Yesterday saw the official launch of Australia’s first ‘NBN cafe’, Hungry Birds in Brunswick, Melbourne. With free Wi-Fi on offer for patrons, there was only one thing to do: get myself there for some speed testing (and a very yummy bacon and egg ciabatta). Just how fast can an NBN connection via Wi-Fi be, and how does that compare to using the other obvious high-speed option, Telstra’s 4G mobile broadband service?
While the Thursday event saw communications minister Senator Stephen Conroy rock up and host a three-way video chat with Townsville and Kiama, things are much quieter when I show up on Friday morning. Hungry Birds is a proper independent cafe, nestled away in a side street with a handful of sheltered tables and a small window where you order. The NBN connectivity isn’t a big deal: there’s just a small sign hanging up at the counter saying “Free NBN Wi-Fi”. (Apparently yesterday one of the specials was branded ‘NBN’ as well, but today things are returning to normal.)
lessons in messing up technology from his daughter again
I took my usual approach to speed testing: averaging three tests for ping times, download speeds and uploads speeds using Speedtest.net. For ping times, the lower the better; for the other two, the higher the better. I performed the tests using a Wi-Fi connection to the cafe’s NBN service (supplied by iiNet), and then a Wi-Fi connection to my Telstra 4G wireless hotspot. These are the results:
The NBN wins out clearly in every category. Ping times are four times lower; download speeds are double; upload speeds are more than quadruple. There’s a very evident speed advantage.
As I’ve written many times before, this should surprise no-one. But the notion that wireless technologies in general, and 4G LTE in particular, would be a better way to ensure universal broadband connectivity still gets repeated a lot by NBN opponents. Testing both in the same location, it’s clear that the NBN option is much faster. If I was running a cafe, I know which one I’d be choosing to share with customers.
That’s not to say that the 4G results are terrible; they’re certainly faster than the free ADSL-based Wi-Fi you find in many cafes. But they’re not much better than the 3G numbers I recorded in Brunswick when I tested all three mobile networks last year. My hotspot tells me I’m on a 4G network, but you wouldn’t particularly know it from the speeds.
It’s worth pointing out that 4G can produce much higher speeds. When I compared Optus and Telstra’s 4G performance last week in the Hunter Valley, the Telstra service was pushing through much higher numbers than these. That was in a less densely populated area on a weekend.
But the most significant point is this: 4G performance is variable. Performance on a fibre-based network such as the NBN isn’t. Both have their role to play — 4G will continue to be incredibly handy for anyone who travels — but when speed matters and populations are large, fibre wins. Getting a nice coffee and an excellent ciabatta is just an added bonus.