Downloads soar once Australians get on the NBN, Telstra numbers show
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Downloads soar once Australians get on the NBN, Telstra numbers show

As Aussies develop a taste of Ultra HD video streaming, the average household is chewing through almost 200GB every month and their unquenchable thirst for data shows no sign of abating.

Household fixed-line data usage grew 40 per cent in the 12 months to July 2018, maintaining steady year-on-year growth for the last five years, according to the latest Telstra figures. Across the country, Telstra customers downloaded 243,300TB in July alone.

Telstra is beginning to offer unlimited home internet plans, eliminating a point of difference from its rivals.

Telstra is beginning to offer unlimited home internet plans, eliminating a point of difference from its rivals. Credit:Joe Armao

The nationwide NBN rollout is helping feed this demand for data, with monthly household downloads leaping by 50 per cent once homes move across to the new high-speed network. The increasing usage is not just driven by faster speeds, with households on ADSL still managing to download 23 per cent more data in the last year.

The NBN rollout has reached the three-quarter mark, with almost half the nation's premises now connected and an expected completion date of 2020. Improved NBN wholesale pricing on faster speeds has seen many homes bumped up from 25Mbps to 50Mbps connections.

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Along with faster download speeds, the growing availability of Ultra HD content and falling cost of Ultra HD televisions are key drivers behind Australia's data boom, says Jana Kotatko, head of fixed products at Telstra.

"The growth of 4K televisions combined with faster internet speeds means Australians are watching videos in amazing quality and clarity, creating a much better entertainment experience than five years ago," Kotatko says.

"Because of this improved experience, as our customers move over to faster speeds on the NBN, we’re seeing their data usage increase."

Telstra customers' data usage has risen across the country.

Telstra customers' data usage has risen across the country.

The average Telstra household now consumes 196GB per month, breaking down to 210GB for homes on the NBN and 153GB for those still on ADSL.

The national average is likely higher considering that Telstra has just over half of the Australia home broadband market, but its premium pricing means that homes with hefty download requirements are likely to find better value for money elsewhere.

The release of Telstra's annual download figures comes as the telco overhauls its broadband plans and upgrades more customers to unlimited deals.

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Over the past fortnight Telstra has upgraded around 600,000 fixed-line broadband customers to unlimited data allowances at no extra cost, meaning the telco now has more than two million customers on unlimited fixed-line plans. Unlimited prices start at $89 per month with 50Mbps download speeds.

Telstra has been slow to embrace the idea of unlimited data deals but the move to the NBN is creating a level playing field which is forcing the telco's hand, says Finder.com.au telecommunications analyst Alex Kidman.

Of the fixed-line broadband plans on Finder, one third offer unlimited data; including 53 per cent of ADSL plans and 28 per cent of NBN plans.

Rivals can undercut Telstra's 50 Mbps unlimited data deals by at least $20 per month, Kidman says, without the need to lock into a long-term contract as with Telstra. The proposed merger between TPG and Vodafone could also drive down prices.

"Telstra has been the big holdout when it comes to offering widespread unlimited plans," Kidman says. "It has maintained its premium pricing but very slowly and begrudgingly moved towards offering more unlimited deals."

Embracing unlimited data means that Telstra's rivals can no longer use their unlimited deals as a key differentiator, he says. Instead, rivals are forced to compete in other areas where Telstra's size and market dominance still work to its advantage.

"Telstra highlights its typical evening NBN evening speeds to help it stand out from cheaper rivals, which becomes a more important factor once everyone offers unlimited downloads," Kidman says. "Not every telco publishes these real-world evening speeds, even though the ACCC would like them to do so.

"Once unlimited downloads is no longer a big issue, Telstra can also focus on its ancillary services like sports streaming deals and its smart home hub. You're not going to buy data-hungry devices like smart home cameras if you're worried about it burning through all your data so you can't watch Netflix."

Adam Turner is an award-winning Australian technology journalist and co-host of weekly podcast Vertical Hold: Behind The Tech News.