Scotland and Wales top the broadband not spot list once again

While there might be a few rogue entries into the UK broadband sh*t-list, the usual suspects are present once again demonstrating the difficulties in taking everyone across the digital finish line together.

The digital divide might not be on the same scale or intensity as some other continents are facing, but it is still a genuine problem for some regions in the ‘developed’ markets. Which has unveiled its latest list of connectivity not-spots throughout the UK, and unfortunately for those who like the peace and tranquillity of the countryside, the Eden comes with the sacrifice of connectivity.

The Orkney Islands in Scotland were the worst offenders for connectivity, with average speeds hitting a whopping 3 Mbps, though Allerdale, the Shetland Islands and Moray were also representing Scotland at the top (or bottom). Ceredigion and Powys, as well as Fermanagh and Omagh contributed to the Welsh representation.

While there might be constant reminders that digital equality is top of the list for politicians, the consistency of the worst offending areas just shows how difficult it is to solve the problem. The government might well have its Universal Service Obligation to wave in the face of the operators, but that seems to be having little effect.

Interestingly enough, previous reports have pointed towards the availability of higher speed broadband packages in these areas. Research such as this from Which can bemoan the lack of proactiveness from the telcos, pompously demanding that broadband is a right for all, but you can only lead a horse to water. Ofcom has previously stated only 45% of premises have signed up to superfast broadband packages, despite the option being available.

On a side note, the research also includes figures on how long it would take to download movies, music and other content at each of the speed tiers. Perhaps this is a measurement we should stop using to denote better or worse broadband speeds considering how many people are now streaming content rather than downloading it.

Your correspondent cannot think of the last time downloading content was favoured over streaming in his household, and suspects more and more households would fit this trend. Perhaps it would be a more useful comparison to list speeds at which a satisfactory streaming experience could be achieved for one or multiple devices simultaneously? Or measurements which take into account latency?

Looking at some of the figures online, Netflix recommends a 3 Mbps connection for one standard-quality stream and 5 Mbps for a high-definition stream. Two simultaneous HD streams would need around 10 Mbps, while multiples continuing upwards in a fashion you would expect. Compare the Market estimates that for adequate Spotify experience, 0.160 Mbps is needed to desktop applications, and 0.96 Mbps for mobile. High-definition video calling requires an upload and download speed of at least 1.2 Mbps. Users will also have to take into account how many connected appliances there are in the home.

These are all minimum speed requirements, and there will be other factors to take into consideration, but this might be a bit more suitable in a world which is moving away from asset downloads and towards streaming.

UK’s slowest street gets 0.14 Mbps, but who’s fault actually is it?

New research from uSwitch suggests the slowest broadband in the UK is 0.14 Mbps, while 5% of the UK are not able to reach 5 Mbps, though this could be their own fault.

With the government aiming to have every available premise on 10 Mbps broadband speeds before too long, news such as this will come as a worry. But, to be fair to the government and and the telcos, there is only so much which can be done. Those who choose to have slow broadband cannot complain when they have slow broadband.

Broadband can be somewhat of a postcode lottery, though the research suggests that 35% of those individuals who are on the slowest streets do have superfast broadband services available to them. There will be a variety of reasons for not connecting their home to a faster broadband line, but there aren’t many people left to blame in this situation. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

“Recent Ofcom research has found that the average household is doubling its data consumption every two years, be it watching online video or accessing government services, and so adequate broadband is swiftly becoming vital,” said Jeremy Chelot, CEO of Community Fibre.

The slowest street for broadband across the UK was Greenmeadows Park in Bamfurlong, Gloucestershire, though this is one of the streets which did not have access to superfast broadband. Poplar Avenue in Oldham and Chesham Road in Wilmslow collect second and third place at the slow end of the table, with respective speeds of 0.221 Mbps and 0.249 Mbps, but in both of these cases superfast broadband is available.

Looking at the prices, for Poplar Avenue customers could get a Onestream Fibre Broadband deal, offering speeds of 38 Mbps for £19.95 per month, while TalkTalk offers 36 Mbps for £22.50 per month. The same deals are available in Chesham Road along with a host of others. If these prices are too high, there were also several other, lower priced, options for 11 Mbps contracts.

The telcos and government are clearly not blameless in many situations where connectivity is poor, but in some cases you have to question what more can be done. The service is available and affordable, but the residents are not plugging in.

Two tiers very evident in US telco rankings

OpenSignal has released some more granular insight on the performance of the top four telcos in the US and it is very clear there are two tiers; Verizon and T-Mobile US are best-in-breed, AT&T and Sprint are not.

When the firm released its State of Mobile Networks in the US report T-Mobile US was recognised as the leader for pretty much everything, but when you look deeper into the statistics in the individual regions, the competition is a lot closer than top-line figures would suggest. Verizon beats T-Mobile US in some areas, is level in others and not far off the pace in the rest.

While the leader in the race is a lot closer than perhaps it might have been initially presented, what is clear is that AT&T and Sprint are not in the same league. The tables below demonstrate this point quite effectively.

OpenSignal 4G

On the availability side of things, the distinction between first and second tier is very clear. What should be noted is that the last 12 months have seen a great level of improvement from Sprint and the team has said it will continue investments to improve this coverage. Perhaps it will close the gap over the next year, but that is not a promise it will be able to compete on the speeds front.

Interestingly enough, while the US is one of the best in the world for 4G coverage, it doesn’t compete on the global stage when it comes to download speeds. Again, we can see there are two tiers in the operator rankings when it comes to speed with T-Mobile establishing a bit more of a buffer over Verizon in the top tier, but the overall average falls below the 16.9 Mbps global average. Admittedly, many of the countries above the US are smaller and do not face the same challenges when it comes to geographical variety, but this is a pretty poor performance from a country which claims to be at the front of the digital revolution.

A couple of weeks back we noted the companies who are performing best in their individual markets are the ones which are investing in their networks and not getting distracted by other more colourful ventures. This is another story which adds credibility to the theory. With 5G just around the corner, we would hope AT&T doesn’t get drawn into a long and bitter legal battle with the Department of Justice over its acquisition of Time Warner as that could spell disaster for its standing in the 5G world.