First Report on Fixed Wireless Technology

Comparing Fixed Wireless with ADSL, VDSL, Cable & Fibre 

ISPs offer different urban connection options to subscribers - ADSL, VDSL, Cable, Fibre, and now Fixed Wireless. Understanding the differences between these options will help you choose the plan that best supports your Internet use.

TrueNet have been collecting and analyzing data on Fixed Wireless plans (the mobile 4G network) for the past 4 months. The results show Fixed Wireless is generally more comparable to ADSL, is considerably slower than VDSL, and far behind Fibre.

Time of day affects webpage download performance significantly on Fixed Wireless' and Cable (Vodafone's Wellington and Christchurch cable networks).

TrueNet's latency tests show that Fixed Wireless has the highest Latency (delay) of all the technologies. Latency limits the maximum rate that information can be transmitted across the Internet, which in turn affects the speed of webpage downloads, and the performance of online gaming sites. 

This report was independently funded by Truenet.  The funding of most probes used in ADSL, VDSL Cable and Fibre are by the Commerce Commission.  Most of the Fixed Wireless probes were funded by Chorus.  

ADSL

(Short for Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) ADSL is a connection that uses regular copper phone lines with data using the capacity not taken up by voice calls. The advantage of this kind of connection is that it doesn’t require any special lines to be installed, so it’s more available than other forms of broadband - particularly to rural customers. Speeds are affected by the condition of the wires; the distance between your home and the provider’s location; and any noise or interference on the line.

With ADSL, the average speed is just 10Mb/s, while upload speeds are severely limited to just 1Mb/s - mostly too slow for video chat (Skype or Facetime). With the price of ADSL not much less, or equal to VDSL , or even Fibre most customers where possible are making the switch.  Fixed Wireless may be a cheaper option, but has a data limit that may be too small if you watch a lot of video (OnDemand TV, Netflix, Youtube) it also has very obvious speed drops by time of day.

VDSL

(Short for Very-high-bitrate Digital Subscriber Line service) VDSL uses phone lines more efficiently, but the higher frequencies used require a shorter distance for the signal to travel. A higher amount of available bandwidth delivers better overall performance than ADSL can offer. However, distance and wire condition affect VDSL more, even over short distances from the exchange equipment. It is closer to fibre Internet in speed and behaviour than ADSL, with maximum download speeds hovering around 70 Mb/s. The average speed is 4 times faster than ADSL for downloads (41Mb/s), but more importantly at 8Mb/s, is up to eight times faster for uploads - excellent for video chat.

VDSL is available on 80% of broadband lines today. However, as a distance dependent technology, VDSL is not available in all areas.

Fibre (also known as UFB)

Fibre internet, or Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB), is now the go to for households and businesses that require superior Internet performance. Fibre bypasses phone lines and uses smaller, lighter fibre optic cables with glass conductors. These conductors transmit light signals rather than electricity, so they aren’t subject to interference from electrical wires, or damage from lightning strikes. This results in one of the clearest, more consistent broadband connections you can get, unfortunately those living in rural areas may not have access to Fibre at all. 

If the UFB project has come to your area, any ISP offers the product where both the upload and download speed is selectable.  Reliability of a fibre connection makes it perfect for users that transmit high amounts of data on a regular basis. Unlike DSL connections, you get the same level of performance regardless of location.  With Fibre the upload speed is important, this will allow many more to use video chat at the same time as other video is being used.

With the average 100/50Mb/s product's download speed sitting consistently at 109Mb/s, and the upload speed at 44Mb/s the charts below clearly show that fibre is streets ahead of all other technologies, and provides a consistently faster internet service (in particular with upload speed).

Fixed Wireless

Fixed Wireless broadband  (We use just Wireless in our charts) is a connection that uses radio signals rather than phone lines, cable or fibre. This means it can be subject to interference such as weather, local demand from other users, or local topography - including buildings and even hedges!  The gateway (modem/router/wifi) can be moved to different locations in your house because it is only connected to power.

It is often the only other option available for rural customers but relies on a 4G network, so you can guess how good it would be at your place by observing the signal strength on your smartphone.

The comparisons in the charts below show that although Spark and Skinny Fixed Wireless are using the latest technology it doesn’t provide a better service on the whole.  It is generally comparable to ADSL.  Possibly the deciding factor between these two options for rural customers would be that ADSL upload speed is so abysmal at 1Mb/s,  that the jump to 8Mb/s on Wireless would mean video chat would be of much better quality.

With all webpage results combined, the average webpage download speed of Fixed Wireless is similar to that of ADSL at 7-8Mb/s (Charts 1 & 2).  

The file download speed for Fixed Wireless (Chart 4) is around 21Mb/s, but Chart 3 below shows speed at 9pm dropping to 75% of off-peak speed, in stark contrast to all the other technologies. 

DEFINITION OF SPEED: For webpage speeds we measure the average speed of the page, taking our timing from the first packet to the last.  We choose a single page from a website that is approximately the same size as other pages, and likely to be active.  For file download speed we measure the best quartile speed for any download, which we refer to as the "Peak speed", these charts refer to the median of those measurements for each panelist, averaged over all panelists.

COMMENT:  Webpage viewing is critical to using the internet, we shop, follow the news, and view social media on websites.  All technologies show some reduction in performance during the busy hour about 9pm, but Cable and Fixed Wireless have a much longer drop in performance. It starts in the early morning and lasts all day, with cable dropping  to 90%, and Fixed Wireless to 85% of their available speeds.  Chart 1 compares webpage viewing from different groupings to our probes.

Chart 1: Website Viewing - Speed by Time of Day (Sites from NZ, Australia and USA)

 

COMMENT:  Chart 2 demonstrates the average webpage download speeds for pages of websites listed below separated by the selections based on their expected location (ie if cached then that improves the results).  The chart is interactive, just click on a tab to see how the technologies perform.  The "NZ ISPs & Banks" websites are a mix of some NZ ISPs own websites, and some NZ based Bank websites.  The full list of websites is at the end of this report.

Chart 2: Website Speed by Technology

 

COMMENT: For TrueNet's file download tests each panelist's probe regularly downloads a 2MB file from Auckland and Wellington. Comparing performance in Chart 3 by time-of-day is important as it shows the service degradation when everyone is using the Internet during the evening hours of 8pm to 10pm.  By far the worst performance is from Fixed Wireless, we will continue to report these stats monthly to see if this improves.

Chart 3: File download Speed by Time of Day

 

Choosing the Best Broadband Option

Availability and pricing are the big factors when choosing between ADSL, VDSL, Fibre and Fixed Wireless for your Internet connection. Check out  Broadband Compare or Glimp. Start by researching what’s available in your area, Chorus address checker.  Next, consider what type of Internet user you are. If you check only email and social networks, ADSL or Fixed Wireless may be more than enough to meet your needs. Video of any kind requires at least a VDSL connection. For heavy users, and households or businesses where multiple computers or devices are accessing large amounts of data on a daily basis,  Fibre provides the best and most consistent performance for a comparable price.

Shop around to find the best deal possible. Look at what different providers offer in terms of rates and packages, and beware of prices that seem too good to be true, they may include a temporary offer that increases after a limited time period.

 

COMMENT: Peak file download speed has an impact when you are downloading a large file (eg software updates).  This test shows the difference in file speed reached during a download.  Latency has a big impact on speed and this shows in the results for Fixed Wireless.   The network differences between file downloads from Wellington and Auckland, show that any change in performance will reflect in websites based in either city.  

Cable and Fibre speeds measured from the Auckland exchange are lower than from the Wellington exchange.  Try the interactive chart.

Chart 4: File Speed by Technology

 

COMMENT: Chart 5 is included to show the level of variation of TrueNet tests.  DSL should vary a lot because panelists are located at varying distances from the exchange equipment.  Fixed Wireless, and Cable both depend on shared capacity, and may vary due to traffic from other housholds.  Fibre has a clean path, but we have observed a lot of variation due to connections with the wrong speed compared to their purchased speed.

Chart 5: File Speed Spread by Technology

 

COMMENT: Upload speed is important for video chatting, (eg FaceTime or Skype), for users sending large amounts of data through the Internet, or saving files to the Cloud.  Any other technology is better than ADSL - your standard copper phone line internet connection.

Chart 6: Upload comparison

 

DNS (Domain Name Server):TrueNet measures the time it takes to look up a website name (say truenet.nz) to identify the IP address that the Internet needs to know to find that site (in this case 202.78.242.2).  For many websites, a DNS lookup is performed many times, for each part of the website, which can increase the time to download the webpage.

Latency is the time it takes for a packet of data to be returned by a remote server to a Panelist's probe. Latency is important to both responsiveness of the user interface, and also speed. Very high latency makes browsing the internet difficult, and may lead to timeouts. 

Gamers are very keen to know which ISP has the best latency to the country, or location they use a lot - we have many requests to report this.  High Latency can make gaming impossible, adding to reaction time, meaning that if someone else has lower latency they may see a game change, and react well before a slower connection is able to display the change.

 

COMMENT: Latency makes a big difference to gamers and DNS is important for browsing.  Poor Latency, or DNS can cause loss of service for short periods.  Most technlogies are similar, but for Fixed Wireless check the performance of your smartphone on your favourite sites in your home to see the impact, Fixed Wireless will be very similar.

Chart 7: Latency & DNS

Most technlogies are similar, but to check for Fixed Wireless try downloading your favourite websites on your smartphone while at home, Fixed Wireless will provide a very similar performance to your smart phone.

Websites used in this report include:

  1. ABC7 - LA
  2. Aliexpress
  3. ANZ
  4. Blogspot
  5. Bureau of Meteorology, AU
  6. CBS Local - LA
  7. Daily News
  8. Diply
  9. Farmers
  10. Kiwibank
  11. MET Service
  12. Netflix
  13. NEWS.com, AU
  14. ninemsn, Nine News, AU
  15. NZ Herald
  16. NZ Immigration
  17. NZ Post
  18. NZTA
  19. Orcon
  20. Outbrain
  21. PriceMe
  22. Radio NZ
  23. Real Estate
  24. Scoop
  25. SF Chronicle
  26. Slingshot
  27. SMH, AU
  28. Spark
  29. The Warehouse
  30. Trademe_Homepage
  31. Vice
  32. Vodafone
  33. Westpac
  34. Wikipedia
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