A Non-Sensationalist Look At Australian Internet Speeds

Australia dropped down to 48th place in a global average broadband connection speed rankings list published by Akamai Technologies. Naturally, people have come out to deride Australia’s broadband situation and criticise the colossal mess that is the National Broadband Network (NBN), but let’s all put down our pitchforks, take a collective deep breath and look at the results more closely.

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Content delivery network (CDN) and cloud services provider, Akamai, regularly releases quarterly State Of The Internet reports that analyse the 810 million unique IPv4 addresses from 243 countries connected to its Intelligence Platform, which representing over 1 billion web users. The company then tries to work out internet penetration rates and, more importantly here, broadband connection speeds in each country.

According to the report, the average broadband speed for Australia in the fourth quarter of 2015 was 8.2Mbps, putting it in 48th spot, down from 46th, compared to the rest of the world. In terms of average peak internet speeds, at 39.3Mbps, Australia fared far worse. Australia plummeting to 60th position, down from 46th, that quarter.

Drilling down into the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea took the top spot in average connection speeds (26.7Mbps), followed by Japan (17.4Mbps), Hong Kong (16.8) and Singapore. Australia was 8th in the region, behind New Zealand, which ranked 6th with an average speed of 9.3Mbps.

When you look at the rankings, Australia does seem to be trailing behind significantly, which add fuel to the flames in the NBN debate; we missed out on the opportunity to have fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) and now we’re stuck with a Frankenstein network that is a mishmash of fibre and unsustainable copper.

But let’s step back and look at the Akamai results. Australia’s average and peak internet speeds have increased by 11 per cent and 6.4 per cent year-on-year, respectively. Sure, we dropped down in rankings this quarter but anomalies in quarterly results aren’t uncommon, according to Akamai senior director for industry and data intelligence, David Belson, who authored the report.

“The year-on-year measurement gives a better perspective as to what’s going on and long-term trend,” he told Lifehacker Australia. “We do see quarterly declines at times for a variety of reasons, but looking at the country overall, Australia has seen strong increases in speeds; it’s not massive, but still positive.”

The connection speeds are sufficient for the average user who wants to stream videos, surf the web and play online games, Belson said. But what about for organisations that require faster broadband for daily operations?

“Business-class connections are generally faster as business are willing to pay for them,” he said. “For the most part, business connections speeds are less of an issue. That is, for metropolitan areas like Sydney, you have access to multiple providers and high speed connections; it’s just a matter of paying for it.”

Belson noted that while people are obsessed with seeing their country to be the best in terms of internet speeds, it’s never an apples-to-apples comparison.

Take the top ranking countries in Asia-Pacific; South Korea, which also has the faster average internet connections speeds in the world, is consistently touted a shining example of what our broadband network should be like. However, the country’s broadband is subjected to censorship.

According to the OpenNet Initiative:

Despite the fact that South Korea has one of the most advanced information communication technology sectors in the world, online expression remains under the strict legal and technological control of the central government. The country is the global leader in Internet connectivity and speed, but its restrictions on what Internet users can access are substantial.

Singapore, which has the fastest average peak internet speed in Asia-Pacific this quarter, also “employs a combination of licensing controls and legal pressures to regulate Internet access and to limit the presence of objectionable content and conduct online”.

I’m not saying Australia’s broadband doesn’t need improvement (it definitely does) and I do think the NBN is in a sad state right now. Australia’s broadband is in no means perfect and neither are the Akamai report results, which obviously can’t reflect the situation of every user in the country. Before we jump the gun and Hulk rage over internet speed rankings, just remember to step back and consider the bigger picture. It’s not just connection speeds that we have to factor in to build a better broadband network.

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