Dear Mr Broadband, where is that wireless revolution we were promised?

Dear Mr Broadband, where is that wireless revolution we were promised?

Summary: Critics of the NBN have pointed to wireless as the future of connectivity, but the numbers do not back up the claims made thus far.

TOPICS: NBN, 4G, Mobility, Australia

In the six months since the last release of the Australian Bureau of Statistics' (ABS) Internet Activity report, we've seen the launch of a popular 4G phone in the form of the iPhone 5, Australian telcos are expanding their long-term evolution (LTE) networks, and the copper that most of us rely on for our broadband has rotted a little further.

If ever the conditions for a takeoff of mobile data consumption were ripe, it was this six-month period.

In the latest release of the Internet Activity report, the headline figure is a 38 percent increase in the amount of data downloaded via mobile handsets to an estimated 13,703 Terabytes (TB).

This compares to the newly revised figure from the previous report for the half year to June 2012, which saw mobile downloads increase by 99 percent.

It is worth noting that the mobile download number only counts revenue-generating downloads — data from free-to-stream music services, for instance, are not counted in this total.

(Image: Chris Duckett/ZDNet)

On the fixed-line side of the broadband equation, growth in the amount of data downloaded increased from 21 percent in June 2012 to 35 percent growth in the past six months, giving a final number of the amount of data downloaded by fixed-line broadband to 526,472TB.

That makes fixed-line broadband responsible for 95 percent of the data downloaded by Australians in the past six months — up a single percentage point since June 2012.

After a new Apple phone with LTE capability, increased 4G coverage, and the fact that LTE is multiples quicker than many ADSL connections presently in use, fixed-line broadband actually increased its percentage of total data downloaded.

(Image: Chris Duckett/ZDNet)

In terms of the speeds of fixed subscriber lines, for the first time, there are more subscribers in the 8Mbps to 24Mbps band than any other, coming in at 5.4 million, an increase of 32 percent in six months. The previous band with the highest subscriber base was the 1.5Mbps to 8Mbps band; it now sits at 4.2 million, down from 5.1 million subscribers in the previous report. The slowest broadband speed in the report, 256Kbps to 1.5Mbps, saw its subscriber number fall from 980,000 to 609,000. Dial-up internet access suffered a major loss of subscribers, falling from 439,000 subscribers to 282,000 subscribers.

The highest speed band of greater than 24Mbps saw its subscriber base increase by 13 percent to 1.65 million subscribers.

Be aware, though, that these speeds are "advertised speeds" and do not reflect the variables of Australian broadband life, such as flooded ducts and line degradation.

Regardless of which party rolls out the National Broadband Network (NBN) in the coming years, the speeds of fixed-line broadband are only going to increase and possibly eclipse LTE and its next-gen wireless brethren.

Yet, take to the AM band in Sydney, and you'll hear commentary that decries fibre as a "white elephant" and mobile wireless as the future for all things digital.

"We are rolling out cable at incredible expense, when the future is clearly wireless," noted NBN critic Alan Jones said on Thursday before introducing Shadow Communications Malcolm Turnbull. (The quote is at 5:45 in the recording.)

And how did Turnbull, the Liberal Party's internet pioneer and newly dubbed "Mr Broadband", welcome the comments made by Jones?

"Well, Alan, I have to agree with everything you've said there," said Turnbull. "It is a very, very sorry — all you've done is state the facts."

It's tempting to give Turnbull the benefit of the doubt, and say that he wasn't agreeing directly with Jones. But when a shadow minister poses with a tablet as an example of "how fast broadband helps customers stream sport to iPads" after an alternative NBN policy launch, it raises concerns that maybe he does believe wireless is the future.

The wireless future of the country will be 802.11 based, not LTE.
(Image: Liberal Party of Australia)

And why wouldn't the Liberal Party believe this? After all, its leader said on Tuesday that broadband running at 25Mbps would be "more than enough" for Australians — that speed falls squarely in the LTE download range. The caveat with LTE speeds, like any wireless solution, is that it is a wonderful and speedy option, but only if the network is not saturated with users.

The problem with thinking wireless is the future is that the numbers disagree thus far, there's been ample opportunity for wireless to make inroads into fixed-line broadband, and there's little sign of Australian broadband users changing their behaviour.

In fact, we are dropping away from the slowest offered fixed-line broadband speeds in increasing numbers.

Twelve months ago, it was fair to say that Australia was a country where the majority of internet connection speeds were below 8Mbps. Just a year later, the scales have shifted, and we are now a country with a majority connection speed of greater than 8Mbps.

Given these trends, what is the likelihood that Australians in 2019 will find the Coalition's 25Mbps acceptable?

In 2013, over 1.6 million subscribers are already beyond the Coalition's minimum speed, and this number is only going to increase as we head toward 2019.

Topics: NBN, 4G, Mobility, Australia


Chris started his journalistic adventure in 2006 as the Editor of Builder AU after originally joining CBS as a programmer. After a Canadian sojourn, he returned in 2011 as the Editor of TechRepublic Australia, and is now the Australian Editor of ZDNet.

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  • It's all about growth!

    Good article, Chris - because it goes straight to the heart of the matter, which is that broadband planning has to be based not on past or present demand, but on people's demands and expectations during the lifetime of the proposed technology. Historically, the volume of data downloaded has doubled about every three years (NBNCo's first business plan has good data on this) and the demand for bandwidth has increased broadly at the same rate. Since the NBN was announced four years ago people's expectation of their broadband connection has already doubled. Many have upgraded, as your statistics demonstrate, others are already at the highest speeds that the current technology can provide. Over the next few years many people will become seriously disenchanted with the limited broadband that they are stuck with. That is why we need to invest in FTTP and why the Coalition's proposals look so dreadfully half-baked. They are simply not forward-looking!! Bit it's equally true that NBNCo's fumbling attempts at a rollout are just not good enough. When Rudd and Conroy announced the NBN in April 2009 it was to be an eight year project. That's now stretched to 12 years, and so far NBNCo has not demonstrated that they will meet even that target. By 2017, when the rollout should have been complete, more than 50% of Australians will still be struggling with their pre-2009 ADSL. What Abbott and Turnbull need to do is not water down the NBN, but work with NBNCo to get it completed quicker - for the sake of Australia.
  • There's not just one person at the end of the line

    Apart from the idiocy of relying on a constantly degrading copper network, I already have 28Mbps on cable which like many households, is shared between members. With smartphones, tablets, laptops and PCs all sharing that line, 25Mbps is not something I want to end up with after billions of dollars have been spent and a wait of 12 years.
    • You do realise...

      That 25Mbps is the MINIMUM speed that the coalition is offering. You CAN get higher speeds on copper.
      Kunal Nanda
  • the real problem with the NBN debate

    what's depressing about the reams and reams of clear, concise, analytical rebutals against the Liberal's policy is the fact that the quality of the network, its finances nor its purpose have any basis of whether it will proceed after the next election.

    The reality is this. The ALP are a corrupt political party. Bleeding at the grass roots unable to even man all of the booths in a major electorate. Every poll, every state and local election all point to an absolute collapse in the ALP's vote.

    This despite the vast majority of the country wanting the ALP's version of the NBN.

    The NBN will not save the ALP. We'll be left with a pointless VDSL product with all the problems of ADSL. Its a lie and a waste of money but sadly that doesn't matter. The ALP have scuttled themselves and left us to pay for $30b worth of liberal crap that they'll sell to one of their cronies like Paul Broad or even godforbid Turnbull when he loses at the next liberal spill.
    • Well said!

      This what I have been saying all along. It is not whether or not the NBN is or isn't a good policy. Rather, the problem is Labor's inability to successfully implement policy . . . and that is coupled with their incompetence, their debt, the internal squabbling and so on and so on.

      Anyway, let's countdown before the usual rang of closed-eyed lunatics get on here and fill the forum with their usual vile and invective . . . . 3, 2, 1 . . .
      • Too late...

        You are already here ;)
      • Please!

        Oh yeah because the Libs would have done it so much better, get a grip, they are as bad as each other, but at least Labor are building a world class 'FIBRE TO THE HOME' NBN, not some BS antiquated rubbish using old copper wires that won't provide sufficient speeds from day one. That's ok, you stick with your dial-up, the rest of us want something that will last us for many decades to come.
        • I can only wish that one day

          you and RS and HC and a load of others finally understand the difference between writing a policy and implementing it. THOSE ARE NOT THE SAME!

          We've had almost 6 years of Labor coming-up with grandiose policies and then failing at implementation. No matter how good the NBN policy might be, there is no good reason to believe that it is finally the one policy that Labor properly implements. You need only look across the spectrum of Labor failures to implement policy to get a modicum of understanding, and most of those were failures at a fraction of the cost of the NBN. Certainly it is a case of past performance predicting future performance, but that is all we have.

          I could provide you with a list of failures, but it would be pointless.

          As for your comment about dial-up, if only you knew . . .
          • Err

            Do you have the NBN at your place?
          • Well said

            I actually agree with what you say.

            If your situation is as dire as mine, you will hopefully understand I really want and need the current NBN as it is to succeed.

            Hey in fact not just for me but for every Australian 5 years from now.

            I will cross my fingers for this. I cannot support Turnbull just because the implementation is currently broken, the principle is 100% sound.
          • "you and RS and HC and a load of others finally understand the difference between writing a policy and implementing it. "

            We've known the difference for a long time. No one expected it to run fault free... except the religious anti-NBN zealots, that is why they are the first to bitch about not getting the fibre they say we don't need when a few delays happen. That's called having an agenda and going by the rest of your ill-informed comments I'd say it was political...

            "We've had almost 6 years of Labor coming-up with grandiose policies and then failing at implementation. "

            So remind us since you love the political angles so much how many years did the coalition have before that?

            "I could provide you with a list of failures, but it would be pointless."

            It certainly would be pointless, just because there are a few failures that does not make the NBN bad idea nor if the NBN failed itself would that make FttP bad idea either. That is what I am in favour for the majority of Australians long before the NBN...

            "Rather, the problem is Labor's inability to successfully implement policy . . . and that is coupled with their incompetence"

            Great, so give it to the coalition finish and by finish I mean the proper NBN build with 93% FttP... so will you be in favor of it then? I will, see that's the difference between you and me I don't give a rats ass who builds it, whoever does will get my praise and temporary respect and those that don't will rightfully get my criticisms.
            Hubert Cumberdale
  • Get real!

    Fools! The IMF has given their verdict on the current government. And surprisingly, it's very different to the liberal voters (or MOP's) opinion above. What is the difference between $39b (costed and being implemented) and $30b (uncosted and untried) when the $30b option is not even 1/4 the speed and relies on selling back something to a company who probably doesn't want to buy back a legacy transmission media.
    An analogy might be, the liberals, god bless them, want to use the 150 year old rail tracks and run (state of art) steam engines. Thought someone might have told them that more people fly now.
  • 25Mbps being enough? Yeah right, you have to be kidding Abbott!

    Wireless is terrible for the fact that it...
    A) Fluctuates a LOT in speeds
    B) Has terrible latency
    C) Speeds vary a lot based in signal strength/distance from tower

    I use a Sierra Telstra Wireless unit daily, and I have an ADSL service that gives me around 9Mbps download, my crappy slow ADSL still walks all over me Telstra 4G unit 90% of the time, it's only on the very odd occasion I get decent speeds above ADSL speeds on 4G, and the latency is a joke.

    I would NEVER consider changing from a fixed wire connection to wireless, it just doesn't perform as some wannabe leaders would like to pretend it does.
    • Latency and quotas

      Indeed. Latency is poor on wireless, and it also has pitiful download quotas compared to fixed broadband - I have 1GB/month on my phone, and 100GB/month on my ADSL. High latency is fine for streaming, but two way communication, like even simple things like browsing web pages, or ever more frequently video conferencing. Everyone knows how annoying it is when trying to hold a conversation when there's high latency - it just doesn't have a natural flow back and forth.

      If people start really ramping up their internet use - as you'd expect - then wireless broadband quotas will blow out, causing people to end up with huge bills.
  • Who can and will implement broadband - Coalition or Labor?

    I wouldn't hold my breath for the LNP Coalition.

    Coalition had 12 years to implement broadband - under Howard. But he bothched the Telstra sell-off and caused a pilot broadband project in Palmerston, ACT around 1995 or so to be cancelled by Telstra (such a forward looking company!). So residents have been waiting 18 years for real broadband access.

    After less than two years of government, the Labor government began implementing the NBN, first in Tasmania then elsewhere. Now in the past few months, residents of Gungahlin and in particular Palmerston have optical fibre passing their residences. Some suburbs are even active already with 100Mbps. Gungahlin has experienced the highest NBN takeup in a short time (

    So who would you trust to deliver? Howard Mark 2 (Abbott) and Turnbull? Or those actually delivering?

    Labor began the job