With well over a million properties actively connected to the NBN, Australia's national broadband network is apparently starting to accelerate the speed of its rollout: the government-owned company calls it "continuing momentum". What's interesting, though, is how many customers are opting for higher speed tiers, suggesting that people actually do want faster internet — echoing the recent comments of upstart ISP MyRepublic, which says flawed copper-based technologies like fibre to the node are nowhere near future-proof.
NBN's Q1 2017 results presentation shows that on fixed line networks, 69 per cent of customers opt for download speed tiers of 25Mbps or higher. As of the end of September of this year, over half of all fixed line customers are on 25Mbps plans, far outpacing the 4 per cent that use the 50Mbps option. 13 per cent, though, have opted for the fastest possible 100Mbps option. 31 per cent of customers on NBN fixed line plans have a 12Mbps speed tier, roughly equivalent to what they would have experienced on an average ADSL connection.
The same numbers are mirrored on the fixed wireless network — a massive 83 per cent of customers signed up to fixed wireless, which uses base stations delivering data over a 4G/LTE cellular connection, at a speed of 25Mbps or higher. Only 3 per cent use the fastest 50Mbps/20Mbps download/upload option, but the 12Mbps entry-level option is far less popular than the midrange 25Mbps.
Internet Australia says that these figures represent an interest in faster internet connections than the fibre to the node portion of the nation's network can deliver. IA CEO Laurie Patton says that the government needs to rethink the rollout of future FTTN portions of the NBN: "We need to be rolling out a broadband network that can support our future requirements."
That sentiment was echoed to Gizmodo on Friday by MyRepublic CEO Malcolm Rodrigues. "The biggest problem with FTTN and HFC is that they're copper based technologies. Fibre is passive — you can have pretty big rain storms and nothing happens. The incident rate on copper versus fibre is 15 to one. Any time there's any external or environmental issues, someone on FTTN will have a degraded service or a loss of service.
"The NBN started here and it was a beautiful thing. Somewhere along the line the [government] lost their way. But we believe it'll come back. NBN isn't just a network, it's about policy: in Singapore the policy changed and it became a happy place."
Rodrigues pointed out that the difference in delivering a 30Mbps service versus a 1GBps service — currently technically possible on full-fibre portions of the NBN — only adds a small incremental cost to the upfront price of the NBN. "We know all the costs. 30Mbps to 2Gbps, the increment is like 5 per cent. We shared data, we said you need to move to 1Gbps — and it took about a year and a half, and they have a 1Gbps service almost at a mass market price. It's about 30 per cent of our sales.
"It's the same in Australia: nobody should be using 30Mbps, people should be using 100Mbps. They should be using 1Gbps. The incumbents don't want it to change. The NBN doesn't want to make a big deal about it, because they have this mixed technology.
"They don't want you to be getting 100Mbps on fibre, and your friend is on FTTN and the most he can get is 15Mbps. He pays the same amount of tax, and he lives a neighbourhood away — what's going on?"