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.