The Australian consumer watchdog has called on NBN Co, the country’s National Broadband Network (NBN) builder, and its retail service providers (RSPs) to give customers on fibre-to-the-node (FttN) connections a hand to combat lethargic internet speeds.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has released its latest quarterly Measuring Broadband Australia report, which showed that the number of consumers experiencing underperforming broadband services has continued to slowly decline, falling to 7.7 per cent in December 2020.
This figure was 13.9 per cent when the ACCC first started measuring the proportion of underperforming services in May 2018.
However, the connections contributing to the 7.7 per cent of services that continued to underperform in December 2020 have technical limitations that prevent speeds from ever reaching the consumer’s maximum plan speed, with the NBN’s FttN network playing a notable role in the overall percentage.
“A significant proportion of fibre-to-the-node connections delivered maximum speeds below the maximum retail plan speed that the consumer has selected,” ACCC Commissioner Anna Brakey said.
“We encourage both NBN Co and retail service providers [RSPs] to help consumers on connections that do not perform to their plan speed.
“In many cases, these limited speeds are caused by modem or in-home wiring issues and can be fixed with a visit from a technician, or by moving consumers to lower and less expensive speed plans to ensure they receive the speeds they pay for,” she added.
The FttN network was a core element of the Coalition government’s multi-technology mix (MTM) approach to the NBN rollout, aimed at shortening the rollout time and reducing the network’s cost.
For the first time, the latest ACCC report provided an indicative view on the performance of the NBN fixed wireless network, which showed a marked decline in average speeds during peak evening hours in the final month of 2020.
In December 2020, consumers on NBN fixed wireless connections experienced average speeds of 78.5 per cent of maximum plan speed, but that declined to around 68.4 per cent of plan speed between 7pm and 11pm.
“Consumers on fixed wireless connections experienced quite good speeds during the daytime, but we observed a reduction from 5pm when the network is busier,” Brakey said.
“Despite the decline in speed, consumers on the fixed wireless network achieved sufficient speeds to access a range of internet applications during the busy evening hours,” she added.
It should be noted that NBN fixed-line connections and NBN fixed wireless connections utilise different technologies that are not directly comparable in terms of performance.
The quality and maximum speed of a fixed wireless connection is often more variable than fixed-line technology.
Around 4 per cent of NBN customers are served by NBN fixed wireless, typically in rural and regional areas, but it is also be used in some outer metropolitan centres.
Overall, NBN RSPs achieved between 85.0 and 98.9 per cent of maximum plan speeds across all fixed-line plans in the busy evening hours of 7-11pm in December 2020. This result is slightly higher than the previous report, which tested October 2020.
“In December, consumers received the highest overall speeds since the ACCC began monitoring broadband performance in 2018, and internet service providers delivered a higher percentage of maximum plan speeds in the busy evening hours,” Brakey said.