The UK ranks 31st in the world for broadband speeds and lags behind most of Europe, according to a new study. Cable ranked the UK’s average broadband speed at 16.51Mbps (megabits per second), which means a Lord of the Rings length movie would take one hour and two minutes to download.
A total of 19 European countries, 17 of which are in the EU, have better speeds than the UK. But we still come ahead of 158 other countries including Italy, France, Ireland and Monaco. Singapore tops the table with an average speed of 55.13Mbps. Yemen has the slowest broadband speed in the world, at an average of just 0.34Mbps, meaning it would take two days to download the same HD movie that would take just over 18 minutes in Singapore.
But why is the UK faring so poorly against other countries?
Andrew Ferguson, editor of thinkbroadband, says we shouldn’t be surprised – and that slow speeds are partly our own fault. There are millions of people in the UK, he explains, who could upgrade to faster services… but haven’t.
While he admits more money needs to be spent to get better technology to a minority, 93 per cent of people in the UK have the option of selecting super-fast broadband and simply haven’t brought it. This discourages providers from rolling out the faster connections, says Ferguson. “Providers will put better options out there to test whether they will work. If they aren’t being bought, they think ‘why are we bothering, we might as well just offer the cheap option everyone is buying’,” he says.
In the UK, broadband runs on a fibre to cabinet system, which relies on copper wires that slow broadband down. If you are within a kilometre of a BT green street cabinet you will probably get superfast broadband. Beyond that, not so much. So really, broadband success depends largely on whether you can afford it, and where you live.
This is why it’s important to ask your provider for a personalised estimate of the broadband speed in your area, says Ferguson, who warns not to rely on what sales people tell you over the phone since speeds can vary over time. Some service’s speeds drop off in the evenings because the whole world is online.
However, it’s less about a lack of superior technology, and more about how past decisions have shaped the state of broadband affairs today, says Ferguson.
Back in 2005, a decision was made in the UK that broadband should be a cheap, commodity product, which it then became. Making it cheap and affordable meant millions signed up for it, so those that rolled it out didn’t see much return on investment and weren’t encouraged to put out better, more expensive technology.
The better technology is ‘full fibre’, which Sweden and Spain have more of, hence they beat us on the international ranking, says Ferguson.
“The UK has gone for the soft, bit by bit approach to broadband speed and the advantage of this is that more people have something that’s reasonable,” says Ferguson. “In Spain, 80 per cent have full fibre but there’s this massive drop down to the 20 per cent who have as bad as the UK or worse.”
“The aim in the UK is to get 100 per cent of people to a reasonable speed level, rather than have a few on a gigabit.” So it comes down to the stark differences in how the UK has approached broadband historically, versus other countries.