Actual broadband speeds around the world
It is not uncommon to hear users complaining they are not receiving the full benefit of an 'up to 8 meg' broadband service. The 'up to' phrase actually hides a whole raft of technical and economic language and while some providers may use the phrase to hide behind and claim almost any speed is acceptable some are more up front about expectations from services.
BBC News Online has taken a brief look at a number of countries around the world and compares headline speeds with what speed tests show as averages for each country. It is worth noting that our speed test is based in the UK so readers from overseas may wish to consider a tester local to them if comparing results.
- United Kingdom: Around 3Mbps (Mega bits per second) as the average download speed.
- France: An impressive 44Mbps from the advertising, but 4.6Mbps actual download speed. Considering that France has some 10,000+ telephone exchanges giving people shorter loop lengths one would expect a lot better from xDSL and additionally fibre-based services are available.
- Germany: Advertising average of 9Mbps, falling to 4.8Mbps in reality. Germany already has VDSL rolled out which offers the chance of much higher speed connections on short telephone lines.
- Sweden: Advertised average of 21Mbps and real download speed average of 7.4Mbps. It appears that while fibre is available cheaply the problem is availability.
- United States: Average advertised speed of 8Mbps, but a download average of 4.6Mbps. Again this is a country with a growing roll-out of fibre to the home connections.
- Japan: A staggering 93Mbps advertised figure, but falls to 10.6Mbps when actually testing the throughput possible.
- South Korea: The country held up as a broadband nirvana, manages 43Mbps in advertising, but falls to 3.6Mbps when actually measuring the speed.
The United Kingdom does not come out well in this comparison, but it does raise an interesting question of how broadband is advertised in other countries and what does the consumer make of the fact they seem to not get what it says on the tin? The evidence suggests the advertising is not very different abroad. Are users prepared to accept that for the amount they pay they cannot expect to get maximum speeds except occasionally?
Why do we need faster broadband? is a question asked on BBC News Online and is one that perhaps need answering. The example given is online gaming which really needs a low latency network with consistent throughput rather than a 100Mbps connection that slows to a crawl with congestion. If we blindly equate higher connection speeds with the network running better it is likely that we will always be disappointed. Increasing the speed we connect to a provider's network is of little use if the network behind it is not scaled to cope with lots more people having faster connections. The problem with ADSL for gamers is very often the upstream speeds, which is why ADSL2+ Annex M which offers up to 2Mbps upstream speeds is used by Be and may appear as ADSL2+ is rolled out by BT Wholesale. Cable broadband often only provides a decent upstream rate on its most expensive package, and even then a large game patch and same gaming in an evening can get both upstream and downstream speeds throttled for a few hours.
The killer app in France seems to be video over broadband links, but with the cable network and take-up of satellite TV in the UK this is largely already catered for. So our killer app is perhaps still to appear and needs to be popular and generate income for those running the networks. Social networking and services like YouTube while very popular offer nothing back to the network provider and YouTube video streaming should work on a good 0.5Mbps connection anyway.
A survey carried out by UK Online has found that small businesses value reliability of a broadband connection more than its speed. It is quite obvious that it is not only businesses, but increasingly ordinary consumers who are also frustrated with problems which will develop in the ever faster headline download speed race with very little attention being given to factors such as quality of service, support and upstream speed.