The Speed Delusion: Why Australia's Netflix Speeds Are Acceptable Compared To The Rest Of The World

You live in Australia and your internet sucks, but it could be a lot worse than you think. Once you step back and take a look at the bigger picture, you realise that Australia's average Netflix speed is actually quite good.

This morning out of interest, I thought I'd go and check out Netflix's ISP speed rankings: a collection of speed tests collected from wherever Netflix is available.

While we've been caught before saying that Australia's internet is largely rubbish, it's worth stepping back and taking a look at the bigger picture of how the internet works around the world when it comes to streaming Netflix.

Since the streaming service launched, users across a number of different ISPs have reported massive a slowing effect on their connections, whether they're using Netflix or not.

Some ISPs have looked inside their networks and validated the concerns of their customers. iiNet CEO David Buckingham has said that the problem stems from an explosion in usage that simply wasn't forecast by anyone in the industry. Australia's ADSL and Cable networks are now about 12 months behind the curve thanks to the screaming popularity of Netflix Down Under.

To give customers an idea of the speeds they're getting on their internet service provider in relation to other ISPs in the country, Netflix started doing some speed tests of its own. The Netflix ISP ranking calculates the "average prime time bitrate for Netflix content streamed to...members during a particular month".

Here's how it's calculated:

For 'speed' we measure, in megabits per second (Mbps), the average bitrate for Netflix content streamed by Netflix members per ISP. We measure speed across all available devices.
Excluded from our measurements across all ISP networks are a small number of plans, devices for which we cannot record accurate bitrates and streaming over identified mobile networks.
The speed shown on the Netflix ISP Speed Index is not a measurement of an ISP’s maximum network throughput or capacity.

It's a nice global benchmark of how fast the internet is on average around the world. Here's a handy little table with all the most up to date results (at the time of writing) of speeds around the world:

Country Average Speed Highest Speed Lowest Speed
Argentina 2.42Mbps 3.40Mbps 2.42Mbps
Austria 3.43Mbps 4.38Mbps 2.68Mbps
Australia 2.82Mbps 3.36Mbps 2.09Mbps
Belgium 3.99Mbps 4.20Mbps 3.73Mbps
Brazil 2.64Mbps 3.32Mbps 1.26Mbps
Canada 3.28Mbps 3.69Mbps 1.27Mbps
Chile 2.51Mbps 3.23Mbps 1.26Mbps
Columbia 2.65Mbps 2.91Mbps 1.49Mbps
Costa Rica 1.75Mbps 2.20Mbps 1.09Mbps
Denmark 3.86Mbps 4.12Mbps 3.59Mbps
Ecuador 2.07Mbps 3.10Mbps 1.17Mbps
Finland 3.40Mbps 3.28Mbps 3.28Mbps
France 3.45Mbps 3.86Mbps 3.16Mbps
Germany 3.75Mbps 4.16Mbps 3.04Mbps
Ireland 3.10Mbps 3.52Mbps 1.86Mbps
Jamaica 1.98Mbps 2.87Mbps 0.72Mbps
Luxembourg 4.08Mbps 4.35Mbps 2.86Mbps
Mexico 2.49Mbps 3.66Mbps 0.69Mbps
Netherlands 4.00Mbps 4.82Mbps 3.53Mbps
New Zealand 3.56Mbps 3.79Mbps 2.94Mbps
Panama 2.57Mbps 2.81Mbps 1.14Mbps
Swizterland 4.08Mbps 4.52Mbps 3.99Mbps
Peru 2.49Mbps 2.60Mbps 0.76Mbps
United Kingdom 3.53Mbps 3.93Mbps 3.15Mbps
Uruguay 2.85Mbps 2.85Mbps 2.85Mbps
USA 3.11Mbps 3.58Mbps 1.13Mbps

We've prioritised average speed per country in our table as opposed to peak speeds measured from a single ISP. That way, we can get an idea of what the internet quality is in each country.

As you can see, the highest average speed for Netflix in the world comes from Luxembourg and Switzerland, both tied on 4.08Mbps. A speed of above 4Mbps is great, considering that the rest of the world gets The lowest speeds can be found in Costa Rica with 1.75Mbps on average. Compare both of those to Australia and you find that it's not that bad, considering that average speeds in other countries all roughly fall between 2Mbps and 3.75Mbps.

If you thought Australia's internet speeds should probably be faster on average, you're not alone.

Netflix's own speed tests actually conflict with the speed tests performed by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. According to Netflix, Australia's average internet speed is way, way lower than it should be. Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull says that average Australian internet speeds are a lot higher than that (think between 24Mbps and 9Mbps for the majority of the country), it's worth keeping in mind that those are theoretical maximums. Netflix's speed tests better illustrate what happens to your internet speed when the high-intensity rubber hits the digital road. It's a reflection of what actually happens when streaming big video files on the line, rather than just doing a Speedtest.net test.

If you look at Australia's Netflix speeds in a vacuum with the context of Turnbull's speed test estimates in your head, it can be disheartening to see the effect that our crappy wires are having on things like streaming. But if you step back, take a look at that table -- a practical example of how the internet feels to users around the world -- you see that it's not that bad.

We've said this before, too: you don't need a massive speed to get a great Netflix experience. According to Netflix, you need a minimum speed of 500kbps to access Netflix, with a recommended minimum speed of 1.5Mbps. We've got that and then some. Sure, we won't be able to stream Ultra HD/4K content, which requires a minimum of 25Mbps, but when you look at the table again, you realise that nobody gets that on average. We'll get it in time thanks to a fast National Broadband Network, and by the time that's built we might all be able to afford 4K TVs for our houses, but until then, let's stop complaining about something we'll never use anyway.

Here at Gizmodo, we're optimistic: Australia's average internet speed probably should be better than it is. Every country should aspire to having world-class internet, but what we need to keep in mind when criticising the speeds we have in Australia is the big picture: we could have it a lot worse.

Internet image via Shutterstock