Ofcom Reports Broadband Speeds as Insignificant for Most

3 min read Networks & Network Services
In a major new report by Ofcom, the independent telecoms regulator has found that for the majority of internet users in the UK, line speed is a minor issue affecting the quality of their broadband connection.

The triennial ‘State of the Nation’ report finds that: “for connections with a download speed greater than 10Mbps, access speed appears to become less significant than… other factors.” The average line speed in the UK is 24Mbps.

The report draws on new evidence from British data analytics start-up, Actual Experience, through its BbFix project, and states, “line speeds provide only a partial picture of broadband quality of experience. [Other factors] in the wider parts of the end-to-end broadband chain are becoming more significant.”

The ‘other factors’ affecting quality of broadband performance are multiple and are largely outside the control of any single service provider. Data from the BbFix project, with dozens of new participants joining each week across the UK, will help inform the public debate over where to invest scarce financial resources, and then document the quality improvements thereby achieved.

Actual Experience, an off-shoot of Queen Mary University of London, have developed data analytics software to gauge the quality of internet connections as experienced by British users nationwide and identify which factors are detracting from a good online experience.

Dave Page, CEO of Actual Experience, commented: “Ofcom’s findings are highly welcome. A big myth has been debunked. For too long speed has been used as a proxy for broadband quality. We’re told that if you have 40Mbps you will have a great connection and at 2Mbps you will have a dismal connection. Well, I think it is becoming more and more obvious this simply is not the case.

“As stated in Ofcom’s report, for all of those on 10Mbps and above, there are a plethora of other factors affecting broadband quality, which are not been treated and remain unresolved. From problems in the home set-up to complications in the data centres of the content providers, the space for things to go wrong is extensive.

“It is amazing to me that nothing is being done to monitor the full chain between users at one end and the content providers at the other to see where problems are occurring. I am delighted that Ofcom has announced it will work with us to start making a real measure of broadband quality.

“But making our online experience better is not just a job for Ofcom. We can all can get involved by joining in the BbFix project. So far, we’ve crowd-sourced data from over 1,000 users to provide data on where the problem spots are in Britain and what can be done to fix them.”

The Ofcom report prominently features evidence from Actual Experience, which finds “a clear correlation between access speed and consumers’ experience up to around 8-10Mbps. Beyond this, there is only a marginal benefit to increased speed until ‘superfast’ connections of 40Mbps and above are reached. At these high speeds there is a small improvement in consistency, although the best experiences seen are not any better than at lower speeds.”

The report also finds that “with access speeds above 10Mbps, UK consumers can expect to have a very good experience of common internet services, if digital supply chains are well managed. Any problems seen above this threshold are typically due not to a lack of broadband access speed, but behaviours in the digital supply chain that can be improved by the relevant providers.”

The findings cast doubt on the Government strategy, adopted from the previous Labour administration, to concentrate solely on increasing broadband speeds. In 2013, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport raised their targets to deliver at least 24Mbps from 90 per cent to 95 per cent of the country by 2017.

In the report, Ofcom uncovers a deeper flaw in Government policy. It finds that local network infrastructure, where the Government has concentrated 100 per cent of its resources, only accounts for 30 per cent of problems users experience online. The remaining 70 per cent originate from home devices (23 per cent), broadband provider networks (24 per cent) and the core of the internet and content providers (23 per cent.)

A more effective strategy, the evidence in the report suggests, would be to use data now available to target improvements in the parts of the global network where errors occur.

Dave Page, CEO of Actual Experience, stressed: “The Ofcom data, published today, highlights that it is not just speed that is causing poor connectivity, and that financial resources could be more appropriately targeted at improving quality.

“By avoiding a high speed rollout on the 70 per cent of homes where it will make little or no difference, we could divert resources to the 5 per cent of homes without any broadband and work on fixes to quality for everyone’s benefit.

“Poor digital quality affects everyone, from the individual to global enterprises and can have a huge impact on productivity and perception of digital brand. The government is currently focused on improving poor quality broadband and has previously attributed the majority of the problem to speed.

“With this scientific evidence now in the public domain, we should stop pursuing a low return investment strategy for the parts of the country which have ample speeds – that is to say over 8-10 Mbps – and concentrate those funds on the areas which do need better physical infrastructure, thereby avoiding a waste of resources.”