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How reliable is the Government's new broadband speed tester?

As the Australian Government releases a broadband speed tester allowing users to check download speeds, one expert doubts how effective such tools can be.

After setting the parameters for the continuing rollout of the NBN across Australia, the Department of Communications has released a broadband speed tester allowing Australians to check their download speeds. But one broadband expert has raised doubts about just how effective such tools can be.

The Government's MyBroadband site allows Australians to test their broadband speed. (Credit: Australian Government Department of Communications)

The Department announced the launch of the MyBroadband website yesterday, offering the public access to data about broadband quality across Australia along with a tool for testing their broadband speeds.

The announcement came shortly after the Government released an updated Statement of Expectations, calling on NBN Co to "deliver broadband upgrades sooner, at less cost for taxpayers and more affordably for consumers".

The MyBroadband speed tester certainly looks the part, with a speedometer measuring download and upload speeds, and graphs that track connection.

But Matt Tett, managing director of internet performance testing company Enex TestLab, has warned that these sorts of tools are not always reliable in measuring speeds.

For its part, Enex TestLab spent seven years developing its internet performance measuring tool, known as eMetric, in conjunction with the Department of Communications. The eMetric tools were used to provide independent performance monitoring services to ensure end-users were getting the services promised and that Government investment was being put to good use, according to Tett.

Speaking about MyBroadband, Tett was not convinced about the efficacy of a Government-sponsored speed tester.

"It is interesting to see that the Government has quickly launched this site that offers a link to a free service testing and reporting service," he said. "Unfortunately there can be some fundamental issues when attempting to test and report on live service performance from within an internet browser, or indeed any application.

"This primarily relates to the consistency and management of the variables which may affect the test execution that are not related to the network, such as the customer's computer hardware, and its operating system, applications, resources and browser. That's not to mention the other end of the link, being the server point that the test reports to, and the loads heading to and from that point.

"Many of the free test services also utilise flash on the front end, but unfortunately flash is also significantly affected by the type of browser being used, and its version. There are numerous browsers and each will return highly variable results even when used on the same computer and on the same network.

"The value of any test data is only as robust as the methodology which is required to identify and eliminate, or control, as many variables as possible," he added. "Unfortunately the reliance on such information can actually create more issues than they solve, and spreading misinformation based on inaccurate data serves no-one."

Despite the variability and potential inaccuracies of speed testers such as the one used on MyBroadband, Tett believes broadband access is getting better across Australia and it deserves continued investment.

"I personally believe that the Government in power has a duty of care to its citizens to ensure that they see the NBN through, in some form or another, while ensuring fiscal responsibility...and equality in network availability between metropolitan, regional and rural regions of this country.

"We have been working on independently testing and monitoring these tasks for over ten years now from 256/64kbps in 2004 to 100/40mbps in 2014. Whatever happens I am sure the next decade will see massive improvements in broadband access again. We just need to get on and focus with the delivery so that Australia can benefit."