The UK communications regulator, Ofcom, has published its latest (extended) annual research, the Communications Market Report 2019. The report shows that the average broadband speed across the country rose by 18% in the last year. It grew from 52.2 Mbps to 64 Mbps.
The report is formed on data gathered and collated in November of last year but has now been adjusted to reflect of the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown and the surge in home working and video streaming that since resulted. Between the beginning of this March and the end of the month (the lockdown officially began on March 23 but many people were self-isolating from March 16) residential broadband speeds fell by 2%.
The pandemic notwithstanding, the 18% average broadband speed increase is in line with government targets and telco/ISP promises. Ofcom states that the small dip in speed first recorded in March virtually had no effect on the availability and resilience of broadband connectivity which held up well and still continues to.
Virgin Media suffered the greatest slowdown of the main providers. Speeds fell by 9.9% as the lockdown took hold and demand rose. Ofcom does point out that, having an all-fibre network, Virgin routinely provides substantially higher speeds than other ISPs and thus, most subscribers would have been unlikely to perceive any service degradation. What they do notice though is Virgin Media’s continual and all too frequent inflation-busting price rises.
Ofcom claims to have a very accurate methodology in place to calculate data rates whereby a big and widely geographically-dispersed group of volunteers agree to have their broadband speeds monitored directly from their routers. It has found that 73% of British homes have what the regulator is pleased to call “superfast broadband”, which equates to a minimum speed of 30Mbps.
And that figure is, of course, just the infamous ‘up to’ rate so beloved by the ISPs because it is such an easy get out when independent tests indicate that the real speeds achieved are woefully below the ‘up to’ a 60 mbps rate or whatever other unfeasibly fast figure the marketing department has conjured up. That part of the market is still far too redolent of the boastful and thoroughly unreliable Toad of Toad Hall.
As the Ofcom report shows, the real-life, real-world speeds actually achieved are lower than the ‘up to’ speeds so obviously displayed in ISP adverts. Ofcom reveals that 69% of residential subscribers get speeds in excess of 30 Mbps – and that figure includes the 17% of homes that get 100mbps or above and the mere three per cent that get 300 mbps.
Down at the bottom of the league, 13% of UK houses still struggle on with 10 Mbps of even less while 18% have service speeds of somewhere between 10 Mbps and 30 Mbps. What’s more, the statistics refer to the ratio of households actually achieving those speeds rather than the breadth of their availability.
The simple fact of the matter is that broadband speeds and ISP service bundles available to households vary greatly according to where the domestic premises are situated, be that a fibre-optic cabled city centre apartment, a cottage in a village or a moorland farm.
Britain is still a long way away from being a broadband paradise for all, but things are improving, albeit at a generally sluggish rate. Some 80% of UK homes now have broadband connectivity. However, while full-fibre availability is up by 20% since 2018, a mere 12% of UK households can actually access it. It’s a problem that needs to be addressed as quickly as possible, especially as, in a post-pandemic world, working from home might well be the norm for a much greater proportion of the population than it was back in PCV (pre-COVID) days.