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Three charts on Australia’s growing appetite for fast broadband

The number of fibre connections increased to more than 1.4 million connections, which is an increase of 122% in the year between December 2015 and December 2016. AAP Image/Lukas Coch

Three charts on Australia’s growing appetite for fast broadband

The number of fibre connections increased to more than 1.4 million connections, which is an increase of 122% in the year between December 2015 and December 2016. AAP Image/Lukas Coch

This piece is part of our new Three Charts series, in which we aim to highlight interesting trends in three simple charts.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ latest figures on internet activity in Australia show a huge jump in the number of people with advertised speeds of greater than 24 Mbps (that’s megabits per second, a measure of data transfer speed).

That trend is significant because it suggests that Australia’s appetite for faster broadband is growing apace, and that the NBN may be helping to drive adoption of higher speed internet.

Starting from Dec 2014, the number of subscribers in Australia with internet advertised as being capable of 24 Mbps or greater rose from 2.3 million to 7.8 million. Or, expressed another way, from 19% of all internet subscribers to 58% of all subscribers.

(It’s worth noting that the growth is in people who have signed up to packages that advertised internet speeds capable of reaching 24 Mbps. That’s not to say that speed is actually delivered all of the time; there is variation and one doesn’t always get the advertised speeds.)

This increase is due, in part, to the roll-out of the national broadband network (NBN) and access to broadband at higher speeds – but that’s not the whole story.

True, the number of NBN subscribers over the same period rose rapidly from 322,000 to 1.7 million but that doesn’t explain the other 5.5 million subscribers who moved to faster broadband in that time.

Looking at the types of connection, there was an increase in the number of subscribers using internet delivered by fibre and fixed wireless. This tallies with what NBN data show.

It’s likely that with the advent of the NBN and its standardised speed tiers, internet service providers started offering services that were on a par or better than those being offered on the NBN. Competition may be at work, and the technology itself is improving.

However, data reported by cloud computing services firm Akamai in their State of the Internet reports – frequently cited by the press – showed Australia’s broadband to be woefully behind most other developed countries.

Indeed, in the same time that Australia saw a huge increase in subscribers on internet speeds of 24 Mbps and above, Akamai was reporting that average internet download speeds had increased by a mere 27%, an increase to an underwhelming 10.1 Mbps. That puts Australia down the list in terms of average speeds.

With ABS data showing that 58% of the population is now on plans capable of delivering speeds of 24 Mbps and above, such a paltry rise in the average internet speed is somewhat surprising.

It is, of course, possible that the advertised speeds of Australian internet plans are, too often, misrepresenting the true speeds available.

The way that Akamai calculates its figures is not spelled out in its report – it says that it “includes data gathered from across the Akamai Intelligent Platform”. So perhaps it would be wise to take claims about Australia’s rank in the world on internet speeds with a hefty grain of salt. Things may be better than we are being told.

More data is needed to make sense of the impact of the shift of subscribers to higher speed internet. Projects like the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s plan to “test and report on the typical speed and performance of broadband plans provided over the NBN” will help build a more accurate picture.