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Let’s Stop Having Different UK Definitions for “Superfast Broadband”

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014 (1:04 am) - Score 8,806

What is “superfast” or “fibre broadband“? The answer seems to vary depending upon whether or not you’re asking a Local Authority (council), the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) office, mobile operators or the national telecoms regulator. The situation has become ridiculously confusing.

Back in 2010 we wrote an extensive article about the difficulty of defining broadband Internet access technologies by speed and generic labels like “superfast” (here). Put simply, what is “superfast” today will be “superslow” tomorrow.

Never the less, definitions are still important because they can help to focus goals, much as the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme with its use of “superfast” has done, but not if all the key organisations then go on to have their own different interpretations.

How the UK Defines NGA / Superfast Broadband

1. The BDUK programme.

According to BDUK, the Government’s national target is for 95% of people in each local authority area to be put within reach of a fixed line “superfast broadband” service by 2017, which has for the most part been described as a service that offers “speeds of greater than 24 Megabits per second” (i.e. 24Mbps+, or 25Mbps if you prefer to express it that way). A small number of the most recent BDUK schemes also agreed with Ofcom and the EU’s definition (30Mbps+).

2. Ofcom

The telecoms regulator defines “superfast broadband” as 30Mbps+.

3. Europe

The Europe Commission’s (EC) digital agenda defines their goal for 2020 as being able to deliver speeds of at least 30Mbps+ to everybody.

4. Local Authorities (Councils) and BT

Some local authorities use 30Mbps+ for “superfast“, while others prefer 24Mbps+ (often depending upon when the contract was signed) and most tend to just reference their BDUK target as being for “high-speed fibre broadband” or similar, usually without explaining whether the “fibre broadband” figure is for 24Mbps+, 30Mbps+ or all speeds (i.e. raw network coverage including sub-24Mbps performance).

On top of that some councils will give a figure for “superfast” coverage, but they might sneakily reference this as being a reflection of the “intervention area” (i.e. only the area where public money is being spent to improve connectivity) rather than the whole county. All of this can easily cause confusion.

5. Mobile Network Operators

Mobile operators don’t seem to care about any official definitions, with Three UK previously using terms like “ultrafast” to describe 3G services and EE calling 4Gsuperfast” even in areas where the reception is so poor that you’d be unable to ever receive that.

NOTE: All of the above examples tend to reflect Internet download speeds, while upload performance is sadly overlooked and not a part of any official target.

In terms of local authorities, it’s hit and miss whether the council agrees to clarify their coverage by how many premises can expect to receive speeds of 24Mbps+, 30Mbps+ or if they simply cheat with the old “fibre broadband” phrase to reflect overall Next Generation Access (NGA) network reach (including sub-superfast speeds).

Sometimes ISPreview.co.uk has been able to get an answer on actual service speeds and coverage by going directly to BT and other times they’ve refused, passing the buck back towards the council for being unwilling to release said figure (for some councils, saying “fibre broadband” makes it easy because they can show improvement without answering the “how fast?” question).

Thankfully a small number of councils give figures for both. For example, Dorset expects the FTTCfibre broadband” network to cover 97% of premises by the end of 2016, but they also clarify that 95% can expect to receive “superfast” speeds of 24Mbps+. The Kent project does this too, giving a figure of 95% for total “fibre” coverage and 91% for those expected to get superfast speeds of 24Mbps+. Sadly they’re both in the minority and most seem to just use the bland “fibre broadband” phrase without stating a specific coverage figure for “superfast” speeds. But there’s more..

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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.
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