The Internet is a hugely important tool globally, and in order to get the most out of it, we are demanding ever faster broadband speeds. It wasn’t that long ago that we had to make do with 56k dial-up Internet connections, but advances in communication technology has made those days a thing of the past.
However, while online speeds have improved, they have not done so consistently all over the world. Globally there is a huge discrepancy between broadband performances, with East Asian countries traditionally boasting the fastest speeds.
According to the most recent result from the Ookla Speedtest, the UK has the 30th fastest average Internet speed in the world (30.6 Mbps), way behind the leading nations.
Singapore 111.2 Mbps
Hong Kong 102.00 Mbps
South Korea 71.36 Mbps
Romania 70.36 Mbps
Japan 65.90 Mbps
Sweden 58.44 Mbps
Monaco 55.70 Mbps
Netherlands 53.33 Mbps
Lithuania 47.89 Mbps
Macau 46.63 Mbps
Moreover, there is a noticeable difference in broadband speeds across the UK, with the results suggesting that London is struggling to keep pace with other European capital cities and even other parts of the UK.
The Ookla test gives London a download speed of 27.4 Mbps, around half the speed being delivered in the top five European cities of Bucharest, Paris, Vilnius, Stockholm and Bern. In fact, London scores below the UK’s other major cities, including Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow, and well below the country’s highest ranked residential area Lancaster, which achieves speeds of 86.43 Mbps.
So with much of the UK’s celebrated digital economy based in London, why is the capital lagging so far behind? Much of the problem lies with the city’s archaic infrastructure and the high proportion of copper Exchange Online Lines (EOLs). Ofcom’s 2014 Infrastructure Report found that 64 per cent of EOLs are found within urban areas and next-generation access (NGA) broadband solutions within postcodes containing EOLs is just 48 per cent.
The report also outlines how specific areas within central London are affected by this problem.
“NGA coverage is particularly low in four inner-London boroughs: the City of London, Westminster, Tower Hamlets and Southwark,” the report reads. “Low coverage relates to the high number of EOLs in these boroughs and limited cable roll-out. The problem is pronounced in the City of London, due to the lack of street cabinets.”
However, while the capital clearly needs to improve its broadband infrastructure, it’s not just London that is in danger of being left behind. Back in 2012, the government’s then-Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt stated that the UK would have the “fastest broadband of any major European country by 2015.” Recent figures suggest that the UK has failed to achieve its goal.
In order for the UK to catch up to the world leaders, a major change to its broadband strategy, particularly in urban areas, needs to occur. Internet traffic is growing at a startling rate, and is set to increase threefold over the next five years. Given the rapid pace of digital change, marginal improvements to the UK’s broadband speeds will not be enough.
The government may have to provide additional support to the private sector in order to future-proof the UK’s digital economy. Although the details were thin on the ground, George Osborne’s promise to deliver ultrafast broadband speeds of 100 Mbps to the majority of homes and businesses is a step in the right direction. The government has already invested £1.7 billion to subsidise the installation of superfast broadband throughout the country, but clearly more needs to be done.
The chancellor claims that the project will ensure that “Britain is out in front” regarding online speeds, which is a bold claim considering the country’s current position in the global broadband race.