Aussies Nuts For Mobile Broadband, Also Downloading More Data Every Year

Aussies Nuts For Mobile Broadband, Also Downloading More Data Every Year

The latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that our appetite for mobile broadband isn’t diminishing, with 47 per cent of internet connections coming through mobile broadband. But that also means we need to reiterate an oft-made point: the fact that wireless services are popular does not mean that fixed-line projects such as the National Broadband Network (NBN) are irrelevant. The biggest proof? We keep downloading more data.

Picture by Sugar Daze

We’ll return to that point in a moment, but first, the key numbers, which cover July 2011 to December 2011 and are based on data reported by internet service providers (ISPs) with more than 1,000 subscribers. The total number of ISPs in Australia continues to decline: there are now 91 in total, of whom 10 have more than 100,000 customers each. (They aren’t named, but an intelligent guess would suggest Telstra, Optus, iiNet, TPG, Internode, Primus, Vodafone, and perhaps Exetel and Dodo are amongst the candidates.)

There are 5.49 million mobile broadband subscribers, 4.55 million DSL connections, and another 900,000 on cable. That means there are actually more subscribers using wired connections, but the growth in mobile broadband continues to be more substantial. We feel very sorry for the 473,000 Australians still using dial-up. And we’ll point out that the numbers aren’t exclusive; there’s no measure of how many people have both wireless and another connection. I don’t imagine that’s a 100 per cent figure, but I do suspect it’s the majority.

Before we get too excited by that mobile broadband usage number, it’s worth noting a second important feature of the statistics: they cover both household and business use. Household subscribers grew by 2.7 per cent to 8.9 million, while business subscribers grew 20 per cent to 2.7 million. So in addition to the existing issue of many people having both types of connection, it’s fair to assume a good chunk of those new mobile broadband subscriptions were from business users. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be included, but it does undermine arguments of the “wireless will serve every household” variety somewhat.

A second measurement of interest is the number of subscribers in terms of advertised download speed. 475,000 are sub 256Kbps (which is essentially dialup and people with terrible ADSL plans). Amongst broadband subscribers, 808,000 are between 256Kbps and 1.5Mbps; 5.12 million are between 1.5Mbps and 8Mbps; 3.99 million are between 8Mbps and 24Mbps; 1.18 million are between 24Mbps and 100Mbps; and a lucky 32,000 are on more than 100Mbps, which must be some very expensive business plans.

The annoying thing about those bands is that they don’t make for very useful comparisons with future NBN speeds. The minimum NBN download speed is 12Mbps, and all we can say with confidence is that just over a million people have that speed. Some of those 3.99 million between 8Mbps and 24Mbps might have it, but we can’t be sure. There’s no measurement of upload speeds in the statistics, unfortunately.

What we do have is a measurement of how much data was downloaded by service type over a three month period, and we have similar figures for other years as well. Over those three months, a whopping 345,518 terabytes was consumed, though the ABS warns that the data is likely to be incomplete.

The ABS doesn’t make the calculation itself, but these figures us calculate the typical amount downloaded per subscriber. (I’ve included dial-up here too, though as it’s a declining market it’s not really relevant.)

There are two key things to note here. Firstly, we download far more via wired connections than wireless — more than ten times as much, in fact. Secondly, our usage is growing over time, with the typical connection using 20GB a month (though that average will be bumped up by business users).And while it’s growing over both platforms, it is growing faster on wired, suggesting we have different use cases for both models.

I mention all this largely because one of the constant anti-NBN refrains is “Why does anyone need more speed and capacity?” Even without an NBN, we’re using more data than we were a year ago. There’s an evident growth in demand there. Argue as much as you want about the best way to meet that demand, but to pretend it simply isn’t there is just pig ignorance.



  • The issue I have with the NBN is that broadband Internet is not a public good (the economic definition e.g. streetlights or rail), yet the government keeps pretending that it is. Certain infrastructure can only be built by government due to the poor economic return of public goods, but broadband is not one of them. How about the government sticks to infrastructure that is sorely lacking in Australia, like high-speed rail, and allows the private sector to build out the broadband infrastructure like they were doing anyway.

    The opportunity cost in providing 100mbs to remote rural locations is enormous. I’m sure the Rural Flying Doctor Service and local community clinics would like a slice of this largesse.

    • Weak arguments. Remote rural locations get satellite, which generally won’t be 100MBps. And giving local community clinics funding for more staff won’t necessarily help if they can’t attract those staff, which they often can’t.

      Also, if the private sector was building out broadband so well, then why do so many urban dwellers have substandard broadband controlled by Telstra?

      • You cant leave broadband to private companies because it will either never get done or will be ridiculously priced and only Capital cities will have it. If you think the Government shouldnt fund the NBN, then they also shouldnt have funded Copper lines

    • It is an interesting point that you raise and i cant help but try to imagine ways that streelights can be comercialised.

      However i think because of the geographic challenges in Australia the government needs to step in. Australia is a country similar in size to the use however we have less than one tenth of their population. By very poor math with a lot of assumptions telcos would need to spend ten times as much to connect each customer on physical cabeling and hardware compared to the USA which would make internet services un viable and too much of a risk for many comercial entities.

    • Obviously you were not following the introduction of ADSL, took Telstra too long at too high a price for a substandard service.

      Sure we might get a private group of companies to do it eventually (i dont see anyone putting their hands up saying they would have done it, if it was privately done it probably wouldn’t be as complete as the NBN will be, and it wouldn’t happen any time soon. And then there will be lawsuits between them and the incumbants as the government would not be able to do the legislation they have done.

      Wasn’t Telecom (aka Telstra) originally a government run company, i don’t see how the NBN being a government run company is any different. Or did you and still do refuse to use anything that Telecom/Tesltra did while it was still government run. If so i hope your on Optus HFC or Optus/Vodafone wireless.

      I wonder how much the telephone system cost to setup and what it would have cost in todays dollars, ive got a feeling the total setup costs over the life of the network (not including maintenance and running costs) would be more than the NBN is costing.

  • Firstly, there is always a willing participant if the price is right – the local radiologist in a rural town I know is paid seven figures by the government. Furthermore, I’d suggest you ask remote rural dwellers if they rather have satellite broadband (my mistake on the speed) or better access to medical specialists. Even from an Eric Topol, Creative Destruction of Medicine, standpoint, the benefits to public health from better clinical coverage in the bush outweigh better internet.

    Your assertion that urban broadband is substandard is something I can’t verify. Personally I’m very happy with my Telstra connection and I can’t speak for others. But the chart you posted, with year on year gains in download speeds and data volume doesn’t suggest huge supply-side bottlenecks

  • from a business perspective, looking at these figures all Telcos should chop chop and throw all their dollars into marketing Wireless Broadband…they can charge the same or more than they do for wired connections, and only have to provide 1/10th of the data

    i don’t see any mention of the speeds for wireless broadband…is 1.3GB average because it takes a MONTH to actually download 1.3GB worth of data? my guess on wireless b/b subscribers would be 50% geeks who can’t ever do without internet access, with the other 50% being people who don’t know their kilobytes from dogbites

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