NBN speeds recover after COVID-19 demand

A wifi modem

NBN speeds and performance declined as Australians followed social distancing instructions to stay home due to COVID-19, but picked up following measures by NBN Co and streaming providers.

The ACCC today released its first new monthly Measuring Broadband Australia report which tracks NBN network performance from February to April 2020.

The report shows a recovery in network performance, principally due to NBN Co’s move to offer retail service providers (RSPs) 40 per cent extra network capacity for free. Average download speeds on NBN Co’s 50 Mbps and 100 Mbps speed tiers had dropped by 14 per cent and 23 per cent, respectively, before this move.

“Broadband services have experienced unprecedented demand during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many people and small businesses have been working from home and making increased use of telehealth, online learning and other services,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

“The most recent data from our Measuring Broadband Australia volunteers shows daytime NBN speeds have not been impacted by this additional demand, and evening speeds are mostly holding up well.”

Measures adopted by streaming providers have also helped other online applications to perform well during the busy evening hours but led to a reduction in picture quality for viewers. 

The ACCC’s own analysis shows average upload speeds performed to levels similar to pre-pandemic.

The ACCC also released its ninth regular Measuring Broadband Australia quarterly report, containing in-depth performance results from testing carried out in February 2020, before the COVID-19 related surge in demand.

The report shows, for the first time, how different NBN plans perform in streaming popular video content from Netflix and YouTube.

It demonstrates that higher priced NBN100 services are not generally required to support many households’ consumption of streaming services, and that in most cases an NBN50 service is sufficient. A 100 Mbps plan is around $20 more than a 50 Mbps plan.

“These results should prompt consumers to consider whether they actually need to pay extra for a higher-priced plan, or whether a cheaper plan could meet their needs,” Mr Sims said.

“Consumers should consult RSPs’ key facts sheets which set out what plans are most suitable for using popular online services. If consumers are still uncertain what plan they require they can start on a lower speed plan and move up to a premium higher speed plan if and when they need to do so,” added Mr Sims.

The report also shows Australia’s fixed NBN connections achieved average download speeds of about 85 per cent of their maximum possible speeds during the busy evening hours of 7 pm to 11 pm in February.

Across all NBN 25 Mbps plans and above, RSPs achieved scores of between 82.5 and 87.0 per cent, while Optus recorded the highest score of 89.3 per cent. These results are an improvement for most RSPs on the download speeds in the previous MBA report which were based on November 2019 data.

Vodafone, included for the first time in the quarterly figures, achieved results comparable to other RSPs.

“One positive development we have observed is more end users on underperforming services are having their issues resolved,” Mr Sims said.

“We are seeing improvements with a higher proportion of NBN plans on FTTN connections achieving full speeds, however, one in five consumers on these connections are still paying for high speed 50 Mbps and 100 Mbps plans that are underperforming.”

The report shows overall results could have been between 1.1 percentage points and 4.2 percentage points higher if the issues causing poor performance, such as problems with the network connection at the customer’s premise, had been addressed.

“We encourage NBN Co and RSPs to build upon their initial gains so that many more FTTN customers can also receive the speeds of the plans they pay for,” Mr Sims said.

NBN services continue to outperform ADSL services across a range of measurements. Consumers on NBN 25 Mbps plans received an average download speed of 22.5 Mbps in the busy hours, while those on ADSL services delivered just 7.3 Mbps.

In this COVID-19 environment, the ACCC is encouraging more Australians to volunteer to participate in the Measuring Broadband Australia program.

“This pandemic crisis has meant home broadband has become even more critical to Australians in their work, education and leisure activities,” Mr Sims said.

“As more Australians sign up, the more transparency and information we can provide about broadband experiences the better for consumers.”

Broadband customers can apply to be a volunteer at measuringbroadbandaustralia.com.au.

The ACCC has recently published guidance for consumers who are experiencing reduced speeds or poor performance and the steps they can take to improve their home broadband experience.

Consumers experiencing telecommunications issues during the COVID-19 crisis can also find more information at: Telecommunication services

ACCC Media Release 100/20

Media enquiries: Media team – 1300 138 917