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UK average broadband speed climbs to 18.7Mbps as town and country divide narrows

The average download speed in the UK has crept up to 18.7Mbps according to the latest figures from telecoms regulator Ofcom. 

The twice-yearly report, which takes data gathered over six months from November 2013, shows that uptake of FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) and Virgin Media’s latest round of speed boosts are the key drivers of the speed increase – six months ago the average speed was pegged at 17.8Mbps

As well as delivering faster download speeds to customers, superfast FTTC and cable broadband services are also proving to be more reliable than the older ADSL technology. 

Second Gear: UK Broadband speeds continue to increase
Second Gear: UK Broadband speeds continue to increase

Ofcom’s report states that ADSL broadband customers experienced an average of 0.5 disconnections greater than than 30 seconds every day, while superfast and cable customers experienced on average 0.1 disconnections. 

The rural-urban broadband gap continues to narrow, with the biggest jumps in download speeds being recorded in the sticks. 

Over the six month period, rural customers experienced a bigger increase in average broadband speeds (up by 20 per cent to 13.6Mbps) than customers in urban and suburban areas (up by 5 per cent to 33.4Mbps and 22.9Mbps respectively). 

Ofcom puts this down to greater availability of superfast broadband in rural areas as a result of commercial expansion and the continued rollout of BDUK (Broadband Delivery for the UK) projects. 

Ed Richards, Ofcom’s chief executive, said: “More and more consumers are benefiting from improvements to the UK’s broadband infrastructure. While good progress is being made, there is still work to do in ensuring more widespread distribution of high-speed, reliable broadband services across the UK.” 

Earlier this week BT announced that superfast broadband will be available to over 8,000 properties in Warwickshire by the end of the year, as part of the CWS Broadband plan. 

The Superfast North Yorkshire project is due to make superfast broadband available to 90 per cent of premises in the region by the end of this month, although neighbouring Superfast South Yorkshire isn’t due to start rolling out until late next year – thanks in part to the winding down of the failed Digital Region project

Despite the jump up in speeds, a rural-urban divide will persist if growth is dependent on BDUK projects reaching out to rural areas. Even then, few BDUK projects are aiming to provide 100 per cent superfast coverage. Those left out in the cold will get a basic service delivering speeds of at least 2Mbps at all times. 

Unless alternative technologies being trialled right now or Gigaclear dramatically expands its rural gigabit (1,000Mbps) broadband footprint, the town and country divide persist even if it continues to narrow. 

Matthew Hare, chief executive of Gigaclear, said: “We know that rural areas want better broadband and we know that our customers are happy to pay for symmetric pure fibre broadband speeds of between 50Mbps and 1000Mbps in their homes and businesses.  

“We know that they love our service once we deliver.  So roll-on better broadband for Britain.  We’ll do our part.” 

The sample size of Ofcom’s survey – 2,175 – only includes data from the seven biggest UK ISPs, meaning it won’t include data from Gigaclear and Hyperoptic until their subscriber bases increase in size, or Ofcom changes the parameters of its survey. 

Small independent networks like B4RN, which is close to connecting its 600th customer to 1,000Mbps symmetrical broadband, and Fibre GarDen are unlikley to be ever included.  

While Ofcom’s bi-annual reports won’t ever give us a complete picture of Broadband Britain they still provide a useful overview of how things are changing and what services most of us are likely to receive. 


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