Technology Analysis

It's confirmed: Fibre offers the best NBN infrastructure

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

A new ACCC report has confirmed what many have known for years, that Fibre to the Premises offers the most reliable broadband for your buck. Paul Budde reports.

TWENTY YEARS after people like me started to argue for fibre-based broadband infrastructure and 15 years after the Government decided that fibre was the best technology for 94% of all Australians, we now get confirmation that Fibre to the Premises (FttP) is the best technology.

Additionally, some eight years after Independent MP Tony Windsor mentioned, “Do it once, do it right and do it with fibre,” we see that this sentiment holds true. Better late than never.

This became clear in a recent report from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) which underscored the superiority of FttP broadband connections in terms of reliability. The ACCC's Measuring Broadband Australia report highlights that households with FttP experience significantly fewer outages compared to those using other National Broadband Network (NBN) fixed-line technologies such as Fibre to the Node (FttN) and Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC).

Outage frequency

The report reveals a stark contrast in outage frequency among different NBN connection types. FttN connections, despite making up 34% of NBN fixed-line connections, accounted for nearly half (48%) of the services experiencing daily outages. In comparison, FttP connections, representing 36% of the connections, accounted for only 12% of such outages. This significant disparity highlights the enhanced stability that FttP offers to consumers.

ACCC Commissioner Anna Brakey emphasised the importance of addressing frequent outages and suggested that consumers experiencing these issues should contact their broadband providers. They may be eligible for an FttP upgrade or could use mobile backups to maintain service continuity during outages.

Latency and packet loss

In addition to outage frequency, the ACCC report also assessed latency and packet loss — two critical factors affecting broadband quality. Latency, the time it takes for data to travel from a user's device to a server and back, averaged 10.7 milliseconds across all NBN fixed-line connections. Packet loss, the failure of data packets to reach their destination, averaged 0.16%.

FttP connections stood out by recording the lowest average latency and packet loss, with minimal variation between households. This consistency suggests that FttP is particularly suited for applications requiring low latency and minimal packet loss, such as online gaming and video conferencing. High latency and packet loss can cause significant disruptions, but the stability of FttP mitigates these issues, ensuring a smoother online experience for users.

Download speeds

The ACCC report also marked a milestone for Telstra, which recorded the highest average download speed during peak hours (7-11 PM) for the first time. NBN fixed-line connections on the Telstra network achieved an average download speed of 102.3% of plan speed during these busy hours. This performance underscores Telstra's ability to meet and exceed consumer expectations even during high-demand periods.

Across all retail service providers, the average busy hour download speed for NBN fixed-line connections was 99.8% of plan speed, a slight improvement from the previous quarter's 99.3%. The proportion of underperforming services dropped to 4.1%, the lowest in the history of the ‘Measuring Broadband Australia’ program. However, FttN connections still exhibited a higher rate of underperformance compared to other types.

Consumer recommendations and future outlook

The ACCC encourages consumers facing frequent outages or underperformance to reach out to their broadband providers. Options such as upgrading to FttP or employing mobile backups can significantly enhance the reliability of their internet service.

The ACCC's ongoing efforts to include more retail service providers and emerging broadband technologies in its monitoring program aim to provide a comprehensive view of the evolving market. The organisation is also considering the inclusion of satellite services like NBN Sky Muster and Starlink in future reports, reflecting the growing diversity in broadband options available to Australian consumers.

As mentioned — better late than never. The ACCC's ‘Measuring Broadband Australia’ report conclusively shows that FttP is the most reliable NBN connection type, offering fewer outages, lower latency and minimal packet loss. These findings provide a clear directive for consumers seeking a stable and efficient broadband service to consider FttP.

With Telstra achieving notable performance improvements and the overall market showing a trend towards better service delivery, the future of broadband in Australia looks promising.

Paul Budde is an IA columnist and managing director of independent telecommunications research and consultancy Paul Budde Consulting. You can follow Paul on Twitter @PaulBudde.

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