Opinion: Broadband from the boondocks to the bus stops

A clear picture for the first time of broadband coverage in Godzone

The news is out. We can confirm that Eketahuna has broadband, and that it averages 910Kbit/s.

Thanks to the 9,671 users out there who have downloaded Epitiro’s measurement agent Isposure, we can begin to provide some interesting results on national, provincial and local broadband performance. From the boondocks of Manawatu to the bus stops of Auckland central, we have a clear picture for the first time of broadband coverage in Godzone.

For those statistically minded readers, two points to note; Auckland is significantly over-represented in our agent sample, and the Gisborne and Tasman regions are significantly under-represented. If anyone knows anyone living there, please send them the link to www.isposure.co.nz.

In the battle of the big city regions, Wellington does best (see Graph 1), with average line speed at 1.6Mbit/s. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that the other regions, with the exception of Waikato and to a lesser extent Otago, are not too far behind. The Waikato has the more rurally dispersed population, with Hamilton really the only city of significance in that region, yet with a much higher regional population than Dunedin.

A ping test reveals gamers (see Graph 2) are less likely to get wasted as a result of connection performance in Wellington, Waikato and Auckland; those of you battling in Christchurch should pick an opponent in Otago. Those of you in Otago, I’m afraid, are cannon fodder.

For readers attracted to the more sedate occupation of browsing (see graph 3), it’s a more level playing field, although Wellington and Auckland have a lead on the others. Otago, once again, doesn’t do so well.

So what does all this tell us? Well, as an analyst friend used to say to me, “It’s all relative”. You may remember that the recently released Digital Strategy targeted 90% of the population with speeds of 10Mbit/s or greater by 2012.

Having reviewed our data in detail, and particularly to the next level of geographic granularity, created a colour map of performance around the country, and considered the investment plans currently implemented, I don’t believe this will happen.

There’s just too much infrastructure that needs too much upgrading to get to that point.

A couple of things could prove me wrong. If the ISPs push the “Upgrade your modem to ADSL2+” message, a significant amount of consumers switch over, and Chorus completes its upgrade of 100% of exchanges, there’s a chance overall national performance will make a great leap forward. This won’t average out to 10Mbit/s to 90% of the population, but it will be a big step.

Having just upgraded all our 11 lab sites to ADSL2+, we have seen the impact on performance, although interestingly, the same old issue of contention rears its ugly head. As more lines convert to ADSL2+, the slower they all get. Too many lines coming on at once can cause the DSLAMs and modems to train to levels not far beyond normal ADSL. While I’m confident Chorus will be able to address these issues, a lot of it comes back to consumer education around CPE maintenance. Can someone convince me this isn’t the single biggest issue facing NGN deployment?

Once ADSL2+ has been fully deployed, and modem replacement has occurred, Isposure will make it easier to identify and target those regions, sub-regions and districts that are lagging. However, as I said last month, if you’re trying to make an economic case for broadband, I just don’t get the whole “all the country needs broadband ASAP” argument. We should be targeting those areas that can provide the most impressive value multiplier effect from the provision of fast internet.

And who knows, if the rot continues to spread through the global banking system, we may all find ourselves on government work schemes, out in the boondocks digging trenches for fibre. And at 910Kbit/s rubbing up against the Digital Strategy targets, I can tell you for sure Eketahuna will be a candidate for fibre. I’m just not convinced it’ll do much with it.

Cranna is managing director of broadband benchmarking company Epitiro Technologies in Australasia.

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