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Uswitch Claim 14.8 Million UK People Hit by Major Broadband Outages

Tuesday, July 27th, 2021 (12:01 am) - Score 2,592
On the table, the network cable and modem, router

A new Opinium survey of 4,000 UK adults, which was commissioned by Uswitch, has claimed that 14.85 million people have been hit by a “major broadband outage” in the last year – this is said to be three times the number of the previous year’s survey (4.7 million).

Put another way, some 47% of respondents said they had experienced a loss of broadband connection (of any kind) over the last 12 months, while 60% of those people reported that their broadband cut out for more than 3 hours because of a “genuine outage” (i.e. one caused by a “power cut“, the broadband ISP, damage to cables external to a property or routine maintenance to cables external to a property).

The average home affected by broadband outages was said to have been left offline for more than 2 days over the course of the last 12 months. In addition, over 3 in 10 respondents experienced an outage during office hours, costing the UK an estimated 16 million working days – a potential hit of nearly £5 billion to the economy.

Out of those who experienced an outage, some 42% complained about it to their provider and 37% said they were “tempted to switch providers” as a result of it. Meanwhile, 36% of respondents turned to a mobile data (mobile broadband) connection when an outage struck, with 63% then proceeding to burn through their whole monthly data allowance.

Interestingly, Edinburgh was this year found to be the UK’s “outage capital“, with residents suffering the longest time without broadband per person and losing 9 million hours of broadband over the year. This is the opposite of last year, which found that the Scottish capital experienced some of the fewest outages in the UK.

Table: The worst places in the UK for broadband outages 2019-20 vs 2020-21

City Average downtime 2019-20 Average downtime 2020-21
Edinburgh 25 hours 175.3 hours
Bristol 169 hours 109.3 hours
Leeds 13 hours 96.5 hours
Sheffield 32 hours 75.3 hours
Brighton 89 hours 70.1 hours
Birmingham 25 hours 66.8 hours
Liverpool 21 hours 59.5 hours
Southampton 26 hours 45 hours

One key difference between this year’s survey and last year’s is that respondents this year now have experiences that cover a full year of COVID-19 related restrictions and lockdowns (last year’s survey only included the first few months of that), which has resulted in more people working and playing from home. As a result, people were much more likely to spot outages that might have normally gone unnoticed.

However, we don’t think it’s necessarily fair to describe something as a “broadband outage” when “power cuts” are listed as one of the survey options for the cause – a power bank with AC sockets or mini-UPS can often bring your connection back to life, even if the domestic mains supply goes down. A bit more separation on the power cuts question would have helped to clarify the impact of this.

We should point out that internet outages can often also 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 active devices), viruses / hackers, faults with a remote internet server or an issue with the wider local or office network setup etc. Figuring out which aspect is to blame isn’t always easy, especially for non-IT folk.

Nevertheless, modern broadband 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 fibre cables, fires, power cuts and deeper faults within an ISP’s 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).

If you can, it’s often wise to check with your ISP if the fault is in your home or on their network, although the front-line support staff 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 they become aware of an outage, by which time it’s often been resolved).

The good news is that the new generation of Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) based broadband ISP networks aren’t only significantly faster than older copper based or hybrid fibre solutions, but they’re also much more reliable. On the other hand, they’re by no means immune to such issues and problems do still occur, even if they’re less likely to be caused by the line itself.

Leave a Comment
20 Responses
  1. David says:

    I wonder if the survey asked who their ISP was. Numerous colleagues at work have been constantly complaining throughout the entire pandemic about Virgin Media suffering outages almost daily – and often multiple times per day. Meanwhile on Sky the only time I’ve experienced an outage was when they pushed a firmware update to the router whilst I was working.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Sadly the survey didn’t ask that question, but I suspect ISPs would be up in arms if they did that while still including separate events, like domestic ‘power cuts’, as causes for a loss of broadband connectivity.

    2. Peter says:

      I have sky superfast BB and have to use Ethernet as WiFi is appalling. Ethernet is usually fine but have had a few problems and only had good speeds until the 30 day period runs out.Then it starts to drop by as much as 30%. Once I stopped sky q TV temporarily and within a day or two speeds dropped by 10Mb. The UK’S supposed super highway is now 48th in speeds in the world and falling out of top 50 if it hasn’t already. We were doing quite well but it went backwards quickly over the last 10yrs.

    3. Roger_Gooner says:

      We already have a good idea who the good (and bad) boys are from Ofcom’s surveys of broadband complaints. The last published survey covering October to December 2020 showed that the industry average per 100,000 customers was 16, and here’s the main providers.

      6 – EE
      7 – Sky
      14 – BT
      19 – TalkTalk
      21 – Plusnet
      23 – Virgin Media
      30 – Vodafone (most)

      You might have thought that Virgin Media would do much better as its coaxial cables are superior to Openreach’s phone wires that DSL providers rely on, but I suspect that it’s mainly because VM’s access network is far more prone to problems as it’s more complicated than Openreach’s wires between the DSLAM and customer premises.

  2. Neil says:

    There seems to be a price war between ISPs. Are they cutting investment to cope? Two year contracts are common, which means that switching ISPs is difficult and protects them from disgruntled customers leaving. Bring in 6 month contracts to keep them on their toes.

    1. André says:

      Yes, I will not accept any contract over 12 months. Left EE for Vodafone (mobile, not broadband) for that same reason. It grossly changes the power dynamics between the consumer and the provider and I, for one, am not willing to accept that.

    2. Buggerlugz says:

      Yes, in every possible way. This is indicative of cutting corners and lack of investment, sadly something the UK’s broadband providers are well known for. Still they have to pay the boards bonuses somehow don’t they?

      For any ISP to explain this type of thing as “a localised power cut” or something along them lines is just a total cop out. As broadband is part of the countries infrastructure it should be written into law that customer facing ISP kit should have UPS in place for that eventuality, likewise enough engineers to resolve other technical issues and spare-parts to resolve problems within a specific time-frame.

      As customers we should expect the best service, not accept the worst.

    3. CarlT says:

      No, they aren’t. Very few actually connect their own network to customers anyway and the Openreach network is protected from power outages by battery backup and in the headend exchanges generators.

      For people on FTTP all will be fine apart from those on Virgin Media RFoG where there are a few other things that can go wrong.

      FTTC the cabinets have battery backup.

      CityFibre will be fine.

      Other altnets I can’t speak to but would hope they’ve UPS on their active cabinets.

      Virgin Media HFC doesn’t have battery backup on anything other than the telephony MSANs.

      I doubt there actually was a significant increase to outages. Far more likely the same outages were seen far more often as people are spending much more time at home.

      The UK continues to have very high levels of network quality compared with most, the vast majority running entirely uncongested networks and Openreach running with no visible contention on their FTTC/P networks – as required by the various speed guarantees and advertising rules.

      Better would be good, however would also necessitate paying more and it’s fair to say there’s little appetite for that – some posters on here curse the pricing as it stands let alone paying more.

    4. Arthur says:

      Hi Bring in 30 day contract NOT 24 month tie you in if you are Un Happy or want to leave you are Stuck or need to pay Hundreds of £££

    5. André says:

      Thank you for that comprehensive post, CarlIT
      I agree that generally the OR network seems pretty decent. Most constraints in ISPs are likely to be in their own core networks.
      I also believe the UK to be above average on the reliability of their power network, I suspect because so much of it is underground rather than overhead cables.

    6. A says:

      @CarlT, no all Virgin cabs are battery backuped, there is a video from Stephen Scott a while ago which showed the inside of the cabs, the amplifier cabs are powered by another cab though with power being sent over the coax wires.

    7. 125us says:

      If you want business type repair times and SLAs, buy a business service.

      If you want every broadband connection in the country to have at least 3 9s, expect everyone’s bills to double.

    8. CarlT says:

      I’m aware of how the amplifiers are powered having seen and worked with them, however unless they’ve done some serious retrofitting the nodal cabinets don’t have a battery backup.

      I guess the very new HFC areas might have them but certainly not network-wide. They’ve a UPS with very short life but no substantial battery backup to keep the network running for any length of time.

      Kinda pointless their having battery backup when the CPE would be offline.

      Anyone that’s worked with VM recently that can advise please do.


      Seems to indicate power cut = outage.

  3. dave says:

    I had loads of downtime last year using vdsl, switched to virgin media now, only 15mins downtime over the past month which is much better than before.

  4. JP says:

    4000 people accumelates 14 million…. OK.

    Seems to easy for claims to be made these days, show me data, not small samples of unregulated questionairs that are designed to be found and signed by plantifs

    1. Buggerlugz says:

      I thought all surveys these days were done to get the answer they actually wanted? Be it the Uswitch, Which, Rootmetrics or even the ONS.

    2. André says:

      Yeah, not worth the paper they’re printed on.
      They make for some amusing examples of how much idiocy the marketing bods can come up with…

  5. MoM says:

    So the flooding of the Edinburgh exchange last Aug which was down for over 12 hours affecting a EXTRMELY wide area of Eastern Scotland didn’t have anything to do with it swaying the results.

    1. André says:

      You’re giving too much credit to the methods and methodology of something which can’t have been designed by anyone over the age of 5….

  6. The Facts says:

    Time for another USwitch survey showing the slowest roads where FTTP is actually available.

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