Britain's broadband 'not fit for the future', but no surprises there

There seemed to be a real kerfuffle on the news this morning caused by a Cisco-sponsored survey which showed that UK finished 25th out of 66th in the broadband quality league table, lower that is than Bulgaria and Latvia. The amazing thing is that anyone was really surprised by our relatively lowly position.

As anyone who has been to South Korea and Japan – the two countries that top the table – can tell you they are simply light years ahead of us in terms of broadband penetration, speeds and quality. Indeed the South Korean government recently promised universal speeds of up to 1Gigabit per second by 2012 while we struggle to meet the global average speed of 4.75 Megabits per second (Ofcom’s April research revealed that our average broadband download speed stands at 4.1Mbps.)

Now I haven’t been to Bulgaria and Latvia so I can’t vouch for their broadband (though one wag commented on the Daily Mail site of course that the roads were much better in Bulgaria than the UK). But again it doesn’t really surprise me.

So what’s the problem? Why does the UK lag behind seemingly less developed countries when it comes to high speed delivery of internet services. The reason is largely because of lack of fibre-optic cable which is the only way of delivering the high speeds necessary for superfast broadband (currently we rely mostly on old copper telephone wire via ADSL networks). This is because for years there were dozens of tin-pot little cable companies with no money who spent more time squabbling with each other than actually digging up the roads to lay high speed cable. Even today there are large parts of densely populated neighbourhoods in London which still don’t have fibre-optic cable.

The good news though is that could be about to change, albeit slowly, with Virgin now the only cable company on the block. It is rolling out a 50Mbps service while 24Mbps ADSL2+ services via BT and others are becoming more widespread. However, it seems there is still some way to go before we reach the average download speed of 11.25Mbps that’s needed to handle future applications such as High Definition Video.
Until then Britain will have to be content with the survey’s label of ‘Meeting Needs for Today’, the broadband equivalent of ‘must try harder’.