Australia’s readiness for the metaverse

 RIS has been investigating what future networks are going to look like. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Augmented Reality (AR) will require massive increases in computational efficiency and is collectively known as the metaverse. An immersive, metaverse experience requires low latency. While download speeds are one component, latency is probably the most important. Generally, fixed fibre networks have far lower latencies than wireless. Except in Australia. Why? 

The biggest complaint from Australian telco’s is the role of the National Broadband Network (NBN). The wholesale market is dominated by the NBN. The process to build the NBN was initiated in 2009 and completed in 2020. The Australian government now owns over 93% of the wholesale sector. As the NBN network expanded across Australia, it squeezed out competing wholesale networks. The table below shows that NBN data volume has grown faster than mobile broadband, while non-NBN data volume has rapidly declined. 

Table 1: Data volume in Petabytes (Source: ACCC, 2021)

 19-Jun19-Dec20-Jun20-Dec21-Jun% change
NBN (fixed)3,479,1044,874,0876,277,8567,761,5298,204,246135.80%
non-NBN (fixed)1,811,3621,383,2951,135,182836,589588,452-67.50%
Total fixed5,290,4666,257,3827,413,0388,598,1188,792,69866.20%
Ratio of NBN to non-NBN (fixed)66.00%78.00%85.00%90.00%93.00%40.90%
Mobile broadband143,994146,878175,303245,847250,74074.10%
Source: ACCC, 2021

The typical complaint from telco’s about the NBN is its complex and outdated pricing regime that results in higher wholesale prices and squeezed retail margins. But network quality has also declined. It is one of the few countries in the world where fixed latencies are worse than mobile latencies. Australia’s average mobile latency in Q1 2022 was 28ms compared to its fixed latency of 45ms. Where telco’s are able to invest in their own networks, they are investing in 5G because of its higher speeds and lower latency.  

Table 2: Ookla speed test average latency in ms for selected countries

  2019 Q12020 Q12021 Q12022 Q1Change 
FixedKorea, South12.721.89.59.3-3.4
United Kingdom32.830.825.725.4-7.4
South Africa56.243.236.332.4-23.8
United States of America47.143.736.533.7-13.4
MobileKorea, South36.841.828.126.6-10.1
South Africa3934.530.932-7
United Kingdom41.338.840.141.90.6
United States of America49.14642.641.9-7.2
Source: Ookla

Metaverse-ready networks will require massive investment. Australia illustrates the difficulty of the state setting investment priorities for such a dynamic sector and squeezing out private sector investment.  This has lessons for Africa as well as the state is often taking a more interventionist role in the sector. Australia also illustrates the need for a new and better approach to investment in the sector that can handle the demands of the metaverse. 

Other news from around Africa 
  • Tanzania’s mobile money levies: In its Annual Financial Statements for 2021, Vodacom has reported that lower mobile money volumes in Tanzania as a result of the introduction of mobile money levies resulted in a revenue loss of R601 million (USD 38 million).
  • Uganda: Airtel has requested an extension of 1 year to its listing deadline. The original deadline is December 2022. 
  • Lesotho: The Lesotho Communications Authority is requiring all mobile subscribers to register their SIM cards. Nigeria provides good lessons on what to avoid.