Here's How The ACCC Will Monitor NBN Speeds

Source: NBNCo

Last week, the ACCC announced it will be keeping tabs on NBN service provider performance promises and claims via a speed monitoring program. We spoke to the CEO of Enex Testlab, Matt Tett, about how that testing and monitoring might be done.

Enex is an independent testing laboratory that has been in business for almost three decades. Having started at Melbourne's RMIT University, it was commercialised in 2005, sixteen years after being founded.

Enex tests everything from speed cameras for police forces, security appliances, network tools - even poker machines. And they have been working with NBNCo almost since the NBN's inception.

"Since 2004, we've had our eMetric probes, which are devices that sit in customer premises, essentially replicating a computer connected to that customer's internet service. We measure everything from download, upload, latency, packet loss and we go into the application layer protocols as well measuring YouTube, Netflix - even Speedtest.net," said Tett.

Tett told us his focus is not strictly about evaluating the technology but on focussing on the benefit to the consumer. With broadband, it's not about speeds and feeds but on the particular applications users are running at a point in time.

Almost everyone has experienced the after-school slow down with their broadband service, when students arrive home at around 4:00PM and their service slows to a crawl because of network contention.

"It's all well and good if you can get 100% of the speed for x percentage of the time, but if it's not the percentage of the time you need to be using it, then that's what a lot of service providers we work with focus on".

Tett said the testing equipment he uses can be used to detect longitudinal changes in performance. For example, if you sign up with a Retail Service Provider (RSPs are the parties that you'll contract with to access the NBN - they're analogous to electricity retailers who mediate your relationship with the rest of the power system) you may find performance is great at first. But over a few months, the performance may slowly fall as more customers connect and if the RSP hasn't contracted for enough bandwidth to service their customers.

Problems can also arise when service providers merge and one RSP suddenly finds themselves with a bunch of extra customers in a region. This is something we can expect to see as the number of RSPs consolidates, much like what happened in the early days of the internet in Australia.

Tett says Enex's testing gear can also assist service providers to understand why performance can fluctuate. For example, by tracking changes it can be possible to link performance changes to configuration updates.

Enex is already doing monitoring of the NBN's performance "for their own management review", with a particular focus on usability, said Tett. That covers all different connection types including satellite, HFC, FttP and other technologies.

That testing is with end users so that NBNCo understands the usability of the network. However, as NBNCo is a wholesaler, their focus is different to that of the ACCC, who will be focussing on RSPs and whether they deliver on their promises to consumers.

The impact of Enex's monitoring equipment on the user experience is negligible, said Tett. He likened it to the Nielson boxes that were used to monitor TV viewing habits and engagement with advertising. Once the devices are plugged in, they operate silently and don't interfere with users.

"The tests are very low impact and optimised for the speed of the service and we have ways of doing that automatically. The same goes for scheduling to ensure there are no conflicts when the service is in use," said Tett.

The ACCC's timeline is to go to market next month for a partner to support their monitoring program. Once they have made their choice and the 4000 residences are chosen, the program will be initiated with testing expected to commence in early 2018.

Tett noted that no personal information will be reported to the ACCC - only performance data will be sent to the agency.


Comments

    Hopefully the ACCC won't stuff this up as well.

    They need to make sure these tests can't be "cheated". By the sounds of things Enex seem to be on top of that, with monitoring speeds to multiple reliable sources. In addition to that, there needs to be some rules in place to handle ISP that actively try and cheat the system.

    You know what SHOULD be done? You should only have to pay % of speed delivered / Bills monthly cost. Then I guarantee you the ISP's would fix the issues. 59.95 a month and you're only getting 50% of your promised speed??? 30 bucks? Oh shit... we'll get our technicians out *right now* to fix that sir!

      Hey you! Stop being logical! That is unacceptable in today's norms.

      [Has Weresmurf's Spock ears taken into protective custody.]

        Pffffft who wants Spock ears. Obrien hair ftw!

          [Sneaks into Weresmurf's house and switches the hair with the same toupee Shatner wore in Star Trek 5]

      what do you believe you are paying for with your monthly NBN bill?

      Depending on your speed level that's between $24 to $38 a month to NBN.

      Each 1Mbs of CVC capacity also costs $15.75

      Your RSP then needs to pay for backhaul from the NBN POI, IP transit for internet connectivity, HW, rent, staff costs.

      Just to activate a 1Gbs NNI costs 1K, a 10Gbps costs at least $5K, plus up to $1.5K to install a rack and then you need to get your equipment that interconnects with NBN installed at a further cost.

      It's then up to $2K a month to rent that cabinet space + $190 for each fiber cable to NBN Co Building Entry Service (per fibre cable).

      So in your $60 a month plan I'm assuming it's a 12/1 connection. That's a $24 AVC charge. You expect to get 12Mbs all the time. well that's another $189 for CVC capacity. Let's say backhaul and IP transit is $10, all other costs $15. But you're only paying $60, so your RSP goes backrupt and then....

        what do you believe you are paying for with your monthly NBN bill?

        An agreed speed, which is rarely ever delivered, which is copped out on with a clause in a contract saying they may not be able to deliver.

        You can throw whatever else you want in there, regarding staff toilet breaks as well, but it won't actually make it accurate :)

    Just for 100% clarity - the ACCC hasn't appointed anyone to do this yet. Enex has experience doing this sort of work but they have not been directly approached, not has the ACCC gone to market yet so Enex hasn't tendered for the work. I spoke to them as they seemed a good source of information for what sort of monitoring might be used.

    Not sure if i am missing something here, but if this test is being done for network congestion(i.e. contention) during peak hours, wouldn't it be easier, more efficient and cheaper to actually monitor the node itself with a single device, rather than multitude of homes with multiple devices? Should be able to tell pretty quickly if congestion does become an issue.

    @weresmurf...you are right about that. You can actually do that if you contact TIO and explain the issue. I have done it in the past with my service provider. The only problem is however, that still can't use your internet when and how you want to. But if there is no alternative, defs better to keep money in your pocket then paying for sub-par (being gentle here) service.

      Yeah surprisingly I found out a day or so after writing that, that two of my friends in W.A who get only approximately 10% of the promised speed on NBN (paying 100 speed) have achieved this as well after contacting the ombudsman.

        Yep im on NBN fixed wireless 25/5. Guess what my speed is during peak times. 2.5 - 3.0 Mbps TOPS. So not only do rural customers get a seriously inferior 25/5 service at 1/4 of other city folk (How on earth is 25/5 'future proof' anyway!???) were lucky to get a tenth of the speed promised during peak times anyway. Cant even watch you-tube at 480p most nights... What a rip off! I know some people that have switched back to ADSL1 because the NBN services are so poor. After a complaint to my ISP, they pretended that it was my equipment causing slow speeds. Funny that it works at full speed during the day & two other people with the same ISP i know are reporting the exact same issue during peak times in the same NBN service area. Complaint soon to be lodged with the TIO.

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