news A recent Akamai report showing that Australia has taken a deep slide downwards in global broadband rankings represents evidence that the Coalition’s controversial Multi-Technology Mix approach is right for the National Broadband Network, Comms Minister Mitch Fifield said today.
The ‘State of the Internet’ report is produced by online content delivery specialist Akamai Technologies every quarter. It is regarded as one of the benchmark standards by which countries and organisations measure broadband speeds globally.
In the company’s latest report — measuring broadband speeds over the past three months, Akamai noted that Australia had slipped down 14 spots on the global table in that quarter in terms of average broadband connection speeds, as well as on a range of other measurements.
This places the nation behind a number of other competing countries in the Asia-Pacific region — not only behind fibre-rich countries such as South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan, but also behind financial and trading hub Singapore, as well as Taiwan, Thailand and New Zealand. Australia is now fast approaching less-developed countries such as Sri Lanka, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Labor said the slide in broadband rankings showed the Coalition’s technically inferior MTM approach to the NBN was failing the country, but in a major speech at a Communications Day conference this morning, Minister Fifield said it showed the opposite.
Fifield’s full speech is available here in PDF format.
“Despite the hyperbole, the Akamai Report is actually the clearest evidence yet that our ‘lowest-cost, fastest rollout’ approach is the right one,” said Fifield.
Fifield said that despite being six years into the Fibre to the Premises model chosen for the NBN (with more than 700,000 FTTP services on the NBN in operation), the Akamai report shows that Australia’s average and peak speeds placed the country down the table of leading broadband countries.
“Contrary to the opinion of FTTP advocates, a reversion to an all-fibre rollout is more likely to see Australia remain stagnant in the average speed rankings,” Fifield said. “As redesigns, construction interruptions, extended connection timeframes and affordability pressures inevitably leave more Australians waiting longer for better broadband.”
Fifield added that peak speed rankings could be an “unreliable” indicator of broadband utilisation.
For example, he said, while Singapore had the number one peak speed ranking in Akamai’s report, at 135.7Mbps, it only came in 16th globally for average speeds at 13.9Mbps. “That’s only 5.7 Mbps faster than the average broadband speed in Australia today,” he said.
Consequently, Fifield said, the Akamai report demonstrated that when it comes to Australia moving up the broadband rankings, the speed that matters most is the speed of the NBN rollout — not what specifically technology it uses.
I believe there are some logical inconsistencies in Fifield’s argument here.
Sure, the Minister is correct in his statement that Australia will get faster average broadband speeds quicker if the MTM model for the NBN is deployed, rather than the original FTTP model for the NBN.
This would mean that average broadband speeds in Australia would increase at the same pace or faster than the rest of the world, meaning that we would maintain our position in Akamai’s tables, or even move upwards.
However, it’s also true that FTTN and HFC cable have ceilings as technologies. They are fundamentally limited in terms of speeds (especially upload speeds) where FTTP is not.
And we’re not dealing with an infrastructure rollout that will be used in the next 5, 10 or even 20 years, here. The current generation of broadband infrastructure being rolled out globally will be used for the next 50-100 years.
I’ve always said that FTTN and even HFC will be fine for Australia in the short term — 5, even perhaps 10 years. But as the decades wear on, these technologies will be left behind and will not provide suitable speeds for the next generation of Australians — just as today’s copper network (ADSL2+) is not providing suitable speeds any more for today’s generation of Australians.
When this happens, those countries that have deployed large FTTP networks will have a natural advantage in terms of rankings such as the Akamai tables. They will not need to deploy new infrastructure for users to access higher speeds.
Yet Australia will.
Fifield’s argument shows, again, the short-sightedness of the Coalition’s MTM vision for the NBN. Pretty much every expert commentator on the NBN — including NBN company executives — agrees that the MTM model will need upgrading almost as soon as it is finished being deployed.
Australia is not dealing with a level playing field here when it comes to other countries’ broadband infrastructure. We are already behind, and the only way we can catch up over the long term is to deploy universal FTTP. That much is clear, and all of the Minister’s complex arguments about faster rollouts in the short-term will not change that fact.
You don’t spend $50 billion on a National Broadband Network if all you’re trying to do is move up the broadband rankings over the next 5-10 years. This is a once a century investment.
Image credit: Office of Minister Fifield