Speed test: Is Turnbull's solution quick enough?

Speed test: Is Turnbull's solution quick enough?

Summary: The release of the Coalition's NBN policy is just a whisker away and it looks set to double our broadband speeds, but is that enough?


It will be no surprise when Malcolm Turnbull announces a plan reliant on fibre to the node (FttN) and continued use of the Telstra and Optus hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) networks this week. The logic is sound: Make use of what infrastructure we have, and avoid the slow, expensive process of having to hook up each individual premises. The downside is, if you want the fastest speeds, you'll choose the HFC option, which could still mean hooking up your home using coaxial cable rather than a pure fibre solution. The hard work will still be done, only with a technically inferior option.

All options have their own theoretical top speed. Telstra promotes its cable services at speeds up to 100Mbps, and it could go higher — DOCSIS3.1 can, supposedly, offer a capacity of 10Gbps downstream. The fact is, though, that few are getting anywhere near those speeds.

Data from the ZDNet Broadband Speed Test (of 11,000 records of HFC users since September last year) shows that only 8 percent achieved speeds of over 40Mbps, and 30 percent didn't even reach 10Mbps. The vast majority is achieving speeds of less than 20Mbps, even allowing for Telstra's DOCSIS upgrades. Imagine the impact of putting even more traffic on that network.

(Image: Phil Dobbie/ZDNet)

Admittedly, there is a similar pattern with fibre users. Of the 1,400 tests over the same period, only 12 percent achieved speeds of over 40Mbps, but consumer pricing will have had a bigger part to play here. Most low-end fibre plans place a top limit at 12Mbps, to reflect NBN Co's wholesale pricing, so you could argue that this will artificially push more users down to lower-speed plans. Despite that, fibre users are generally getting a better experience — as you'd expect — and the network is built to withstand many more users, ultimately choosing faster plans.

(Image: Phil Dobbie/ZDNet)

DSL speeds remain well below HFC and fibre. No surprises there. ZDNet's Broadband Speed Test results for DSL have consistently averaged around the 6Mbps mark over the last eight months. 4G is providing speeds averaging one third faster. If you were to look at it simplistically, and ignore the relative download levels of fixed versus mobile users, you might conclude that the easiest way to improve speeds is to move DSL users onto wireless. As the data demonstrates, though, 4G speeds are already starting to slow as more people pile onto the network.

The Coalition's plan is to improve DSL speeds with fibre to the node — fibre to a cabinet in the street, and VDSL from there to your home. VDSL2 speeds can achieve 100Mbps, but only if you look out of your window and see a cabinet hanging off a telegraph pole. For anyone more than 500 metres from a cabinet, the speed quickly drops below 38Mbps. And, of course, it's heavily dependent on the quality of the copper coming into your home and your distance from the cabinet.

The Coalition could argue that its solution would still place people one or two brackets from the left side of our first graph — precisely where most people are with HFC and cable. It's a fair point, but one that ignores the future potential. Our graph shows where people are now; do we really want an infrastructure that can only cope with present-day demand?

Topic: NBN


Phil Dobbie has a wealth of radio and business experience. He started his career in commercial radio in the UK and, since coming to Australia in 1991, has held senior marketing and management roles with Telstra, OzEmail, the British Tourist Authority and other telecommunications, media, travel and advertising businesses.

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  • Coalition NBN

    Based on Wikipedia statistics - Internet data traffic has grown by 131 times in 10 years (obviously there is no single easy measure). I think we can all at least agree the need for increased internet data transfer is growing very very fast (and accumulating at speed).

    The coalition option will meet our needs for the next 3 years but not much farther into the future. When people can't do IT business in Australia fast enough in a few years, this should be remembered as the day the Coalition failed the Australian people on the future economy. Australians still complain about the Rail Gauge issue from many years ago, this will be a far greater error than Rail with a far greater impact on Australia's potential to be a nation of the future. Turnbull hasn't moved on since his dial up days of the 90s (maybe he still trusts his experts from back then)
    • "The coalition option will meet our needs for the next 3 years but not much farther into the future."

      Indeed and that also assumes they started building it six ago, which they didn't. Now is the time to be building FttH which some would argue should have started being built 10 years ago. Just illustrates how utterly inadequate the coalition plan really is.
      Hubert Cumberdale
      • Political Solution

        The trouble is that this is a political decision not an engineering one, which it should be.
  • Coalition proposal is flawed and focussed on the elite with Fibre to Home

    The coalition is all about budget surplus and the financial elite being able to pay $2000 to $5000 to connect fibre to their home from the Fibre to the Node just for their basic needs. If the Coaltion had their way they could save billions in Medicare by having everyone pay ~$10,000 per annum insurance and all be privately funded just like the USA.....

    Labor has not invested in clear concise messages, understood by all with real examples and not just promises of faster broadband speeds which in turn allows the Coalition to make comments such as: ".. there are no applications most people use daily requiring faster DOWNLOAD broadband than 10 - 25 Mps.."

    If anyone is following the trends around the globe with ipads, tablets, ultrabooks and the likes of Apple Face Time, icloud, Google+, Google Drive, Skydrive, Video Skype, Dropbox, Picasa they are all using an exponential amount of broadband for 'UPLOADING' data... Everyone at home, office is moving more and more documents, pictures, video to store in cloud services rather than on their hard drives.

    Theoretical download speeds for ADSL2+ which covers the MAJORITY of Australian is 24Mbps however due to the distance from the exchange and poor old copper degradation the average download speeds are only 6 to 8Mbps. However the average UPLOAD speeds to transfer /upload documents, photos, video etc are disgracefully poor and only 0.5 to 0.8 Mbps (yes less than a 1Mbps !!) across the majority of Australians !!

    VDSL2 (as offered by the Coaltion with Fibre to the Node) deteriorates over distance (just like ADSL) as well as the condition/degradation of the copper cables which have been in the ground for 10 to 30++ years. VDSL2 deteriorates quickly from 100 Mbit/s at 0.5 km and 50 Mbit/s at 1 km. Anymore than 300 metres distance, VDSL is no faster than ADSL2 !! Who has mentioned this for the Coalition??

    Another major drawback of Fibre to the node (FTTN) , just like ADSL2+ is upload speeds. In the case of FTTN deployments, on average upload speeds are around 3Mbps. In the case of VDSL2 FTTN systems, the very maximum is 8Mbps. Again these speeds are VERY dependent on distance and quality of the copper, so the further you are from the node, the lower the speeds become and usually 1 to 4Mbps. This is the equivalent of taking an hour to upload lots of family photos/videos compared to seconds.. The NBN, Fibre to the Home will offer upload speeds of up to 400Mbps!!

    Secondly, the Coalition will have to deploy a Fibre to the Node on almost EVERY street corner the average size is 1 to 2 metres square per cabinet!!! What an ugly eyesore and across every suburb and I sure would not want this ugly thing in from of my house!! No one is talking about this in the Coalition or the Communication Action groups??

    When will the Labour/Liberal parties and the different Broadband or Communication forums and groups wake up and understand to stop talking about download speeds and start talking about the 'UPLOAD' speeds offered by ADSL+ or VDSL2+ are poor compared to Fibre to the Premise/Home!!

    The coalition is stating there may be new technology than Fibre to the Home so why invest in it now. The speed of based on light travelling through the Fibre cable. Can someone tell me with all the scientific information current and future what travels faster than the speed of light???

    Just like building consumer and business necessities, airports, railways, motorways they are ammortised over 30 years and NOT like the Coalition is suggesting that the Fibre to the Home/Premise being build by Labour should be paid off within 8 years otherwise it is a bad investment!!!

    Fibre to the Home is the right thing to do for us and for children and business..
  • Isolate Upload Speeds

    Phil, Can you show upload only speeds in your comparisons? Thanks.