Another interesting bit of information our test collects is the service provider being used by the tester. We all know that Telstra has a clear lead when it comes to broadband subscribers. What's surprising is that in the six months from May to October, TPG beat OptusNet to place second (fourth-place iiNet scored roughly half the tests of TPG). Providers such as Netspace, People Telecom and Unwired accounted for a fraction of 1 per cent of total tests.
Now it's dangerous to assume that these figures are truly representative of market share. For a start, 19 per cent of tests could not be allocated to a specific provider (due to changes in IP addresses). We should also be aware that some service providers attract a more "techie" crowd — a crowd more predisposed to periodic speed testing of their connections. There could also be a bias if a provider were to offer a lower standard of service, drawing more people to perform periodic speed checks.
That said, tracking such a large amount of data should be able to provide an indication of shifts in the share of each provider. BigPond's dominance, for example, has slipped slightly — falling from 36.1 per cent of tests in May to 35.3 per cent in October. Optus suffered a 2 per cent drop, from 13.5 per cent to 11.5 per cent. TPG and Internode also fell around 1 per cent, while iiNet and Dodo picked up a similar amount of share. We can't be entirely sure that this is indicative of the market, but it seems to hint that the big players aren't necessarily just getting bigger.
So here's the crux of the Speedtest: what speeds are users actually getting? There are, of course, several caveats. Results could depend on what plans people are on and the quality of their connection. For example, if one provider averages a higher speed than another, it could be because the first provider doesn't offer lower speeds.
The upshot is: we can't equate fast speed results with a better-quality network. That said, if we look at the results recorded, there's no denying that Optus and Telstra are way out in the lead. They are offering average speeds of 9.6Mbps and 8.8Mbps, respectively. That's a fair way ahead of Internode, TPG and iiNet who are struggling to average 6Mbps.
While Optus might be the winner in the average speed stakes, let's remember that Telstra has many more customers. As the graph shows, we're not just seeing variations in speed — performance (or Time To First Byte) results also differ enormously. NetSpeed offers the lowest TTFB at an average of 492 milliseconds (based on 671 speed tests) whereas Unwired lags (so to speak) well behind the rest at 1872 milliseconds (based on 638 tests). The good news is: if you are with one of the larger providers you will enjoy comparatively low TTFB — Optus, BigPond, Internode, iiNet and TPG all fall below an average of 700 milliseconds. Primus is slightly above that level (721 milliseconds) and Dodo lets the side down with 1119 milliseconds (based on 18,457 tests).
* Initially, in the performance charts on this and the following page, we used the term "latency". As this score is not the same as technical latency, we have corrected the references to read "Time To First Byte" (or TTFB) — a measurement that represents the duration from the user making an HTTP request to the first byte of the page being received by the browser. We apologise for the confusion — the measurements still indicate the relative real-world responsiveness of the various providers.