NBN 101: The need for speed

A look at the trends in speeds and downloads over the Internet

This article is part of Computerworld Australia's NBN 101 series, in which we take a look at the arguments surrounding the fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) network, and dissect them one by one. The articles are meant to be an overview of the debates central to the national broadband network (NBN) to give you a grounding as more and more media outlets and commentators speak out on the project. We encourage people to take the discussion further in the comments section.

In our first article we took a look at how Australia’s NBN plan compares to the rest of the world. This time we strap in for a tour of speeds.

Note: This article doesn’t delve into the debate between wireless technologies (such as 4G technologies WiMAX and LTE) and optic fibre – we’ll be doing that in the next article. Instead, we aim to provide an overview of the general trends towards faster and faster speeds – or perhaps, more accurately, wider bandwidth.

The Trend

When you talk about speeds you really should be thinking how much, not just how fast. Advertised speeds for Internet connections really indicate how much data you can download at any one time; that’s why the NBN is referred to as ‘broad’-band as opposed to narrow band. Some even call it wide band.

So whether you have 1 megabyte (MB) travelling over a fibre optic network or 5MB, they both travel at the same speed over the actual glass in the pipes– i.e. each data packet travels at the speed of light. The difference is how much you can get through all the associated routing and switching equipment at one time, and the ability of this equipment to process the packets and hand them off to the next location, finally ending up at your target destination.

So the speed reflects how much data you are trying to download / upload at any one time. The same principles apply for whatever Internet technology you are using, whether it is satellite, wireless, fibre or DSL.

Now, this really is a highly simplified explanation of Internet speeds and there are a lot of factors that will come into play when trying to work out what speed you will actually receive that are beyond the scope of this article.

However, we can talk about what has been a very clear trend towards higher speeds and more downloads in Australia over the past 10 years; one that is reflected across the globe. It is this trend that informs a lot of the decision making behind investment in high-speed broadband networks. As part of the recently released NBN Implementation Study, co-authors KPMG and McKinsey & Company pointed to statistics provided by networking giant, Cisco, that global IP traffic in 2013 would be five times that in 2008, with the Asia-Pacific region having a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 42 per cent. It also noted the vendor predicts video traffic – which requires much higher bandwidth than text or audio – will account for 91 per cent of Internet traffic by 2013.

Now, Cisco does have vested interest in presenting this kind of research – the company has invested heavily in video conferencing platforms and video cameras, for example.

But other analyst and research firms agree. IDC recently produced a report claiming all the data created by consumers and businesses on earth - including video, audio, documents - will grow by 1.2 zettabytes, or 1.2 billion terabytes this year. By 2020, the analyst firm predicts the amount of this data will be 44 times as large as it was in 2009.

There are any number of reports available from both reputed international organisations like the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to ICT-specific analyst firms like Gartner and network operators like Akamai, that show similar results. In short, there is little question the amount of data we consume and create is increasing at dramatic levels, and the consensus is this will continue for the foreseeable future.

One really simple example of the growth in video traffic is the five-year old YouTube, which now claims 2 billion views per day. That is vastly more than the top three US TV networks combined. Additionally, the company claims 24 hours of video content is uploaded to the site every minute. While most of this is still low definition content, YouTube does increasingly have more and more, higher-bandwidth content in high definition.

Tags Internet speedsNBN arguments 101National Broadband Network (NBN)NBN

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Im still trying to get my head around the fact that 90-93% of people will get the option of 100Mbps on glass cable but us rural people will be getting "UP TO" please not the "UP TO" as its not guaranteed 12 Mbps via wireless or satellite .... thats equality ?????
Hell they cant even promise 12 Mbps to the rest of us.

by the way im about 6-8km line of sight from an adsl enabled exchange but no adsl nor will there ever be! telstra has a tower about half a k further up the road but its only 3Mbps max
and lets face it price- speed - reliability - wireless = FAIL
wireless is not and can not at the present time be considered a cost worthy and reliable connection to the rest of the world for underprivileged people outside the current NBN 100Mps proposed footprint
I understand the to some degree the difficulties faced but why should we pay more for an inferior product with an inferior download speed and download limits
sorry for the rant but it is a real concern



Marvin sympathise entirely, imagine what you would have been getting, if project Opel had not been cancelled by Conroy.
And at present, the so called NBN boffins, have not come up with a strategy for the last 16% of the regionals and bush.
Some comms revolution, a revolution that will not go ahead!



The transmission speed through the medium is not relevant.

But, for the record, signals travel at approx 0.67 * speed-of-light, through an optical fibre.

Physical transmission speed through copper and air is faster than fibre, approx speed of light.

Politicians talk up fibre with speed-of-light statements, but it's just rubbish.

Ken Hall


I'm grateful for the Government for providing me/us with satellite service, but we pay $65.95 for 4 gig on on peak, and 8 gig on off peak at 512/256 then we are shaped at 64kbps. Shaping should never be set in this stone age at 64kbs but at 128kbps. You have to remember dial up was 52kbps but the sad fact is with Satellite they only have to provide 60% of the speed at the best of the time. Go do the maths??? high time shaping was set at 128kbps and increase the gigs from 4 on on peak to at least 10 and 20 on off peak for the same money. Highly over priced. But the other question is, is the internet a want or a need. Food first in these tough times.



Tough titties Marvin. You wanna live in the bush where land is cheap and life is bucolic. But you also wanna have the same internet connection we get in the city.

If you bought into St Kilda you'd probably start to complain that the Government ought to subsidise a few hundred acres for you to live in.

Everyone faces trade-offs, and they're not impossible to anticipate.

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TPG presence won't stop NBN Co installing FTTB equipment