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Published Friday 24 Aug 2018

Broadband Performance – A Complex Issue: Part One


The recent announcement of the Commerce Commission’s latest broadband monitoring programme with testing partner Sam Knows has brought to light some of the many complexities around broadband speeds.

From my own experiences, services delivered over copper such as ADSL and VDSL, are subject to network “congestion” during peak times on the local copper loop. Wireless and Fibre may have more reliable speeds (depending on your location), but even then, there are a myriad of factors affecting broadband performance, from the age and capability of your devices, to your home network set up, and even the Wi-Fi signal the neighbours are using.

About a year ago, I discovered streaming as a way of watching movies at home.I had ADSL, which is entry-level broadband, and it all worked fine for a few months, then I started getting the buffering wheel of death.The movie would stop and got to a point where we just gave up in frustration.

My home network was set up in the standard way for ADSL over a copper access line.I had a copper line coming into the top level of my house which was connected to my internal telephone line which emerged in my family room in the form of a standard telephone jack.My telephone and modem (or Wi-Fi – in my case, the same thing) were plugged into a splitter, which was plugged into the single telephone jack.

I started by trying to work out what my broadband speed should be normally.I sat beside my modem with a mobile device and ran a speed test; testing the speed of the connection at point of entry to the house.

At 8.00 am on a Sunday morning, I could get about 12 Mbps. But when I ran the same test using the same device at 8.00 pm on a Thursday evening, and even after checking that no other devices were connected to the Wi-Fi, my broadband speed was only about 1.5 Mbps.

The copper line is not called a copper loop for no reason. All my neighbours were connected to the same copper cabinet, and they had also discovered the joy of streaming video and movies. This congestion on the line meant that the copper access line was delivering ADSL broadband at its maximum speed, which was fine for checking emails and light web surfing, but not for streaming video content, or using multiple devices at the same time.

I clearly needed to move to a better access technology, and luckily fibre had recently been laid along my street. Except that I lived down a right-of-way and I suspected that my neighbours were not about to agree to me getting fibre, as cables would need to be installed down our shared access-way.

I will describe the next steps in my broadband journey in the next edition of the TCF Update.

By Geoff Thorn, CEO NZ Telecommunications Forum