Broadband Speed And Ubiquity

In 1998 the web was fast growing but still new and Jakob Nielsen was concerned with usability of webpage’s. Particularly how web designers tended to get carried away with the new medium and made pages too cluttered for the slow connections of the time. Looking at his own Internet access speed he postulated that it would not be until 2003 that most people could enjoy complex web pages based on the following Law1.

A high-end user’s connection speed grows by 50% per year.

The mass market lags the high-end by 2-3 years

Ten years on, in 2008 the Fibre to the Home Council conducted a study of Neilson’s law for Europe and showed that it does predict demand for fixed internet2. At a Presentation to the Australian Information Industry Association, NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley presented a graph (Figure 1) which he used to illustrate that Australian internet demand has also closely followed Neilson’s law.

Figure 1

One of the most important implications of Neilson’s law and the current trend of Australian bandwidth requirements is that by 2015 the average Australian internet user will require a 100Mbit/s connection. 6 years on in 2021 it will become a 1Gbit/s connection. Figure 1 clearly shows that the current copper infrastructure (the orange line) will not be sufficient to provide the needs of future Australians (the continuing green line).

In 2010 Akamai Technologies published the ‘State of the Internet’ report. The report ranked the average Australian internet connection speeds as 50th in the world – below New Zealand at 42nd – and just one-fifth the speed of top-ranked nation South Korea. Australia’s average internet connection speed was 2.6Mbit/s. No Australian cities come anywhere near being included in the Top 100 cities in the world for fast connections3.

In America 65 percent of homes will have broadband that could deliver 100Mbits/s speed by the end of 2010 and 90 percent will have it by 20134. In Europe FTTx rollout’s continue with many European countries expected to provide 100Mbit/s (some already have 1Gbit/s, like Sweden and Finland) connections by 2015 (see figure 2).

Figure 2

In Japan Toshiba recently announced that the next generation of immersive “3D” televisions would need to receive data at around 300Mbit/s (possibly 100 Mbit/s with new compression). Fibre broadband was cited as a key delivery mechanism but 100Mbit/s and even 1Gbit/s services are already common in Japan where ADSL broadband is in decline as households replace it with fibre. If present trends continue consumer electronics and new services for fibre speeds will be common in Japan5.

But will we use it now? According to research commissioned by the Fibre to the Home Council Europe (FTTHC), consumers with ‘true broadband’ connections of 100 Mbit/s and more, already consume three times as much data as a typical ADSL customer.

“Put together the huge range of entertainment content on the internet (from movies to social networks and gaming) and the speed and responsiveness of ‘true broadband’ and you have a pretty powerful new medium. Add the fact that Europe’s home TV screens are growing in average size 20% a year and are increasingly networked and you have the basis of a high definition on-demand revolution … those countries which have adopted fibre early have a natural advantage in capturing that innovation”

However high speed internet isn’t just useful for the delivery of entertainment such as HD television and video on demand (VOD) it is also vital to business. Millions of small and medium businesses (SMBs), however, can’t afford the complexity or expense of FTTx solutions (which can cost more than $35k for installation, and $2.5k per month6 ). This has left them relying on whatever service they could get through conventional means – typically, whatever ADSL2+ is available in their region. David Braue discusses this problem below.

“With an absolute maximum of around 20Mbps download and a paltry 1Mbps upload, it’s a big stretch to call ADSL2+ business-ready. The limited upload speed is of particular concern: while it’s easy for businesses to set up 1Gbps networks inside their four walls, they’ve constantly had to compensate for slow wide-area network (WAN) connections. In the past… the answer, often, was to back up a branch-office server to tape, then physically courier the tape to a capital-city office for archiving.

If you think that’s inefficient, today’s systems aren’t much better: 1Mbps uploads, like those provided by ADSL2+, are still just 0.1 per cent of the likely speed of a company’s internal network. And, unlike in a download-heavy home situation, upload speed is essential for businesses to seamlessly network their offices without suffering from WAN bottlenecks.7

Clearly it is the case that Australian internet users and businesses will require ever increasing connection speeds. However there is a second issue at stake; for any new internet based service to be successful in Australia there is a need for ubiquity and standardisation of internet across Australia.

The most important thing about the NBN (for businesses) isn’t its speed – even though its fibre-optic services will easily provide 1Gbps or eventually 10Gbps connections for those who need them. No, the value of the NBN is that it will raise the lowest common denominator and allow every business in the country to link with every other branch office, business partner or telecommuting employee at the same speed as they would use over their internal network. When even your remotest offices have 1Gbps access to the rest of the company, your data can live in Sydney and be backed up there, and remain instantly accessible by your remote staff as if they were sitting in the same office”8

One of the major problems with for any new development that utilises Australian internet is it is very difficult to know what internet speed you can rely on a user having. According to ABS statistics in 2010 22% of Australian internet users are still on 512Kbits/s or less plans, with 10% still on dial-up9.

In 2008 an ACMA report on IPTV in Australia found that lack of infrastructure development has lead to a less developed IPTV market.

The Australian IPTV and Internet video market is less developed than many other markets internationally. There is yet to be a fully-fledged IPTV deployment in Australia-fewer than five IPTV providers and 15 internet video service supporters offered full-length professional content to consumers operating in the Australian market in 2007. Supply-side factors are seen as the main barriers to the development of these services.

IPTV is carrier-led and controlled platform and, as such, network upgrades by telecommunications operators and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are a critical step in the development of the service.

The existing broadband market structure in Australia is seen as the prime barrier to IPTV and Internet video deployment, particularly bandwidth, backhaul, and capped plans10

Rural Australia can also benefit from high speed broadband penetration. The ABS found that 90% of all farms with an estimated value of agricultural operations (EVAO) of $1m or more used the Internet for business operations. There was a strong relationship between farm size, as measured by EVAO, and the use of the Internet.

“The research suggests that SMEs and the farm sector are keen adopters of communications technology to assist in managing their businesses,” said ACMA chairman Chris Chapman. “Both sectors also indicated that the internet had a significant impact on transforming their business practices and improving processes.11

However lack of ubiquitous broadband access is still a problem in Australia. The recent report by Akamai Technologies titled the ‘State of the Internet’ illustrates this.

Figure 3

The above map shows internet speeds across Australia. The areas in pink represents areas with connection speeds of 2Mbit/s or higher. Clearly large portions of regional and rural and even metropolitan Australian still lack access to acceptable broadband speeds.

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