Not all broadband is created equal
The report cards are in – which broadband technology scores an A and which gets a C in latest Commerce Commission report?
Broadband is broadband right? I just buy whatever speed and bandwidth works for me, or what my service provider recommends and I’m away laughing?
Actually…no. The truth is, there can be a huge variation in the quality and performance of your broadband, depending on the network technology behind it.
Understanding broadband connection types
There’s broadband delivered via copper networks (ADSL and VDSL), broadband delivered by fibre optic cable (fibre) and broadband delivered via mobile phone/cellular networks (fixed wireless). The first three (ADSL, VDSL, Fibre) are fixed line technologies which means your home or office has a physical line dedicated to that address. Fixed wireless broadband on the other hand connects you via the closest cell phone tower, so you’re sharing the available bandwidth with others, meaning it can get congested depending on how many people are using it.
Knowing the difference is key as depending on what you are sold by your service provider, it can mean the difference between buffering Netflix programmes and delays in uploading documents, and doing whatever you want, whenever you want online without interruption.
To help, the Commerce Commission has a research programme that measures the quality of home broadband in New Zealand by network technology. The latest report has just been released shows how each of the types of broadband performs by speed, latency and video streaming capability.
Like cars, speed is a big indicator of broadband performance. The clear winner in this category was fibre, followed closely by VDSL. ADSL is the slowest on the Chorus network and a move to VDSL is encouraged where that’s available. Fixed wireless was seen as the most inconsistent.
- The fastest fibre plans had download speeds of 637 Mbps during peak periods which is 25 x faster than fixed wireless (23 Mbps) and 15 x faster than VDSL broadband (43 Mbps)
- ADSL was clearly the slowest at 9.1 Mbps for download
- Average speeds for most broadband types didn’t change between peak and non-peak, except fixed wireless which slowed down 14% at peak times.
- ADSL, VDSL and Fibre 100 deliver speeds broadly in line with those advertised.
- Fixed wireless excluded from the actual vs advertised speed comparison as fixed wireless plans don’t advertise speeds due to consistency issues
Discover how to test your broadband speed.
Latency (often referred to as ping) is how long it takes for your device to receive information. The lower the latency, the quicker the information arrives. You can also think of it as how responsive your internet connection is. Latency is usually measured in milliseconds, and while that seems like a short amount of time, even a few milliseconds slower can make a big different to your performance when what you’re doing requires a lot of data to be transferred – like when you’re gaming or streaming.
With this in mind, and the fact the report states latency above 30ms“would cause stuttering and dropouts in applications such as gaming or video calls” the below graph provides interesting insights on how fixed wireless broadband performs on latency compared to all other broadband types.
Learn how broadband speed is measured.
All technologies in the report were found to be delivering a good video streaming experience on basic High Definition (HD) video but variations emerged when it came to Ultra high Definition (UHD).
- Fibre is able to deliver UHD video streaming from Netflix over 99% of the time for multiple users in a household.
- Fixed wireless is able to deliver 4k UHD video streaming from Netflix 66% of the time.
- ADSL delivers HD video around 73% of the time and in UHD 17% of the time.
- Fixed wireless and VDSL generally not able to accommodate more than one UHD stream being played in a household
So, there we have it – the official word when it comes to the performance of the various broadband technologies in New Zealand. As a summary the report says:
- ADSL – “Remains suitable for traditional web browsing and basic video streaming (though not Ultra High Definition) for single-user households.” So a pass mark with a C.
- Fixed Wireless – “Offers higher download speeds than ADSL, however, due to the cellular technology used to deliver these services, latency or delay in data transfer is especially high meaning a stuttering performance.” Let’s call it a C+
- VDSL- “Is able to support more intensive internet usage for single-user households.” A solid B+ and a great option when fibre is not available.
- Fibre – “Is able to support Ultra High Definition streaming and other intensive internet applications, such as online gaming, for multi-user households.” So fair to say, an A.
As we said at the beginning – not all broadband is created equal!
Head to the Commerce Commission website to read the full report into Measuring Broadband in New Zealand.
You can also help with the research programme as the Commerce Commission still needs more volunteers, especially in Christchurch, Hamilton, and all rural areas. Go to Measuring Broadband New Zealand to take part.