience speeds over 75Mbps.
Services can underperform for a variety of reasons, including network traffic and physical limitations of the connection.
In essence, these are services sold to customers by telcos that won't ever meet their advertised speed, at which point the telco should instead be providing them the cheaper service.
It's measured to encourage telcos to proactively improve service quality for those customers on underperforming services because of how it drags down the company's overall performance rankings.
If you want to test how well your service is performing you can use a website such as Ookla Speedtest or simply type Speed Test into Google.
But if you're on the worst fixed line technology available on the NBN you probably don't need to bother testing it to know your speed is bad.
Of the 11 per cent of services that underperformed, 95 per cent of them were fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) connections.
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That means that if you're on one of those connections and you're paying for a 50Mbps or 100Mbps plan, there's a one-in-four chance you never come close to actually hitting those speeds.
These are services that in most cases still use the existing copper wires to go from your house to the local telephone exchange or "node".
ACCC chair Rod Sims said the improvement over the last test was a good sign, but more needed to be done.
"We are pleased to see that speeds have generally improved, however we need more action from NBN Co and retail service providers so that all consumers can access their full NBN plan speeds," he said.
"This data clearly shows that too many consumers with FTTN connections are not receiving the speeds they are paying for."
FTTN connections were introduced by the Coalition government after it took over from Labor in 2013.
Labor wanted a network that would deliver full fibre directly into people's homes but this was deemed too expensive.
In new developments, FTTP is still installed and is cheaper than an FTTC, HFC, and even FTTN connection on an existing property.
But running fibre into existing premises is a very expensive process, costing nearly twice as much as FTTN.
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A few areas were lucky enough to receive the gold standard NBN in time, but most of us are instead on fibre to the kerb (FTTC, the abbreviation is for some reason based on the American spelling of kerb), hybrid fibre coaxial (HFC, which is also used for cable television networks), or FTTN.
Some of the rural and regional areas that the network was designed to bring up to the same standard as metro areas are forced to use fixed wireless or satellite internet, which doesn't go above 25Mbps, but in the words of NBN CEO Stephen Rue, is a "vast improvement" compared to what they had before.
It's ever so slightly faster than the ADSL2+ connections city slickers used before the NBN was introduced (and some of them still use to this day as they wait to connect to the new network).
For those customers on FTTN connections it's essentially a lucky dip on whether your internet is delivering the speeds you're paying for, and hard to determine or fix factors such as distance from the exchange and the quality of the wiring on your premises also play a factor.
If the NBN manages to reach positive cashflow or indeed turn a profit (a tall order given taxpayers have pumped more than $50 billion into it), that revenue could be used to further invest in the network.
This could involve bringing more FTTN properties onto FTTC or FTTP connections by building over the old copper wiring in those areas.
It could also be done through new technologies like 5G wireless or low-orbit satellite internet, as proposed by Elon Musk's SpaceX and other companies.
While the NBN is far from perfect it appears to be getting better.
Less services are underperforming and more have been connected since the last report.
Complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman about the NBN also fell in the latter half of 2019.
Are you getting the NBN speeds you're paying for? Let us know in the comments below.