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UPDATE 75% of UK Homes Can Get 30Mbps Capable Superfast Broadband

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014 (9:37 am) - Score 989

The latest research from Point Topic has claimed that superfast broadband (30Mbps+) coverage in the United Kingdom increased by 4.9% during 2013, reaching a total coverage of 75.2% (20.4 million homes) during the beginning of 2014. Ofcom has also published their European Broadband Scorecard, which puts the UK ahead of the other “major” EU states.

As usual BT’s on-going national roll-out of their up to 80Mbps capable Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) service and Virgin Media’s predominantly urban cable broadband (DOCSIS3 / EuroDOCSIS 3.0) network are the main drivers.

superfast broadband coverage q1 2014
NOTE: A 1.0 “Share” of UK Homes Represents 100% Coverage

The fact that Virgin’s entry-level package became a 30Mbps option last year and was recently raised to 50Mbps has played a huge part in boosting the coverage figures; albeit without any significant change in Virgin’s actual coverage (they still cover about half of the country and predominantly in urban areas).

Meanwhile BT has been busy completing the £2.5bn commercial roll-out of their FTTC service which, alongside a tiny smidgen of 330Mbps capable FTTP, should extend to cover 66% of the UK by this spring.

Last year also saw the first practical building work of the Government supported Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme, which aims to push fixed line superfast broadband coverage to around 90% by the end of 2015 and then 95% by 2017 (98% by 2018 if you include wireless and mobile broadband services).

Oliver Johnson, Chief Executive of Point Topic, said:

Britain was ahead of all the other big countries in the EU a year ago. With its growth in 2013 we are confident that it has held its place.

Being able to get a service doesn’t mean you actually buy it, of course. Many people in superfast areas are still using standard broadband over the telephone network and find it’s enough for their needs. Many other homes don’t have fixed broadband at all, although they may be using mobile connections.”

The analyst notes that Germany, which recently mocked the UK’s broadband target despite being in a similar position itself, is the country which comes closest to the UK among the European Union’s big six, with 66.2% coverage a year ago.

But the latest results also reveal that many homes are still struggling to achieve decent broadband speeds, although they state that 91% of British homes can get at least 4Mbps. As usual those that fall by the wayside tend to be rural premises, although it shouldn’t be forgotten that plenty of sub-urban areas can also suffer from performance problems.

At the same time Ofcom has today published their latest European Broadband Scorecard, which measures the UK’s progress against the other “major” EU states (i.e. France, Germany, Italy and Spain). But they leave out all of the rest like the FTTH friendly Scandinavian states. Ofcom’s methodology tends to be slightly different and its data a little older than Point Topic’s, thus the results are close but not perfectly in sync.

Ofcoms EU Broadband Scorecard – UK Highlights

• Highest broadband take-up (all types, by household), at 83%;

• Highest proportion of people to have bought goods online over a year (77%);

• Highest weekly usage of the internet (87%);

• Lowest proportion of people who have never used the internet (8%).

Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said:

This is excellent progress for the UK, but there is more to be done. We want to see even wider availability of superfast broadband across the UK, so as many people as possible can enjoy faster speeds to access the internet.

There is also more progress to be made to ensure consumers receive consistently high quality of service, including faster line repairs and installations for broadband and telephony.”

The good news is that Ofcom does still include data for all of the other 27 EU member states, which is what we’ll publish here because they also highlight the EU5 countries in a different colour.

eu28_superfast_broadband_coverage_q1_2014

 

eu28_superfast_broadband_penetration_q1_2014

Overall we do well against comparable big-boy countries, although the picture is clearly a little less impressive when you zoom out and look at all of the EU member states together (mid-table). Similarly Ofcom only focuses upon the 30Mbps target for “superfast” coverage, although the wider EU goal includes a desire to encourage 50% of people to take a 100Mbps+ connection by 2020 but there’s no reflection of that in Ofcom’s scorecard (note: by 2020 we predict Virgin’s entry-level package will be at least 100Mbps).

One final point to make is that network coverage and real-world performance are often two very different things. The above reports both represent best case assumptions that might not always reflect real-world experiences, where speeds can be slower than the headline rate due to a variety of issues (line quality, traffic management, network congestion etc.).

As a side note Ofcom’s report also reveals that their most recent published figure for the average real-world download speed of broadband in the UK is now 17.8Mbit/s (up from 14.7Mbps at the last report 6 months ago), which was derived from data collected in November 2013. The full fixed line speeds report is due out next week.

UPDATE 1:11pm

Naturally it didn’t take long for the politicians to spin into action.

Ed Vaizey, Communications Minister, said:

As part of the Government’s long term economic plan, broadband in the UK is going through a remarkable transformation. The Government’s rollout of superfast broadband is accelerating – Britons already do more business online than any other European country, and the news that we now have the best superfast coverage of all five leading European economies is testament to the progress made to date.”

But we also have Hyperoptic’s alternative viewpoint to temper against that.

Boris Ivanovic, Chairman and Founder of Hyperoptic, said:

Whereas this news may seem encouraging, there are a number of problems with the findings. Firstly, the overall conclusion that the UK has the best broadband in Europe is highly questionable as broadband infrastructure in other European countries, especially in Scandinavia, is far superior to ours at the moment.

Also, there is a disconnect between these average speeds reports, with Ofcom now pitting it at 17.8Mbps while Akamai is measuring at just 9.1Mbps. The reason for this is because of the way the data is collated and measured; median and average speeds are confused – just because providers report they are increasing speeds it doesn’t mean that the consumer is able to receive it.

For example, many buildings that we have connected with Hyperoptic’s 1 Gbps broadband were on less than 5Mbps beforehand. If these poor speeds are still happening in urban centres then it’s hard to believe reports that the UK has the best broadband in Europe – there is a long way to go before we can give ourselves this accolade.”

In fairness it should be said that the comparison with Akamai’s data isn’t ideal because they report the performance of their global Content Delivery Network (CDN), as opposed to the direct individual home connectivity that Ofcom tracks using specially modified in-home routers. On the other hand Hperoptic’s overall point is still valid.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
4 Responses
  1. Avatar Gerarda

    The last Point Topic report had a disclaimer saying that the UK figure was not comparable with the rest as they showed premises passed not premises able to get 30Mbps. Is this still there?

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