What does good broadband look like?
Having good broadband has been essential in 2020, and now with summer holidays around the corner, a reliable internet connection will again be key, particularly for those lucky ones who’ll be working from the bach.
But what does good broadband actually mean?
Like utilities, like power or gas, we like to think of broadband as just being broadband, with no noticeable difference in quality. But there’s actually several types of broadband depending on the network used, with huge variations in performance between each.
So the first step into defining what good broadband is, to understand the different types available:
1. ADSL & VDSL – fixed line broadband delivered over copper wires, the country’s original phone and broadband lines.
2. Fibre – fixed line broadband over the new ultra-fast fibre network, and New Zealand’s most popular broadband type.
3. Fixed wireless - broadband delivered by radio waves over the 4G mobile network
The next step is to assess how these different types stack up against each other. Fortunately the Commerce Commission carries out a regular report looking at this as it recognises just how dependent us Kiwis are on having good broadband to live and work now.
The latest Measuring Broadband report has just been released and looks at a range of criteria including:
- consistency (speed at peak times versus off peak times)
- latency (delay in data being received)
- capacity (how much bandwidth the connection can handle).
- The two fibre connections, Fibre 100 and Fibre Max, are unsurprisingly the fastest in the report with average download speeds anywhere between five times and 24 times faster than VDSL and Fixed wireless.
- ADSL – the old school type of copper broadband - is the slowest
- Most broadband types didn’t show much difference in speed between off-peak times and peak times (7pm 11pm typically)
- The exception was Fixed Wireless connections which had a 18% difference in speeds between peak and offpeak
- Latency is the delay for data to get from point A to point B and is measured in milliseconds.
- High latency is not good when it comes to online experience. According to the Commerce Commission latency above 30ms would cause stuttering and dropouts in latency-sensitive applications such as video calling/conferencing and gaming.
- The average latency for fixed wireless broadband was 47.3 ms for urban areas and 51.2 ms for rural areas. All the other broadband types were below 30ms.
- If talk about gaming specifically, online games require low latency between users machines and central servers hosting the game. Fixed wireless connections had latency figures twice that of fibre connections when playing Fortnite.
- An often-used Indicator of bandwidth capacity In the Measuring Broadband NZ report Is the ability of different broadband types to stream ultra high definition (UHD) video.
- Fibre plans can support UHD Netflix content nearly all the time.
- VDSL can run UHD content 89% of the time
- Fixed wireless connections surveyed could only do UHD 64% of the time
- For ADSL best stick to plain HD viewing as could only manage UHD 12% of the time.
So to revisit the question posed at the start of this blog, good broadband is an internet connection that ticks all the boxes in terms of speed, consistency, capacity and latency.
Fibre is the only broadband type that performs the best across all key criteria, which isn't surprising given it is the latest broadband technology available and the fibre network is at the heart of all telecommunications in this country.
VDSL copper broadband is seen as the next best alternative. Fixed wireless has its place too, providing fastish broadband but there will be trade-offs when it comes to consistency and reliability of service. As the Commission highlights that is because as data transmitted via radio waves, fixed wireless broadband connections can get congested depending on weather events and demand on the network at peak times.
As the earliest broadband technology available, ADSL is the slowest but being a fixed line connection hard wired to your home or office, it still performs better than fixed wireless when it comes to consistency and latency.