) Misleading wireless stats harm NBN debate

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04.10.2011It was too juicy a morsel for those arguing against the National Broadband Network (NBN) to ignore last week: the latest ABS stats appear to show that wireless is outstripping demand for fixed connections in the home. However, a closer look shows that they do nothing of the kind.
The June 2011 Internet Activity Report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows that the proportion of broadband connections using wireless devices (tablets, laptops, Kindles etc — but not mobile phones) has exceeded those on a DSL fixed-line connection. But the numbers present a confusing story that actually serves to muddy the broadband debate.
The subsequent misreporting highlights a weakness in the way that the ABS presents its data. Andrew Colley reported in The Australian, for example, that “the number of consumers using some form of wireless service for their broadband, excluding mobile handsets, has surpassed the number using copper line ADSL for the first time”.
Whether he`s correct or not depends on your definition of consumer. I`ve always considered a consumer to be distinct from a business customer, and herein lies the problem. The latest figures from the ABS are an aggregate of consumer and business subscribers. They do break down subscribers by type, but we don`t know how many are wireless and how many are fixed. More importantly, we don`t know how many have both types of connection.
It`s important to break out the consumer sector, because business users will be severely skewing the results. In a business, you`d expect growth in wireless devices to far outstrip the number of fixed connections. A business of 20 people might need one or two wireless devices for each staff member, but still only one fixed-line connection.
Subscriber stats (Credit: ABS)
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