Aussie Smart Homes Choking On Slow Upload Speeds

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Typical home upload speeds of less than 1 Mbps mean that bandwidth-thirsty foreign smart home gear is choking in Australian homes.

Australia's broadband blame game tends to focus on download speeds, with growing dissatisfaction over the fact we're not always getting what we paid for. Unfortunately upload speeds get less attention, even though they're proving more amd more important as our appetite for internet-enabled devices grows.

After reviewing the Nest Cam streaming security cameras recently it's clear that, like many American products, they're designed for a world where data and bandwidth are seemingly infinite resources. In other words, not Australia.

Even after automatically dialling itself down from 1080p to 720p resolution, a single Nest Cam insists on constantly uploading video at 400 kbps – leaping above 1 Mbps per second when it sees something move.

That's bad news for your broadband connection if you're also using voice or video chat, uploading backups to the cloud or playing games online – not to mention all the devices around your house which might be trying to access the internet. Ask Google Home a question and you'll see another 400 kbps upload spike as it sends your query to the cloud.

Remember we're talking about uploads, not downloads. Just because your download speeds might be fast enough to watch Netflix streaming from the internet, it doesn't necessarily mean your upload speeds are fast enough when you're trying to send data to the internet.

The Nest Cam has a lot of impressive features but its default upload speeds are ludicrous for Australian conditions, and that's just for single camera – Nest envisions you installing several around your home. Thankfully it's possible to dial down the Nest Cam video stream to 360p, only demanding 150 kbps uploads, but even that could be a major imposition in some homes.

Crunch the numbers

So what is Australia's average home fixed-line broadband upload speed? I went looking for figures, to settle an argument with someone who took umbrage with my Nest Cam review, but I couldn't find much so I decided to do my own back-of-the-envelope calculations using ABS and NBN figures from December 2016.

Around 7.3 million Australian homes have fixed-line broadband, which the ABS defines as download speeds of at least 256 kbps (we can save arguments about this appalling definition for another day). Of these homes 4.7 million were on "DSL" in December, which incorporates ADSL1 and ADSL2+ as well as a smattering of premises on synchronous DSL services.

ADSL1 uploads are typically capped at 384 kbps, rising to around 1 Mbps for ADSL2+ (Optus throttles it to 820 kbps). So straight away that's 64 per cent of Australian homes on fixed-line broadband with no more than 1 Mbps upload at their disposal, before we even start to look at the other connectivity options.

Next you've got 1 million Australian homes still on the Telstra and Optus HFC cable networks. Telstra customers have access to 30/1 Mbps speeds unless they pay $30 p/m for the 100/2 Mbps speed boost, while all Optus cable homes appear to have access to 2 Mbps uploads. At least in theory, as cable is a fickle beast.

As of last December only 14,000 Australian premises had moved across to NBN HFC cable connections, potentially offering faster uploads, and the NBN cable rollout has accelerated this year.

Of course not all NBN users are keen on paying top dollar for the top speed tiers. NBN revealed this week that – across all last-mile technologies – around 30 per cent of NBN-connected premises are opting for the entry-level 12/1 Mbps plans. With 1.64 million premises on the NBN back in December, that's almost half a million with only 1 Mbps uploads.

All these DSL and 12/1 Mbps NBN customers combined add up to more than 70 per cent of Australian fixed-line connections relying on upload speeds of up to 1 Mbps. It rises closer to 75 per cent once you allow for the 30/1 Mbps Telstra cable connections.

Of course these are theoretical maximum speeds, your real world upload speeds will often be less than 1 Mbps depending on the state of broadband in your area.

Positive spin

You could fudge the numbers and calculate an "average" Australian upload speed across all fixed-line connections: based on the ABS and NBN figures it comes out at roughly 2.9 Mbps. That's being generous, assuming 75 per cent of Telstra/Optus cable customers have 2 Mbps uploads and every DSL home as 1 Mbps – we know some homes are stuck on slower ADSL1 but I don't have exact figures.

Saying that Australian homes have an average upload speed of almost 3 Mbps sounds a lot more impressive than acknowledging the fact that 75 per cent of homes are lucky to get 1 Mbps. It's the kind of spin we'll probably hear as more attention turns to Australia's lowly upload speeds.

As it stands, most Australians don't have a lot of upload bandwidth to spare when it comes to demanding smart home appliances. What fixed-line upload speed do you get at home and how do you put it to use?

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