Superfast broadband rollout ‘uneven’ across UK, Ofcom finds

Despite the announcement that one-in-four UK broadband connections are ‘superfast’ the government are pumping in funds to plug the gap between urban and rural broadband connection speeds.

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Although the average fixed-line residential broadband speed in the UK is nearly five times faster than it was five years ago, the spread of ‘superfast’ internet connections still varies greatly across the country, Ofcom has found.

In its latest survey, the communications industry regulator found that the proportion of superfast connections - which refers to speeds of 30Mbit/s or more - has risen from five percent in November 2011 to 25 percent in November 2013.

The average superfast connection speed itself is also on the rise, reaching 47 Mbit/s by November 2013 – an increase of 15.1Mbit/s in three years.

Further, the average actual fixed line residential broadband speed has been calculated at 17.8Mbit/s which is five times faster than five years ago when Ofcom first began publishing the data.

However, rural and some urban areas in the UK are still lagging behind when it comes to having superfast broadband, Ofcom said.

“The growth in superfast broadband and the rise in average speeds is testament to the investment in the sector. But the benefits are not shared evenly across the UK,” said Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards.

“There is more work needed to deliver wider availability of broadband and superfast broadband, particularly in rural communities but also in some locations within cities to enable wider access to fast internet.

“Improving speeds in rural areas is a priority for the government which has committed funding to ensure superfast broadband is more widely available across the UK. It has reported it is on course to reach 90 percent superfast coverage by early 2016.”

The average urban download speed in November last year was 31.9Mbit/s, a 21 percent increase from May 2013, and the average suburban download speed in the same period was 21.8Mbit/s, a 22 percent increase.

In contrast, the average rural download speed had increased from 9.9Mbit/s to just 11.3Mbit/s between May and November 2013. However, Ofcom said that the small size of the rural sample means that this figure can only be treated as indicative, rather than statistically significant.

Ofcom’s figures maintain that the UK is ahead of all five leading European economies for coverage.

In response to the report, Communications minister Ed Vaizey said: “The news that average speeds continue to rise is tremendous news for homes and businesses alike. We are working hard to close the digital divide between urban and rural locations and are investing £790m to ensure that 95 percent of the UK will have access to superfast speeds by 2017.”

The study examined packages provided by the seven largest internet service providers (ISPs) by subscriber numbers: BT, EE, Karoo, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin Media and FTTC. Ofcom collected 735 million separate test results from 2,391 homes during November last year.