As the NBN rollout slowly lurches on, data communications over cellular networks continue to bound along, seemingly overtaking the capability of the network that should be the centrepiece of our country’s communications infrastructure. And there are plenty of people out there suggesting we won’t need the NBN once 5G is widely deployed. But that’s not quite how it will be.
It’s true that cellular data comms have become faster and cheaper over the years. I remember paying $90 after accidentally leaving a 2G connection open overnight back in about 2001. Today, my mobile plan has more data than me and three of my kids can use in a month included in my plan.
Over the same time, we have moved from dial-up to ADSL and cable – thank goodness I’ve never had to deal with ADSL at home – and, soon I hope, I’ll have something even faster.
The reality is fixed and wireless services are in an ongoing game of leap frog when it comes to speed. However, while wireless data costs have come down, they are still far higher than fixed broadband costs.
Looking at data published by Ookla, from people using their Speedtest app, we see that cellular comms in Australia are way faster than fixed connections. But, that data includes lots of people who are using ADSL-based technologies. As more people move to the NBN, even under the government’s multi-technology mix strategy, that differential will narrow.
What we will see is people will use the connection technology that best suits their situation. When at home or in the office, a fixed connection makes more sense as the performance will be at least as good or better than cellular and it will cost a lot less. When they’re mobile, a cellular connection makes sense as it’s easier to access and people will, at least for the foreseeable future, be prepared to pay for the convenience of mobile data access.
When you’re discussing our broadband situation with someone over the barbecue, bar or kitchen table, it’s important to understand that not all technology is equal, even if it might look that way at a cursory glance.