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Speed tests and the nbn™ access network: perfect or imperfect?

Originally published 21 February 2018, updated 28 November 2022 to reflect there are now various streaming services to chose from.

Many end users on the nbn™ broadband access network like to conduct speed tests to see how fast their connection is performing – but are these speed tests really a good indicator of what speeds you are getting?

Unsurprisingly, the answer to this question is not a simple one. Let’s unpack this to show you how your internet arrives at your home or business.

Firstly, speed tests are a great way for you to troubleshoot any connectivity issues you may be having with your in-home connection. They allow you to get visibility on the speed of the connection you have bought from your retailer at any given time.

They are also a great way to inform any conversations you might be having with your retailer about a) your connection and b) what your needs might be for more or less speed.

But the second and important point I’d like to make is that speed tests are not good at giving you a full picture of your service as there are many different variables that affect your service.

In fact, there are more than eight different links in the chain that carry your service to you. These eight links are pictured below, although it is worth noting that there are more technical things not discussed here that can also affect your connection.

As you might expect, NBN Co does not have control over all of these and neither does your retail service provider (RSP).

Some of the other very crucial parts of this supply chain include retailers such as Telstra, Vocus and Optus, browsers’ international links, website providers such as Google, and content providers such as video streaming services, to name but a few.

More than eight different links in the chain carry your service to you.

So where does NBN Co come into play?

The plain fact of the matter is that NBN Co controls and maintains a very narrow portion of the overall internet experience. We provide a service to your RSP. We design the nbn™ access network with the aim of minimising congestion at the network level where possible.

In essence, we provide the last (but very important) part of the connection, the physical connection and the logical connection by which your RSP provisions your service. This logical connection is principally split into two-parts – the Connectivity Virtual Circuit (CVC) and Access Virtual Circuit (AVC) constructs. We won’t go into these in this post however these are very important to the overall experience on the nbn™ access network.

What you experience at home is essentially a speed test application or content application, such as video streaming services, run on top of the nbn™ access network and your RSP’s network, as well as other provider’s networks and infrastructure that provide your end internet connection.

The plain fact of the matter is that NBN Co controls and maintains a very narrow portion of the overall internet experience. We provide a service to your RSP. And we strive every day to ensure that the nbn™ access network made available to your retail service provider is as congestion-free as possible.

For example, if there is not enough CVC capacity purchased on the nbn™ access network assigned to your connection there may be congestion, your experience may be affected and you may receive a sluggish speed test result.

Similarly, if you conduct a speed test at 6:30PM during peak usage time, then you will most likely have a slower speed than at 11:30AM when there are fewer users on your retailer’s network – although this still very much depends on how your retailer has provisioned your service.

Other factors that can affect the result you see in your speed test relate to elements in your home, such as the computer or device you are using, your Wi-Fi connection, the wiring in your house and even how current the version of your preferred web browser may be.

So where does that leave NBN Co?

As you can see in the picture above, we are one part of a very large and complex ecosystem that combines to deliver your in-home internet experience.

The industry itself has not done a great job in explaining how we connect you but the information is slowly starting to come to the fore, as NBN Co is doing with this blog and through a range of measures that explain our role in the delivery of internet to your home and work.

For example, just like Chorus – the major fixed broadband operator in New Zealand – we intend to publish to our RSP customers the congestion status of the nbn™ access network to be even more transparent.

In the foreground, our customers (your retailers) are also taking steps in relation to how they talk about the nbn™ access network with the community. Meanwhile, in the background, the regulators and government are working with the industry to ensure we deliver on these measures.

With all of this in mind, we are committed to working with phone and internet providers to help them provide Australians with great access to services, as well as transparency in relation to the role we play in that process.

This blog was updated on 23 February 2018 to further clarify the role of NBN Co in the connection process and your internet experience.

Last updated on 28 November 2022

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