Is Australia behind on Internet speed?
The introduction of ADSL2+ into Australia is an exciting development but did you know there is something even more exciting available to users overseas? ADSL 2+ may be a leap forward for Aussies but only relative to what is already available. It may be that the rest of the world is actually streaking ahead. So, just how fast is the rest on the world travelling virtually and are Australian providers keeping up with the pace?
All about speed
While many Australians may be asking why they are not able to connect to fast T1 Internet lines, the truth is that Australia has a well-established E1 technology in place, which is faster than T1.
T1, or E1, are dedicated phone line connections. T1 lines consist of 24 individual channels, while E1 has 30. Each channel can support 64Kbit/ps of either data or voice traffic.
In short, that makes T1's speed around 1.5Mbps, and E1's just over 2mbps - for both upload and download. ADSL broadband connections have varying speeds for uploads and downloads, so E1 connections are a reliable alternative and a good alternative in areas where other technology is not available.
What's the hold up on E1?
Currently, E1 services in Australia are not common and very pricey, so the main users are businesses or other Internet providers, who use them to access the Internet backbone.
Interestingly, as many rural Australians still find it difficult to connect to ADSL, the fact that E1 is not more widely used is a waste of the technology. Telstra has been known to be very protective over access to its copper wire network, and this could also be part of the problem.
Also available is SHDSL, although primarily in metropolitan areas only. It can provide speeds of up to 8 Mbps.
According to the OECD, Australia only had 19.2 people per 100 connected to broadband by the end of 2006. Although the numbers do climb each year, it is slow, and this is mainly attributed to a lack of infrastructure investment. That lack of investment has put it at number 16 out of the 30 countries listed for the take up of broadband - very very average.
What speeds are out there?
It should come as little surprise that Japan leads the world in having more optical fibre reaching people's doors than any other nation. It had 4.6 million fibre subscribers by the end of 2005, enjoying speeds of up to 47Mbps for around $35 per month.
Optical fibre is a flexible glass fibre that converts electrical impulses into light. It is ultra fast and the quality is generally much better than copper wire. ADSL, however, has been a preferred development for Aussie providers, as it uses the normal, already installed phone wires, making it a lot cheaper to install and maintain. In Australia the pay TV providers deliver their services via fibre optics (or "cable" networks) so they focus on installing cable in the most population dense areas where they are likely to get the best return on their investment.
Are such speeds really necessary?
How much speed a user needs is really dependent on how much data traverses the line. For many businesses, being able to access E1 services could be of great benefit - after all, time is money. For others in more remote locations, just being able to connect at all is a bonus.
The reality is that ever more complex activities are being carried out on the Net, such as online gaming and multimedia interaction. Telephones had their share of teething problems as a new technology. People had to shout down the line and getting cut off was a regular occurrence. Similarly, Internet services will have to be improved to keep pace with the increasing variety of uses - and indeed need - for reliable, high quality connectivity.
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