Why the NBN won't (always) make your internet faster

The NBN is great for shipping larger files but when it comes to websites it won’t provide much of a speed boost, if at all.

Australians are ravenous for the internet. According to the latest statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, we downloaded nearly a million terabytes in just a three-month period this year, more than ten times the amount we consumed five years ago.

With the thirst for information comes the inevitable call for faster broadband speeds. We want more data, sooner. And with innovations like the National Broadband Network and 4G or even 5G mobile networks, those faster speeds are coming, only increasing our thirst for data.

But it’s incorrect to think that the NBN, or any other broadband technology, will simply speed up our everyday internet use.

That’s because increasing bandwidth — such as going from approximately 5 megabits per second (Mbps) on ADSL, to 100 Mbps on the NBN — is like plugging a larger diameter hose into the tap.

The water itself doesn’t travel any faster through that hose, but more water can be shipped at any one time.

The NBN is great for shipping larger files (like video), more expediently to the household. It also means that, with more water being transported through the tap, individuals, households and businesses can operate multiple online apps, websites, video streams and downloads simultaneously without worrying about a slow–down.

But for the single most popular use of the internet — websites — the NBN won’t provide much of a speed boost, if at all.

For the most part, web page load times are not necessarily dependant on bandwidth. Instead, most web page load times are constrained by the number of trips backwards and forwards to get all the little pieces which make up a web page, collecting all the minute bits of data that make up a page from dozens or hundreds of servers located all over the world.

Once collected, the browser has to interpret and render those little files. Loading these pages is like a little trickle of water, running back and forward through that large diameter hose.

Alternatively, if the webpage code is not optimised to be rendered by the browser as quickly as possible, it will be like having the flow hit a partially closed tap at the household.

Put simply, the NBN isn’t going to speed up Facebook.

The NBN will certainly reveal those websites that are not built effectively to take advantage of higher bandwidth connections. Where websites are not optimised for performance, the relatively slower speed of those sites will be more noticeable.

At the same time, however, optimised websites will finally have an opportunity to shine, as the NBN kicks in and Australia hits internationally competitive broadband speeds. For businesses and individuals who are ready, the NBN and other broadband technologies will only bring a bright future.

By all means, install that larger hose. Just don’t expect a torrent of water to come magically out the other side.

Stewart McGrath is the co-founder and CEO of Squixa.

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