Why is UK Broadband lagging behind?

Tuesday, 20 November, 2018

The UK has played a leading role in the development of computing and the internet.

From the ZX Spectrum to the World Wide Web, our contribution to the digital revolution has been surpassed only by America – a nation with five times our population.

However, while our software development firms and technology innovations continue to lead the world, the same can’t be said for our broadband infrastructure.

In fact, UK broadband speeds are disappointing compared to many developed nations – and even a few developing ones.

So how bad is our internet infrastructure?

UK broadband speeds in context

From June 2017 to May 2018, the UK’s mean download speed was 18.57Mbps, with an average 5GB file download taking 36 minutes and 46 seconds to complete.

That places us 35th in the world.

Not only do the likes of Germany and America outperform UK broadband speeds, supposedly ‘minnow’ nations like Madagascar, Andorra and Taiwan do as well.

Residents of Romania enjoy broadband speeds more than twice as fast as ours, despite overthrowing Communist rule less than 30 years ago.

Even Romania only ranks fifth in M-Lab’s definitive survey of mean national broadband speeds, behind the Scandinavian nations of Sweden, Denmark and Norway.

And while some cite issues extending the UK’s broadband infrastructure to remote regions and lightly-populated islands, similar challenges haven’t held Singapore back.

This island nation tops the global charts, achieving a mean download speed of 60.39Mbps.

In Singapore, that 5GB file would be downloaded in just over 11 minutes.

Is there any good news?

Although UK broadband speeds are disappointing, we do enjoy faster connections than many developed nations.

Our 18.57Mbps speeds compare favourably to Italy (15.10), Australia (11.69), the UAE (4.35) and Argentina (3.18).

Armenia was Europe’s worst-performing nation, with mean speeds of 3.94Mbps.

Even this trumped Yemen, which recorded just 0.31Mbps.

What’s causing the UK’s poor performance?

In a year when four nations (including France) overtook us in M-Lab’s overall rankings, the UK’s broadband infrastructure has to take a great deal of blame.

Line speeds are improving, but nowhere near as rapidly as in other countries.

Many observers point the finger at Openreach, who claim the cost of introducing fibre-to-the-premises broadband across the country is unjustifiable.

That means we have ultrafast fibre cables extending to our local telephone exchanges, with inefficient and outdated copper wires completing the data connection to our homes.

Fibre-to-the-cabinet delivery throttles achievable line speeds, and even Openreach have admitted there is “more to do” in response to sustained criticism.

Companies like Virgin Media and Cityfibre are rolling out their own Fibre to the Premises broadband services, with no dilution of achievable speeds.

However, with limited availability for these (predominantly urban) services, millions of UK residents look set to end this decade stuck in the information superhighway’s slow lane.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!