With the NBN rollout moving forward we should be expecting Australia to move up through the global broadband rankings. After all, with tens of billions of dollars being ploughed into connecting people across the nation, we should be seeing things get better. But is that the case? How do we compare to other countries and are we treading water compared to other countries or are we getting world-class performance? Let's see what the data says.
To determine where we sit on the global scale, I'm looking at two reports.
Netflix releases monthly data looking at Internet performance as it relates to their service. Their ISP Speed Index isn't a report on absolute performance. it's about the amount of bandwidth used to access their service.
The second report is the Speedtest Global Index which is a monthly review.
I was going to also include Akamai's quarterly speed report but they haven't released one since this time last year so the data is out of date, especially as the NBN rollout has moved further along and the numbers won't be correct. However, at this point last year, they ranked Australia in 50th place even though performance had improved by 26 percent on the previous year.
The Top Ten
Each of the data sets is collected in different ways so, it makes sense that there may be some variation. My focus for this analysis is on fixed broadband connections.
Speedtest says the global average download speed is 45.48 Mbps. Uploads are a little under half that with other global average sitting at 22.18Mbps in their most recent data. In their eyes, the opt ten countries when it comes to download speed are
- Singapore - 170.99 Mbps
- Iceland - 155.25 Mbps
- Hong Kong (SAR) - 141.43 Mbps
- South Korea - 117.62 Mbps
- Romania - 109.26 Mbps
- Hungary - 95.31 Mbps
- Switzerland - 93.36 Mbps
- Sweden - 92.93 Mbps
- United States - 92.66 Mbps
- Macau (SAR) - 89.74 Mbps
Australia is ranked in 56th position with an average download speed of 30.53 Mbps in Speedtest's view. On the upside, we've improved from an average speed of 23.52 Mbps but our ranking has dropped two places in the last year.
Looking at the Netflix data, they rank Australia far more highly, placing us in 18th position out of the 60 countries they record data for. What's important to note is that the Netflix numbers aren't about total download performance. Netflix is only looking at "the average prime time bitrate for Netflix content streamed to Netflix members". In other words, their index is about the Netflix experience and not your overall internet use. Hence, the numbers in their top ten are quite different to those from Speedtest.
Here's the Netflix top ten.
- Switzerland - 4.13 Mbps
- Hong Kong - 4.05 Mbps
- Iceland - 4.03 Mbps
- Netherlands - 4.03 Mbps
- Romania - 3.98 Mbps
- Singapore - 3.97 Mbps
- United States - 3.91 Mbps
- Sweden - 3.86 Mbps
- Norway - 3.85 Mbps
- Belgium - 3.83 Mbps
As you can see, most of their top five agree with Speedtest although the Swiss seem to have a better Netflix experience than their Speedtest ranking would suggest.
What does all the tell us?
The easiest game in town is to take pot-shots at NBN Co and government policy when it comes to the speed of our internet connections. Interestingly, when we look at mobile data speeds, we are ranked eighth according to Speedtest with an average download speed of 50.38 Mbps. That list is topped by Norway with download speeds of 62.70 Mbps. I think that our position in that list a great result.
But it's interesting that those performance levels are being driven by commercial interests and private companies rather than a government-mandated infrastructure program.
The good news is that things are improving when it comes to fixed internet. Our speeds are getting faster year on year as more people move away from ADSL connections onto connections that aren't limited to a top speed of 24 Mbps to connections. Some of us can hit the 100 Mbps mark.
The bad news is that the 100 Mbps connections we were told were excessive just a couple of years ago are now the entry level if you want to be one of the fastest-connected countries in the world.
While things are getting better here and we are moving forward with getting faster connections to more people, other countries are getting faster connections faster than NBN Co is delivering them to us. While we walk forwards, other countries trot past us. Of course, there are challenges in Australia as some of the population is sparsely distributed. But not everyone is remotely located.
The current Australian population is around 24.74 million people. Based on data from June 2017, almost two-thirds of Australian people live in our five most populous cities; Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide. That means, at least in theory, that the principle challenges in delivering fast internet connections are similar to this in densely populated countries.
The fact we are being overtaken in global rankings means that while things are improving here, they are getting better in other parts of the world.
We are seeing all sorts of social shifts take place in western countries. One of the big ones is the move from permanent, full-time employment to the so-called gig economy. As more people become self-employed and work from remote locations, the ability to access fast, reliable internet connections becomes more important.
Entertainment is moving away from traditional carriers to streaming services. Radio is being displaced by podcasts and streaming music services. Streaming video services are changing our viewing habits. Those shifts make us reliant on fast connections for entertainment.
Even emergency services rely on us having internet connections. When south-east Queensland was punished by floods a few years ago, emergency services turned to social media as a communications method when their existing channels could cope with the incoming emergency calls.
Fast internet connectivity isn't a nice-to-have any more. It's becoming a critical utility. And the rest of the world is leaving us behind.