17 April 2020

Netflix bingeing or working from home: Canberra's data demand the highest in Australia

| Michael Weaver
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Joe Exotic

Joe Exotic, the central character of Netflix’s hit series Tiger King. Photo: Netflix.

Could it be that the highest trending series on Netflix about a gay man who kept tigers is driving Canberra’s thirst for internet and internet congestion as we stay at home and isolate because of the COVID-19 virus?

While there is anecdotal evidence that just about everyone with Netflix is binging, or has binged on the series Tiger King, research by Monash University and NBN Co shows that Canberra and Melbourne have been experiencing the worst average internet congestion in the country because we’re doing the right thing and working from home (although Tiger King may be on in the background).

Research by KASPR datahaus, which is linked to Monash University in Melbourne, assessed the internet congestion of Australia’s major cities from February to March 30.

The research showed there have been big spikes in bandwidth demand across Australia.

Canberra is seeing on average 5.9 per cent more congestion since the move to self-isolating, with Melbourne not far behind.

NBN Co has also launched a new weekly report that reveals significant increases in download peaks since the end of February.

The Australian Broadband Data Demand report shows the highest throughput (the measure of data flowing through the NBN access network) recorded in a week during three periods – daytime business hours, early evening hours and busy evening hours.

NBN Co’s chief residential customer officer Brad Whitcomb said video conferencing, video streaming and accessing cloud-based office applications were driving a large increase in data demand on the NBN network.

“As more people start to work and learn from home, we’ve seen a substantial increase in the peak throughput on our main wholesale service during the daytime business hours, early evening and busy evening periods,” Mr Whitcomb said.

He also said the network was continuing to perform well under the extra demand.

“Access to secure and resilient broadband is more important than ever for Australia’s business, education and entertainment needs and NBN Co seeks to support Australians during this time.”

Internet pressure chart

Internet pressure in cities across Australia on 30 March. Source: KSPR datahaus.

Compared to the last week of February before social distancing measures were in effect, data demand on the NBN has grown significantly.

Data flow across the network during the first week of April in the evening busy hours (8:00 pm to 11:59 pm) had increased by 18 per cent. During the early evening hours (5:00 pm to 7:59 pm) it increased by 21 per cent. But the biggest increase had come during daytime business hours (8:00 am to 4:59 pm), where a 24 per cent increase has been recorded.

NBN CEO Stephen Rue said that while these increases are significant compared to their pre-COVID-19 benchmarks, they remain well within the capacity headroom built into the network.

“While this measures the difference between peaks, since social distancing measures were implemented, traffic on the NBN main wholesale service has also significantly grown with business hours usage increasing by more than 70 per cent,” Mr Rue said.

The Australian Government-owned corporation said it had been preparing for “this type of scenario” and had been watching the response from companies like Telecom Italia which recorded a 40 per cent increase in data consumption since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

This comes as the federal government asked NBN Co and Australia’s five biggest retail service providers – Telstra, Optus, Vodafone Hutchison, TPG and Vocus – to form a special working group to maintain access to reliable, high-speed broadband for residential and business customers.

The group will share information, coordinate strategies to manage congestion and take other steps to address significant demand changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the large numbers of people now at home during the day.

The first outcome has seen fees waived for additional capacity of up to 40 per cent to internet providers for at least three months.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is an observer on the working group.

“Online services and connections are now more important than ever, as Australians seek to stay productive and engaged, undertake home-schooling, telehealth and access other services. The ability to do all this will also assist people to comply with increasingly strict social distancing measures,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

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This is _exactly_ the sort of thing that original fibre to the premises NBN was supposed to cater for – a future where people can effectively work from home. Unfortunately in 2013 the government ripped the guts out of the NBN to allow Telstra to continue making a profit on the antiquated copper network. They fudged the numbers on cost and delivery dates and this is the turkey we are stuck with. I guess Telstra shareholders are happy.

In response to earlier comments about the backbone having enough bandwidth: The backbone is the profitable part. It’s the “last mile” of infrastructure that the providers didn’t want to fund/build (which is why the government were going to step in) and it’s this last mile that is still the bottleneck all these years and billions of dollars later.

Credit where it’s due. Thanks to the support staff on the ground (or in call centres!) who are working hard to maintain the crumbling copper network!

Capital Retro8:31 am 18 Apr 20

The “last mile” costs too much. If you have fibre to the node and connection to NBN by existing copper wire there are no additional costs but if you want fibre all the way from the node it is about $10,000 for a 100 metre distance and the user pays.

Hi Retro, as I said above, this was the whole point of the original NBN – to take care of the last mile, and use new fibre instead of the copper which was already showing its age.

Now, I don’t want to get into a political debate about whether the role of government is to invest in public infrastructure, but hopefully we can agree that there would have been economies of scale if the last mile was to be replaced with fibre all at the same time, as per the original NBN plan. So the final bill, while undoubtedly expensive, would have been a lot less than $10000 multiplied by every dwelling in Australia. It would also have the advantage of being more future-proof (so higher speeds can be added later, with minimal hardware changes required) and impervious to all the flaws of the existing copper, for example EMI and even soil moisture – remember, these wires are *old*.

Unfortunately the final bill is still very high, and we have an inferior product at the end.

I should also point out here that download speeds are only half the story. Downloads are great if the user is consuming content (e.g, watching Netflix, Youtube etc) but for people working from home and creating content, upload speeds are crucial. This is where fibre to the premises would really shine, allowing symmetrical upload/download speeds. Unfortunately under the present system, speeds are asymmetric (e.g, 40MB/s down, 5MB/s up where I live.) The ISP also has the option to change this ratio to adjust the up/down speed ratio to make their stats look better.

me heretoday7:00 am 16 Apr 20

Just a quiet thank you to all the IT guys an gals working behind the scenes, without thanks, to keep all the stay at home workers going at this time. (I am not talking about the phone companies) Most large organisations have their own people and it is these people we should be saying a huge thank you to, because without them things would go sour pretty fast.. Yes things go wrong but thankfully our stay at homers have these people to call for help…. Well done IT people.

Capital Retro11:43 am 15 Apr 20

Yeah, right.

The trade-off is that the normal internet service that we need for what are now essential services is very depleted while people with nothing else to do gobble up bandwidth watching the plethora of crap that is streaming. It’s impossible to contact service provider TPG too. They have no phone services and the “chat” they provide doesn’t work if there is no internet connectivity.

Bandwidth should be rationed, like toilet paper.

No shortage of bandwidth, your provider should just buy more from NBN. The backbone of NBN has more than ample capacity.

Capital Retro7:18 am 17 Apr 20

My NBN service is worse that the ADSL 2 I had to relinquish. I’ll be transferring to Telstra with Nighthawk 4GX mobile broadband soon.

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