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£15 billion needed for broken Broadband Britain says former BT technology chief

£15 billion. That’s how much cash will need to be stumped up in order to bring broken Broadband Britain out of internet dark ages, according to former BT chief technology officer Peter Cochrane.

Speaking to the Guardian on the eve of the UK Budget for 2012, Cochrane said that current plans to guarantee speeds of 24Mbps to 90 per cent of homes by 2015 are akin to using “ a candle, while the rest of the world is using the light bulb.”

While 24Mbps will let us stream HD video and provide faster download speeds it’s not future-proofed for expansion. Demand in Smart TVs and household goods such as fridges, ovens and thermostats that can be remotely controlled from an app is predicted to increase over the next five to ten years, where a fatter connection would be better suited to handling multiple requests.

Ofcom figures from November 2011 suggest that little more than 5 per cent of the UK enjoys an average speed of above 24Mbps, while more than half of the UK can get speeds of 10Mbps or above.

Cochrane added that “In terms of broadband, the UK is at the back of the pack. We’re beat by almost every other European country and Asia leaves us for dust. The great decline in our relative global position has saddened me over the years and we need to invest at least £15 billion to redress this now.”

UK Broadband 100Mbps fibre investment

Ofcom: UK broadband fastest average speed 35.5 Mbps in November 2011

Currently 2.5 billion has been ringfenced for rural broadband investment in the UK.

Figures from the OEDC back up this statement; in a broadband league table of advertised speeds from September 2011, the UK is ranked in the middle.

Average advertised speeds for the UK work out at 34.44 Mbps – compared to Japan, Sweden and Portugal (the top three) which have averages of 152.51 Mbps, 100.35 Mbps, 81.40 Mbps respectively.

It’s worth noting that in the case of Japan, high speed connections are often shared between large apartment blocks. So 100Mbps shared across an entire block means that the individual user will get but a fraction of that 100Mbps pipe. FLET’s Hikari Premium package provides speeds up to 1Gbps, which, when shared across residents, delivers maximum speeds of 100Mbps.

It’s also worth noting that OEDC’s averages are for the fastest services advertised; in Ofcom’s report from November, it broke down the average advertised, average maximum and average actual speeds of a variety of services, from slow ‘up to’ 2Mbps connections to services above ‘up to’ 24Mbps – i.e. BT Infinity and Virgin Media.

UK Broadband 100Mbps fibre investment

The best broadband provider: 4G or fibre?

So though helpful, the OEDC figures don’t give as clear a picture of UK broadband as Ofcom’s figures do. It’s worth noting that the average advertised top speeds – 34.4 Mbps and 35.5 Mbps – were very similar between September and Novemeber 2011.

Recently, PlusNet has announced trials of an up to 80Mbps service on new fibre lines and rollout of 4G in the UK could to see mobile broadband speeds climbing to 100Mbps when out and about and up to 1Gbps when stationary.

4G broadband is an attractive solution for the UK as it doesn’t require roads to be closed down and have connections piped into the ground like fibre does. So while we’re all very much for healthy investment in fibre, 4G broadband could also give us the high broadband speeds the UK’s so-called digital economy needs.