NBN Versus 4G Cafe Speed Challenge: We Have A Clear Winner

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.)

When I ask for the Wi-Fi password, I'm given it handwritten on a sheet of paper. "Let us know if you have any problems," the counter person tells me. "We had Senator Conroy in yesterday and he changed all the settings." There's an initial moment where my computer Wi-Fi setup goes awry and I fear that Senator Conroy has been taking lessons in messing up technology from his daughter again, but then it all behaves normally.

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:

  NBN 4G
Ping 20.67ms 109.33ms
Download 13.39Mbps 6.08Mbps
Upload 13.60Mbps 3.14Mbps

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.


    what the hell kinda test is this ?? your testing a fixed line "fibre" connection with a 4g radio connection ??? talk about comparing apples and oranges , also with 4g you have to consider the location your in (yes i know thats in the article btw) and the nbn connection is through wifi .. did they have a 54mps router ??? ....... it would have been better if you compared telstra 3.0 cable network to NBN

    If private industry is doing such a great job here why is that my mother only has access to a single provider (Telstra) and having to pay $110 for 12GB of data (2 year contracts). She is not in a remote area. Only 5km from one of the largest mining towns in NSW. Not everyone lives in Melbourne.

    The Government stepped in because Australia's data speeds and costs were falling way behind the rest of the western world.

    As someone who works for telstra it doesn't surprise me that you trot out a high speed connection in Arnham land as some kind of proof of regional and remote coverage being already satisfied universally. Telstra has been pushing the 96% population coverage thing for years. Its there alright (mostly) and Telstra absolutely gouges as much as they can for it.

    Why shouldn't the the government invest in telecommunications infrastructure the way way they do roads and rail and other services that don't make a profit? Because it threatens your user must pay sensibilities? we all know how well that model has served to provide universal and fair coverage in other countries and sectors don't we.

    "If private industry is doing such a great job here"

    They are.

    " why is that my mother only has access to a single provider (Telstra) and having to pay $110 for 12GB of data (2 year contracts). She is not in a remote area. Only 5km from one of the largest mining towns in NSW. Not everyone lives in Melbourne."

    You should have negotiated a better deal for your Mother.

    "The Government stepped in because Australia’s data speeds and costs were falling way behind the rest of the western world."

    That gets repeated often enough, but it is just not true.

    Canada is the country most comparable to Australia in terms of size and population. Australian internet services are superior. Have a look here.
    The budget and standard packages are a lot slower than that on offer in Australia. The current NBNCo design is madness. It is providing high speed broadband to those that already have access to high speed broadband, and sticing RaRA on a poxy bird of fixed wireless. What's the point? And for only $50 billion.

    "As someone who works for telstra it doesn’t surprise me"

    You work for Telstra?

    " that you trot out a high speed connection in Arnham land as some kind of proof of regional and remote coverage being already satisfied universally. Telstra has been pushing the 96% population coverage thing for years. Its there alright (mostly) and Telstra absolutely gouges as much as they can for it."

    Indeed. As a shareholder I insist Telstra do everything it can to make a profit. An interesting statistic is that MOST of the people in Australia that don't have a broadband connection (about 22%) either DON'T WANT ONE or CAN'T AFFORD IT. Selecting THE MOST EXPENSIVE method of building the NBN is not going to lessen the digital divide. The "Brave New World" of 100Mbps net surfing is going to exclude the poor, unemployed, pensioners, students and the that live in rural and remote Australia, when a FTTN(FTTC) solution could be built using existing infrastucture for a quarter of the price. Getting FTTN up into Arnhem land is a bloody good effort in my opinion.
    "Why shouldn’t the the government invest in telecommunications infrastructure the way way they do roads and rail and other services that don’t make a profit? " Because governments are not very good at running businesses. To date NBNCo has spent about $2 BILLION and got bugger all to show for it. Buying space systems to drive people's web surfing is that bizarre it ranks as insanity. Not only is it slow and expensive, the average bird only has a fifteen year life expectancy untill it needs replacing. Australia NEEDs a new satellite. For ADF use. Buying two is just stupid.

    Canada are introducing UBB for smaller ISPs. If you think Telstra are a gouge, try $2 per GB.

    "The decision to impose bandwidth caps on smaller independent ISPs[14] caused controversy in 2011 when the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Canada's telecommunications regulator, approved a request by Bell Internet to begin, on 1 March 2011, to apply a bandwidth cap on the users of smaller independent ISPs who use Bell's last mile infrastructure. This new billing structure is called "usage-based billing" or UBB.
    Bell pushed for a cap as small as 25 gigabytes of transfer per month, plus a $1–2 CAD surcharge for every GB over the limit. The stated intent was to prevent the customers of independent ISPs from congesting Bell's network,[15] because many independent ISPs offer service with unlimited bandwidth, while most major Canadian ISPs do not. The CRTC was criticized for allowing Bell to use anti-competitive practices to favour its own Internet and television offerings.[16] Bell is also under fire for forcing its own pricing structure and business on its wholesalers. Bell admits that only about 10 percent of its subscribers (at the time of said download cap) exceed their limit, resulting in additional billing.[17]
    Many savvy Internet users also accuse Bell of falsifying information to the public regarding network congestion. Network congestion is primarily caused by many users accessing the Internet at the same time (after school/work, 5pm-10pm) and not by heavy users alone.
    On 2 February 2011, industry minister Tony Clement and Prime Minister Stephen Harper called on the CRTC to reverse the decision. The next day, the CRTC announced that it would delay its decision by 60 days.[18]
    There are some supporters for usage-based-billing (UBB) at reasonable rates instead of the current $2/GB. Wholesalers, such as TekSavvy, provides its cable Internet services at $37/month with 300GB (12¢/GB).[19] Retailers, such as Rogers, provide service at the same speed 10Mbps/512kbps at $47/month with 60GB (78¢/GB).[20] The difference of 56¢/GB between the wholesaler's and incumbent's pricing is one of the main reasons why UBB supporters are against UBB. They fear that the incumbents would gouge Internet users by charging them more than 12¢/GB. Some also claim that it costs the incumbents (Rogers, Bell, Shaw Communications, and Telus) as low as 3¢ to send 1GB of data through.[21] Supporters also suggest that instead of a penalty-based system (heavy users pay more), a credit-based system (light users be credited back monthly) would be much more consumer friendly and fair." - Wiki.

    "TORONTO — The next time you get frustrated because a website refuses to load instantly, or a streaming video has to buffer for a few seconds, think of the surprisingly large number of Canadians still on dial-up.

    According to a few different estimates, there are hundreds of thousands of Canadians still travelling the information superhighway in the slow lane, who only get online after waiting for a series of bleeps, piercing shrieks and blurts of static to be belted out by their dial-up modem.

    ‘It’s always a little surprising to see just how slow things load’
    And that’s just the beginning of their waiting.

    “It’s pretty dramatic,” says Ross Kouhi, executive director for the National Capital FreeNet, a donation-driven service that provides free or inexpensive dial-up access to about 3,600 users in the Ottawa area.

    “As you’re demonstrating it to somebody it’s always a little surprising to see just how slow things load.”

    The CRTC estimated that in 2010, there were about 366,000 dial-up customers across the country. The Convergence Consulting Group says residential dial-up subscriptions went from well over a million in 2007 to about 250,000 at the end of 2011. And surveys by the Media Technology Monitor suggested about three per cent of the population was using dial-up Internet in 2011.[np-related

    For some Canadians in rural communities, dial-up is the only way they can get online. In 2010, the CRTC estimated that five per cent of the population had no access to high-speed Internet, with that rate nearing 16% in rural areas. But for others, inexpensive dial-up is simply the only affordable alternative to high-speed access, which can start at $30 or more — and it’s usually more — a month."

    Now, as one of the readers pointed out, companies in GB are offering FTTH ON DEMAND as an extension of a successful FTTN roll-out. We have the capacity to roll-out an Australia wide FTTN network and get rid of the limitaions of satellite and fixed wireless.

    Mark Addinall.

    If it was only as simple as to which is the faster system. However, the Labor Govt is spending close to $50 billion on this locked in technology scheme. That's $50,000,000,000 or about $2000 for every man, woman and child in this land. So, how fast do most of us need to be? I'm very against NBN not because of it's speed, but looking at the large picture, the money wasted could be spent on something far more prosaic such as a modern Highway System between capital cities, or even, God forbid a High Speed Rail Link up the East coast. There is just no sense in our not having the needed basics first. NBN just isn't one of them. 4G is just so much cheaper yet still delivers as much speed as most of us need.

      Three flaws with that argument: you couldn't just spend the $50 billion on highways (totally different method of accounting for assets), 4G would require an enormous number of towers for the same degree of coverage, and the performance of wireless degrades the more users they are. (I'd love a high-speed rail link too, but the last assessment for that priced it at a bare minimum of $61 billion -- so it would be even more costly.)

        I'm not suggesting that you can get all of the infrastructure I refer to for the $50 billion shoved down a hole on NBN. What I am saying is: Most other civilized countries have put the essentials FIRST. It's a total disgrace that Australia has such a pathetic Highway system on which hundreds of unnecessary deaths occur each year. Further, due to our reliance on air travel between major cities High Speed Train travel would be welcome. By the way China built a High Speed link between Shanghai and Beijing for about half the $61 billion you refer to - (yes I know, different Labor Laws etc etc) And further, making such a huge commitment to a technology that is so static makes adoption of newer technology more difficult to accept because of ones commitment to such an expensive singular system. As an aside, I live on the Gold Coast and I get over 20mbs speed on ADSL2+ why would I and the many others that live in similarly served areas do with ABN. For me, it is a total waste and for the areas that can benefit because existing networks are too slow in their location, there are other far more cost effective ways of delivery. Oh and the longer we put off the capital expenditure of Highways and Rail links the thing becomes a Nightmare when the bullet has to be bitten - because we can't go on with third world infrastructure for very much longer. Try and think of the bigger picture not just some self interested reaction to a more balanced point of view.

    Hi Angus,

    We have recently upgraded the Hungry Birds router, as I believe when you conducted your test they had a particularly inadequate wifi device. With the new router however, Over wireless N on a Macbook Pro 2012, I have just gotten the following:

    Ping: 7ms
    Download: 79.58Mbp/s
    Upload: 35.06 Mbps

    The proof can be found here: http://glownetworks.com.au/images/nbn/nbntest.jpg

    The network was loaded with another 8 or so users at the time so it doesn't paint a perfect picture of what the link can carry in total, I thought it would have been rude to kick them all off to conduct the test!

    Angus, we invite you to come back to conduct another test. FYI, 11.30am-ish is probably the best time to come when there are the fewest number of users online.

    The NBN really is the juggernaut that the Government has promised, we (Glow Networks) were one of the first businesses to be connected and daily enjoy real speeds of 10 Megabytes per second download (100mbps) from big servers and content providers like Microsoft, Apple, etc. In our office we have 12 people hammering the connection all day, yet there has never been a time where I have wanted for more bandwidth, or have had to wait too long for a page to load, or a file to upload.

      Thanks Dave, I was impressed with the results even so (and I wasn't competing with anyone else at the time), but I will return for a follow-up test next time I'm in Melbourne. (Though I'll probably come when it's busier -- that's the realistic test for Wi-Fi cafe users!)

        Shoot me an email when you're coming, Sam (my business partner and I) work upstairs, we wouldn't mind buying you a coffee next time you drop in.

      All very well. I already have FTTH. I have a 30/1.5 Mbps link, can go faster but I don't need the extra capacity, and @17:15 I expect I am SHARING this GPON segment with a lot of schoolies right at the moment. When I am uploading PHP at a quarter past darktime, I get the full 30Mbps.

      That is point one. There seems to be a common misconception that under the NBNCo plan, everyone gets a dedicated pipe gto the world. Not true. GPON is a shared resource network. More people, the slices get thinner.

      Now I am not saying FTTH is BAD or EVIL. I just think a national network plan that involves digging up 6 million gardens in a country of our size and population is bizarre. What about the people who just DON'T WANT broadband or ANY internet link? They are a sizeable bunch.

      I was replying to an article on ZDNet, but they don't like my opinion, so they bar my posts. Bunch of girls. Any way I was responding to a comment that expoused the virtues of 100Mbps. 1Gbps, 100 Gbps... and so on.

      Your activation/Confirmation routines seem to be broken. Stick this up
      in the correct thread if you like. I am quite aware you don't like the
      opinions of those who are indeed engineers, but don't seem to be NBN
      groupies, Tsk.

      [...] "But in the meantime, the NBN will actually be here, and yes,
      generations of technologies will also progress through the current
      100Mbps to 1Gbps (in 2013) and 10Gbps (most likely by the end of the

      These are technologies that are possible now - not the product of
      magical thinking."

      You are going to have fun getting 100Mbps, 1Gbps and faster down a
      Ka-Band satellite link. Ditto for the fixed wireless. 1Gbps is not out
      of the question for a point to point fixed microwave ethernet link, but
      you're not going to get it for $49.95 a month. And it isn't ever going
      to happen with a satellite link.

      This is one of the main reasons that I, and others like myself dislike
      the current NBNCo plan. It is badly designed (some might say not
      designed at all) and will further entrench the digital divide in

      Throw those stupid satellites away for a start and run LTE from FTTN out
      bush. Easily done. Or, if you insist as mentioned in the article, run
      Wi-Fi from FTTN. Most of the fibre is already in the ground. Ka-band
      satellites are even more susceptible to attenuation than Ku-band. The
      new service MIGHT go slightly quicker than the missions aloft now, but
      be less reliable in storms, fires and dust. Oh goody. Has anyone
      mentioned the flying paperweights have a life expectany of fifteen
      years? Whaddya brainiacs do then? Buy a few more? They don't come cheap.

      How can this idiocy of a network be considered "universal and
      ubiquitous"? It already has three distinct delivery mechanisms. All the
      NBN groupies ar salivating regarding the "Brave New Wurld" of the
      "killer apps" that can use 100Mbps plus. What ya all seem to be
      forgetting that this sort of mental masturbation is creating an even
      larger digital divide that is going to exclude rural and remote
      Australians from your fantasy applications. It is sorta bad f*cking luck
      for pensioners, the unemployed, students, single parents and anyone else
      that can't afford $100 per month for net access @ 100Mbps and suffers on
      12Mbps, or not at all. The UK has the better model. Roll-out FTTC(N) all
      around the country and then offer FTTH as an extension to the who want
      it. BT and Vodaphone are offering FTTH to 300Mbps ON DEMAND. Which makes
      FAR more sense than giving EVERYONE in the CITY a FTTH link whether they
      want one or not. What a remarkably stupid idea. BT and Vodaphone are
      charging for this service of course, and it is built, and being built
      without truckloads of general revenue. A topology based around FTTN
      would provide a true universal, ubiquitous AND homogeneous national
      network. We would be able to get decent broadband out to the black-spots
      a damn sight faster as well. "With information technology
      (see:Heterogeneous computing) it means a network comprising different
      types of computers, potentially with vastly differing memory sizes,
      processing power and even basic underlying architecture." Wiki. The NBN
      even moreso with differing trunks. With an FTTN model the trunks are no
      longer heterogeneous, making the design and development less prone to
      error and budget blowout. I can't imagine who the clueless dill was that
      though a couple of satellites would be a "gee nifty" idea. It had to be
      someone that has never been near a satellite system before. The other
      people this mess hasn't considered is the people who live in rural and
      remote Australia that live quite close to a newer or upgraded exchange
      with DSLAMs in place. I have a few mates out bush that are pulling
      16Mbps and aren't too happy about the concept of being down-graded and
      charged extra. The ADF needs a new bird. Tell the Sat people we'll have
      one for that purpose and they can keep the second one. We don't want it
      or need it.....

      So it is not the idea of an NBN that is bad, just this particular design. Better outcomes can be had for less money.

      Mark Addinall.

    Now, on the same 30Mbps link, at the VERY same time as 25Mbps is reported on my speed test, back to the world for a moment and download some stuff from over the pond.


    Security bits and bobs for Windows 7. 10.3 MB (82.4 Mb) came down at an average speed of 9.1 Mbps. Hey! Where did my 30 (25) Mbps get to? That average of 9.1 Mbps would not have got ANY faster if I purchased a 100Mbps pipe, or a 10 Gbps pipe. Speedtest picks out the closest and fastest server it can find in your locality. Hopping over the pond is another matter entirely. Optical fibre technology suffers the same latency and congestion issues as all other network transport media. Optical pipe isn't magic.

    I am currently doing a course at Stanford University.

    The distance learning is JUST FINE. What speed is it coming down.
    VERY bursty. 30 kbps -> 500 kbps. Where is my 30 Mbps? I need it to do distance learning, don't I?

    For 14.x minutes, that link stayed below 1 Mbps. Why is that? I have BRAND NEW FTTH. I pay for it, why am I not getting it?

    This demonstration serves to illustrate two points.

    1. You don't need 100 Mbps to undertake study even at the best Universities around the world. It works at 1 Mbps quite alright. This course will stream at exactly the same speed on the most sluggish of ADSL2+ link. I could probably watch it on an ISDN pipe yeah?

    2. Regardless of the speed between you and your service provider, network speed is calculated at the SLOWEST hop over the journey, not the FASTEST. This means that the queuing mechanism at both sides of the submarine cable, the border gateway routers at both sides, the load balancing switches, the firewall processes all operate at a speed that suits them, regardless of a $50 billion dollar network that you happen to subscribe to.

    I discuss this at some length here.


    So, I like the idea of an NBN, just not this one. And I would rather have the "wurld changing" at sooper fast speed for ALL fiction stripped from the justification for what is a very large spend.

    Mark Addinall.

    Definitely believe that which you stated. Your favorite justification appeared to be on the web the simplest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I certainly get irked while people consider worries that they plainly do not know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and also defined out the whole thing without having side effect , people can take a signal. Will likely be back to get more. Thanks

    I did a speed test on 4g yesterday:
    Ping - 38ms
    Download - 63.48 Mbps
    Upload - 31.77 Mbps

    Just sayin'

    Hey guys I'm sorry if this is out of topic. I'm setting up a cafe in the next few months and I'm hoping to provide free wifi. I wanted to know if I had 10Mbps coming in to the cafe and if there are 5 users using the wifi to watch a video does that mean each person will only be getting 2Mbps?
    Also what speed is consider unacceptable for browsing Facebook and checking emails etc?
    Thanks for the help.

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