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NBN leads globally on regional broadband: Ovum

An NBN-commissioned report by Ovum has compared regional broadband networks globally, showing that NBN is investing more and offering higher speeds in rural areas than international counterparts.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor on

Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) is doing more in terms of regional broadband investment than its international counterparts, according to a report by Ovum commissioned by NBN.

The main thrust of the report is that while national networks being built out in Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United States, and the United Kingdom are offering higher speeds to most customers, they are leaving behind the last few percent of their market on very slow speeds.

"Unlike other countries, regional areas have been prioritised for funding and access, rather than left to later stages of the national deployment plan. This is despite Australia's large geography and low population density," Ovum's Australia's leadership in providing rural broadband: An international comparison of rural broadband funding initiatives said.

"With a minimum available wholesale speed of 25Mbps for all end users, irrespective of their location or technology platform, Australia has set the bar far higher than seen in equivalent markets such as the United States or New Zealand, where programs to date have only mandated speeds of 5Mbps."

For instance, in New Zealand, the most difficult to reach 2.5 percent of premises were precluded from its Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI); in the UK, upgrades were rolled out everywhere apart from the most difficult 5 percent; in the US, the last 4 percent of the market will not gain connectivity for another six years; in Canada, 10 percent of the broadband market is unlisted in its upgrades schedule out to 2021; and in Ireland, the government has deemed 23 percent of the market to be uncommercial to upgrade, with funding not yet allocated to those areas.

NBN, meanwhile, is guaranteeing minimum download speeds of 25Mbps for all Australian premises; by comparison, in the EU and Ireland, the Digital Agenda has set overall targets of 30Mbps to all premises; Canada has set a 50Mbps target; the UK is eyeing 24Mbps for 95 percent of the population and just 2Mbps for the remaining 5 percent -- although the UK government recently announced that it would be replacing existing broadband with full-fibre connectivity, which will increase these speeds; New Zealand is aiming to connect 99 percent with 50Mbps; and the US has defined broadband as being connections of at least 25Mbps.

The report added that NBN is "unique" in offering high-speed broadband to 100 percent of the population thanks to launching what Ovum has previously labelled world-leading satellite services and fixed-wireless with "fibre-like speeds".

NBN has therefore spent, and will spend, more on regional broadband than those international comparisons, Ovum said. It said NBN's approximate investment of $7,000 per household on regional and rural broadband is trailed by the next-highest spend of $3,200 per premises in US.

By comparison, the UK, Canada, France, and Ireland are each spending less than AU$1,000 per household on regional broadband, according to Ovum, while New Zealand spends around AU$1,200 per household under the RBI and RBI2.

NBN also used the report's launch to announce that it has now reached 500,000 premises with its fixed-wireless service, after announcing in March that a 100Mbps fixed-wireless product would be launched next year, and in April announcing that it had attained 1Gbps speeds by aggregating 11 bands on a fixed-wireless tower connected with fibre backhaul.

According to NBN CEO Bill Morrow, NBN's fixed-wireless network is "the envy of other countries around the world" and ensures there is no digital divide in Australia.

"The NBN fixed-wireless network is providing fast, reliable connectivity to parts of regional Australia that otherwise would not have access," Morrow said on Thursday.

"Our fixed-wireless network has already been recognised as a world leader, and we are determined to maintain that position by continuing to deliver even better products on the network."

While fixed-wireless is emphasised by NBN, however, Ovum's reiteration that the Sky Muster satellite service is enabling high-speed broadband for Australia's remote users flies in the face of accusations by several states and territories that NBN is discriminating geographically by providing regional and rural users with lower-quality and slower-speed broadband.

In submissions to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network, the South Australian government said satellite should be a "last resort"; the Queensland government said the use of "lower-grade" NBN services for those living in regional and remote areas of Australia is unacceptable and inequitable; and the Northern Territory government slammed NBN's "technically inferior" satellite service.

"It is the South Australian government's view that residents and businesses should not be discriminated against simply by virtue of where they choose to live," South Australia said.

"To maximise equity and to ensure that farmers and other regional Australians can enjoy the benefits of an NBN service that is comparable to that provided to metropolitan residents, the South Australian government requests that satellite connections only be deployed as a technology of last resort when no other fixed-line options are feasible."

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