Netflix niggles networks with speed index

Written by on May 26, 2015 in Opinion with 2 Comments

Digital television noiseAs if network operators haven’t got enough to contend with from customers, competitors and regulators they now have those free-loading OTT players, sorry digital service providers (DSPs), on their backs as well!

Some Australian ISPs and CSPs were rightfully miffed recently when Netflix revealed which of them provided the best prime-time streaming experience. The US video streaming giant launched the local version of its “ISP Speed Index” – a measure of prime-time Netflix performance on a particular ISP and not a measure of overall performance for other services/data that may travel across the specific ISP network. Regardless, the results were not too flattering.

No wonder Australia is hell-bent on getting it’s national broadband network up and running when the best of the bunch (TPG Telecom) could only deliver average speeds of 3.36 megabits per second (Mbps). Telstra came in at last place recording average speeds of 2.23 Mbps. Australia was ranked 17 out of 29 countries that Netflix ranks.

Netflix stated on its website that it would be “working closely with these ISPs and expect performance to improve in the coming months” presumably because “faster Netflix performance generally means better picture quality, quicker start times and fewer interruptions.” Just how they plan to do that is a mystery.

A quick look at the full index shows that Switzerland leads the pack with an average speed of 4.06 Mbps and Costa Rica bringing up the rear with average of only 1.74 Mbps, hardly viable for any reasonable video viewing, surely?

That raises the question as to what is an acceptable speed for streaming and why these numbers seem so low. Presumably, the main factor is that the measurements are taken at prime-time when demand is heaviest on all networks.

It would also be fair to assume that some networks cache heavy demand sites to alleviate the load on their networks and interconnection points. Equally possible, in this pre network neutrality era, is that some operators could be de-prioritizing Netflix traffic in favour of their own services. The mind boggles.

Although Netflix avoids direct finger-pointing, the mere fact that it conducts this indexing exercise and publishes the results gives its customers a pretty good idea which network they should be on if they want to maximize their Netflix experience.

Of course, Netflix is entitled to do this but one would think it a little more prudent to release the information under another name than the full frontal approach it opted for. No wonder some network operators want to charge DSPs like Netflix for traversing their networks and using up considerable bandwidth.

However, with impending net neutrality regulations, it seems highly unlikely they will ever collect anything from the likes of Netflix, or be able to charge their own customers a premium for jitter-free, higher bandwidth and faster service. From where I sit, this all seems a little unfair. DSPs will continue to opt for higher quality, resource-hungry services – and be able to charge accordingly – whilst the networks carry the extra burden of having to invest in better networks without any incremental increase in revenue.

On top of that, they have to suffer the ignominy of being graded in a ‘beauty’ contest of speed by the one company relishing in the ‘free’ use of those valuable resources. Is there something wrong here?

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About the Author

About the Author: Tony is a freelance writer, regular speaker, MC and chairman for the telecoms and digital services industries worldwide. He has founded and managed software and services companies, acts a market strategist and is now Editor of DisruptiveViews. In June 2011, Tony was recognized as one of the 25 most influential people in telecom software worldwide. .


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  1. Dean Bubley says:

    The ISPs will be fortunate if they escape without paying the Netflix’s & Facebooks of this world. Cable operators need to pay app/content providers, after all.

    If the telecom industry is hell-bent on picking a fight over Net Neutrality & things like paid priority, they have to think through the likely unintended consequences. One of those outcomes is exactly this – content companies will steer their customers to the best-performing networks (from their perspective). They’re unlikely to *pay* for the privilege – it’s the job of the company selling broadband in the first place to dimension and engineer their network as well as possible.

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