RAW DATA: TrueNet July 2014 Rural Broadband Report: Are they missing out?

(TrueNet is contracted to the Commerce Commission to monitor broadband performance. It uses a network of probes attached to 400 volunteers' internet connections to rate ISPs — Editor.)

Rural Broadband Neglected

TrueNet measures broadband in both urban and rural locations.  Standard (Full Speed) Rural ADSL speed performance has declined in the last 2.5 years while at the same time Urban ADSL performance has increased markedly. 

Rural broadband users see their speed drop in the evenings to just 82% of the speed the connection is capable of.  This will often mean websites do not download, files take a long time to appear, or even fail to be delivered due to timeouts.

In recent years, there has been much media hype around the promise of faster Broadband services to households - specifically Cabinetisation, UFB,  RBI, and Mobile Broadband (LTE) improving access speed for NZ consumers, and rightly so.  

  • Cabinetisation = Extending fibre to a cabinet which is closer to homes enabling VDSL to 80% of homes in urban and rural areas.
  • UFB = A government sponsored fibre rollout to small numbers of urban homes
  • RBI = A government sponsored combined wireless/ADSL rollout to rural homes
  • LTE = The latest version of mobile technology, limited to urban centres

As seen in a TrueNet report from April 2014, ADSL performance has improved in the past two years.  The current migration to Fibre in UFB zones and VDSL in Urban cabinets provides an easy and economic upgrade for many users. But none of these changes improve the lot of the typical Rural user.

In this report, TrueNet looks at the relative performance of Rural ADSL (not RBI, but existing technology over copper lines), Urban ADSL, and Rural RBI volunteer connections. 


Summary of Performance Measures - All Connection Types

At a broad level, Rural ADSL and RBI services are expected to run slower than the Urban, copper-based equivalent due to the distances usually involved between connections. Table 1 compares standard TrueNet measurement criteria between Rural and Urban ADSL & Rural RBI volunteers.  Rural users on both technologies experience:

  1. Lower speeds for downloading files, or watching video
  2. Longer times to load Webpages
  3. higher latency meaning reduced gaming performance 
  4. Slower Domain Name Server (DNS) response times. Which delays the start of a website download.
  5. Greater inconsistency of speed throughout the day. 
Table1: Urban / Rural ADSL Summary of Performance Measure

Note: Both Testpages and Latency include tests to TrueNet's NZ test servers

The download performance discussed above indicates the speed of the broadband line after ramp-up, thus showing the best speed achieved at 8pm throughout May 2014.

Referencing back to the summary table, the poor latency, and Domain Name Server (DNS) response times means that rural users experience greater delays in downloading websites, and in ramping up to full speed.

Webpage Download Time

A comparison of Rural / Urban Livepage download times is shown in Chart 1. While the proportions are not the same for each Live Webpage, the trend is that Rural ADSL takes the longest to load each Webpage, and much more so for larger pages like NZ Post and IRD. Perhaps, because RBI is a newer network with less contention at this time, it is consistently better than Rural ADSL.

Chart 1: Live Webpage Download Time in Seconds

Speed (File Download Performance) - Time of Day Analysis

Through monitoring and reporting, Broadband services have been improving both in terms of speeds available, as well as consistency of service (Time of Day).  In recent months, TrueNet has regularly reported that the majority of ISPs achieve no worse than 95% of maximum speed throughout the day, which is an excellent result. So long as that figure stays above 90%, the user will not notice a big change when using the Internet, where the main congestion time is in the evening.

The ADSL Time of Day performance from May 2014 is shown in Chart 2, and is averaged across all ISPs. While urban users see a minor 50% drop in speed the Rural and RBI users experience a significant performance dip during the evening busy period.   Rural ADSL is impacted for a greater percentage of the day than RBI connections.   We estimate that at just 82% of speed capability, many connections would be lost on a regular basis, failing to complete a download due to timeouts.

Chart 2: ADSL Rural versus Urban - File Download Speed by Time of Day

Actual speed of rural and urban connections are also very different.  Both Rural ADSL and Rural RBI are relatively slow compared with the distribution of speeds of urban connections.  

Chart 3 includes Urban ADSL, Urban VDSL, Rural ADSL, and RBI. The second peak in the RBI line is for tests from ADSL cabinets fed by the RBI programme.

Chart 3: Distribution of Probe Speeds: Summary of January-June 2014

(Click to zoom)

Historic Comparison

TrueNet noted in the April 2014 Broadband report that Urban users have seen a significant improvement in parallel with our monitoring.

But, is the Rural performance improving, declining, or on a steady course?  Anecdotally, several of our Rural volunteers have contacted us to say that their local cabinet or exchange experiences severe congestion at times.  

In Chart 4, almost two years of the minimum compared to maximum speed percentage is plotted. Urban performance has improved by a slight margin overall, although an earlier report shows that for some ISPs it has improved a lot.

Rural ADSL however, has significantly declined since December 2013 when it was already much worse than Urban ADSL performance.  Should the trend continue, many more users will find their Broadband connections almost unusable during the busy periods.

Chart 4: ADSL FIle Download performance by Month (Solid lines show trend)

The gap between Rural at 82% & Urban at 96% in June 2014 is enormous.  Our use of 70% as the minimum on the chart is because we have detected that at an average 70%, many connections have timeouts making the internet difficult to use.  ie 70% could be considered the Zero point for many connections.

In summary, backhaul from rural sectors is critical to ensuring a better performance for rural users. TrueNet data shows that backhaul is insufficient, causing increasing congestion with rural broadband performance deteriorating over time, and significant loss of speed in the evenings.


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