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UK broadband speeds fall lower down global league table as infrastructure recommendations published

The UK has fallen to 35th place in the global broadband speed delivery rankings, compared with 31st place in 2017. This is according to the latest data gathered and published by research group M-Lab and UK broadband comparison site Cable.co.uk.

Amongst the findings from this year’s report – which is compiled over the 12 months up to 29 May, and based on more than 163 million speed tests in 200 countries – Singapore’s average download speeds of 60.39Mb/s put it in first place, while Yemen lagged in last place last, with speeds of 0.31Mb/s. Comparatively, the UK’s average speeds are 18.57Mb/s.

Whilst the UK is ahead of 165 countries in the rankings, it is worth noting that, of the 34 the country is behind, some 25 are European, 20 of which are in the European Union (EU), so the UK’s standing amongst fellow member companies does not make for an altogether flattering comparison.

Of the top 50 fastest-performing countries in the report, 36 are located in Europe, with nine in Asia & Pacific, two in North America, two in South/Latin America and just one in Africa. In comparison, 25 of the 50 slowest-performing countries are located in Africa, 12 in the Arab States with 10 in Asia & Pacific, and three in South/Latin America. 136 countries failed to achieve average speeds above 10Mb/s, the speed deemed by UK telecoms watchdog Ofcom to be the minimum required to cope with the needs of a typical family or small business.

Published the same day as the new data was a report from the UK government's National Infrastructure Commission (Nic), which recommends a government strategy to deliver nationwide full fibre by 2033, with government support for rural areas starting by 2022. The successful delivery, says Nic, will require making the most of fibre deployment to support improved mobile coverage; tackling the barriers that delay deployment and increase costs; and allowing for copper switch-off by 2025.

Nic Commissioner, Andy Green commented: ‘From businesses who need reliable high-speed bandwidth to manage their global supply chains in real time, or families streaming the latest film releases via smart TVs, we are all looking for fast, reliable broadband connections – and so are our international competitors. We can’t afford for any community to be cut off from these essential technologies and so alongside private companies, the Government must also play a role. A National Broadband Plan would make clear that the government needs to take action to ensure rural areas as well as our cities can take full advantage of the digital revolution.’

Commenting on the M-Lab figures, CityFibre CEO Greg Mesch referenced the recent news that CityFibre has been granted permission to proceed with its judicial review of the UK Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) decision on how the term ‘fibre’ is used in broadband advertising (see CityFibre to proceed with judicial review over ASA ‘fibre’ decision). He said: ‘Seeing the UK falling even further behind other EU countries [for broadband speed] is depressing but not surprising, given the UK’s lack of investment in fibre to the premises and other nations’ new networks increasingly coming online. This situation must change – and quickly – as successfully rolling out this superior digital infrastructure is critical for the success of the UK economy and our ability to compete internationally.

‘Companies are now investing billions to bring this technology to the UK, but this will only be successful with the Government’s full support. The place to start is putting a stop to the misleading use of the word fibre in broadband advertising, so that consumers know that when they see fibre, it is a fibre to the premises connection they are buying. Copper is dead: it is time for the UK to embrace full fibre - no ifs, no buts.’

The newly introduced chief executive at Gigaclear, Mike Surrey said of the data: ‘This report demonstrates the consequences of the UK’s slow investment in its digital infrastructure. It’s disappointing to see the UK being slowly pushed further down the charts, not only by fellow European countries, but also other less economically developed nations. Why? Because the UK has simply delayed the roll out of full fibre broadband for too long.

‘To combat this decline, both the telecoms industry and the government need to prioritise full fibre as the basic standard across the nation in both rural and urban areas. It is clear that the outdated copper infrastructure is slowing us down. So whilst the investment and roll out of full fibre is slowly increasing, more urgency is needed and a comprehensive national plan must be put into action.

On the Nic’s published recommendation Surrey continued: ‘We welcome the National Infrastructure Commission’s assessment. We fully support its call for a National Broadband Plan to deliver full fibre connections across England, including rural areas, by Spring 2019. Full fibre infrastructure offers enormous potential to the UK’s digital economy, and we look forward to working with the NIC, Government bodies and other parties involved to help drive the transformation to deliver gigabit connectivity to rural England.’

Ben King, CTO at alt-network Glide said of the standings: ‘We know the UK has been late to the game in terms of full fibre rollout and this has to change fast, but we are where we are. While it’s easy to call for more political support, the elephant in the room is that from what we’ve seen, installation of full fibre to the premise is too expensive and too slow to deploy for many businesses and consumers in the UK to operate.

‘The reality is we need to do both, make best use of the infrastructure we have in place today, whilst also aggressively pursuing a full fibre future. However, this can’t be achieved by solely asking the consumer to pick up the price tag. This is where schemes such as the DCMS gigabit voucher scheme have made a real difference to businesses, as the government funds up to £3000 installation costs which otherwise wouldn’t be possible.

‘The only way we’re going to tackle this issue is if providers are honest and practical about what the average consumer is prepared to pay for ultrafast broadband and what we can do to support UK business in between times.’

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