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Spare a Thought for the Falkland Islands and Terrible Broadband

Wednesday, June 5th, 2019 (10:04 am) - Score 4,285
falkland islands map google

We often report in gripes with rural broadband connectivity from across the United Kingdom but spare a thought for the 3,400 people living on the largely self-governing and self-sufficient Falkland Islands, where all of the fixed line services and mobile networks are still supplied by a limited Satellite data link.

The islands, which are an Overseas Territory of the UK that reside nearly 500 kilometres off the South American coast (Argentina), have long suffered from poor digital connectivity and that’s partly due to the political fallout from the 1982 Falklands War (running a link back through Argentina, where the islands are known as Islas Malvinas, probably isn’t going to be considered either viable or wise any time soon).

On top of that the community is also incredibly remote, which even in an ideal political environment would still make running a subsea fibre optic line incredibly expensive (the islands GDP is £100m per annum and it’d probably cost more than that). Likewise you’d struggle to get a viable fixed wireless link from the South American coast.

Instead the islands are forced to get their data capacity from a Satellite link, which we believe currently leases about 200-300Mbps of total capacity. Little wonder that the average broadband download speed recorded by users on the Falkland Islands is around 1.5Mbps, with uploads coming in at just below 1Mbps (note: the speedtest sample size for this is tiny but the results seem about right given the above figures).

Fixed line ADSL broadband services on the islands tend to be provided by Sure (Sure South Atlantic), while Mobile comes from Vodafone. The latter has recently deployed a 4G network, which seems able to deliver the ever so slightly better average download speed of around 2Mbps (hardly worth using 4G for that but then the kit had to be upgraded anyway).

Sure tends to offer a choice of capped broadband packages, which range from 1.28Mbps (0.12Mbps upload) with a 3GB usage allowance for £15 per month to 5Mbps (0.76Mbps) with 105GB for £425.00 per month! Yes we can confidently classify this level of connectivity as being.. crap. However there are hints of progress from the local Government.

Governor Nigel Phillips, Speaking to the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly, said yesterday:

“This year has also seen advancements in telecommunications with the introduction of increased broadband allowances in July 2018 as well as the rollout of a new 4G network and the extension of the existing 2G network to remote areas.

The Government continues to work with the monopoly provider to help measure performance and target future investments.

Furthermore, the Regulator has been working hard to put in place plans to improve telecommunications services which remain a challenge for the islands. This has included the introduction of a new Spectrum Management Framework and the development of a new National Broadband Strategy.”

Unfortunately that National Broadband Strategy is somewhat hobbled by the fact that all it can really do is put forward a case for increasing Satellite capacity. On the upside it’s just possible that one of the new Low Earth Orbit (LEO) based satellite constellations, such as from SpaceX (here) or OneWeb (here), might end up providing a good solution but we won’t know for sure until those reach commercial operation. In any case the local government has not yet considered this.

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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.
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23 Responses
  1. Avatar Joe

    Bit spineless on the (name) Mark!

    I wonder if some form of local caching and storage could be made to work – nothing big firms don’t do on internal networks.

    LEO is obviously the best case longer term

    • Spineless? You mean putting “Islas Malvinas” in brackets like Google, Wikipedia and so many others do? Tricky but I’ll generally choose to give more information rather than less. People in the UK generally know the history and disputes.

    • Avatar Joe

      They do that for political/commercial reasons as you doubtless know. And no frankly I doubt anyone is reading this and only recognises the latter.

  2. Avatar NGA for all

    There is a proposal outlined here. https://www.openfalklands.com/fibra-optica-austral-connecting-northern-chile-to-tierra-del-fuego%EF%BB%BF/

    If we are not going to complete UK rural with the more than a £1bn available, we could make a contribution to one of these proposals.

  3. Avatar AnotherTim

    Wow, that poor broadband must make ordering things from Amazon really slow.

  4. Avatar not-impossible

    “running a link back through Argentina probably isn’t going to be considered either viable or wise any time soon”

    If you go ~600km west from the Falklands, and south a little, you reach the Magellan Straight so it would appear possible to run a ~800km path to Punta Arenas in Chile without venturing into Argentinian territorial waters.. although that would be unlikely to be cheap!

  5. Avatar chris conder

    Still lots of areas in the UK with speeds as bad. We are still helping areas who can only get dial up here. (lancs, yorks and cumbria)

  6. Avatar Gavin Short

    I suspect we will never allow our communications to be at the behest of argentina as we need security, and it’s the Falklands, just the plain old Falklands.

  7. Avatar Cesar

    I live in Wapping in London. Minutes between Canary Wharf and the City, literally two of the most important economic centres in the world. The best internet I can get is DSL 10mbp up 1mbp down. Also very unstable. Spare a thought for me

    • Avatar CarlT

      Nah. Plenty of other places besides where you live to reside in London and indeed outside it while still being able to get to work. The folks on the Falklands… not so much.

  8. Avatar Archie

    A lot of our overseas territories are dying. People might be more drawn to the islands if they had a proper connection.

    Surely strategically it’s worth putting in an undersea cable also?

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      Undersea cables are very expensive, and relatively fragile (easy to cut accidentally or deliberately). A better satellite connection is likely to be more reliable, and much cheaper. LEO satellites such as Space-X are planning should provide a good solution in a few years (probably sooner than a cable could be available anyway).
      Anyway I can’t think that poor broadband is the main reason more people don’t move to the Falklands (or any other remote territory).

  9. Avatar Chris Gare

    For more posts about Falkland Islands’ telecommunications and the Internet take a look at http://www.openfalklands.com

  10. Avatar Mark

    1.5mbps. Up until 18months ago my bb was a massive 200kbps tops.

  11. Avatar Gary

    Cool so I have an average download the same as the FI, without the usage cap. If anyone was wondering its like the most barren parts of Scotland there, but without the trees.

    This is what ‘remote, rural’ actually means not 3 miles from the nearest exchange.

  12. Avatar Marty

    Chile is running a underwater submarine cable to the bottom of south America they could get a deal together in the future with British goverment to extend the cable from Puerto Williams avoiding Argentina altogether. It’s dependent on three things infrastructure, how rough the sea’s are around there, (Cape Horn)& cost is obviously another factor.
    https://submarine-cable-map-2018.telegeography.com/

  13. Avatar craski

    Sounds like a problem that one of the several LEO satellite constellations may help to solve. Having waited this long, it could be all but solved for them without laying subsea cables.

    • Avatar Optimist

      Why limit connection to just one LEO system? Every LEO as soon as it starts up will cover all parts of the world so will require to sign up as many customers as possible. So it will make sense for every customer (or ground ISP) to connect with multiple LEO systems to ensure continuity in the event of one of them failing.

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