Australians use only 15 per cent of their monthly broadband quota on average, according to a report released this week by Sydney-based telecommunications analyst firm Market Clarity.
The firm conducted its study, "Broadband Download Behaviour in Australia: The Disconnect Between Allowance and Usage" (available in full from its website), over a period of four years from 2006 to 2010. Its results show that Australian users are far from exceeding their average broadband quotas of 45GB, with residential usage being about 7GB per month.
Market Clarity has been comparing the major internet service providers' (ISPs) plans, focusing its research on residential fixed broadband plans and tracking the changes from year to year. 3G mobile services, however, were excluded in its analysis.
The study concludes a decade of broadband growth, culminating in the recent terabyte download quota war between ISPs. According to the study, this has resulted in relatively stable price points with increasing quota value.
Last August, iiNet launched what it claimed was Australia's first terabyte-per-month plan. Other major ISPs have since rushed to launch similar plans. However, many are sceptical about the practicality of a terabyte-per-month plan and question whether it's possible for users to reach their limit each month.
"Even before the 'terabyte wars' began, Australian broadband users were already the lucky beneficiaries of growing download allowances," said Market Clarity chief executive Shara Evans this week.
"That trend, most apparent since around 2008, led us to wonder whether there might not be a gap between the allowances subscribers receive when buying broadband plans, and their consumption of broadband data," she said.
The study shows that while consumers tend to migrate to plans with more generous allowances, the rate of broadband download consumption is lagging behind broadband quota growth.
Market Clarity claims that increasingly ISPs are upgrading their existing plans to higher download limits when they launch new retail plans. The increase of international fibre-optic cables reaching Australia has also allowed ISPs to pay less for data and thus pass on extra allowances to users.
"Since 2006, the average residential fixed broadband consumption has more than doubled from 2.4GB per user per month to around 7GB per user per month," Evans said.
"However, download allowances by June 2010 — before terabyte plans emerged — were already averaging 45GB per residential subscriber."
According to the study, 71 per cent of consumers were on plans offering quotas less than 1GB per month in 2006. In 2010 these entry-level quotas disappeared and were replaced by 1 to 5GB plans, which, according to the study, is currently used by 46.8 per cent of broadband consumers. At times, consumers are automatically allocated from a low entry level to a higher one without changing fees, thus benefiting from better value for money.
Evans said the discrepancy between downloads and allowances were beneficial to customers, noting that customers had more usage quota "headroom".