It was a relatively small part of my piece in the Age yesterday but this has garnered lots of chatter:
I’m sitting here in the US at the moment on a 100Mbps maximum speed . But if I look at a website in Melbourne, my speed drops to 2Mbps. That is pretty much the maximum you will get from Australia to much of the internet, regardless of the theoretical maximum of your provider. This is because a key bottleneck is our submarine fibre link rather than our backbone network, or even the last mile.
It is worthwhile unpicking this. Broadband speeds and especially the user experience of those speeds is a function of a ton of stuff but is driven by an O-Ring quality. You will recall that the space shuttle Challenger blew up because a relatively minor component, an O-Ring, froze and broke. For broadband, your speed is limited by the weakest link.
At the moment, the weakest link for most people is their distance from the exchange unless you don’t even have ADSL in which case it is something else. Fibre to the Node and to the Home would alleviate that weakest link.
However, when I was in Australia, I was blessed with Australia’s fastest residential internet connection provided by Big Pond Cable Extreme. I received measured speeds of over 40Mbps but sometimes more. However, when I accessed overseas sites, it dropped to 2Mbps. By the way, for YouTube or a video download, that really wasn’t a constraint at all. I had to wait a little longer. Now there are issues of shared connections and network configuration and so I suspect you might be able to squeeze some more out of this with an NBN in Australia but the point is that the weakest link will soon become our overseas connections.
Now one thing to note is that this can be solved by moving the data. Data centres often play the role of hosting content locally. So that may come with the NBN because there would actually be a point to that. But if you are looking to have high definition video communications or things that might rely on it (like some fanciful remote surgery!) the interconnectivity issue will be there.
The question is: why? I have been contacted by some industry experts who claim to me that the capacity is, in fact, there and it is a puzzle as to why our overseas connectivity speeds are low. As I noted yesterday, it works both ways. Australia is isolated from the rest of the world. Thankfully, the only thing for which that would really matter for me is ABC News video and they block me from looking at it for ‘copyright reasons.’ (Hey, Mark Scott, I am still paying taxes and voting Mark Scott!)
I’ve asked these questions for years and have never received a satisfactory answer. Someone out there knows the truth but not even the Government has been willing to investigate even though at present it looks like crippling the NBN. I have long suspected that international carrier arrangements were to blame. They are still possibly high cost and local carriers possibly cripple overseas speeds to save on those costs.
One reason why that might be the case is that this phenomenon is not confined to Australia. Over the fold, you can see my results for a variety of countries including between the gold class network I am sitting on here in Cambridge (MA) and Japan and South Korea. You judge for yourself whether this is an issue worthy of official clarification.
Finally, I note, as always, that this is an issue because the Government refuses to consider the NBN as anything but broadband and is not structuring competition policy nor its own public policy to ensure the NBN becomes more.
To Silicon Valley
To South Korea