What’s the best broadband for 4K Netflix? Commerce Commission tester’s verdict

A UFB fibre plan – particularly a Fibre Max – is the best option if your family likes to mainline Netflix.

That’s the verdict from the Commerce Commission, included in the regulator’s Measuring Broadband, Summer 2021 report, released today (see the full report here and a dashboard summary here).

And of Fibre Max or “one gig” (1000 Mbps or 1 Gigabit per second) plans, Spark had the fastest average download speed at 895.6 megabits per second, according to a panel of local testers assembled by SamKnows – the UK company contracted by the ComCom to periodically rest our broadband.

Vodafone was a hair behind averaging 891.5 Mbps, followed by Vocus brands Orcon + Slingshot on 834 Mbps, 2degrees on 822.4 Mbps and MyRepublic on 782.1 Mbps.

It’s a mark of NZ’s progress that the ComCom is even measuring which retail internet service provider offers the best one-gig plan.

Across the Tasman, the ComCom’s opposite number only measures up to 100 Mbps plans.The Aussie National Broadband Network (NBN) – their equivalent of our public-private Ultrafast Broadband (UFB) – is a world of 25, 50 and 100 Mbps plans, while here 100 Mbps is the most popular type of plan, while Fibre Max is the most popular choice for new installs.

When it came to guzzling video, Fibre Max plans could handle everything the ComCom’s testers could throw at it.

Even with four simultaneous streams of 4K or ultra high definition Netflix, 100 per cent of Fibre Max households handled it without a wobble.

But then again, 98 per cent of households with “only” a 100 Mbps fibre plan could also handle four Netflix 4K streams without a problem.

And those living in the Wellington or Christchurch regions who can get Vodafone’s HFC Max (a fibre-copper hybrid) could also handle four family members chugging Netflix in ultra high definition at once.

Some 69 per cent of households with fixed-wireless could handle one 4K Netflix stream, but for two simultaneous streams, that fell back to 15 per cent. Fixed-wireless, offered by Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees, uses a mobile network to deliver broadband into a home. Like any mobile network connection, performance depends on location. The ComCom could not immediately answer a query on how it weighted for this factor.

Fixed-wireless plans start at $40 a month, or a third the price of a top-shelf fibre account.

Zero per cent of ADSL (copper-line) customers could handle two streams; a third could handle one.

VDSL- a turbocharged type of copper, only available to those living very close to an exchange or roadside cabinet – fared better, with 24 per cent able to handle four streams. But with VDSL no longer marketed by ISPs – for network operator Chorus will be able to start ripping out copper in UFB areas from August – the result is largely academic.

In earlier reports, the ComCom had noted that Fibre Max was falling short of its potential. And the watchdog also called out fixed-wireless, which it said suffered a 25 per cent performance hit during first-lockdown congestion during March last year.

In its latest report, however, the watchdog says providers of both types of broadband technology have improved service.

It notes ongoing issues with latency (or lag with two-way) connections with 4G fixed-wireless – although it acknowledged that 5G will offer much higher bandwidth.

Vodafone: Looking for more nuanced analysis for fixed-wireless

Vodafone NZ spokesman Rich Llewellyn said, “It’s great to see the excellent performance of our HFC product being recognised in the broadband measuring report.

According to the report, it has performed better across nearly every measure with the exception of the most expensive fibre product, Fibre Max, Llewellyn said.

“As the broadband measuring report continues to mature and reflect the different things that we know customers want such as ease of installation and value, we believe the report should reflect the different types of Fixed Wireless, such as 4G and 5G, and rural and urban, in the same way that they can now differentiate between different types of copper (ADSL and VDSL) and different types of Fibre (Fibre 100 and Fibre Max).”

Spark: Fixed-wireless fast and reliable

For Spark, Cassie Arauzo said, “We are comfortable with our reported performance, which reflects the work we continue to do to optimise our network.

“For fixed-wireless, our position remains the same – it’s a fast and reliable solution for customers with moderate data needs who want to be connected within minutes without any physical installations. Average download speed for wireless broadband is faster than 20Mbps. This is more than enough for many customers who use the internet for browsing the web, checking emails, video conferencing or streaming music or video content.

For example, Netflix states that to stream over HD you need a download speed of 5 Mbps. And for Zoom, the bandwidth used is optimised for the best experience based on the participant’s network whether that be 3G, 4G, wifi or fixed-wireless connection. This will include optimising for latency as well as bandwidth.

“Those wanting to stream content over multiple ultra-high definition streams have other suitable options available to them such as fibre. But, fixed-wireless remains a great option for customers with moderate data needs, who want to stream a movie or do a video conference and prefer the convenience of being connected within minutes without any physical installations.”

2degrees and Vocus had no comment.

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