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Jeremy Hunt announces 2015 target to give UK fastest broadband in Europe
Monday 20 August 2012 13:54:36 by Andrew Ferguson

Lack of ambition has been a label easily attached to doom-mongers about the UK's broadband plans, and it appears Jeremy Hunt is attempting to stand up and show some of the ambition and willingness that critics have been asking for. In a speech delivered on 20th August 2012, Jeremy Hunt MP has stated 'I am today announcing an ambition to be not just the best, but specifically the fastest broadband of any major European country by 2015'.

This does not represent a change of policy, the existing BDUK projects will continue with the funding levels already announced, but perhaps reflects a confidence from the minister as to how plans are shaping up. For the millions of the UK population not used to procurement processes, things appear to be going very slowly, and questions about where and when are still only as good as throwing a dart at a map and pinning a random month and date on it that covers the period 2013 to 2015.

"When combined with the additional £150m we are investing in giving our cities some of the fastest speeds in the world, we have been able to make some dramatic progress:

  • 43 out of 46 local authority areas now have broadband plans approved for delivering 90% or greater superfast access. Some have gone even further, with my own county, Surrey, looking to deliver one of the most ambitious programmes of all with near-universal superfast coverage. Procurement for virtually all areas is well under way, with around one moving into formal procurement every week from October. I expect procurement to be completed across the whole country by next July.
  • In our cities we want even faster speeds. Our £150m urban broadband fund will mean that around 15% of the UK population will have access to speeds of 80-120 Mbps along with universal high speed wi-fi.
  • Additionally Ofcom has announced that for the 4G auctions one of the licences will require indoor coverage for 98% of the UK population, guaranteeing a wireless high speed alternative to fixed line broadband.

For some time we have had amongst the highest penetration and the lowest prices of anywhere in Europe. But even before this new procurement has taken place we have already started to make made good progress on speed:

  • Average speed in the UK has increased by about 50% since May 2010.
  • In the last year alone average speed increased from 7.6 Mbps to 9 Mbps, overtaking France and Germany so we now have the fastest broadband of any large European Country.
  • Two thirds of the population are now on packages of more than 10 Mbps, higher than anywhere in Europe except Portugal and perhaps surprisingly Bulgaria."
Summary of progress to date, in speech by Jeremy Hunt MP

While the ambition is very welcome, we are hesitant to support this unreservedly, partly because it appears some historical information appears to be a little skewed. Mr Hunt takes credit for putting in place plans for superfast to reach 90% of the population by 2015, but looking back we can see that the Labour Government was working towards the same goal with amazingly the same amount of money. The only difference was that the deadline was 2017 rather than 2015, so we are happy to credit the minister with bringing forward the deadline, but not the vision for creating a faster broadband UK.

We know there will be many reading this who will simply dismiss the minsters comments totally, but we suggest people consider some actual figures. If the BDUK delivers FTTC to 90% of the population, our estimate is that 70% of the UK population will enjoy a speed of 32 Mbps or faster (not 'up to', but actually 32 Mbps or faster), now taking a worst case that the remaining 10% of the UK only receive ADSL2+ (which can be estimated to average out at 6 Mbps), one arrives at a UK average connection speed in 2015 of 24.2 Mbps.

If this prediction is correct, then the UK would be well ahead of all European countries, and not just the major ones, the key is what improvements other European countries can achieve. There are signs that speeds in some countries are improving slower, particularly in countries where fibre installation has done the easy to reach cities and larger towns.

The speech does underestimate what is already planned or delivered though, Virgin Media is already selling 100Mbps broadband that is available to 48% of the UK population. Additionally Openreach is still looking at having its FTTP services available to around 10% of UK homes once its commercial fibre roll-out completes (and at the same prices as the FTTC services). This is ignoring the launch of Fibre on Demand in 2013 which will allow access to full fibre for a higher than normal installation fee.

The battleground for UK broadband is the final 5 to 10% of the population, unfortunately this is also the most expensive population to reach, and in a world dominated by accountants, the estimates are that GDP increases by 1% for every 10% increase in broadband penetration. The priority will therefore be to cover the largest percentage for the minimum amount of money.

The speech today is unlikely to draw much applause from the House of Lords, as the criticism they have aimed at Jeremy Hunt is rebuffed, in particular the pre-occupation with speed rather than coverage. The comment below, clearly shows what has been said for some time, that broadband roll-outs and funding are set to continue for many years.

"Which is why when the Lords Committee criticised me this summer for being preoccupied with speed, I plead guilty. And so should we all. Because we simply will not have a competitive broadband network unless we recognise the massive growth in demand for higher and higher speeds. But where their Lordships are wrong is to say my focus is on any particular speed: today’s superfast is tomorrow’s superslow. Just as the last government was wrong to hang its hat on 2 Mbps speeds, we must never fall into the trap of saying any speed is “enough."

Jeremy Hunt on House of Lords Committee Report

There are indications that as firms start to raise venture capital for more FTTH/B projects across the UK, that what the BDUK projects may really achieve is not the roll-out of superfast broadband, but an underpinning of confidence for ambitious companies to move into the arena and compete against one another. If UK broadband is to break the cycle of subsidy and build, then these projects need to thrive, though they are reliant on the broadband buying public knowing that better speeds are available, something the BDUK projects and local authority demand registration schemes are helping with. Perversely the BDUK legacy may not be what it delivers, but what it inspires commercial companies to build and deliver.


Posted by AndrueC over 5 years ago
Excellent news. It'd be nice if my FTTC connection currently syncd at 79Mb/s could deliver more than 20Mb/s this morning. Presumably the same problem as a few months ago and after a week or two it'll suddenly bounce back.

No point complaining to my ISP because it's still better than the 12Mb/s threshold BT apply to my line.
Posted by Borisvon over 5 years ago
i bet my local council is one of the three with there thumbs up there ar$e!!
ok simple maths, virgin does 48% so that leaves 52% for bt to do, no, lets start back at 0% and do the whole country again!
surely thats wasting money?
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 5 years ago
North and South Tyneside, both elected to not go down the BDUK path and Cornwall is well ahead on its own Superfast Cornwall project. That is delivering connections ahead of any BDUK project.
Posted by meldrew over 5 years ago
Can somebody please tell me what the benefits of superfast broadband are - for anyone who has a life beyond facebook and iPlayer??!!
Posted by FlappySocks over 5 years ago
Playing HD Video streams without buffering, and upsetting other household users who might be using it for gaming, skype etc.
Posted by tommy45 over 5 years ago
Two thirds of the population are now on packages of more than 10 Mbps, higher than anywhere in Europe except Portugal and perhaps surprisingly Bulgaria and a few other countries too like Sweden, Norway, Netherlands
Do they even have any real clue?
Posted by fibrebunny over 5 years ago
Unlike labour proposals the current funding did not require the imposition of yet another tax. Somewhat disingenuous to suggest they were one and the same.
Posted by Borisvon over 5 years ago
@andrew hopefully north tyneside council will prove me wrong!
@meldrew have you ever tried to update a laptop on a 900k connection (on a good day) when it wants 1 gig updates or download new software?
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 5 years ago

The goal was similar, the funding method seems to be the same sized pot of money, just source is different. Though at end of the day, it is all our money.
Posted by prlzx over 5 years ago
@meldrew (@Borisvon) yes updates are one of rarely mentioned uses because they are not "cool" but Win / Mac systems monthly updates cam be 100s of MBs. Mobile OS updates while less frequent can be big too.

Want to use online backup services? How many GB will initial (or other full) backup? Want to share photos and videos online? If you never want the option of any of these things then maybe 6Mbps is enough.
Posted by prlzx over 5 years ago
... to add if you only have the choice of ADSL2+ (the average 6Mbps mentioned above) then your upstream is likely to be 800Kbps (perhaps 1.25Mbps if the provider offers it).

So I live in an urban area but it still takes about a minute to upload a single 5MB photo unless I take up FTTC. But on a 20Mbps upstream I could do about 30 photos per minute.
Posted by mervl over 5 years ago
Why am I thinking "lies, damned lies and statistics"? Why?
Posted by NetGuy over 5 years ago
@prizx - regarding uploading photos...
can you not queue them, and why are they 5MB in the first place?
how many photos do you upload per day, per hour?
do you run an XXX website where you upload hundreds of pix a day?
(only kidding about the last part!)
Posted by NetGuy over 5 years ago
re "The battleground for UK broadband is the final 5 to 10% of the population"

I take it that includes inner city areas where VM supplies to 70-80% of homes but has "no plans" to supply to the rest (but bombard us with their junk mail all the same, as they work on criteria that it is cheaper to send to all homes in a postcode area - eg L3 - than to just streets where they are available)...
Posted by camieabz over 5 years ago

Ditto. Part of my exchange is VM enabled, but not my part. I get the junk too.
Posted by prlzx over 5 years ago
@NetGuy I personally don't need to but many photographers will upload practically complete sets to Flickr (Pro accounts - full res) and as they use the service as an online backup they send originals rather than compressing or resising.

Marketing only headlines the downstream speeds; some don't realise just how slow ADSL upstream is.

With other online backup services though subsequent runs may be incremental what about the inital few 100GB and will you hit a monthly cap anyway?
Posted by prlzx over 5 years ago
I have been involved with a project that wanted to upload motion-detected video clips and photos while also streaming out live video (nature IP camera).

When we looked at the numbers for an ADSL connection you'd almost have to stop the live stream to avoid the FTP queing building indefinately, and a 400Kbps looked poor anyway.
Posted by Spectre_01 over 5 years ago
Oh good, maybe central government can sort out local authorities blocking FTTC deployment...
Posted by MobiusPizza over 5 years ago
They should not push the higher speed in order to edge up the average, they should focus more on brining low speed users up to par with the more fortunate users. Otherwise this is just unfairly enlarging the rift between the broadband affluent and the poor, in the false pretense of increasing the 'average' broadband speed.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 5 years ago
@mobiusPizza, up to par to what speed? 2? 10? 20? 30? In the mean time other EU countries grab the multi million Euro deals in their ever faster cities.

At end of the day, broadband is a rapidly evolving beast, and if chasing financial benefits for .gov, then investment in cities will usually win.
Posted by Oddball over 5 years ago
I need faster upload speeds not download speeds. I would love to make online backups of my data but it takes far too long.
Posted by Somerset over 5 years ago
What are these multi million Euro deals?
Posted by broughtondon over 5 years ago
Still don't believe a word until Openreach put in fibre to improve my 1.2mbps, just enough to stream, 12 hours to download major updates and 6 hours to upload video to YouTube, Jeremy Hunt you are welcome to visit me in MK and I'll show you what some of us have to put up with, and I'm not in a rural area....
Posted by petermyers over 5 years ago
we know from previous dealings with jeremy hunt can talk the talk, but can he walk the walk.
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