Steps taken by Australia’s NBN Co and service providers meant that broadband speeds and connectivity held up well during May 2020 despite a big increase in the use of video conferencing and streaming services due to COVID-19.
The recently released Australian Competition & Consumer Commission’s Critical Services Report examines the ability of NBN fixed-line broadband connections to support video-conferencing through Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Webex, Zoom and GoToMeeting.
“Now the NBN roll-out has reached the majority of Australians, it is timely to look at the integral role broadband has played in supporting Australians at this critical time,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said. “This report details how well NBN broadband services held up during May when Australians were increasingly dependent on video-calling for work, education and connecting with family and friends because of the pandemic.”
Video conferencing applications hosted in Australia connected more quickly than those hosted overseas, the report shows. Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and Skype used Australian-based servers, and performed better due to lower latency, while GoToMeeting, Webex and Zoom recorded latency ten-times higher, or worse, due to their servers being located in Singapore, the Netherlands and United States, respectively.
Consumers in Western Australia enjoyed the lowest latency using Skype due to Skype being hosted on local servers, while slower test results for Google Meet and Microsoft Teams in WA are consistent with those servers being hosted on the East Coast.
The report also finds that streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube were typically downloading faster in May 2020 than during February 2020.
“NBN Co’s decision at the outset of COVID-19 restrictions in March to offer retail service providers 40 per cent extra network capacity for no extra cost was a major factor in preserving the quality of broadband services for consumers,” Mr Sims said.
Service providers put in place various mitigations to alleviate pressure and congestion on broadband networks. That included Retail Service Providers (RSPs) provisioning more network capacity, and streaming providers, such as Youtube and Netflix, reducing their picture quality.
“The faster broadband speeds in the report show the NBN could have delivered more streamed content in May 2020, which is good news for consumers as streaming providers move to restore their usual picture quality,” Mr Sims said.
“The report also shows that the video conference platforms work equally well across both NBN 50 and NBN 100 plan speeds.”
Results from seven of the eight RSPs tested were used for the video streaming analysis. MyRepublic was excluded from the aggregate analysis as its results varied significantly from the other RSPs due to its different network topology. All collected data concerns test communications that were initiated by the Measuring Broadband Australia (MBA) testing device, which does not involve monitoring or logging user activity.
The ACCC will release further Critical Service Reports, as well as the regular in-depth quarterly MBA report, later in 2020.