The truth about Kiwi broadband

By Matt Greenop

Many of New Zealand's broadband providers are over-promising and under-delivering on line speed, according to a survey of readers.

A large number of subscribers are getting a lot less than they pay for, with some forking out for so-called broadband and being lumbered with not much more than dial-up pace.

The survey this week of nzherald.co.nz readers asked those with broadband to run a speedtest on their connections and then tell us the results.

It was conducted using Speedtest.net.

We asked readers to select the Auckland server and to run the quick test, then tell us the results.

Internet speed is affected by the amount of online traffic. Connection speed will slow down at busy times of day - like late afternoon - but will conversely be fastest at non-peak times.

The results, as shown below, do not reflect the promises that many ISPs make.

Realistically, internet users should expect a download speed of over 2 megabits per second at worst.

Many of those who commented at the time of the test were regularly recording results of less than 1Mbps.

Descriptions by readers of New Zealand as a "third world country" in broadband terms were not unusual.

iHug GM of technology, David Diprose, blamed Telecom's investment in the network for the provider's lacklustre results.

"All DSL broadband runs on Telecom's network and every ISP experiences problems with congestion in the backhaul (the backbone of the network)," he told nzherald.co.nz in a statement.

"Recent figures from the OECD put New Zealand's telco investment at below the international average and New Zealanders are not well served in this respect. The network is gridlocked in many areas and congestion is a major concern for all ISPs."

When asked if customers should be happy with with their connection speeds, he said: "The bulk of the respondents report download results between 300kbit/s and 3Mbit/s. This is in line with what we'd expect from Telecom's network given the current state of the backhaul and the congestion on the network."

However, Telecom said descriptions of New Zealand's broadband services as third world as "a huge exaggeration".

It quoted the OECD as saying: " \Broadband connections included in OECD data must have download speeds equal to or faster than 256 kbit/s."

The company said it had been increasing broadband investment, with capital expenditure in the year to June 30 2006 at $620 million, forecast to rise to $683 million in the year to June 30 2007.

It pointed out there had been a 400 per cent increase in traffic through its networks in the past two years.

"This volume has been especially fuelled by the advent of media-rich web content through sites such as YouTube and MySpace," it said in a statement.

Telecom said with an upgrade to maximum downstream speeds, "by far the majority" of broadband customers had received similar or faster speeds.

But it added: "It's an unfortunate but true factor of the technology that when you put everyone on maximum possible speeds, for some customers the speed unfortunately gets slower."

Solutions to that problem required hundreds of millions of dollars in investment, Telecom said.

To this end, it said it had begun introducing a new technology called ADSL2+ to exchanges in Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton, Christchurch and Dunedin.

Those exchanges accounted for about 50 per cent of all broadband lines connected via Telecom.

Telecom said consumers could find more information on Xtra's broadband connection speed and availability online.

Ihug's David Diprose said unbundling would enable to company to control the service it passes onto subscribers.

"Ihug is looking forward to the day we can unbundle and put our own equipment in the exchanges - then we can control the customer experience and deliver faster speeds and more certainty around capacity."

Telecom said it was working on unbundling alongside other providers and that development and implementation of services would begin after the Commerce Commission for the Standard Terms Determination process had been completed.

"Services covered will include LLU, Naked DSL and Naked Bitstream Access services," it said.

Provider Diprose questioned the speedtest.net test.

"Speedtest.net can produce surprising results - testing on the Auckland server can often produce results that are slower than testing on the Australian server, so we do expect some variability in the results there."

Wireless provider Woosh, which claims to deliver speeds up to 40 times faster than dial-up, while only 18.2 per cent of its customers logged test results in the 1500kb-3Mb range.

The survey's stars included TelstraClear, with its Wellington-region cable service, and Tauranga-based Netsmart. Both companies had the bulk of their subscribers over the 1.5Mb/s mark and many over the magical 3Mb mark.

Telcommunications User Association (TUANZ) chairman Merv Altments said New Zealand was lagging behind other countries when it comes to broadband.

"We are well behind the rest of the world," he said, "and it will start to impact on the economy.

"Anything below two megabits cannot be considered real broadband - and I'm talking bi-directional, two megabits up and down."

He said as system updates, video and audio content become more prevalent, New Zealanders were starting to see the limitations of many broadband services.

"With P2P, and I don't just mean music downloading, as well as software updates from companies like Adobe and Microsoft, it's not unusual to need to download 50 or 100MB at a time.

"It's alright for grandma and grandad to send an email, but if you want to do anything serious - particularly if you're trying to run a business - it is not up to speed."

SURVEY RESULTS

Xtra
0-150k - 4.9%
151-300k - 3.4%
301-800k - 6.4%
801-1500k - 13.8%
1501-3000k - 36.9%
3001-5000k - 27.6%
5001+ - 6.9%

iHUG
0-150k - 4.3%
151-300k - 2.9%
301-800k - 30.4%
801-1500k - 28.9%
1501-3000k - 23.2%
3001-5000k - 10.1%
5001+ - 0%

Orcon
0-150k - 0%
151-300k - 0%
301-800k - 2.2%
801-1500k - 10.9%
1501-3000k - 47.8%
3001-5000k - 32.6%
5001+ - 6.5%

Woosh
0-150k 0%
151-300k - 9.1%
301-800k - 13.6%
801-1500k - 59.1%
1501-3000k - 18.2%
3001-5000k - 0%
5001+ - 0%

TelstraClear
0-150k - 1.8%
151-300k - 1.8%
301-800k - 5.4%
801-1500k - 16.1%
1501-3000k - 28.6%
3001-5000k - 32.1%
5001+ - 14.3%

Slingshot
0-150k - 8.8%
151-300k - 2.9%
301-800k - 20.6%
801-1500k - 20.6%
1501-3000k - 35.3%
3001-5000k - 11.8%
5001+ - 0%

Netsmart
0-150k - 5%
151-300k - 0%
301-800k - 10%
801-1500k - 10%
1501-3000k - 15%
3001-5000k - 25%
5001+ - 35%

World Exchange
0-150k - 5.9%
151-300k - 0%
301-800k - 5.9%
801-1500k - 5.9%
1501-3000k - 35.3%
3001-5000k - 29.4%
5001+ - 17.6%

Maxnet
0-150k - 0%
151-300k - 0%
301-800k - 0%
801-1500k - 12.5%
1501-3000k - 25%
3001-5000k - 50%
5001+ - 12.5%

ICONZ
0-150k - 0%)
151-300k - 20%
301-800k - 20%
801-1500k - 60%
1501-3000k - 0%
3001-5000k - 0%
5001+ - 0%

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