The stop start developments in the Australian broadband landscape have seen the country drop further in international league tables which map the level and availability of broadband. A decade ago the country hovered around position 25. One of the aims of both government and industry was to be among the top ten. The latest data shows us to be around position 45 in the most recent list maintained by Akamai. It is lamentable to witness the many years lost in what has become a highly politicised project to develop a broadband infrastructure of international standing.
Fortunately, the first part of the national FttP project had sound contracts around it, and this made it impossible to kill that element of the project. As a result, the rollout of FttP was the main activity within the sector during 2014, and this continues into 2015.
Rather than rolling out a first class infrastructure throughout the country, a second rate technology will start to be rolled out during 2016. By that time, most international high-speed broadband network projects will be based on FttP. Australia still lacks any plan from the government on how it will move from its Multi Technology Mix program towards a proper FttP infrastructure.
The launch of Netflix in March 2015 immediately showed the strains of such a service on the aging infrastructure. Several ISPs almost immediately complained that the slow network speeds had made viewing Netflix services a bad customer experience, while Netflix traffic alone very soon began to account for almost a third of total network traffic at some periods of the day.
At the same time, mobile broadband has taken off significantly. Technologies such as HSPA are now widely available, while Telstra and Optus intend to have their LTE networks reach 98% of the population by the end of 2016, and Vodafone already provides 95% metro coverage. The deployment of LTE, and the strong take-up of LTE services among consumers, has enabled the success of a wide range of applications.
While developments in FttP and LTE are to be closely watched in coming months, the core broadband networks based on ADSL and HFC technologies have also gained attention from operators, as well as from NBN Co. Although DSL will continue to lose market share in the sector as subscribers migrate to fibre, the platform has to some degree been given a reprieve by the government's multi-technology mix NBN, in which parts of Telstra's copper network will be incorporated within the national network in areas where it is proven to provide a superior service. Developments with G.fast (already being trialled by Swisscom) can deliver faster data rates in short loops, and so has potential in urban areas. As for HFC, NBN Co earlier in 2015 announced that the new iteration of DOCSIS, version 3.1, would be deployed from 2017. Australia will again be behind developments elsewhere, but this is a step in the right direction, given NBN Co's previous disregard of 3.1. The largest cableco in the US, Comcast, has developed DOCSIS 3.1 modems which will be commercialised in early 2016, followed by deployments among customers expected later in the year. Together, these developments will provide improved broadband connectivity to many high density areas in Australia, while FttP deployments continue.