U.K. average broadband speed up by 20 percent, but rural divide widens

U.K. average broadband speed up by 20 percent, but rural divide widens

Summary: Official U.K. broadband speed figures may have far surpassed private industry estimates, but the growing gap between the city and the country shows a massive disparity in connectivity.

The rolling hills of England, where broadband speeds are miles behind urban areas. (Image: ZDNet)

Britain. Home of rolling hills, tea and crumpets, and cacophonies of hooded youths shouting abuse from their streetside benches at elderly passers-by.

And now, it's also now home to significantly faster broadband — at least by comparison to its friendly American counterparts, where the broadband speed is roughly half the connection speed to the average U.K. household, according to latest figures from U.K. telecoms regulator Ofcom.

The regulator said on Thursday that the U.K.'s average broadband speed has shot up to 14.7 Mbps, up from 12 Mbps in March. (Akamai's figures from April suggest the U.K.'s average broadband speed of about 7 Mbps, while the U.S. was slightly faster at 8 Mbps.)

Say we go with the official U.K. figures. The bright side suggests that is a 300 percent increase in broadband speed from 3.6 Mbps since November 2008 when Ofcom first published average U.K. household speeds.

The reason in the bi-annual bump in speed is an increase take-up of "superfast" services, such as fiber and cable connectivity, which continues to drive the average broadband speed. Also, Ofcom said by May this year, almost one-in-five households were connected to superfast broadband of 30 Mbps or more. Meanwhile, 86 percent were on as-advertised 10 Mbps or more. 

But that's the good news. Where the speeds fall down, naturally, is when we look outside the cities and the conurbations and venture out into the countryside where many millions of U.K. residents live.

Ofcom's latest figures will no doubt come as little surprise to those in the cities and the major towns, which are on the most part lucky enough to have been doused in an abundance of bandwidth, rural communities will be shaking their fists in fury at their choppy connections.

There remains a disparity between the urban and the rural communities, Ofcom said, with bandwidth rates dropping by more than half between the city and the country — in spite of speeds getting faster over the whole country on average. 

(Image: Ofcom)

Ofcom explains that the gap has widened likely due to the lack of availability of superfast and fiber services in rural communities. Also, the distance between copper lines between communities and telephone exchange is greater than in cities, which has an effect on individual household speeds.

While those in cities on superfast broadband are bringing up the average at the high-end of the spectrum, the "superslow" connections in the sticks are also dragging down the average at the low-end.

It'll get worse before it gets better, the regulator said: "While the gap between average urban and rural speeds is likely to widen in the short term, Ofcom expects that it will begin to decline over time, as the availability of superfast broadband increases in rural areas."

Meanwhile, superfast 4G mobile coverage carries on extending throughout major metropolitan areas of the U.K., with Vodafone and O2 the latest networks preparing to flip the switches on their respective services in the country.

Topics: United Kingdom, Broadband, Networking

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  • The "divide" is a red herring.

    Why chase after it? The only disparity that matters is access, and once 5mbps speeds are widely available to rural customers, there's no need to be troubled about the average speed difference between rural and urban internet access.
    Jacob VanWagoner
    • The Divide

      The divide is purely a matter of lack of will to make rural broadband available at all, in many cases rural get accidental access, install their own networks at huge expense or simply go without forcing many to up sticks and move into the jungle.
      The excuse is that it's a lifestyle choice is blatant avoidance of their responsibility to give up a chunk of their profits to provide digital inclusion for people whose lives are in the country.
      Anyone would think the country users wouldn't want to pay - Yet at the same time, free access is being touted around towns. Wireless works wonders in the country.
      Radio Wales
  • So what?

    From the point of view of the domestic customer speed is becoming just a number to cufuzzle the gullible.

    We need bandwidth & infrastructure far more than we need speed. No traffic shaping, no caps, no "fair usage policy". Every customer able to use their connection to it's full potential whatever that may be, twenty four hours a day, three hundred and sixty five days a year.