NBN Post Mortem: What The ACCC's Speed Report Really Tells Us

Image: nbnCo

Last week, the ACCC released its first monthly report looking at the state of broadband in Australia, with a particular focus on whether the NBN is delivering on the promises made by RSPs, as well as how ISPs delivering pre-NBN services are faring. The data, collected with SamKnows under the "Measuring Broadband Australia" project paints a positive picture although there is room for improvement.

Although the government has committed $6.6M over three years to test 4000 homes, just 600 volunteers have joined the testing program so far. That's an important thing to note given the NBN (National Broadband Network) rollout has reached almost 6.4 million premises with just under 3.7 million premised activating the service. (Source: NBNCo weekly report for week commencing 22 March 2018).

So, 600 sites from a potential pool of 3.7 million is only barely a representative sample. However, the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission), which has about 9000 potential volunteers they are sorting through, is endeavouring for the pool of volunteers to be representative of the broad cross-section of internet users.

The battery of tests the SamKnows appliance is quite comprehensive and includes:

  • Upload and download speed between SamKnows' test server and the computer running their agent software
  • Latency and jitter
  • Packet loss
  • DNS testing
  • A simulated load of a website that mimics real-world usage

By and large, the SamKnows data paints a reasonably positive picture. One of the big criticisms of ISP (Internet Service Providers) and RSP (Retail Service Providers) advertising has been the use of the nebulous term "up to" when describing the potential performance of a service. The ACCC's testing looks at how closely a service provider delivers on the promised performance and whether that changes markedly between peak and off-peak periods.

Given the limited pool of users in the test program, the ACCC's data focuses mainly on the four largest ISPs; iiNet, Optus, Telstra, and TPG. The data is broken out to separate NBN connections from ADSL.

All four NBN ISPs were delivering download speeds exceeding 80% of the maximum plan speed in both peak and off-peak periods. TPG, which has had a chequered relationship with the TIO (Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman) recorded the best performance, with average download speeds in excess of 90% of the maximum plan speed in both peak and off-peak periods.

Image: ACCC

Upload speeds were better, with iiNet, Optus and TPG all recording average upload speeds that were over 90% of the maximum plan seed. Telstra's results were around 86%.

Image: ACCC

Interestingly, NBN services showed very little variation throughout the day, even during the evening peak periods. This suggests that RSPs who were skimping on CVC (Connectivity Virtual Circuit) during the early days of the NBN program have cleaned up their acts. In addition, the ACCC's advice for RSPs to ensure claims they make in advertising seem to be working.

With ADSL services, the average download speed was around 8Mbps with uploads not quite reaching 1Mbps during normal and busy hours.

The ACCC suggests that packet loss that is under 1% is unlikely to affect users' browsing experience. According to their data, excessive packet loss occurred in 4% of the 218,000 tests conducted over the reporting period with no packet loss recorded in 74% of the tests. When that's broken out to compare NBN and ADSL services, ADSL services saw 6.4% of tests exceed 1% packet loss, whilst NBN only saw 3.4% of tests exceed 1% packet loss.

What's all this mean?

The short answer is that, based on the data received through SamKnows and published by the ACCC, NBN services are getting very close to delivering what customers are paying for. When customers order a 100/40Mbps service, they are getting performance that is very close to that level, receiving 80% - 90% of the expected speed with very little packet loss. However, there's no data in the ACCC's report regarding latency or jitter.

Clearly, the ACCC's strong action, forcing RSPs to purchase enough CVC to service new connections, rather than being able to under-provision their networks is taking affect.

Further, guidelines published by the ACCC seem to have had the desired effect with RSPs getting close to delivering on what they promise. By providing guidance on how to advertise NBN services, the ACCC has accomplished two things; they have "helped" RSPs advertise in a way to works for customers, and they have given themselves a handy tool to use should they have to prosecute an RSP for not delivering.

RSPs simply can't say "we didn't know what the ACCC wanted" when it's been laid out clearly for them.

However, we still don't have a massive pool of data to look at and there's no reporting on installation issues. For example, how many installations are completed on the first appointment with no loss of services? And how punctual are installers when arriving at a customer's site? Those issues have been significant in damaging the reputation of NBNCo.

NBNCo's reporting suggests that about 50,000 premises are added to the network each week, across the different connection options, with about 30,000 of new activations each week. How many of those are resolved with the first, on-time appointment? Based on reports made to the TIO, 27,000 people made complaints about the NBN last year with just under 4,000 of those related to speed. The rest related to service delays and unusable services.

This first report by the ACCC is largely good news. But there's more to the success of the NBN deployment than RSPs simply delivering the promised bandwidth.


Comments

    Paying for 100Mbps, getting 31Mbps thanks to FTTN's distance from the node. Shame I can't simply pay 31% of the monthly bill...

      Complain to the TIO if you've raised it with your RSP and not been able to get a resolution. The distance from the node *should* not be an issue. There may be something else going on.

        Anthony Caruana you *should* research FTTN before commenting and writing articles again. Distances from the node are the biggest issue re attainable speeds end users can attain and are solely the responsibility of NBN as they are the company who built the infrastructure. Unfortunately the RSP's are taking the blame as they resell to end users as customers. Why do I know this? Because I am over 1km from the node servicing me and NBN case managers have confirmed that I will only ever get a max download speed of 32mbps. No amount of CVC, no RSP, no time of day will change that. No upgrade path unless I pay $000's myself for an individual premise switch (why should I when others are getting FTTP, FTTC or live closer to the node don't have to pay to get a better infrastructure?). Perhaps do more research, interview end users and go after the NBN

          Thanks James. Perhaps I could have been clearer. If an RSP offers a service and is not delivering, and they have been asked and can't/won't fix the issue then a call to the TIO is warranted. Based on a statement made by the PM (see: https://www.malcolmturnbull.com.au/assets/Broadband.pdf) the minimum connection speed a connection must dealer is 25Mbps. If the RSP is offering a service they cannot achieve then they are at fault.

    just 600 volunteers have joined the testing program so far
    well, i'm with one of those top 4 RSPs and registered to help them out with testing. never heard back from them.
    I dare say they weren't short of volunteers.

      They were short of volunteers who actually have a decent service that they can skew their results with.

    To me it seems that no matter what NBN co do, how much they improve there service/speeds/quality, a particular and vocal group of people are not going to be satisfied until (a) we completely rework the NBN and take up what the ALP originally wanted, (b) speeds of 1000000/50000 Gb/sec are achieved at a cost of $1-50 per month and (c) free weekly sexual favours are provided by NBN co for life.

    I hate Malcolm Turdbull as much as anyone BUT it's what we now have and it is a hell of a lot better than what my previous ADSL2 service was and rarely hear of any complaints from friends/neighbours/colleagues with what they are getting from the NBN other than they wish it would be installed in their area. As an aside, I am on HFC connection on my max speed possible of 100/40 and we hit 1TB of data each month since joining 4 months ago and have not had a single problem. Nor have any of our neighbours.

    Sure, it was an unmitigated disaster a couple of years back and everyone's complaints were valid but those complaints have ensured that improvements were made and they have been.

    I just wonder sometimes if people complain due to a vested interest?

      I just wonder sometimes if people complain due to a vested interest?

      Any 'vested interest' is nowhere near the consumer side of this fiasco. Just because your internet connection is better than it was, doesn't mean the project itself is up to a modern or long-term standard for essential infrastructure. ADSL2 is now extremely outdated tech and fails as a viable comparison. From a global perspective, this 'upgrade' is laughable. From a local perspective, it's negligent and criminal.

      Don't be complacent and short-sighted on this - you've been robbed too.

      "My internet works fine, Therefore any opinions from Networking experts or anyone else are invalid!"

      Sound logic.

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