For the second year running, a global study into internet speeds has been undertaken by the comparison site cable.co.uk and the results are quite interesting. For the 12-month period leading up to 29 May 2018 over 163 million speed test results were analysed from 200 countries across the globe; from developed nations to some of the poorest regions on earth.
Out of those 200 countries the UK, home to the likes of ‘father of the World Wide Web’ Tim Berners-Lee, ranked only 35th. What’s more – that’s a drop of 4 places compared to the same test last year.
Our average download speed came in at 18.57Mbps – which is twice the global average of 9.10Mbps; so, relatively it could be much worse, but in an age of bandwidth heavy applications and media including online gaming, Netflix and so on, speed matters.
The reason we’re falling behind isn’t that our internet speeds are getting slower, but we’re simply not keeping up with other countries investing in better technology such as FTTP (Fibre to the Premises). Currently, a majority of our super-fast broadband providers rely on a high-speed fibre-optic cable network to deliver incredibly high speeds across the country. However, for the last few miles of the journey, usually from the local exchange to the user’s house, the signal is transmitted via copper or coaxial cable which is much slower. It’s like driving a Ferrari at 180mph down a nice straight road, except the road is made of tar for the last 200 yards and so your average speed plummets and it was all for naught.
The top three countries have all begun major investment into FTTP technology, delivering fibre-optic speeds of up to 1Gbps straight to the home, giving Singapore an average speed more than 3 times that of the UK.
Another reason for the UK’s lacklustre performance is that so many homes are being left behind in our efforts to roll out faster broadband, creating a great rift between those who have and those who have not. I’m currently writing this article on my super-fast Virgin Media connection which never drops below 190Mbps, whereas some rural spots such as Miserden in Gloucestershire, are lagging the national average of Sudan, at only 1.6Mbps.
It would be quicker for a resident of Miserden to drive to London and go to the cinema and return, than it would be for them to download an HD movie.
The UK government has been pushing for better broadband from the major suppliers, including Openreach which operates a majority of the UK’s terrestrial communications infrastructure, but progress has been slow. There’s little financial incentive to deliver the kind of speeds modern browsing consumes because the cost of installing new fibre cable is just too high to see a decent return in the short term. That’s why some villages in the UK, fed up with the lack of progress, have taken it upon themselves to raise the money and install the cables themselves.
There are no hints from the UK government that they are willing to invest the great deal of money needed to boost our internet capabilities with the likes of FTTP or otherwise. Their plan is to encourage investment from local sources or telecoms operators and make it a universal right to ‘request high speed broadband’ by 2020, which sounds nice, but I don’t think that’s going to get us very far.
Until a real plan is in place and investment forthcoming, it’s likely that we’re going to continue to slip down the rankings table for many years yet.
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