We all see the adverts promoting 16Mbps or faster broadband services and each one contains a warning about line length affecting the speeds you may get. What is not always clear from the adverts is that the region you live in can also make a difference.
The problem is not that ADSL is massively slower in areas like Northern Ireland and Wales, but that the broadband options offering speeds above 8Mbps are less likely to be available. The differences are illustrated if you look at the averages recorded across the 12 UK regions.
|UK Region||Download speed (Kbps)||Upload speed (Kbps)||Unique postcodes|
The averages are based on over 138,000 speedtests from registered users of thinkbroadband.com and represent over 6,000 unique postcodes around the UK covering the period 1st January 2008 until 12th May 2008. The UK average download speed based on this data is 3,238Kbps.
With postcode information it is also possible to break the results down into Counties and the larger cities. Only those areas with results from more than 40 unique postcodes have been listed.
|County/City||Download speed (Kbps)||County/City||Download speed (Kbps)|
|Edinburgh City||4,413||Greater London||4,369|
Only the thirty fastest counties are listed, the Highlands of Scotland down in 43rd place had an average of 2,177Kbps, the worst of those with over 40 unique postcodes. There were slower results but not enough samples at different locations to make it representative. Northern Ireland wins the crown of slowest UK region. If one compares the speed profile from Wales with that of London, it is easy to see that differences in average speed are not just from a handful of people with 20Mbps connections but reflect the much wider availability of high speed options. Almost all telephone exchanges in areas like London have a wide variety of LLU operators compared to just under 25% of the exchanges in Wales.
In Wales there were a mere handful of results at 7Mbps or faster, whereas in London just under 20% of the tests recorded a speed of 7Mbps or faster. The turning point at 7Mbps reflects the switch from people on 20Mbps/10Mbps cable or ADSL2+ products to the the majority of people who still connect using ADSL which has a maximum download speed of around 7Mbps (maximum connection speed is 8,128Kbps, but actual useful data that can be transferred is around 7,000Kbps). With Virgin Media and some ASDL2+ providers charging less for slower speeds one cannot assume that only 20% of people in London have access to high speed broadband, only that the 20% is a baseline. For example, where Virgin Media cable services are available only something like 25% opt for the highest speed service. With the ADSL2+ providers many people, even if opting for the capped speed (lower price) packages many people may see a speed improvement compared to standard ADSL.
This data, while showing the digital divide does exist, shows that on average at this time the gulf is not insurmountable. With LLU coverage still increasing and BT Wholesale rolling out ADSL2+ products we may see this divide narrowing. The question is how wide are we going to allow the gulf to open up if fibre to the home or sub-loop unbundling is deployed in just parts of the UK, and does it matter? Other countries that are further down the road of true next-generation broadband services have clear gulfs in what speeds are available across their country. Perhaps the question needs to be asked whether broadband is just another service that we should consider when we move home, just like we do when balancing the time it takes to commute to work against the price we want to pay for our dream home. Or is broadband now a critical service that needs to be protected and enshrined within a Universal Service Obligation (USO)?
More coverage is available in the BBC news article.