NBN points to 'tight cap' on mobile data preventing streaming despite speeds

While mobile operators are spruiking 'ever-faster speeds', their data caps are prohibiting consumers from streaming video content worry free -- something that NBN instead enables, the company has said.
Written by Corinne Reichert on

The National Broadband Network (NBN) company has said its fixed-line broadband network is better able to provide for the increasing popularity of video-streaming services in comparison to mobile networks thanks to a lack of data caps.

Speaking at the OTT Summit on Tuesday morning, NBN executive GM of Product and Pricing Sarah Palmer argued that NBN end users don't need to worry about exceeding their data caps while using streaming services such as Netflix -- as opposed to mobile users, who risk bill shock.

"Our retail customers are continually modifying their retail plans to include more and more data -- there are even unlimited data plans for as low as AU$60 per month -- meaning that Aussies can stream away to their hearts' content and never have to worry about the bill," Palmer said on Tuesday.

"You certainly can't say the same thing about mobile networks, where we are seeing operators advertise ever-faster speeds but still keep a tight cap on how much data can be consumed.

"Even on a more generous 10GB plan, far higher than the average being purchased, an end user could not watch very much streaming video before they have to start worrying about bill shock."

Palmer's comments skipped over the data caps imposed by NBN's Sky Muster satellite service -- which came under fire from the Northern Territory government this week, partially because of its "discriminatory" Fair Use Policy that limits data usage for remote users -- and come at a time when mobile providers are upgrading their networks to gigabit-speed capacity.

Guaranteeing speeds of at least 25Mbps nationwide, the NBN's so-called multi-technology mix has upgrade paths for most of its network technologies, apart from satellite, although no firm plans have been laid down for these; ZDNet last year revealed that NBN's fibre-to-the-distribution-point network will be launched in 2018 without G.fast technology, while DOCSIS 3.1 may launch across the hybrid fibre-coaxial network later this year.

However, launching these upgrades may not be top priority for NBN, with its CEO Bill Morrow last month claiming that consumers don't need and wouldn't use 1Gbps broadband, as evidenced by the fact that no retail service providers have taken up NBN's offer to provide gigabit-speed services to consumers, with most end users still on the 25/5Mbps speed tier.

"Even if we offered it for free, we see the evidence around the world that they wouldn't use it anyway," Morrow said during NBN's financial results presentation.

"1Gbps speeds are simply way beyond what even the most advanced end user needs today, let alone what is needed by regular families across Australia.

"There is literally not a single mass market consumer application -- or even a combination of applications -- that requires 1Gbps capability right now."

Meanwhile, the City of Adelaide in January put out a call for providers for its 10Gbps fibre broadband network; the majority of RSPs in New Zealand have been offering 1Gbps services as of the end of last year across the New Zealand government's NBN equivalent; and in Singapore, 10Gbps broadband services have been offered by both Singtel and M1 for a year.

Both Telstra and Optus recently launched 1Gbps 4G mobile networks -- though end users would not see gigabit speeds given that they share the network with many others.

Palmer's comments on Tuesday also made no reference to the fact that many mobile plans provide unmetered data across many streaming services, including the English Premier League, Netflix, Stan, and Spotify on Optus; Netflix, Stan, Presto, and Apple Music on Telstra; and Stan and Spotify on Vodafone Australia.

Speaking at the same event as Palmer, analyst firm Ovum predicted the rate of video-streaming subscriptions within Australia to increase by 170 percent between 2016 and 2022, to reach almost 7 million subscribers.

The over-the-top (OTT) video market is also predicted to produce revenue of AU$1 billion annually by 2022, more than double the current AU$460 million, with subscription services such as Netflix to beat out digital rental services such as iTunes, 70 percent to 30 percent.

According to Ovum, the global OTT subscription market will generate $78 billion annually by 2022, with more than 800 million subscribers.

NBN said the arrival of OTT video services in Australia two years ago has resulted in average monthly data usage jumping from 70GB to 148GB across its broadband network.

Ovum in November 2015 similarly predicted streaming subscriptions within Australia to increase by a factor of 17 between 2014 and 2019, to reach 4.707 million subscribers.


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