Useful stuff, yes, but marginal improvements in speed are, well, marginal Credit Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

The Daily Mail is reacting with horror to the thought that the UK has slipped down the broadband tables. We’re only 35th in the world for average speed now! The correct answer to which is that yes, of course the UK’s broad band speeds are slow, we’re a developed and rich country. Which doesn’t mean that yes we’ll have the latest in shiny infrastructure. Rather, it means that we put in infrastructure some time ago and thus have the infrastructure from some time ago. You know, having infrastructure being one of the things which makes you a rich and developed nation?

Britain has slipped four places in the world broadband speed league, leaving its network lagging well behind the likes of Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary and Romania.

The UK is the sixth largest economy in the world but has dropped to 35th in the rankings after being overtaken by France and even Madagascar, according to the latest analysis.

As other countries rush to install fibre-optic cable networks which are capable of providing superfast download speeds, much of Britain continues to rely on old copper telephone wires to connect homes to the web.

Well, yes, the point being that we had a copper based network which went to pretty much everywhere. Thus we’ve not rushed to put in the fibreoptic because we’ve actually not needed it. Hey, sure, maybe it would be nice. Maybe it’s something we will install everywhere in the future. But we’ve not done it as yet because there’s not been a pressing case for that investment.

You see, our forebears already invested in the copper for us.

The fastest broadband speeds are in Singapore, which is renowned as a global technology hub. Its average figure is over three times faster than in this country, at 60.39mbps.

Second place goes to Sweden, ahead of Denmark and Norway. Perhaps surprisingly, Romania comes fifth in the league at 38.6mbps, which is more than twice the speed achieved in Britain. Other poorer countries where speeds are well ahead of the UK’s include Slovakia, Czech Republic, Slovenia and Andorra.

The Scandis are a little different, they having governments that just love to spend money. The other places are either urban – it’s easier to run the fibreoptic to the base of a series of tower blocks than it is to every hamlet – or they’ve recently been poor. Poor to the point that they never really did have an operative and useful copper telephone network. Thus they didn’t have a system that could be bodged (ASDL etc) into providing a reasonable broadband speed. So, in order to have it at all they had to go and build a network for the first time.

We already being a much richer nation, already had that copper network. Maybe having the network is what made us richer, maybe we spent our riches on the network, doesn’t matter which way around here. But it did mean that the arrival of the internet didn’t require festooning the country with glass wires. Yea, verily, it might even be true that we now should do so. But we’ve not had to as yet. So, therefore, we haven’t.

There really isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, any surprise that the already rich countries, those that had extensive copper networks before the internet, haven’t raced to build out fibreoptic networks. While poor places without that extant infrastructure have. Simply because us rich folks already had the copper network which was good enough for a time at least.

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  1. Hugely irrelevant as nobody needs those speeds, and the server you’re connecting to will never provide them anyway. What we need is the guaranteed availability of a base-level bandwidth during busy times, something which providers who boast of “100Mbps bandwidth” seem reluctant to provide.

    • I agree. My copper line provides me with 100Mbps. If someone wants to give me fibre and 1Gbps free, i’ll happily take it. But pay an extra tenner a month … for what?

      If you’re building a new giant block of flats (of the sort where the majority of the population live in places like S Korea), of course you’d put in a fibre link. But the sad old Brits obstinately prefer to live in detached properties and semis, and installing new fibre to every property in the country would be ridiculously expensive for no obvious gain (except bragging rights for our glorious leaders – see also HS2).

  2. I’m living in a medium sized city in Sweden with fibre to my house.I used to get 13Mbps over ASDL, but the local utility network, who run the local fibre network, offered our estate a discount to put in fibre if 50% of houses would sign up. It was about £800 per house, & I didn’t see the point (even though I work in IT & frequently work from home). My partner though though it was a good investment & insisted we get it. We actually had neighbours knocking on our door asking us to agree to the deal.

    Swedes don’t actually expect the government to do everything for them, and are well aware that the government spends their money. They do expect to pay for these things themselves (see also SEK200 for a doctors appointment or trip to A&E).

  3. The UK became a rich, developed nation by being mostly free. Freedom is not mired at one point in the past where copper wires were the key to interconnectivity. A nation that is still mostly free continues to be rich and developed by letting the free market reward entrepreneurs who will install fiber cable (or whatever else does the job). Not nationwide, not instantly, not according to a Master Plan, but only where it can show its bankers a good rate of return.

    Unfortunately, even in the US, where “communication” is a Constitutional right, there is a Commission on it, whose true business is to racketeer with the providers, make it acceptable to be stuck in the past, and even toy with regulating the price of things (“net neutrality”). This Commission let Mexico jump in front of us in mobile phones before it stopped protecting AT&T.

    A separate issue is that the news story is stupid in the usual ways, with a lede that suggests that Latvia is now “better” than the UK. Typical news story sez my state just got a report card of “B+” for being a good place for Internet, as “graded” by a consortium of Internet providers…. Still separately, increased bandwidth at no increased costs will instantly be frittered away, such as with streaming music to give your home a desired ambience when you are not there.

  4. I love in the UK and have copper to my door. I get 55mbps from BT. It was 66mbps but they throttled the speed recently. It’s fast but rarely do sites I visit give me superfast speeds. The speed is good for streaming multiple videos. I watch iPlayer in one room while my wide streams Netflix in another. Any more speed would be pointless.

  5. We used to have copper; it was very temperamental with speeds ranging from a 5 Mbps to 20 Mbps on a good day; and nothing when it chucked it down with rain (which happens reasonably frequently in Auckland!).

    We had fibre installed to the house a couple of years ago and have never looked back. The router is currently running at 650 Mbps – which is easily fast enough that we have given up on the crap that is broadcast in New Zealand and now watch UK television on catch up.