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Kiwis love being connected to the internet. The World Internet Project New Zealand 2017 found 94% of the population used the internet.
In its broadband performance testing in New Zealand topic paper, the Commerce Commission said at least 82% of New Zealand households had a broadband connection, and there were more options available to consumers than ever before.
"We spend more than $1.2billon a year on broadband bundles to get this connectivity. However, many consumers find broadband baffling."
Products and pricing could be complex and in-home performance could be hard for consumers to measure.
Traditional fixed-line broadband use for households had developed from web browsing and emailing to now commonly including activities such as streaming video, video calling and virtual reality gaming, the commission said.
Despite the availability and importance of broadband for consumers, the factors determining good broadband performance were not well understood.
Unlike buying a tangible product such as a fridge, it was often harder for consumers to know and compare options of what exactly they were purchasing in a broadband connection.
Differences in broadband technology and terms such as throughput, latency, and even speed could often be overwhelming for consumers to engage with — as well as potentially misleading.
The commission said the aim of its broadband performance testing was to provide consumers with accurate, accessible and independent information on broadband performance across different providers, plans and technologies to help them choose the best broadband for their household.
"Shining a light on broadband performance also helps make broadband better across the board, by allowing comparisons between providers and encouraging providers to compete on performance and not just price."
On May 30 this year, the commission announced a new provider for its independent broadband performance testing. SamKnows ran testing in more than 40 countries on behalf of communications regulators and retail service providers.
Collectively, SamKnows testing programmes covered nearly half of the world’s internet population. SamKnows expected to start reporting on New Zealand broadband performance testing from October this year.
There were many different factors that could affect broadband performance when using the internet to perform a particular task, but there were essentially three main factors determining the consumer experience, the commission said.
They were. —
• How quickly the required connection or connections could be set up.
• The speed at which data could be sent over the connection or connections.
• How far the data had to travel.
Of the many factors affecting how broadband was performing, some were the broadband provider’s responsibility and some consumers might be able to improve themselves.
Consumers could test the notional download and upload speeds of their broadband service by going to a generic speed test site like www.speedtest.net.
The commission said the tests worked by dumping a relatively large amount of data down and then up the connection pipe.
Retail service providers generally ensured speed test connections traversed as little of the network as possible by minimising restrictions to give the best possible result.
"A generic speed test is like connecting a hose pipe to a large tank close by and measuring how fast water flows through the pipe. This usually gives an impressive headline speed but often bears little resemblance to the speed experienced in most real life uses of a broadband connection."
There had been noticeable improvements in the performance of broadband services since 2007 when the commission first started testing.
Download speeds had been the most consistently measured metric in the 10 years the commission had been testing broadband performance, and the most easily understood. Consistently higher download speeds allowed for more people in each household to stream video at a higher quality.
TrueNet’s testing showed the range of average in-home speeds experienced by Kiwis on fibre, cable and VDSL technologies had all improved markedly in ranges of speed between 2013 and 2017, the commission said.
Although ADSL speeds only improved marginally, many consumers who were on ADSL had been upgraded to VDSL — which was capable of much higher speeds — in the same period.
There were several reasons for the improvements in broadband over time, including improvements at all points in the network. Some had been driven by retail service providers and some by wholesale network providers.
Retail service providers could influence performance, the commission said.
On the customer end of the network, improvements in broadband performance could come from upgrades to the customer premises equipment, such as modems and routers provided to consumers.Improvements in performance had also come from upgrades to the part of the network that retail services providers controlled, the commission said. That could be seen from decreased peak hour congestion.
Retail service providers could manage the broadband traffic over their part of the network to improve broadband performance. When retail service providers effectively managed traffic congestion on the network, consumers experienced better broadband performance.
"Differentiating traffic can allow retail service providers to make plans available for different price points to customers."
Disruptions to the market — such as the arrival of Netflix in New Zealand — had affected performance, but retail service providers recovered from the disruption by improving the operation of their networks.
Broadband monitoring helped to raise the visibility and understanding of such events and made the information accessible to consumers to make informed choices, the commission said.
AT A GLANCE
• The Commerce Commission and SamKnows are seeking 3000 households to be part of a new nationwide broadband testing programme.
• Once selected, volunteers will be provided with a Whitebox — similar to a modem — to plug in at home.
• The Whitebox will perform automated tests on a home’s internet performance at different times of the day. It will not record any personal information or browsing history.
• Checks are performed to ensure it does not interfere with volunteers’ internet activities.
• Some broadband data will be used to conduct testing.
• Volunteering details are at www.measuringbroadbandnewzealand.com