Opinion

Tackling "the need for speed" rhetoric

Vijay Sivaraman
September 10, 2021

Letter to the editor from CanopusNet’s Vijay Sivaraman

Tackling “the need for speed” rhetoric

Grahame Lynch’s editorial on 30-Aug-2021 titled “Too much projection in ACCC view of Telecoms” rightly lays the blame on “a decade of rhetoric” for conditioning us to be-lieve “the need for speed as a scientific and religious article of faith.”

While religion is beyond the scope of this discussion, the scientific faith in speed is indeed being challenged.

A study by Omdia in 2020found that somewhere just under100 Mbps, our perception of speed starts saturating (see figure right) - in other words, a 250Mbps service feels almost no better than a 100 Mbps one. This is probably not a surprise, as no everyday application needs anywhere near that bandwidth today.

Increasing speed has diminishing returns for users and generates no revenue [Omdia] Average broadband speed vs ARPU (Average Revenue Per User)

The Broadband Forum has also recognised that as broadband matures globally, speed has ceased to
be a reliable proxy for user experience (see their Blog article https://www.broadband-forum.org/an-economic-argument-for-moving-away-from-mbps). Factors such as loss, latency, and stability come into play, and the BBF is developing new models, such asQuality of Experience Delivered, to account for these factors in estimating user experience.

The validity of speed comparisons is also raised in the latest ACCC MeasuringBroadband Australia Report, which shows the top three RSPs during busy hour are within 0.7% of each other, and the ACCC commissioner duly noting that “the performance gap between RSPs’ download speed metrics has narrowed significantly in re-cent reports” (CommsDay 1-Sep-2021).

With RSPs using these rankings to make marketing claims about their service, there s a risk that they take any narrow advantage available to them. A network engineer conversant with a speed-test tool’s dynamics such as TCP variant, number of test threads, and test duration, can tune her network such as BNG shaper buffers to maximise the result. This would be a perverse outcome, especially since it can introduce large latency jitters detrimental to gaming and conferencing experience. Our obsession with speed can therefore actually harm experience on the applications we care about.

With over 77% of the 8.2 million active premises on the NBN already at 50 Mbps or higher, now is the time to evolve our thinking and put in place regimes to more mean-ingfully measure broadband performance. Otherwise, we risk investments being mis-placed, infrastructure being tuned incorrectly, pricing not reflecting value, and users continuing to be frustrated.

Vijay Sivaraman, Co-Founder & CEO, Canopus Networks

COMMUNICATIONS DAY 10 September 2021 Page 10

Vijay Sivaraman
Silicon valley startup experience. Leader in Software Defined Networking. 4 Patents, 100+ research articles. Professor at UNSW, Sydney, Worked at Lucent Bell-Labs. B.Tech from IIT Delhi, PhD from UCLA

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