While TV manufacturers push ever-crisper displays and lavish cinema lands on Netflix, regional Australians face the prospect of “pixelated” evening video streams for the foreseeable future.
- New minimum speed target for NBN fixed wireless barely enough for HD content
- NBN Co chief admits he doesn’t have the money to increase it
- ACCC hopes to expand speed monitoring program to cover fixed wireless
NBN Co has increased its minimum speed target for its fixed wireless network this year to deliver 6Mbps download speeds during evenings, up from 3Mbps previously.
But regional Australians experiencing connection speeds at or slightly above this threshold will be unlikely to enjoy sharp pictures on Foxtel or Stan, based on speeds required by major streaming providers:
- Netflix ultra high definition: 25Mbps
- Stan ultra high definition: 15Mbps
- Stan full high definition: 7.5 Mbps
- Foxtel Now high definition: 7Mbps
- Netflix basic high definition: 5Mbps
- Stan basic high definition: 4.5Mbps
Televisions sold today typically offer ultra high definition displays, and even the latest iPhone can display video at full high definition.
Although NBN plans are advertised with speeds such as 25Mbps or 50Mbps, performance on fixed wireless drops in the evening — highlighting the importance of this minimum target.
NBN Co chief executive Bill Morrow told a parliamentary committee last week that every cell from now on would be engineered to offer a minimum of 6Mbps.
“We don’t have the money to invest in this to take it above 6Mbps but we feel that that is at least an improvement from where it is,” he said.
“Given that it is an uneconomical area to serve, and given the business model that we have, we feel this was the right balance.”
The politics of bush broadband
Stephen Jones, Labor’s regional communications spokesperson, said people would have to get used to “pixelated” pictures until NBN Co increased the threshold.
“If we are struggling now to meet basic consumer need, it is only going to get worse.”
He declined to identify what Labor would do to improve fixed wireless speeds if the party won the next federal election until the NBN Co revealed the full extent of congestion.
A spokesman for Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said that only a small group of fixed wireless cells were experiencing congestion and accused Labor of underestimating the demand for broadband in regional areas when they were in Government.
NBN Co, he claimed, was “prudently planning to manage future demand so that all fixed wireless users can make the most of the available network capacity”.
Currently around 6 per cent of fixed wireless cells are falling short of the 6Mbps threshold.
Mr Morrow said the 6Mbps threshold was set based on predicted take-up over the next five years and estimated it would cost $1 billion to increase the minimum speed to 12Mbps.
The fixed wireless network is facing increased scrutiny following NBN Co’s decision to cancel a plan to offer 100Mbps plans on fixed wireless.
Last week, Sean Riordan from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said his organisation had held discussions with the Government about expanding its fixed line speed monitoring program to the fixed wireless network.
He noted there was “nervousness” from the retailers about this possible expansion.
Mr Morrow also revealed last week that NBN Co was investigating a fair use policy to address congestion during peak times.
Approximately 600,000 homes are in the NBN’s fixed wireless footprint, mostly in small towns and semi-rural areas.