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Enterprise Partnerships Slam Selective Ofcom Ranking of UK Broadband

Friday, March 21st, 2014 (9:06 am) - Score 688
slow-broadband-speed

The Chairmen of two enterprise partnerships – Buckinghamshire Business First and Oxfordshire Business First – have written an open letter to the Government and Ofcom that criticises the regulators “selective ranking” of the UK as number one in Europe for superfast broadband and calls on the country’s leaders “not to slip into complacency“.

The letter, which comes via way of Richard Browns realBSG group, follows the publication of Ofcom’s recent European Broadband Scorecard, which measured the UK’s progress against the other “major” EU states (i.e. France, Germany, Italy and Spain) and generally placed the country in front.

However the picture changes when you compare against the other 27 EU countries, as reflected in our own coverage of Ofcom’s report (here), where the United Kingdom is revealed to sit around mid-table for superfast broadband coverage and penetration.

The Open Letter

Dear Sirs

Ofcom’s selective ranking of the UK as number one (‘UK overtakes major EU nations for superfast broadband’ March 12th – Ofcom) leaves the public and businesses less well informed as to the reality of UK broadband coverage.

Firstly, in ranking the UK as top (within the five EU nations selected) for ‘superfast’ broadband network, Ofcom uses a low threshold speed of just 30Mbps. At the same time, it ambitiously deems over 70% of UK premises as having access to such speeds. In the real world, such a speed threshold is absurdly slow when compared to the genuine ‘superfast’ speeds available in other EU states and, as ever, in Asia where speeds of 1000Mbps/1Gbps are universally available. Tellingly, when ranked against all 27 EU states (not just the five Ofcom conveniently chose for the sake of a headline) the UK ranks tenth, behind countries like Portugal, Denmark, Belgium, Lithuania and Latvia.

Secondly, the truth is there are large areas of the UK (approximately 10 million homes and businesses according to the Government’s own figures) that are to be supported with public funding to deliver ‘target’ broadband speeds of just 2 Mbps and 24 Mbps (via the BT network). These speeds are well below even Ofcom’s low threshold of ‘superfast’ broadband. These ‘have nots’, which include some of our most productive business premises in rural locations, are being left to languish in the slow connectivity lane indefinitely.

Painting an unduly rosy picture serves us all badly. It amounts to institutional denial of the need for a significant change in policy towards investment in digital infrastructure. It is leading to an unnecessary rapid regional and national decline in our relative productivity and competitiveness. It is akin to adding extra weight to handicap our businesses in what the Prime Minister has called “The Global Economic Race”

Yours sincerely

Digital Business First

Alex Pratt Chairman Buckinghamshire Business First (Local Enterprise Partnership)

Frank Nigrello Chairman Oxfordshire Business First (Local Enterprise Partnership)

It’s worth pointing out that judging the United Kingdom’s progress towards achieving its target of 95% fixed line “superfast broadband” (25Mbps+) coverage by 2017 is also extremely difficult to do, not least because many local councils / BT prefer not to clarify what proportion of their “fibre broadband” target will actually receive “superfast” speeds (“fibre broadband” can mean anything upwards of 2Mbps on the dominant FTTC lines).

On the flip side the comparison with “Asia” should be taken with a pinch of salt because 1Gbps is only widely available in a few well developed South East Asian countries, like South Korea, and even then most still sell 100Mbps+ FTTH connections and not the full 1Gbps capability (note: fibre can also go even faster than this in the future).

At the same time many of those who buy a 100Mbps+ connection don’t actually receive all that speed because the capacity still has to be shared and or managed between many users. For example, SK Broadband in South Korea promises 100Mbps as a minimum but according to Ookla’s speedtest database (note: Ookla’s results have a tendency to be quite optimistic) they actually deliver an average of 56.74Mbps (some clearly don’t get what’s promised).

However this also overlooks the other side of the argument, which is the desire to have a fibre optic infrastructure where the bottleneck is no longer slow and unreliable copper cables in the ground (fibre optic lines should be more reliable, thus easier to maintain and cheaper to upgrade). Some would call fibre optic lines a “future proof” investment due to the huge potential for upgrades and recent enhancements. It’s hard to disagree, although you can never say with certainty what tomorrow may bring.

The issue that everybody usually stumbles over is simply, who pays? Even assuming efficiencies from the UK’s existing FTTC network, you’d still have to spend around £20bn+ for a national FTTH network and it would take many years longer to deploy. In the long term this might be a wise investment but finding a budget for such developments during a period of austerity is like trying to squeeze blood from a stone that’s already turned to dust. It’s not going to happen.

So in the meantime we have BT’s up to 80Mbps FTTC solution, which passes the economic feasibility test (at least as a short-medium term investment) and is quick to deploy. The caveats are that those who live furthest from their street cabinet will still receive sub-superfast speeds, it costs more to maintain and somebody will have to spend again for future upgrades.

Leave a Comment
24 Responses
  1. Avatar New_Londoner says:

    Quote “in Asia where speeds of 1000Mbps/1Gbps are universally available”

    @Mark
    Not only do the Ookla numbers not support this statement, the Akamai numbers suggest performance well within the capabilities of FTTC.

    Perhaps much of this supposed universal 1Gbps is actually FTTB for large apartment blocks, with actual performance to individual apartments in the 20-50Mbps range? And as you say Mark, this is only in a relatively small number of countries anyway.

    So it’s neither universal nor delivering the sort of performance that many people assume. Still, let’s not let the facts get in the way of opinion or the content of open letters! 😉

    1. I think the point of what they are trying to do is to highlight that the promises in the press cannot be delivered under the existing plan, and the nonsense report from Ofcom does little to add to their confidence.
      But then, the ‘facts’ of premises passed is that there are (sadly) many premises passed by.
      Not that it concerned you when you were part of contributing to those press promises, of course.

    2. Avatar No clue says:

      Indeed we are a million miles from being the once promised “Best in Europe” by idiot government and idiot BT there are other places in Europe running at around double our average.

    3. Avatar DTMark says:

      Are you really trying to make an argument that we shouldn’t invest in future technologies here based on the speeds people order in South Korea at the moment?

    4. Avatar New_Londoner says:

      @DTMark
      No, I am however suggesting that would should not make rash investment decisions based on an often deluded view about what is available elsewhere. Fact based decision making is what we need, in my view the nonsense in the “open letter” is what gets the private sector a bad name, is on the same level as some of the sloganising some on here resort to without bothering to either read stories or back up their arguments with data (not you!).

  2. Avatar No clue says:

    If we are going to take Ookla numbers for gospel then unlike Ofcoms figures we are in fact behind Germany and France in the Speed stakes
    netindex.com/download/2,28/France/
    netindex.com/download/2,27/Germany/
    netindex.com/download/2,4/United-Kingdom/

    Places like the Netherlands, Sweden and more which ofcom refuse to include absolutely thrash us
    netindex.com/download/2,48/Netherlands/
    netindex.com/download/2,6/Sweden/

    1. I think (much like all statistics) there is good and bad in most- but the interpretation is often weighed toward the outcome desired by those that created the stats.
      In this regard, it is possibly no surprise that Ofcom claim success (it’s their remit) in massaged figures.

    2. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      The article doesn’t use Ookla’s figures as “gospel” or anything of the sort, we used that as a simple tool for context to show that a mass market consumer 100Mbps – 1Gbps fibre optic line won’t always give you 100% of the speed (to contrast with the letters use of 1Gbps as a given assumption of expected performance). South Korea was a suitable example given its advanced position.

    3. Avatar Raindrops says:

      I think his response was more towards New_Londoner who used Ookla figures to try to suit his argument that FTTC here comes close to those speeds in Asia. Which clearly they do not as the UK is stuck in the 20Mbs range as an average where as the likes of Japan and South Korea are up in the 40Mb and 50Mb range.

      It is quite interesting data as a whole to look at. Russia as an example is very close on average speeds to the UK, that is a massive land mass to cover and i highly doubt they have had millions of government investment. When you start looking at things like that the UK speeds become quite amusing, but not in a good way.

    4. Avatar New_Londoner says:

      @Raindrops
      I think Mark covers the point on using Ookla numbers very well, and the same applies to my reference to the data from Akamai.

      As it happens I think that the methodology behind both data sets is lacking, with both suffering from number of issues. For example, are they statistically representative of the whole network in each country, are they impacted by poor wiring or wifi congestion at the customer end?

      I’d far rather see the Ofcom/Samknows approach replicated in other countries to give a more robust testing methodology. And of course even this can only test what people have chosen to subscribe to rather than showing the true capability of the underlying network.

      But none of this makes the content of the open letter any more valid!

    5. Avatar Somerset says:

      The netindex figures seem to be based on a sample of downloads. If people do not buy fast connections, even thought they are available, what do the numbers tell us?

    6. Avatar Raindrops says:

      The netindex figures are from speedtest data.

  3. New_Londoner is female and used to be in charge of Openreach

    1. Avatar New_Londoner says:

      News to me, my wife and company! But do carry on, no doubt your other comments will be as accurate.

  4. Avatar New_Londoner says:

    @Mark
    Looking at the Oxfordshire LEP web site (OxfordshireLEP.Org.UK), there is no mention of Frank Nigrello. Adrian Shooter CBE appears to be the Chairman. Very odd.

    1. Avatar CM2 says:

      That’s correct. Oxfordshire Business First, of which Frank is Chairman, is an organisation in partnership with local enterprise but not the Oxford LEP. Apologies for any confusion caused.From DBF.

    2. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      I don’t think they mean “that” LEP but I could be wrong. Anyway the relevant site for this one is:

      http://www.obfirst.org.uk/meet-the-directors/

    3. Avatar New_Londoner says:

      @Mark
      Thanks, don’t think it is a LEP then, just one of many business organisations.

  5. Ah – at least I had an appropriate connection. Sorry for my misunderstanding, and now I owe her an apology.

    I’ve always suggested my belief that it was her that had a vociferous need to defend everything connected with BDUK/BT and the nonsense we read in the Press.

    Turns out it was not.

    Do pass my apologies.

    1. Avatar New_Londoner says:

      @Richard
      As I don’t work for. BDUK, Ofcom or Openreach I’ll let you make your own apology. I hadn’t heard of the so-called “Real BSG” before today, now I understand why not.

    2. Aye – looking outside of what you know can often be testing. Don’t trouble yourself though; no one has asked about your nic.

  6. Avatar buyer beware says:

    The domain obfirst is regsitered to In Touch Marketing.

    The headline needs to be corrected as it is wrong.

    Oxfordshire LEP has what seems to be a plan for superfast broadband which refers to investment as deadweight because of the BDUK county project. It has £1.4 million investment for hard to reach areas between 2014 – 2020 but this seems to be a social fund, so making sure every claimant has access for example, not economic.

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  8. Avatar Chris Conder says:

    Having been part of a group who actually get a gigabit connection, the lower speeds that tests show are because hardly anyone has the capability to use it or test it properly on a single machine. We are finding the majority just use wifi. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do gigabit, it just means that their connections will stand the test of time, as they upgrade, use more gadgets at the same time, and as wifi gets faster and cheaper for home users. We should aim for the best infrastructure, and not spend a fortune trying to squeeze mileage out of an obsolete phone network. Its just not economic sense to work with copper any more. (unless you happen to own it and want to squeeze the last dregs of income from it instead of investing in the future).

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