For many, choosing an internet service provider (ISP) is about ensuring streaming will not be interrupted by buffering. And to help consumers make their decision, Netflix releases a monthly ISP leaderboard that tracks how the various providers are performing in the local market.
However, as the numbers indicate, the difference between the top six players isn’t all that significant. In fact, the average users should be able stream quite comfortably regardless of which provider they use.
So this then poses the question of whether broadband speed is really a point of difference that brands should be drawing attention to in their marketing activities.
In the past we’ve seen the Vodafone and Spark grapple about who has the biggest 4G network, but this competitive banter has subsided more recently as both players improved their services to cover virtually the whole country. As the playing field levelled, the organisations shifted their attention to marketing other points of difference.
There are certainly parallels when it comes to broadband. The internet in New Zealand has steadily become faster and faster over the last few years, and all the players have invested heavily in insuring that their services are up to scratch.
And though the market is clearly maturing, Bigpipe still thinks it’s still an important battleground having recently released a quirky clip illustrating what it would be like if things buffered in the real world.
While Oliver Smith, the head of Bigpipe, admits that the numbers on the ranking are quite similar, he says there are a number of factors Bigpipe has taken into account in deciding to continue to advertise the speed of its ultra-fast broadband.
What Netflix hasn’t considered is the different internet types, he says.
He explains the biggest influence on internet speed is not the ISP itself it is the technology that underlies it. Fibre and UFB (Ultra Fast broadband) are faster than VDSL, which is faster than ADSL. However, because Netflix have created an average of all the internet types Smith says more people an ISP has signed up to faster internet, the faster their internet will appear on average.
“For example 2 degrees has a very high proportion of customers on UFB (ultra fast broadband) so the average speed on Netflix was always going to be a lot higher – but they could be, it’s not so say they they are not it just doesn’t tell you that they are,” Smith says.
He says Vodafone comes in second with a large number of customers on cable and Orcon in third as they were the first ISP to launch UFB, “so the average speed across their customers will be better”.
So how should you compare ISPs? Smith suggests Truenet, funded by the commerce commission, which has regular reports on ISP’s performance.
One of the measures it uses is peak time degradation by looking at how much internet speed drops at peak times. If the speed remains at a constant 100 percent, or there about, for the whole day then the ISP is providing a good amount of bandwidth. However if the speed drops to 75 or 80 percent in the evenings then Smith says there’s not enough bandwidth to go around meaning the ISP is congested.
“It’s not perfect but it gives you a reasonably good gage of different aspects of performance.”
Smith says it is also important for people to consider where they live when comparing ISPs. Fibre and UFB is not available to everyone.
“Even someone who lives 500 meters down the road from you could get different internet. It depends on where people live.”
While there are a number of anomalies to consider when comparing ISP’s, smaller companies are more likely to give variable service than the top 10. Smith says in general, no matter what speed there shouldn’t be any buffering when watching videos when connecting with a larger ISP. Any buffering is probably “more likely to be the case that it’s the modem or someone else is on the internet at the same time”.
Bigpipe’s YouTube ads are about upgrading those on ADSL to UFB.
“If we can sell fibre to a customer who is only on copper then that is a massive speed increase for them.”
However, when all ISPs are trying to achieve the same thing, Bigpipe is trying to set itself apart with its customer service.
Smith says how easy it is contact a company is important to customers. A glance at Bigpipe’s Facebook page shows how seriously it takes this aspect of the business.