How bad is Australia's Broadband?

The state of Australia’s broadband connections, and what’s actually needed by everyday Australians remains a contentious political subject. But how bad are the services we’ve got right now? Would I be better off just packing it all up and heading overseas, and what would that mean?
I get frustrated by my home office connection. Not just because I do know some folks who have better connections (a big wave to everyone in Armidale reading this, for example), but moreso because I find it a massive limiting factor, not just in the classic derisory terms used around broadband (“oh, it’s just for games and movies”, that kind of thing) but to actually do my job.
It’s why I’m passionate about the National Broadband Network, because I can see not just what it could do for me, but for the country as a whole. The more people there are connected to the network, the greater its power, and you don’t have to look very far to see evidence of that. In the space of a decade, far more of us do far more online than we ever did before, and it fundamentally changes the way we interact with the world.
In my case, it allows me to work out of a home office… sort of. I reckon that’s a huge win in all sorts of senses. I’m not part of the daily commuter clog, which is preferable for me, but also a benefit to those who do have to travel, as it’s one less vehicle on the road or seat taken on a train or bus. One small reduction in pollution as well. But there’s no doubting that I need an Internet connection in order to be able to work.
In order to appreciate what needs to happen in speed terms, though, it’s well worth getting a baseline. So that’s what I did, using Ookla’s application to get a few baselines for my own home office connection. There’s nothing much going on with the connection at the times I’ve taken these tests, and they’re quite representative of the kinds of connection speeds I regularly get.
Here’s one test run just after I’d waited an age to upload a 30 Seconds Of Tech video. The uploading has finished… finally… and it’s clear to see why it took so long.
Here’s a better result, not far off the best I can hope to achieve. Seriously. I live in Australia’s largest city, and this is the quality of connection available on the copper. I am a solid distance from the exchange, it should be noted, but still within ADSL2+ range.
Now, obviously speed tests can vary quite a bit depending on your proximity to the exchange, quality of the connection and so forth. I’m just a single blip of anecdotal data amongst the masses. But what happens when you grab that data en masse and compare it worldwide?
That’s what Ookla does with its Net Index, taking the results of test results from and working out average upload and download speeds based on country rankings. As I write this, Australia ranks 95th on the world for upload speeds (average: 2.08 Mbps) and 45th in the world for download speeds (average 13.09). Although I note going into the actual stats that there’s a few outliers in the upper tiers; as I write this the top download speed is 61.98Mbps in Terrey Hills, dropping a hefty 20+Mbps to the 2nd place at 40.19Mbps.
On the upload side it’s even more stark; that same Terrey Hills location (I presume it’s the exact same result and test) yields an upload speed of 51.77Mbps, but that then drops off a cliff; the next highest is 15.72Mbps. Even Armidale, an early NBN test site with good NBN saturation only manages a 14.89Mbps. In any case, over the mass of results that should all average out… but where does it put Australia in download and upload terms?
Screen Shot 2013-05-16 at 11.49.08 AM
In download terms, we’re closest to Poland and Curacao, so if you fancied similar download speeds, emigrating there might be feasible. On the plus side, both score well with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; here’s Poland’s entry.
Curacao, as part of the Netherlands doesn’t get its own advice, although nearby Venezuela does… and it’s not advisable to travel there, let alone set up shop on the basis of similar Internet speeds.
What about on the upload side, where I’d so much like a little more speed? Australia’s average of 2.08Mbps is way down the charts; for comparable purposes you’d have to travel to Bahrain or Honduras. Bahrain scores a “reconsider your need to travel” from DFAT, so that seems unwise. Honduras still sits in “Exercise a high degree of caution”, so perhaps not.
That’s just off the Australian average, though; in essence we’re doing well enough in download terms that travel to comparable countries probably wouldn’t get us killed, but in upload terms things are far less certain.
Then there’s my own particular circumstances. It’s anecdotal, but from speaking to plenty of other people, I don’t think I’m alone in sitting at the end of a crappy connection. Where should I travel to get the same kinds of speeds?
In upload terms, the closest partner is… Venezuela. Yeah, I don’t think that would be wise.
In download terms off that same poor speed test, I’m actually below the average in Malawi, which means I’m not even on the charts. DFAT reckons Malawi is safe enough to travel, but notes that

Demonstrations in Malawi may be spontaneous and can attract large numbers. You should avoid all demonstrations and large public gatherings as they may become violent. If you are in an area where demonstrations are occurring you should leave if it is safe to do so.
Pay close attention to your personal security and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.
Shortages of petrol and diesel have occurred in Malawi, resulting in long queues at fuel stations. Travellers to Malawi should be aware of these difficulties when planning to hire vehicles or travel by road to and from Malawi.

Hmm. I don’t think so. Roll on NBN, in whatever form you’re going to take. I may bitch and moan about it — and I’d pay real money for a better service, for what that’s worth — but I’ll be sticking put for the time being.
Sources: Ookla, DFAT
Image: Gavin St. Ours

8 thoughts on “How bad is Australia's Broadband?”

  1. Christian Kent

    I battled with the same problems at the far end of the copper line, and after a few years Internode finally put a DSLAM in. Once I connected with them, they miraculously doubled my link speed. Even compared to iiNet, which is odd isn’t it? Anyway I can recommend you try this if you haven’t already.

  2. One issue with that, however, is that Internode is now a wholly owned subsidiary… of iiNet. Unlikely to make that much difference.

    1. Christian Kent

      That’s what I thought, but I switched from iiNet to Internode *after* the takeover. In fact, the only reason the DSLAM appeared as an option was *because* of the takeover — it’s supposed to be iiNet equipment being reused by Internode.
      All I can say is, I was surprised and pleasantly bemused.

    1. Consistently? I’ve tested 4G in Melbourne and (like other wireless services) found that I can hit massive peaks, but also terrible chasms. Wireless as a shared spectrum is like that.

  3. I would seriously like to know the details of your ISP plan and what you are paying.
    I don’t live close to a city (Outside of Bendigo if you’re interested) and I am still able to get fibre optic cable – at the right price. $110 a month for 200GB at 45Mbps is excellent.
    And I think it’s unfair for you to generalize from those figures.
    They are not representative of what speeds are available if you are willing to pay for them.
    Especially when more than 75% of the population live within the field of acess to receive either Telstra or Optus fibre optic cable.
    But most of them are not willing to pay for it; which may be fair, it’s not cheap; but it will Get cheaper.
    And I think the limiting factor on individual Internet speeds is an economic one.

  4. That’s a fine price for fibre optic, but I’d love to know where you’re getting your 75%/fibre optic cable figure from, because if that were even remotely true, the need for NBN rollout would be massively reduced. The only figure I could quickly find would suggest around thirty per cent population coverage, if that:
    Moreover, Telstra and Optus’ cable are shared resources. If you’re the only user on the cable, yes, you can get very nice speeds indeed, but as more users come on, or one user puts strain on it, there’s less of a data pool to share around. As such, real world speeds will drop.
    Not going to go into too many personal details (obviously) online, but I’d suggest you re-read the article. The main figures are the real world averages that Australian users are reporting en masse; I’ve then applied my own circumstances to them, and I’m not alone in those. It’s not a generalisation (it’s an individual case), but it’s laid against national figures.

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