The ACCC have broken out their NBN service speedometers and are testing the real-world performance of major network providers.
The report includes technical quality measures, including latency and packet loss, and highlights the average download speeds for NBN 100/40Mbps, NBN 50/20Mbps, NBN 25/5Mbps and ADSL.
If you’re not quite sure what that all means, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
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Translating the tech talk
Service speeds are expressed in megabits per second (Mbps) and the two numbers – 100/40 or 50/20, etc. – refer to downloads and uploads respectively. There are pipes behind every NBN connection and, generally, higher numbers mean a wider pipe and faster connection. At least, in theory.
“There’s ‘theoretical speeds’ and ‘attainable speeds’,” says Henry Liddell, general manager of customer activations at Commander, “and all the network speeds advertised are theoretical because there are many factors that can impact it, such as old wiring.
“But you have a better chance of good speeds on the 100/40, because it has the biggest pipe and fewer people, whereas the 25/5, which used to be the most common service, had a lot of users and it’s a slower speed, so if there’s more impact it’s felt more dramatically than it would be on 100/40.”
Another way to discuss NBN speeds is in terms of ‘latency’, which describes how many milliseconds it takes for a data packet to travel from one network node to another. High latency can lead to frustration if your business uses streaming or video conferencing services.
Frequency of ‘packet loss’, where one or more of the data packets travelling along your network fails to reach its destination, can also impact these services.
The Netflix effect
As mentioned, there are a number of variables that can affect the quality of your NBN service. One is the bandwidth (i.e. transmission capacity) your retailer provides for the virtual circuit going from the equipment to the NBN network.
Then there is the type of technology available in your area and the condition of your local infrastructure. Fibre to the Node (FTTN) connections, for example, rely on existing copper wiring, which can impact your performance if it hasn’t been well maintained.
Another potential factor is how highly contended your patch is – that is, how many users are on the same network and how they’re using it.
“To keep the NBN at a competitive price, they have this thing called contention, where you share a port at the back of the box with a bunch of other people,” explains Stephen Leonard, founder and principal consultant at Geeks on Tap. “It’s a bit like getting on a bus, where there’s one driver and everybody is riding it together.
“But as a result, you get what we call the ‘Netflix effect’, where if a business has a high residential component sharing their network and they’re all on Netflix or transferring huge files up and down the NBN, the speed drops.”
So why do you need to know all of this? Simply because your internet connection can affect all areas of your business, and choosing the wrong plan or provider could put you on the back foot.
“We’re an ‘instant on’ society and we expect ‘instant on’ and if you don’t have the ability to deliver that you’re putting yourself at a loss with your competitors,” says Liddell. “Connectivity exists for every transaction, and for every enquiry – emails are important, transactions are important, real-time communication is important, and a slow service will unravel all of those.
“A good example is in retail business: if someone tries to make a payment with you and your online POS system is so slow that at times it doesn’t work, that’s going to impact the customer experience, it will be frustrating for both parties, and it may impact future business.”
For this reason, Commander, which also provides a dedicated option for voice-only services, has business plans at two speeds: fast or super-fast.
“We offer business plans of 100/40Mbps, which is our fastest NBN offering, and 50/20Mbps, which is the next tier down, because we want to ensure our customers will get a fast NBN service,” Liddell says. “Because speed of connection is everything – nobody wants to wait any more.”
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