news Senior executives from two of Australia’s largest online content providers have provided testimony to the Senate that peak hour and weekend broadband congestion is a real phenomenon that is significantly affecting broadband users around Australia.
Peak hour broadband congestion refers to the phenomenon where a user’s broadband speeds decrease markedly below their theoretical maximum during peak times when many more users than usual are using a certain broadband network.
The phenomenon has historically been observed in Australia primarily with reference to HFC cable networks operated by Telstra and Optus, due to those networks’ nature as a shared network medium. The evidence for peak hour congestion of ADSL or other forms of fixed-line broadband has been much more difficult to find, due to the fact that each user on these types of connections typically enjoys a unique connection back to local telephone exchanges or other infrastructure.
However, testifying before the Senate Select Committee into the National Broadband network last week, executives from both Foxtel and Stan provided evidence showing the extensive and significant nature of the congestion that Australian broadband customers are currently suffering.
Stan chief executive Michael Sneesby said the company commonly observed “a level of last mile congestion” during peak times, between 8pm and 10pm.
“What we observe in the peak period when compared to the hours just prior to the peak period is around a 50 per cent increase in the proportion of users who are experiencing a degraded service,” he told the Senate Committee.
“From the early evening hours to the later evening hours there is a 50 per cent increase in that incidence of degradation, and around a 30 per cent increase in those consumers who are experiencing what we call buffering, which is effectively pausing in their video during that peak time.”
Sneesby said the congestion was commonly seen in the last mile — in the case of ADSL, the link from telephone exchanges to a customer’s household.
“We trace the performance of our network on an ongoing basis, and the data tells us that the majority of those challenges in streaming come in the last mile, which is effectively provided by the retail ISP,” he said.
“… the data tells us that during those peak times in the evening we see overall speed reduction, when we look at our entire base, and we see at the same time a higher incidence of consumers who are either experiencing pausing in their videos, which is due to the video not being able to get enough bandwidth to get down to the consumer, or our adaptive bit rate technology is kicking in, which automatically reduces the quality of your stream in order to deliver a consistent streaming experience, so you are seeing a lower quality video stream on your television set.”
Foxtel executive director of broadband, PMO and IT Andrew Lorken agreed broadband congestion was an ongoing issue.
“On a weekday night many of our customers can download at least a standard definition product without any problem in the world,” he said, “and yet on a Sunday afternoon or a Sunday night they might see some congestion in the network because that is usually the peak hour of the week, and we might get a speed related complaint the following Monday.”
Lorken said most of the speed complaints came from people on ADSL broadband.
“Most of that is because of the current copper-based network for those people not yet on the NBN, but as the NBN rolls out we are certainly seeing fewer people complain. I do not know if we have ever received a speed complaint from those on NBN versus those on legacy ADSL,” he said.
The Opposition Labor party recently revealed that it had received as many as 60 complaints about congestion and slow speeds from early stage users of the Coalition’s preferred Fibre to the Node technology on the National Broadband Network.
However, Foxtel’s Lorken said he didn’t have a large enough sample size yet to determine whether congestion was seen more on Fibre to the Node connections, as compared with Labor’s original and technically superior Fibre to the Premises model for the NBN.
“At moment there is not really a big enough sample size, just because of where the NBN is at the moment,” he said. “Certainly we intend to do that.”
In general, both executives agreed they expected to see bandwidth requirements for streaming video services rapidly expand over the next few years, as more and more customers took up Internet video services and as the quality of those services continued to improve.