Broadband in the UK has since the days of Pipex only being popular when it was cheap, with millions valuing saving a couple of pound a month versus the highest speeds, combine this with the late start of the VDSL2 roll-outs and alternate providers only starting to deliver full fibre seriously in the last year or two and it is no surprise that in some comparisons the UK does not fare as well as other countries.
Cable.co.uk has run its regular analysis of the open data available from the Mlabs speed test and declared that the mean download speed in the UK is a lowly 18.57 Mbps and at position 35 and almost the last of the EU countries. Many headlines have featured the ranking of Madagascar at position 22 with a 24.87 Mbps mean.
The 18.57 Mbps is massively lower than the Ofcom average speed for the UK which was 46.2 Mbps and our average for Q2 2018 is 30.7 Mbps We don't know exactly why the Mlabs figure is so low, it is possible that they are seeing an even higher number of Wi-Fi based devices than we do, we know that if we exclude mobiles and tablets the UK mean jumps to 34.8 Mbps in Q2 2018.
A great many of the comments presented by full fibre operators in response to what is generally being represented as a failure of the UK broadband industry is that we need to roll-out millions more homes of full fibre and very quickly, and while we welcome this sentiment there is a much lower cost route and one that could be delivered in a number of weeks.
So how can the UK rapidly climb the broadband league table?
The answer is simple and it simply needs Virgin Media to do something like sell a minimum 100 Mbps service, i.e. move all those customers on the 50 Mbps and 70 Mbps service onto their 100 Mbps tier, the effect of just upgrading existing Virgin Media cable customers would add around 2 Mbps to the mean figure for the UK, shifting us up to around position 28 in the league table. A more radical upgrade to make a 200 Mbps the minimum speed sold by the cable operator would add around 15 Mbps to the mean, and propel the UK into the top 10 just ahead of Jersey. In terms of numbers of lines this would mean around 4 million broadband connections would be on a 200 MBps or better service out of the 25.3 million fixed line broadband connections.
So there is the proof in a way, that due to the public voting with their wallets and not buying even a mid tier speed when speeds when 300 Mbps and faster is available that we are not moving up the speed tables.
This reality is actually a cautionary note for those pushing full fibre as the answer to all broadband woes, i.e. if you sell multiple speed tiers making Gigabit available to millions may not have a big impact, to have an impact the millions of full fibre lines promised in the next couple of years need to have minimum speeds of 100 Mbps or 200 Mbps.
This pattern is likely the explanation for why some countries are doing so well, i.e. their minimum cable package and full fibre speeds sold may be higher than the UK, or the choice is between just ADSL2+ and full fibre, rather than what we are going to see in the UK which is going to be a choice of ADSL2+, VDSL2, cable and full fibre and the slower services are going to continue to be popular due to price points of £15 to £20 per month.
While running up the spreadsheets to see what effect a shift of Virgin Media customers would have, we run some other figures through the spreadsheet and if the product split was combined with the average speeds that are used in broadband advertising we got a mean download speed of 47.8 Mbps, with an initial shift to a 100 Mbps minimum for cable services this rises to 51.3 Mbps and for a minimum 200 Mbps increases to 65.4 Mbps.
The fact that the 47.8 Mbps is so close to the 46.2 Mbps from Ofcom, is largely a factor that the Ofcom data is based on the same Samknows system as many of the large providers are using for their advertised speeds, but it does show everyone that the spread of products we see from the public is very similar to the model used by Ofcom to arrive at its UK average figure.
Another scenario we have explored is a full conversion of people on ADSL/ADSL2+ to the entry level VDSL2 service (40/10) for the various providers and no changes to product speeds for Virgin Media and the effect on our UK speed test average would be a rise from 30.7 Mbps to 34.5 Mbps and the Ofcom equivalent figure would be around 54.7 Mbps. Using the 3.8 Mbps improvement in our results, if the Mlabs results showed the same it would move the UK up to around position 28.
Combining the ADSL2+ to VDSL2 and a 200 Mbps minimum for cable services would lift our average to around 53.3 Mbps and the Ofcom equivalent to around 75.4 Mbps and potentially lift the Mlabs figure to something like 41.17 Mbps lifting the UK to a potential top 3 position, add in some of the FTTP and G.fast roll-outs already underway and a number 1 position is possible.
For those saying full fibre is the way to climb the league table, consider the plight of Korea and Japan with averages of 20.63 Mbps and 28.94 Mbps respectively which are often used as examples of massive full fibre availability and you can see that the mean is surprisingly stubborn, hence us exploring a different path if there is a political emperative and economic to climb up the global broadband speed tables.
Conclusion Yes more full fibre is a good move, but there are lots of other ways to improve things in the UK and we need to take a long look at how long ADSL/ADSL2+ MPF services are supported.
Warning If we focus purely on climbing the league tables, then services such as G.fast which can be rolled out to millions with minimal investment compared to full fibre are going to take precedence over full fibre, i.e. the decisions made in the 2008 to 2012 period are ripe for repetition.
If you want to see the full list of countries ISPreview has reproduced the full list of 200 countries, we have skipped the table as we wanted to focus more an analysis of what can be done to change the UK result