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Superfast broadband surges in UK

April 15, 2014

One in four UK residential fixed broadband connections is ‘superfast’, according to latest Ofcom research.

The proportion of superfast connections – those offering headline speeds of 30Mbit/s or more – has risen from 5 per cent in November 2011 to 25 per cent in November 2013.

And the average superfast connection speed has continued to rise, reaching 47.0Mbit/s by November 2013 – an increase of 47 per cent, or 15.1Mbit/s since May 2010.

These are some of the findings from Ofcom’s tenth report measuring consumers’ actual broadband connection speeds, as opposed to headline advertised speeds. As well as looking at superfast broadband, the report considers ADSL broadband, which accounts for 69 per cent of UK residential broadband connections.

The report reveals that at 17.8Mbit/s, the average actual fixed-line residential broadband speed in the UK is almost five times faster than it was five years ago when Ofcom first began publishing the data (up from 3.6Mbit/s in November 2008).

While the growth in average speeds show that investment in broadband technology is delivering benefits for most consumers, the UK picture is uneven. A significant number of households especially those in rural areas, can experience considerably slower speeds.

Ofcom’s indicative analysis suggests that:

the average urban download speed in November 2013 was 31.9Mbit/s, a 21 per cent increase since May 2013;
the average suburban download speed in November 2013 was 21.8Mbit/s, a 22 per cent increase since May 2013.

The research also suggests that average speeds in rural areas increased from 9.9Mbit/s to 11.3Mbit/s between May and November 2013. The sizes of the rural samples from which these averages were taken, however, are not large enough for the change to be deemed statistically significant. As such, the figures should be treated as indicative only.

One key reason for the slower speeds in rural areas is the limited availability of superfast broadband services. In addition, broadband speeds over ADSL, a technology that uses the copper wire telephone network, are generally slower in rural areas because of the longer distances to the telephone exchange.

Problems with slower broadband speeds are not just confined to rural communities but can also affect urban areas. Ofcom will be publishing research into the important issue of urban broadband variability during the course of this year and seeking to explore with operators any barriers to roll out of higher speed services.

Ofcom Chief Executive, Ed Richards said: “The growth in superfast broadband and the rise in average speeds is testament to the investment in the sector. But the benefits are not shared evenly across the UK. There is more work needed to deliver wider availability of broadband and superfast broadband, particularly in rural communities but also in some locations within cities to enable wider access to fast internet.”

Improving speeds in rural areas is a priority for the Government which has committed funding to ensure superfast broadband is more widely available across the UK. It has reported it is on course to reach 90 per cent superfast coverage by early 2016 and recently announced an extra £250 million investment to extend superfast coverage to 95 per cent of premises by 2017.

Of the ISP packages included in the report, Virgin Media’s ‘up to’ 120Mbit/s service, which delivers broadband using cable technology, achieved the fastest download speeds over a 24 hour period, averaging 114.9Mbit/s. This was followed by ‘up to’ 76Mbit/s fibre packages (which include BT, Plusnet, TalkTalk, Sky and EE). which delivered average download speeds of 64.8Mbit/s.

In April 2012, guidance on the use of speed claims in broadband was introduced. This was produced by the Committee of Advertising Practice and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice. The guidance states that advertised speed claims now have to be achievable by at least 10 per cent of the relevant ISP’s customer base. Many ISPs have since stopped promoting their services primarily on the basis of speed.

In July 2011, Ofcom introduced a strengthened voluntary broadband speeds code of practice to help ensure consumers are aware of the likely broadband speed they can get on their line from an ISP, before signing up to a service.

Last year, Ofcom conducted mystery shopping to check ISPs’ compliance with the code which found that, overall, it is working effectively.

Ofcom has, however, identified areas where the code might be strengthened further to better serve consumers and has discussed improvements with providers. Ofcom expects to publish a revised code of practice in the coming months.

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