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By the numbers: Fixed broadband does the heavy lifting

The latest ABS figures should finally put to rest any crazy notion that wireless is killing demand for fixed broadband.
Written by Phil Dobbie, Contributor

The last year has seen a huge rise in demand for mobile broadband (tablets and computers connected by a SIM or dongle, not handsets). The number of subscribers in June 2012 was 5.9 million, up 22 percent. Yet, there's clearly no substitution for fixed services, which have also gone up, albeit by a modest 3 percent for DSL and 4 percent for cable.

These latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) seem to support my assertion last week that given the choice, most people will choose a fixed connection as their primary internet source. Mobile broadband adds extra flexibility to our lives, but we're quick to replace wireless as a fixed connection if we have the chance (fixed-wireless connections have fallen 4 percent over the last year to just 30,000 subscribers).

The reason, of course, is our quest for speed. When faster speeds are available, consumers quickly gravitate toward them. Just three years ago, one third of home subscribers were connected at speeds of 8Mbps or more; today, it's well over half, with almost a quarter of those at 24Mbps or greater. The rate of adoption of these high speeds has slowed over the last year, but that's probably a reflection of exhausting the geographic reach of DSL2+ services, rather than any slowing in demand.

Fixed connections also cure our hunger for downloads; just 6 percent of data is downloaded from a wireless connection, a slight drop on a year ago. According to the ABS data in the June 2012 quarter, 5.7 million wireless subscribers downloaded 25,301 terabytes of data — a little over 1 gigabyte each per month. Compare that to the fixed-line world, where 5.6 million subscribers have downloaded 389,130 terabytes of data, about 17 gigabytes each per month.

Clearly, we're using our fixed-line connections for heavy lifting, and that situation isn't going to change anytime soon, if ever. Downloads from the average fixed-line user have increased almost 50 percent over the last year, but just 11 percent for the average mobile user.

Is that enough to end the discussion that mobile connectivity can ever replace the strength of the fixed line?

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