Australia's Akamai ranking has nothing to do with the NBN

Are we going up, down or sideways?

19 Reg comments Got Tips?

There's never any shortage of ways for Australia to feel inadequate about its broadband performance, and speed comparisons are a perennial favourite.

With Akamai's latest State of the Internet report hitting the Internet at the end of last week, Australians are in for another bout of soul-searching: while our year-on-year average download speeds increased somewhat, other countries are moving ahead faster, so our comparative performance fell.

Here's a quick-and-dirty rundown of the numbers: Australia fell to 44th place on both average connection speeds (6.9 Mbps) and average peak connection speeds (36 Mbps), and while these speeds were up on a year-by-year basis (25 per cent and 22 per cent, respectively), both speeds were slower than in the previous quarter.

The number of connections here above 10 Mbps rose over the year (76 per cent) but fell over the quarter (-6.5 per cent), putting Australia at 40th globally, and the number of connections above the 4 Mbps mark puts us at 47th place (even though 66 per cent of connections, according to Akamai, now rate above that speed).

In the above-15 Mbps class, the performance was a little better, with Australia in 36th place, and a year-on-year growth of 85 per cent in spite of a quarter-on-quarter fall of 13 per cent.

All of which will surely sow confusion among broadband consumers and commentators alike. Why would there be such conflicting results – and in particular, why would the number of connections fall in a quarter while growing over the year?

For example, both the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian drew an association between the Akamai results and the NBN rollout.

That's a natural assumption to make, but it misses an important point: Akamai isn't measuring the notional speed of a service connected, but rather the download speed across the end-to-end connection between its servers and the end user.

To count the number of subscribers at different advertised speed tiers, the authoritative source is the Australian Bureau of Statistics (here). That shows more than two-thirds of Australia's fixed broadband connections are notionally greater than 6 Mbps.

However, that's not a predictor of a user's performance, because different ISPs deliver different service levels, and because there's a seasonality in traffic behaviour.

Australians didn't suddenly disconnect from high-speed services between one quarter and the next: rather, for some reason, users experienced a slow-down in the entire Australian Internet between Q2 and Q3 2014.

Almost none of the possible reasons for this, however, have that much to do with the NBN. It's far more likely, for example, that Australia's international connectivity was constrained in some way , or that a major ISP ran into capacity issues during the quarter. ®

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