Thursday, 21 May 2020 12:43

NBN speeds, performance decline, then recover after COVID-19 demands: ACCC Featured

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NBN speeds and performance declined as Australians followed social distancing instructions to stay home due to COVID-19, but picked up following measures by NBN Co and streaming providers, according to the competition regulator, the ACCC.

The ACCC has just released its first new monthly Measuring Broadband Australia report showing a recovery in network performance, principally due to NBN Co’s move to offer retail service providers (RSPs) 40% extra network capacity for free.

The report shows average download speeds on NBN Co’s 50 Mbps and 100 Mbps speed tiers had dropped by 14% and 23%, respectively, before the move.

“Broadband services have experienced unprecedented demand during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many people and small businesses have been working from home and making increased use of telehealth, online learning and other services,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

“The most recent data from our Measuring Broadband Australia volunteers shows daytime NBN speeds have not been impacted by this additional demand, and evening speeds are mostly holding up well.”

The ACCC said that measures adopted by streaming providers have also helped other online applications to perform well during the busy evening hours but led to a reduction in picture quality for viewers. 

And the ACCC’s own analysis shows average upload speeds performed to levels similar to pre-pandemic.

The ACCC also released its ninth regular Measuring Broadband Australia quarterly report, containing in-depth performance results from testing carried out in February 2020, before the COVID-19 related surge in demand.

 The report shows, for the first time, how different NBN plans perform in streaming popular video content from Netflix and YouTube, which the ACCC says demonstrates that higher priced NBN100 services are not generally required to support many houeholds’ consumption of streaming services, and that in most cases an NBN50 service is sufficient - with a 100 Mbps plan around $20 more than a 50 Mbps plan.

“These results should prompt consumers to consider whether they actually need to pay extra for a higher-priced plan, or whether a cheaper plan could meet their needs,” Sims said.

“Consumers should consult RSPs’ key facts sheets which set out what plans are most . for using popular online services. If consumers are still uncertain what plan they require they can start on a lower speed plan and move up to a premium higher speed plan if and when they need to do so” he said .

The report also shows Australia’s fixed NBN connections achieved average download speeds of about 85% of their maximum possible speeds during the busy evening hours of 7 pm to 11 pm in February.

Across all NBN 25 Mbps plans and above, RSPs achieved scores of between 82.5% and 87.0%, while Optus recorded the highest score of 89.3%.

The ACCC says t results are an improvement for most RSPs on the download speeds in the previous MBA report which were based on November 2019 data - and with Vodafone, included for the first time in the quarterly figures, achieving results comparable to other RSPs.

“One positive development we have observed is more end users on underperforming services are having their issues resolved,” Sims said.

“We are seeing improvements with a higher proportion of NBN plans on FTTN connections achieving full speeds, however, one in five consumers on these connections are still paying for high speed 50 Mbps and 100 Mbps plans that are underperforming.”

Sims said the report shows overall results could have been between 1.1 percentage points and 4.2 percentage points higher if the issues causing poor performance, such as problems with the network connection at the customer’s premise, had been addressed.

“We encourage NBN Co and RSPs to build upon their initial gains so that many more FTTN customers can also receive the speeds of the plans they pay for,” Sims concluded.

NBN services continue to outperform ADSL services across a range of measurements. Consumers on NBN 25 Mbps plans received an average download speed of 22.5 Mbps in the busy hours, while those on ADSL services delivered just 7.3 Mbps.

Commenting on the ACCC's NBN performance report, Michelle Rowland, the Shadow Minister for Communications, said, “Labor called for a temporary capacity boost to retailers at the onset of COVID-19, and we are pleased this NBNCo initiative has improved consumer outcomes and had a positive effect.”

In its comment on the Measuring Broadband report, telco Optus said: "Optus has once again delivered the highest percentage of maximum download speeds during the busy evening period," and "according to the report, Optus was also the only RSP to have met or exceeded its advertised download speed during 100% of busy hours".

Optus acting managing director, Networks Lambo Kanagaratnam, said:

  • During a time when all of us are relying more than ever on our home broadband, Optus is thrilled that we have maintained the top spot with the fastest NBN peak evening speeds independently tested by the ACCC.
  • We will continue to strive to deliver customers the best nbn online experience.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired and is a "volunteer" writer for iTWire. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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