UK home broadband speeds up by 18 per cent year-on-year, despite the pandemic

via Flickr © Kenny Holston 21 (CC BY-ND 2.0)

via Flickr © Kenny Holston 21 (CC BY-ND 2.0)

  • Ofcom says 73 per cent of population now gets superfast broadband...
  • But it depends on how you define "superfast"
  • Full-fibre availability up by 20 per cent since 2018...
  • But only 12 per cent of homes can connect to it

Ofcom, the UK comms regulator, has published its latest annual research, the Communications Market Report 2019, showing that average broadband speed across the country rose by 18 per cent in the last year. It grew from 52.2 Mbps to 64 Mbps. 

The report is based on data gathered and collated in November 2019 but has been adjusted to take account of the impact of the corona virus lockdown and the surge in home working and video streaming that resulted. Between the beginning of this March and the end of the month (the lockdown officially began on March 23 but many people were self-isolating from March 16) residential broadband speeds fell by two per cent. 

The pandemic notwithstanding, the 18 per cent average broadband speed increase is in line with government targets and telco/ISP promises. Ofcom points out that the small dip in speed first recorded in March had little effect on the availability and resilience of broadband connectivity which held up well and continues to do so.

Of the major broadband providers, Virgin Media suffered the greatest slowdown. Speeds fell by nine point nine per cent as the lockdown took hold and demand rose. Ofcom does point out though that, having an all-fibre network, Virgin routinely provides considerably higher speeds than other ISPs and thus most subscribers would have been unlikely to perceive any service degradation. What they do notice though is Virgin Media's continual and all too frequent inflation-busting price rises.

Ofcom claims to have a very accurate methodology in place to calculate data rates whereby a big and widely geographically-dispersed group of volunteers agree to have their broadband speeds monitored directly from their routers. It has found that 73 per cent of British homes have what the regulator is pleased to call "superfast broadband", which equates to a minimum speed os 30Mbps.

And that figure is, of course, just the infamous "up to" rate so beloved of the ISPs because it is such an easy get out when independent tests indicate that the real speeds achieved are woefully below the "up to" (say), a 60 mbps rate or whatever other unfeasibly fast figure the marketing department has conjured up. That part of the market is still far too redolent of the boastful and thoroughly unreliable Toad of Toad hall. Poop! Poop!

As the Ofcom report shows, the real-life, real-world speeds actually achieved are, surprise, surprise, lower than the "up to" speeds so prominently displayed in ISP adverts. Ofcom reveals that 69 per cent of residential subscribers get speeds in excess of 30mbps - and that figure includes the 17 per cent of homes that get 100mbps or above and the mere three per cent that get 300 mbps.

Down at the bottom of the league, 13 per cent of UK houses still struggle on with 10 mbps of even less while 18 per cent have service speeds of somewhere between 10 mbps and 30 mbps. What's more, the statistics refer to the ratio of households actually achieving those speeds rather than the breadth of their availability.

The simple fact of the matter is that broadband speeds and ISP service bundles available to households vary greatly according to where the domestic premises are situated, be that a fibre-optic cabled city centre apartment, a cottage in a village or a moorland farm. 

Britain is still a long way away from being a broadband paradise for all, but things are improving, albeit at a generally sluggish rate. Some 80 per cent of UK homes now have broadband connectivity. However, while full-fibre availability is up by 20 per cent since 2018, a mere 12 per cent of UK households can actually access it. It's a problem that needs to be addressed as quickly as possible, especially as, in a post-pandemic world, working from home might well be the norm for a much greater proportion of the population than it was back in PCV (pre-corona-virus) days.

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