Scream if you want to go faster

In keeping with the positive afterglow of the Olympics, UK regulator Ofcom has this week released some good news about average UK broadband speeds, announcing a rise from 6Mbps to 9Mbps. Average speeds in the country are now 2.5x faster than they were in 2008 when Ofcom started keeping track, the largest single jump so far.

So where’s this speed coming from? According to Ofcom, it’s not just due to customers choosing to upgrade their connections, but from ISPs improving their networks to deliver faster speeds, “at little or no additional cost to consumers”. (Essentially here, we’re talking about the move from ADSL to ADSL 2+).

The rest of the boost is from ‘superfast’ connections now offered by UK incumbent BT, and Virgin Media’s cable network. Both of these are essentially Fibre-to-the-Curb optical connections, with the former using copper from the cabinet to the home and the latter using coaxial cable. The general ropyness of the former means that the actual speeds you get drop dramatically the further you are from the cabinet, while Virgin speeds tend to hold up better over longer distances. However, BT is said to offer more consistent speeds at peak times and offers higher upload speeds as standard – 20Mb compared to 10Mb.

Virgin wins the overall speed charts with a headline product of 100MB/s with average speeds on this hitting up to 90Mb. BT Infinity, which promises up to 76 Mbps, typically delivers an average of 58.5Mbps, Ofcom said. Virgin has been doubling its speeds on its network to all customers since April 2012, though it’s still got a long way to go to complete this. BT meanwhile, has increased its speeds on its optical product from 40Mb to 80Mb.

Another improvement is that new advertising regulations means that some ISPs have had to drop the maximum speeds that can be achieved on their networks. The new rules, which have been criticised for being too lax, mean that at least 10 per cent of customers must be able to achieve a speed for it to be advertised. They have had some impact, as now the up to 24Mb/s brigade are now advertising services as up to 16Mb/sec, while BT, with its fibre optic went down from 80 to 76Mb/s.

Either way, it’s horses for course really between the two, and if you’re not already in an area served by BT or Virgin – and they often overlap – more often than not you’re still find yourself staring at a spinning buffering symbol on iPlayer or YouTube.

This is a still a massive pain point for anyone living outside of the main hubs in the country, but it’s actually a source of irritation for everyone. Where I live I fortunately have my pick of superfast network choices, but that makes it all the more frustrating when I want to get online elsewhere in the country. And all too often, if you can’t get a decent fixed line connection, the chances are you won’t be getting any decent 3G coverage either.

While this is overall good news then what we need to see happen, in the UK and other territories, is a move from companies blinkerdly focusing on the low hanging fruit of offering ever faster headline speeds to the same customers, and to getting around to improving coverage for everyone as a whole. It’s what the the country wants, and the economy needs.


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