by Nick Whigham
THE company behind the NBN is taking a new approach to appease frustrated customers as it tries to fend off the threat of mobile carriers offering unlimited data plans.
NBN Co has announced it will release a new monthly customer report to improve transparency around the wholesale network. The report will outline updates in service quality, co-operation with industry partners and progress with the network rollout.
"We have listened to the community's feedback and want to assure all Australians that end-user's customer experience is the number one priority of every employee working at NBN Co," the company's chief customer officer Brad Whitcomb said.
And on its face, the maiden report is indeed flattering so there's no wonder why NBN is keen to trumpet the figures it contains.
The latest report states the average network bandwidth congestion has plummeted from four hours and 50 minutes to just 12 minutes from February 2017 to February 2018, and just 0.119 per cent homes now experience slow speeds.
However, the congestion noted in the report is only measured as an industry average, not broken down into individual ISPs. So if your internet provider hasn't purchased enough bandwidth and you're experiencing congestion at peak times, the overall congestion average is of little relief to you.
The NBN does actually record congestion on an ISP by ISP basis but doesn't release the data. For customers to get that level of insight, we're going to have to wait for the results from the ACCC's broadband monitoring program in the coming years.
Meanwhile, the number of homes and businesses on a 50Mbps plan or higher had risen from 16 to 25 per cent.
The improved speeds came despite a massive take-up of the NBN, with the number of homes and businesses connected rising from 1.9 million to 3.6 million during the past year.
The number of homes and business ready to connect had increased from 4.2 million to 6.3 million.
The new customer report comes after NBN Co overhauled the way it charges retail service providers, or ISPs, like Telstra Optus and TPG, to incentivise the telcos to buy more bandwidth on the network to provide for their customers.
"Significant progress has been made to improve the speeds delivered during peak hours, with internet and phone providers now provisioning more bandwidth on the network than before we announced our new wholesale pricing options," Mr Whitcomb said.
"This has helped to relieve bandwidth congestion on the network from an average of around four hours to 12 minutes per week and to deliver improved broadband services for millions of Australians.
"We will continue to keep the Australian public abreast of the initiatives being undertaken to ensure continued improvement."
THE THREAT OF UNLIMITED MOBILE DATA
NBN's latest overture to customers comes amid increased chatter about the potential for improved mobile services to eat into NBN's market share.
For a majority of internet users who download and stream content, mobile broadband is far from a sufficient or economical alternative. Even with 5G around the corner, it's not about to displace fixed line broadband any time soon.
But for those who just want basic web browsing capabilities it could certainly be a viable option to rely on, in lieu of a fixed line connection - particularly if providers begin offering unlimited data packages.
And according to a report by the Australian Financial Review, Optus briefly offered select customers the chance to sign up to unlimited mobile data plans last week in a curiously short-lived offer.
The abrupt promotion only lasted a single day and was reportedly targeted to a select group of customers who were signed up to Optus fixed broadband but had no existing mobile products with the telco.
However, Optus has been known to play fast and loose with the term "unlimited" and this time was no exception. The offer did come with some notable limitations which restricted download speeds to 1.5Mbps when downloading or streaming music and video, and when tethering to another device. Such measures would seriously restrict what users could do with their "unlimited" data.
When contacted, Optus said it didn't want to comment on the unlimited plan it fleetingly offered last week.
"Optus regularly offers customers great deals and promotions which are targeted at specific customer groups. This was a very limited offer," a spokesperson said.
According to survey data from Finder.com.au, Australian mobile users are only prepared to spend $53 per month for unlimited data, calls and text, down from $60 in 2016. Millennials were prepared to spend the most at $60 per month - the same price point as the Optus offer.
While the Optus promotion is not tantamount to the unlimited plans offered in some overseas markets, it is a notable development for the Aussie market.
"The fact that Optus is exploring concepts around unlimited mobile data packages signals a shift in the Australian mobile and broadband spaces," wrote Finder's tech expert, Alex Kidman.
"Some may see it as a shot across the bow of the NBN, although if Optus really is going to offer a plan that tops out when tethering at 1.5Mbps, the NBN probably doesn't have that much to worry about outside of the very lightest network users."