Mon, 13 Jul 2020 - 14:34
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Australians well served by NBN as data demand grows

The majority of Australians have relied on the National Broadband Network (NBN) to continue working, studying and socialising from the comfort of their own homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

83 per cent of respondents to a recent survey said they could not have completed their jobs without fast internet; more than two-thirds said they expected to work from home more often after the pandemic has ended. NBN traffic has been up as much as 70 per cent during work hours since social distancing requirements came into effect. This shows how much Australians have needed the NBN during this time; and pleasingly the network has stood up well to this sharp increase in traffic levels.

Our government’s NBN rollout strategy, deploying a multi-technology mix, has allowed us to roll out the NBN much more quickly than the original plan we inherited in 2013.  That decision has been strongly vindicated by the unexpected arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. If we had still been using the old plan, which rolled out the network over a considerably longer time period, millions of Australians would have been unable to access the NBN during this period.

One thing we know about broadband demand is that it does not stand still.  We will continue to upgrade the NBN in line with emerging demand over coming years.

New research by the Bureau of Communications and Arts Research (BCAR) forecasts peak household demand for bandwidth – the rate at which data is transferred – is set to more than double over the next decade.

In 2018, 95 per cent of Australian households had peak bandwidth demand of up to 24 megabits per second (Mbps) or less. This is forecast to rise to up to 56 Mbps in 2028. All of the fixed line technologies available on the NBN are capable of delivering these speeds.  Once all services on Telstra’s old copper network cease operating (which in turn allows NBN services to be turned up to maximum speed without causing interference), 90 per cent of fixed line premises will have access to 50 Mbps and 70 per cent will have access to 100 Mbps.

For customers connected using fibre to the node (FTTN), the median attainable speed today is around 77Mbps.  FTTN can deliver speeds of up to 100 Mbps depending on a user’s distance from the node. As NBN Co makes the transition to being an operating business, it will be part of its normal commercial operations to plan, design and fund network upgrades which will lead to increased speeds available to users.

The BCAR’s research shows that household data demand is forecast to increase almost fourfold over the next decade, increasing from 199 gigabytes per month in 2018, to 767 gigabytes in 2028, representing an annual growth rate of 14 per cent. The main factors behind this will be video streaming and the uptake of higher resolution formats, such as 4K and 8K television, as well as streamed gaming and virtual reality.

For small businesses, bandwidth demand is forecast to see a smaller rise – about 1.5 times – driven by increased use of video streaming, file transfers and web browsing. Those industries that provide guest Wi-Fi, such as education and accommodation, are forecast to have the greatest bandwidth demand among small businesses.

The higher growth rate for data demand reflects two trends that are continuing — increased time spent online using applications such as video calling, streamed video, software downloads and web browsing as well as use of more data-rich applications such as higher resolution video streaming.

The BCAR research is the second in its series tracking bandwidth demand.  BCAR will continue to monitor whether the usage patterns seen as a result of COVID-19 will become more permanent.

The NBN faced a real test as demand jumped sharply with the pandemic – and it came through the test and delivered for Australians when they needed it most.  We have all changed our behaviour in this period, doing more things more often online.  The national broadband network is the foundation on which our nation’s large and growing digital economy rests. Australians will look to the NBN more and more in coming years – and the network will be there to meet their needs and to grow in capacity as those needs grow.

Read the full BCAR report here.