I’m : a web and mobile developer based in the Manning Valley, Australia.

Decoding NBN's Fixed Wireless network capacity boost

In an apparent reply to last week's iTnews article, "NBN Co fixes wireless when users go below 6Mbps peak", NBN published a new blog post detailing their plan to upgrade Fixed Wireless towers in regional and rural Australia.

It's unfortunately a little light on details with no mention of the towers involved and what minimum speeds users could expect. When asked for further information their media team pointed to the aforementioned iTnews article and confirmed that the towers listed in the iTnews article are to be upgraded.

What we mustn't forget is that the NBN Fixed Wireless network isn't considered congested until the average throughput of all end-users in a cell in the busiest hour averaged over a month drops below to 6Mbps. Any speeds below 3Mbps will result in the upgrade being considered critical and hopefully moving further up the upgrade list.

But what does this mean for customers on the Fixed Wireless network? The NBN Fixed Wireless network offers 3 plans ranging from 12 to 50Mbps so let's see what that looks like with the two congestion levels.

 Plan (Mbps)   6 Mbps as a % of plan   3 Mbps as a % of plan 
12/1 50% (i.e 50% slower) 25% (i.e 75% slower)
25/5 34% (i.e 66% slower) 12% (i.e 88% slower)
50/20 12% (i.e 88% slower) 6% (i.e 94% slower)

Remember that the Fixed Wireless network is not considered congested until speeds drop below 6Mbps which is a far cry from the government mandated 25Mbps to all Australians. Depending on the plan drops in speeds of between 50% and 88% are considered acceptable and are within the design threshold of the network.

Retail Service Providers (RSPs) have no insight into tower, cell or sector congestion. The reasoning behind this is that NBN doesn't want RSPs to use this congestion information as a way to skimp on CVC purchases.

RSPs have exceptionally little power when it comes to complaints on the Fixed Wireless network. More often than not NBN will close a complaint advising that "no speed related faults were found within the network" and that "the Fixed Wireless network is operating as designed".

As far as I know, no other NBN access technology, be it Fibre to the Node/Basement/Premises or HFC, has design constraints that see the NBN portion of the network crippled like it is on the Fixed Wireless side.

In describing the Fixed Wireless network NBN states that (see page 11)

"the bandwidth per household is designed to be more consistent than mobile wireless, even in peak times of use. Unlike a mobile wireless service where speeds may be more affected by the number of people, the speed available in a fixed wireless network is designed to remain relatively steady.".

NBN's Fixed Wireless service does not provide a consistently reliable or relatively steady service. In my experience download speeds vary from 45 Mbps+ at 08:00 on a business day down to 20 Mbps in the late afternoon (15:00) before finally dropping down to less than 9 Mbps in the evenings. It isn't uncommon for the service to drop to as little as 5 Mbps during the evenings and most days on public holidays and weekends. And it's not just me Whirlpool has a fair few active forums on the topic.

To rule out congestion on the service provider side I tried two RSPs, Telstra and Aussiebroadband, only to experience the same speed issues at the same times.

The service is so variable that not even Telstra or Optus offer the (flagship) 50/20Mbps plan. It's so bad that Telstra's speed tiers go as low as 2Mbps. Most users would have had an ADSL2+ connection many times greater than that speed.

While the ACCC has laid down guidance on what ISPs need to offer during peak periods, see, these only apply to NBN Fixed Line Services (FTTN, FTTB, FTTP, and HFC). In order to protect users from speed drops of up to 88%, the ACCC minimum speeds should apply no matter the connection type as no end-user has a say in how they'll be connected to the network.

NBN's blog post was nothing more than a PR spin trying to pretend that they're upgrading the network to something that resembles a decent level of service. They have designed a network that can provide the 25Mbps minimum when no one is using it at say 3 am but offering 6Mbps during peak hours when people actually want to use the service.

With the Fixed Wireless footprint being expanded to cover more households we'll have more and more users left with sub-standard broadband speeds and an ever-increasing digital divide.