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Survey Claims UK Broadband Outages Hit 4.7 Million People and Cost £1.5bn

Thursday, August 13th, 2020 (12:01 am) - Score 955
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A new Opinium based survey from Uswitch.com, which questioned a “nationally representative” sample of 4,003 UK adults between 24th to 27th July 2020, has claimed that 4.7 million people suffered a “broadband outage” lasting more than 3 hours in the past year and this cost the economy some £1.5bn.

Put another way, the survey found that 39% of respondents had experienced an outage of any kind over the past 12 months. Some 23% of those reported that their broadband cut out for more than 3 hours because of a genuine outage caused by either a “power cut“, “broadband provider had an outage“, “damage to cables external to my property” or “routine maintenance to cables external to my property“.

Apparently the “average affected home” – when adding up all the outages – experienced more than a day (29 hours) offline in total over the last 12 months. However, we note that the main body of Uswitch’s press release rather cheekily makes no mention of the “power cut” aspect (it’s in the small print) and instead pins nearly everything to broadband (i.e. effectively akin to blaming the ISP), which isn’t entirely fair. In some areas power cuts can be quite common and so ideally the questions should have given more separation for the correct context.

The longest single outage was also found to have happened in Leeds, West Yorkshire, with residents reporting an incident lasting 54.4 hours, although we don’t get a clear list of other locations for comparison. Meanwhile, people in London reported the most instances of outages, with more than 7 occurring in the past year, while Cardiff experienced the fewest outages in the UK (only 1% of people lost connection).

In terms of what people were doing when their broadband went offline, some 28% said they were working (this is partly where they derived the £1.5bn+ figure from). Finally, the survey reveals what people did when their broadband went offline, which found that 37% “used phone and mobile data” or “tethered” their mobile phone to a computer and 26% stopped what they were doing until the “internet came back.

NOTE: Just as an interesting question, should we count it as a “broadband outage” if you failover to a backup connection (mobile or otherwise) that keeps your primary internet connection alive? Hmm.

At this point we have to give Uswitch some credit for mentioning that the perception of an internet outage can often be linked to more than the broadband connection itself, such as a problem caused by your home router (e.g. slow WiFi or the unit being overloaded with too many connected devices), viruses / hackers, faults with a remote internet server or an issue with the wider local network setup etc.

However, we can believe that 4.7 million people may have suffered a “broadband outage” that lasted longer than 3 hours in the past year, in fact that figure may even be a bit low if not for the issues of observation and length (i.e. did you spot when every single one actually happened, such as late at night? Unlikely for most people).

Modern telecoms networks are extremely complicated and can be disrupted in all sorts of different ways, such as via weather damage (flooding, fallen trees etc.), third-party street works cutting through core fibre cables, fires, power cuts and deeper faults within an ISPs network (e.g. hardware failure, routing / peering or DNS mistakes etc.). Most of these are resolved within minutes or a few hours, but others can take days and very rarely weeks or longer (complex incidents in remote rural areas are usually slower to resolve).

Indeed during the COVID-19 crisis a number of operators, such as Virgin Media, did suffer a few major outages. The impact from those was probably magnified by the wider lockdown at the time (i.e. from time-to-time such outages will occur on any network, but this time we all noticed them more than usual).

If you can it’s often wise to check with your ISP to see if the fault is in your home or on their network, although the front-line support at some broadband providers aren’t always as well informed as we’d like (i.e. we often see examples where it can take several hours before support staff become aware of an outage).

At this point a lot of people often use such experiences as a reason to highlight the advantages of newer Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology, which isn’t just significantly faster than older copper based or hybrid fibre solutions but is also much more reliable. But this comes with a caveat because FTTP is still vulnerable to many of the same problems as mentioned earlier and outages do still occur.

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1 Response
  1. Avatar Chris Sayers says:

    Completely agree with you @Mark Jackson, if people are working at home then their Internet connection is unlikely to be covered by the usual SLA’s that their employer would enjoy, businesses seldom loose their Internet connectivity in the same way as a residential property would, was that taken into account when this survey was carried out?

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