High-speed internet has become a marketing mantra of internet service providers (ISPs) amid the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN) around the country, with consumers being offered a variety of options under the NBN’s various speed tiers, bundled with accompanying data allowances.
The rapidly evolving, increasingly all-encompassing online world is in turn creating greater collective speed requirements, with more and more data being transferred via a growing collection of devices, from PCs, laptops and tablets, through to smart televisions and gaming consoles, and the range of connected devices known as the Internet of Things (IoT).
Meanwhile, while the cumulative weight of data being consumed by this ever-expanding collection of devices is in turn creating greater speed requirements, the services that these devices are delivering are also becoming increasingly data-intensive and reliant on high-speed broadband to reach end-users.
For instance, streaming video-on-demand services such as Netflix requires certain broadband speeds to function properly, with these speed requirements rising from standard definition to high definition and ultra-high definition video. So, when upgrading to an NBN plan or migrating to a new one, how fast is fast enough?
NBN speed tiers
NBN Co, the company rolling out the NBN, provides five different speed tiers at a wholesale level (with Mbps standing for megabits per second, referring to the data transfer speeds available on the various speed tiers):
- 12 Mbps download – 1 Mbps upload
- 25 Mbps download – 5 Mbps upload
- 25 Mbps download – 10 Mbps upload
- 50 Mbps download – 20 Mbps upload
- 100 Mbps download – 40 Mbps upload
As noted by NBN Co, the actual speed experienced by end-users will depend on a variety of factors, including the user’s equipment quality, software, broadband plans and the ISP’s network design.
As the NBN is rolled out across the country, ISPs are in turn promoting the benefits of high-speed internet access, tailoring plans across download and upload speeds in combination with varying data allowances. Consumers have a range of plans to choose from, and should do so bearing in mind the bandwidth (data transfer rate) requirements of popular online services, as outlined in more detail below.
Download and upload speeds
Download is the term most commonly associated with internet speeds, however for some users upload speeds may also be an important consideration when choosing a plan. Information technology and research company Gartner defines downloading as: “The process of bringing a file down to a computer through a network and typically from a server, or some other computing device.”
The faster the download speed, the greater the capacity for the user to take advantage of bandwidth-intensive services, such as ultra-high definition video streaming, along with a greater array of online services simultaneously without experiencing interruption.
Meanwhile, uploading is essentially a reversal of the process, with the user sending a file from their computer to another external system. For instance, this may involve sending photo files to a platform such as Facebook or video files to YouTube. For the average user, downloading is by far the most common of the two processes, but individual users or businesses that use cloud services to store data may place a particular importance on upload speeds.
How fast is fast enough?
Speed requirements will of course vary depending on the user’s internet usage, however by way of a guide, the following is a breakdown of the range of speeds needed to access some of the most popular bandwidth-intensive online services.
YouTube streams videos at a range of qualities, from standard definition videos (such as 240p or 360p) to high-definition videos (720p or 1080p), adjusting the video stream based on the speed of the user’s internet connection. YouTube recommends users employ an internet connection with 500-plus Kbps (1 Mbps equals 1,000 Kbps).
The speeds recommended by Netflix to access its video streaming services range significantly from standard to ultra-high-definition, with users needing to adjust their settings accordingly. Netflix recommends speeds of 3 Mbps for standard definition-quality videos, 5 Mbps for high definition-quality videos and 25 Mbps for ultra-high definition-quality videos.
Skype recommends a range of speeds based on the type of call being made or received. For one-on-one calling (as opposed to group calling), Skype states the minimum speed required is 30 Kbps, with a recommended speed of 100 Kbps. For high-quality video calling, Skype states the minimum speed required is 400 Kbps, with a recommended speed of 500 Kbps. And for high definition video calling, a minimum speed of 1.2 Mbps, with a recommended speed of 1.5 Mbps.
Xbox and PlayStation
Online gaming is growing in popularity, across various platforms from PCs to tablets and, of course, consoles such as Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 4. For its Xbox Live online gaming service, Microsoft recommends download speeds of 3 Mbps and upload speeds of 0.5 Mbps, while Sony recommends a steady broadband connection with at least 5 Mbps for its PS Now online gaming service.
The ever-growing connected world
Meanwhile, in addition to bandwidth-intensive online services, users should also bear in mind the bandwidth requirements of an ever-growing range of IoT devices. While IoT devices generally do not require high-speed internet to operate individually, the cumulative bandwidth demands of connected devices, from appliances through to smartwatches, is set to build.
Technology analyst firm Telsyte says the Australian IoT at home market “is set to skyrocket”, poised to follow the same path of rapid adoption as both the internet and smartphones. Telyste found that the average household currently contains nine connected devices, forecasting that by 2019 this will rise to 24, with the market poised to “naturally evolve as internet connectivity is baked into many existing products and services”.
A broad range of product categories, including whitegoods, gardening, security and energy management, are set to expand online. With all these devices connected at the same time, the demands on bandwidth will rise, with average household speed requirements in turn set to climb.
What to consider when selecting a high-speed plan?
When changing an internet service to a high-speed NBN plan, consumers should take into account a variety of factors, ranging from how many devices will be connected in their home, to how many people will be using them, while also bearing in mind that their bandwidth requirements will likely grow in both the short and long term.
Both data-light and data-heavy users will likely see their internet speed needs grow in the coming years as more and more services go online, with the bandwidth requirements of certain services, for instance online video streaming, concurrently growing. Consumers should consider the cumulative growth of online services, ranging from entertainment, such as video, music and gaming, to smart home services, and of course regular, daily internet usage carried out via devices such as PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones. All will contribute to increased bandwidth usage.
In most cases it is likely best to err on the side of over-estimating bandwidth requirements when selecting an NBN plan, with extra bandwidth likely to prove useful in providing uninterrupted online access in both the short and longer term. Many ISPs offer the option to upgrade speed tiers at an additional monthly cost once on an NBN plan, and it may be a case of migrating from one speed tier to another in determining optimal speed requirements.