/ Technology

When ‘Great Expectations’ are not met

Broadband

News just in: the higher your expectations, the more likely you could be disappointed. This is not my analysis of the London dating scene, but rather a reflection on today’s new revelations about bad broadband in the UK.

This week we learned some pretty disheartening details about the UK’s broadband health. According to Cable.co.uk’s global ranking of broadband speeds, Britain came an underwhelming 31st (!). Today we’ve been dealt another blow with our analysis showing the faster the speed you expect, the less likely you are to actually get it.

Expectations form an interesting part of our lives. We expect our train to show up on time. We expect the person who shows up in the bar to look at least remotely like their Tinder picture. We expect to have an internet connection fit for modern life.

Expectation vs reality

We’ve been uncovering many problems around connectivity since we launched our Fix Bad Broadband campaign this year. And now, according to our research, there’s something else to add to the broadband customers’ list of woes. We’ve discovered that the faster you expect your broadband to be, the further away you’ll be from achieving that speed.

For example, consumers who reported they expected speeds in excess of 30Mbps (between 30Mbps and 500Mbps) were only getting 54% of the speed they were expecting.

Here’s a graph showing our findings:

Consumer tested broadband speeds compared to expected speeds

Speed dating

My dating life might be a lost cause, but I’d like to at least be able to rely on a decent broadband connection. If our connectivity expectations are nothing more than a pipe dream, then perhaps Dickens had his finger on the pulse when he wrote in his famous novel: ‘Ask no questions, and you’ll be told no lies.’

I’m keen to hear what our online community thinks.

Why does the gap between achieved and expected speeds widen in this way? Why are consumers treated differently for connectivity than for other products? What can consumers hope for to fix bad broadband?

Don’t forget, you can contribute to our growing picture of the UK’s broadband connectivity by using our speed test and submitting your results.

Take our speed test

Comments
Member

Hi Colum

Please could you tell us why Which? uses a different speed test from speedtest.net, which I understand is the most commonly used test. Like others, I have found the Which? speed test significantly faster.

I don’t mind which speed test is used, but surely it would be best for all to agree on using the same one.

When carrying out the speed test we are advised to use a cable rather than a wireless connection, no doubt because wireless connections can be subject to interference and can sometimes be considerably slower. That’s fine but a growing number of laptops have no standard provision for connecting a cable to the router.

Anyway, with a wireless connection and well away from the router I am getting a significantly faster speed than what I pay for, assuming that the Which? speed checker is accurate. While I have sympathy for those paying for high speed and not achieving it, I have much more concern for those who have pathetic speed and no way of improving it.

Member

Wavechange I have already gone into detail on why and how different speed tests give different results , I dont want to go through it all again but yes Which,s results are , shall we say “optimistic ” . Its basically down to the basis used and “optimists ones ” average out local noise etc , there is a lot more technical detail but some are complaining about it and ,as I have already posted on it I dont want to upset more people particularity regulars. as regards Public Expectation well we all know how hyped up the national media is on this and I have lost count of the number of posts I have spent explaining this in detail as to how its impossible to achieve total public satisfaction due to a multitude of different household equipment/cable etc etc etc set ups . But no the media who should and do know better are working to an agenda a dogma if you like -sell off BT let the Americans takeover our national network ( check out the US companies with $Billions to gain from this ) and NOT to the British public’s advantage, as all this— THEY will give 100 % FTTP is pure bull , knowing how they operate in the States. Do you know many US telecommunication companies refuse to renew old copper for fibre forcing many US citizens to accept microwave radio -why ? – financial cost , one area of New York operates that way.

Member

I appreciate your efforts, Duncan, but I hope you agree that it would be useful if everyone was using the same test. The present situation is equivalent to us all weighing in pounds but some using British Pound and some the US Pound. I would like Which? to explain their reasoning and maybe they might know if there any plans for everyone to get their act together and agree on one test.

Member

Hi @wavechange,

Thank you for your question. There are in reality, a lot of speed checkers out there, and there wouldn’t be any way of centralising one to be used.

I understand there are often some differences in results to speed checkers. Each speed checker uses different algorithms to run their tests, and as a result, you will see small variations in the speeds measured. You’ll also see differences in speed depending on the time of day you use the checker. Our speed checker is focused on measuring the performance of the Internet as perceived by the user, using HTTP protocol, which ensures that the results are what the user will experience in their actual browser. We provide regular feedback to the tool provider to help improve their services and the accuracy of the test.

The response time (latency) can be higher than other speed checkers due to the methodology of the measurement. Latency measurement is done using HTTP protocol instead of ICMP protocol. The advantage of this method means it provides latencies closer to the real world and is consistent with the method used for testing download speeds.

The tool provider uses a combination of lab tests, artificially limiting connection speeds and verifying that the speed checker measures up to the limit, complete crowdsourced surveys and A/B test new algorithms. The team work to continuously improve the algorithm, its accuracy and reliability across all platforms.

The real positive of us having this speed checker, aside from giving consumers assistance and understanding their speeds and getting help if they need it, is that we can measure and collect data from across the UK. This will help us create a map of real speeds across the UK, and also help us understand where we getting the best reach. We can use this information to target our campaign resources and bring information to relevant bodies.

You’re also absolutely right to comment on the fact there are people who have very poor speeds and little option to improve them. We’re hoping this campaign will bring to light the infrastructure issues around the UK.

Colum.

Member

Thanks very much, Colum, and thanks for coming back to us and providing feedback on our questions and posts. Best of luck with with the campaign.

Member

In our broadband market, “unlimited” data packages have become the norm, so suppliers can only court prospective new customers with either concrete offers of low prices, or claims of high speeds.

Member

The mobile phone industry has suspended at least some of the unlimited data tariffs. At my previous home I had a 4G service that from memory offered a download speed that was three or four times what I achieved via my copper broadband service. With unlimited mobile data I could have tethered my computer etc. as I do when I’m on holiday and cancelled my landline phone/broadband contract.

It would be fairer if we all paid for services according to use. Most of us are not on unlimited gas and electricity tariffs.

Member

Interesting perspective, @DerekP. I agree unlimited data packages are certainly the norm, but by no means the entire market. In my last apartment I ended up on a contract with a data cap on it as I was advised by a friend that it would be sufficient for me and save me money. It worked very well until I had an absolute binge watch of a Netflix show and incurred charges for going over the gap! Definitely learnt a lesson there….

It’s interesting though that the speed claims are becoming a more central part to marketing campaigns in providers. It could ultimately be a driver in why people are more likely to end up disappointed.

Member

Instead of keep moaning about poor broadband speeds, how about Which? do a little investigative reporting into how little the likes of Netflix and Amazon who produce the most traffic contribute to the infrastructure.

Is it fair they should monopolise the market for free and stifle the competition who have invested heavily in their own infrastructures?

If Ofcom had any teeth, they would get the money off these high capacity out-putters to pay for improving the infrastructure.

Member

Hi @alfa. Thanks for your contribution. We consistently hear from Which? subscribers, supporters and other members of the public about their poor speeds and what they can do about it. This has been a huge driver in why we have focussed our campaign around this.

That’s not to say there aren’t other elements to the campaign, and infrastructure is absolutely part of it. You make an interesting comment about traffic contribution and whether platforms have a duty to contribute. I’d be keen to hear what others think!

Colum.

Member

Hi @j964144156 (any chance you could change to @colum so you are easy to find?)

Sometimes we seem to get convo after convo moaning about the same thing with no valid recommendations or solutions as to a way forward.

We all know broadband speed is a big problem. It is not the first time I have mentioned the likes of Amazon and Netflix and perhaps Which? could look at their contribution (or lack of) to the infrastructure. Investigations could come up with valid recommendations to put forward to Ofcom that could save the taxpayer paying for the necessary improvements.

Member

Other than sell of BT to the Americans by making business life too hard for them exactly what do you expect Ofcom to do Alfa ? As I said before this is the argument raging in America at this moment they dont want to pay for the infrastructure but want the US ISP,s to pay for their HD TV streaming. Unlike here the US ISP,s are strong and can resist them but here its a case of make BT pay or sell them off with not a thought to any loyalty to this country only self-interest. Tell me when the last piece of public owned infrastructure is sold to the USA and then having a monopoly increase costs tremendously and dont make FTTP 100 % who do you complain to ? the Senate- sorry you are foreigners , does nobody have a long term view of reality ?

Member

Duncan – Alfa has mentioned the entertainment companies contributing to the cost of providing decent broadband, not expecting BT to foot the bill. When companies use the roads to deliver goods, they have to contribute towards the cost. I don’t want government money including our taxes used to support companies, especially not foreign ones.

The future is high speed communication.

Member

“The future is high speed communication.”. It certainly is for business, academia and public bodies. But I’d suggest it is lower on the list of priorities for most domestic users; in the nice-to-have but not essential category. I’d put mains drainage, mains gas, better mobile coverage, as well as the perennial NHS, Social Care, Sate Pension, Education……….when public money is tight.

Member

Malcolm – I said: “I don’t want government money including our taxes used to support companies, especially not foreign ones.” We are agreed on that point and I suspect many would agree.

Some of us want companies that profit from use of broadband (Amazon, Netflix and others) to contribute to improvement in broadband services in the UK. Do you support this and if not, why not?

Member

If we deal with the last point first, Malcolm, there has never been a time I can remember when public money was not described as tight by the government of the day. This is largely down to ignorance on the part of those who repeatedly tell us. It’s also known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Nigel Lawson is a prime example.

Only 3% of money takes the form of coins and bank notes issued by the Treasury. The rest of all money in the UK economy (97%) is electronic cash, most of which is created out of nothing at the moment a private bank makes a loan. The electronic money is then destroyed when the loan is repaid. This sounds completely crazy, but it is the way it is. This isn’t my idea: it’s the Bank of England’s.

The money is there to deal with the NHS, the State Pension, Education and more. Andmany don’t have or need mains gas, our drainage is fine and mobile coverage, I’d suggest, is not as critical as adequate broadband.

The maths that show the money is available is simple:
G − T = S − I − NX
where G is government spending, T is taxes, S is savings, I is investment and NX is net exports.

Member

We have supported foreign companies – steel, motor for example – to set up shop in the UK and provide jobs, as well as helping UK businesses. That can be helpful to our economy.

Member

From ofcom.org.uk: What is Ofcom
Ofcom is the communications regulator in the UK.

We regulate the TV, radio and video-on-demand sectors, fixed-line telecoms, mobiles and postal services, plus the airwaves over which wireless devices operate.

We make sure that people in the UK get the best from their communications services and are protected from scams and sharp practices, while ensuring that competition can thrive.

Ofcom operates under a number of Acts of Parliament, including in particular the Communications Act 2003. Ofcom must act within the powers and duties set for it by Parliament in legislation.

The Communications Act says that Ofcom’s principal duty is to further the interests of citizens and of consumers, where appropriate by promoting competition. Meeting this duty is at the heart of everything we do.

Accountable to Parliament, we set and enforce regulatory rules for the sectors for which we have responsibility. We also have powers to enforce competition law in those sectors, alongside the Competition and Markets Authority.

Ofcom is funded by fees from industry for regulating broadcasting and communications networks, and grant-in-aid from the Government.
What we do
Our main legal duties are to ensure:
•the UK has a wide range of electronic communications services, including high-speed services such as broadband;
•a wide range of high-quality television and radio programmes are provided, appealing to a range of tastes and interests;
•television and radio services are provided by a range of different organisations;

Are Ofcom promoting competition or allowing heavy-usage newcomers who have made no contribution squash the competition?

Why is only one provider allowed sole distribution of new TV series when Ofcom state otherwise?

Member

Investing in Superfast Broadband makes sound economic sense. There’s a great deal of very complex economic theory behind this belief but that theory has been proven to work by many very wealthy countries who have weathered the 2008 crisis far better than we have.

The government exists to run the country which it does through two principal means: it borrows and it makes money. Literally. The NHS problems are not all caused by a shortage of cash. They are caused through a mixture of chronic mismanagement on the part of the Government and incredibly poor judgement on the part of people who think they know how economics works. This is but one example:

https://www.bma.org.uk/connecting-doctors/the_practice/b/weblog/posts/a-locum-s-guide-to-the-changes-to-ir35-legislation

and this is another

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/gps-nhs-two-in-five-plan-to-quite-survey-exeter-south-west-crisis-haemorrhaging-doctors-a7679166.html

Member

Once again there seems to be an implication that a contributor with whom there is disagreement displays “ignorance” (in this case) and only one view prevails. We were bankrupt as a country after spending all our money on the second world war, and heavily in hock to the USA. Were the “free money” philosophy to hold good, we would have printed money, given it to the USA and all would have been good again.

We can borrow, but eventually it will have to be repaid. Just deferring debt onto future generations is not fair, in my view.

Money is based on real wealth, such as labour, natural resources, innovation and manufacturing. That is limited. Printing money eventually leads to inflation that is out of control – Germany between the wars for example – and devalues it abroad.

We have different views.

Member

I accept there are different views, Malcolm. I am wondering what you thought about expecting Amazon, Netflix, etc. to contribute to the cost of improving broadband services.

Member

I do not see what the links have to do with broadband. Perhaps a Convo on the NHS and the role of doctors would be appropriate. The first beneficiaries of high speed broadband should be business, academia and public organisations. We need to create wealth to progress. I would find it helpful if a survey showed just what these bodies experience currently.

Member

I wasn’t referring to you, Malcolm; I was talking about the government.

However:

you say We can borrow, but eventually it will have to be repaid. Just deferring debt onto future generations is not fair, in my view.

but it doesn’t get deferred, any more than the USA’s enormous debt is. To quote an extract: “A monetarily sovereign government is the monopoly supplier of its currency and can issue currency of any denomination in physical or non-physical forms. As such the government has an unlimited capacity to pay for the things it wishes to purchase and to fulfill promised future payments, and has an unlimited ability to provide funds to the other sectors. Thus, insolvency and bankruptcy of this government is not possible. It can always pay”.

“In sovereign financial systems, banks can create money but these “horizontal” transactions do not increase net financial assets as assets are offset by liabilities. “The balance sheet of the government does not include any domestic monetary instrument on its asset side; it owns no money. All monetary instruments issued by the government are on its liability side and are created and destroyed with spending and taxing/bond offerings, respectively.”

This is a highly complex are and people a great deal more mathematically astute than I have written the above. But you are wrong when you say Money is based on real wealth, such as labour, natural resources, innovation and manufacturing. That is limited. . Our money – the bulk of the UK’s income – is from the financial markets. And they deal with imaginary money.

You’re also wrong when you say Printing money eventually leads to inflation that is out of control – Germany between the wars for example – and devalues it abroad.. If that were the case, why do we not now have raging inflation? Because the Quantitative easing programme printing vast sums – has been in full swing for years. The only thing that’s affected the value of our money abroad has been Brexit.

It’s worth reading about Modern Monetary Theory.

Member

I added the links about the NHS because you introduced the subject, Malcolm.

Member

Only to suggest where I’d rather see any public money invested, not to criticise its structure.

Member

Duncan, Ian and anyone else – Any thoughts on the principle of expecting Amazon, Netflix etc. to contribute to the roll out of faster broadband? (I’m not sure how this can be achieved in practice.)

Member

Money, in the end, is about real things – resources. Banks trade “tokens” that are investments in these “real things”.

I am not pontificating about this, nor suggesting economics is simple – certainly not limited to a single equation. Just expressing my own view. I’m perfectly happy to have it disagreed with.

As far as broadband goes – the topic – the deficiency of the survey given in the intro is, I believe, because it is too general in presumably covering the whole country, rather than those areas where important users – business, industry, academia and public bodies – need high speed; what do they get? It might be higher, it might be lower. Secondly, the data should also show the potential speed available – what subscribers could get if they chose the highest speed connection currently on offer (does it do this?).

The link between broadband speed and an economy is interesting, but I would suggest only one factor, and not the most important. I’d go for education, support for research, development, innovation, investment in promising technologies, as examples of core resources we should nurture for future profitable returns, (as well as essential services).

We are, according to one source, the 5th largest economy, with 17Mbps average speed, in a group including India and China (around 2 Mbps), close to Germany and France (19 and 13).

If you look at what are said to be the most competitive economies, we come 10th, near Finland (8th with 21), Germany (4th with 19), USA (3rd with20).

As India and China have such low speeds, I suspect this, again, shows a weakness in the use of “average”. I imagine that where it matters in india and China they may well have much higher speeds,.

I’d like to see a much more comprehensive analysis of speed and its distribution before condemning the UK as “underwhelming” or “languishing”. It may well be, but I don’t think this data is good enough to give that conclusion.

Member

Thats a good point malcolm -Germany was broke , in a bad state , high unemployment etc ,Hitler no matter how much people hate him dragged the country back in the SHORTEST recovery in the history of the world by re-industrializing , taking over control of the banks during the 30,s including being financed by the Bank of England and others including America who were not adverse to what he was doing . At the same time implementing Socialist polices , giving jobs to the unemployed , free medical care, free holidays , renewing all the infrastructure . America went along with it because he was anti-Communist , its conveniently blocked out of real history just to make it seem he was all bad . The US Congress had stood up and said they were not against him , people conveniently forget it took the US 2 years to enter BOTH wars while the Blitz went on. It put us in debt for decades to pay back the loans from the USA. Its time this country did what he did to renew the infrastructure in the 30,s and what the Donald is copying now with his – Made in America policy . This country is basically a money centre (the City ) and when the banks crash again where will the peoples money go ?–abroad . Buy gold/silver not worthless notes . And your Virtual money ?- “virtually lost”. Even Germany wants its gold back from the USA/UK but has the USA “got it ” to give back ?

Member

Over the years I have known small businesses struggle because of poor broadband. For example, a friend operates a large farm and when we attended meetings he used to ask not to be sent large attachments as it could cause mayhem with trying to run his business. It’s less of a problem now but he still struggles. One of the local printers I use is in a village and I think he still has standard broadband, not even FTTC. It’s handy to be able to receive large graphics files if you work in printing. I mentioned the Janet network earlier, so I’m not aware academia has problems but that might be out of date. Janet is independent of other broadband services.

Member

They refuse to do it in the States Wavechange it would require HMG legislating against its own dogma I dont see it happening unless parts of the UK network are sold off to them . They are trying to buy into UK ISP,s at this moment but the ISP,s are resisting , no wonder, they are so big and financially powerful they would end up taking over the ISP,s companies ,have you checked up how much money they have ? many countries would be envious . I do not see them helping to install FTTP nationwide unless HMG made it an Act of Parliament if they bought in UK infrastructure they would need to do it . People in the UK just dont realise how ruthless these big companies are , its hidden from them , from years on US websites I can put my hand on heart and say if they were my neighbours i would buy a shotgun.

Member

Another good hysteria free post b malcolm.

Member

Thanks for replying, Duncan. I take that as meaning that it’s not even worth trying to get Amazon et al. to contribute.

Member

They wont in the USA Wavechange but in any case thy are blocked by the US government legislation from becoming ISP,s . Meanwhile trade negotiations are taking place between the USA/UK and , as the government has forced BT to accept other ISP,s its an opening to a take-over here . They are trying but have been knocked back by some ISP,s . read : http://uk.businessinsider.com/qamazon-plans-to-become-an-isp-in-europe-2016-10?r=US&IR=T also : https://arstechnica.co.uk/information-technology/2016/10/amazon-europe-isp-details-rumours/ I tell you Wavechange I still think HMG might sell out BT infrastructure to America. Dont bet on 100 % FTTP from them I have been on US websites for years they are ruthless , if they were my neighbour I would buy a shotgun, people are too naive in this country or ill-informed by the media.

Member

They’re not ‘blocked’, Duncan, simply not enabled.

I suspect the entire debate is simply getting bogged down in statistics, economic theories and hypotheses when in fact we should be debating whether we support Which? in its efforts to get a fair deal for all Broadband users.

There is, as always happens when we talk about advanced technology in Conversations, a clear dichotomy emerging between those who look ahead and imagine the future and those who see only the immediacy of existence. Both Wave and I have, I suspect, backgrounds which encourage the former thinking, whereas I can honestly understand why anyone with an engineer’s background will baulk at the imaginary, having a profession in which little is attempted without rigorous trial and error testing.

Wave: getting the heavy user to contribute is fairly simple. You simply implement a tax for quantity. A cost per Tb, if you like. Easily monitored and easily done. But the real point is the sloth-like progress of the roll-out. That’s where the government has to step in to force the industry’s hand, I think.

Duncan: the dogma of the current Government is not necessarily the same as the dogma of the next. The excellent example is Pirate Radio. Broadcast from ships parked outside the UK’s then territorial limits they were scuppered very quickly once their income stream was cut off.

It might well be the only way to save ITV in fact. As Google and Facebook have effectively carved up the ad markets between them the only answer might be to impose levies on any companies advertising on those media.

Member

This is not, in my case, about “not imagining the future” but about who will pay and how, and putting broadband in order in a list of priorities – when I believe we cannot at present have everything we want. If you like, the engineers approach is about hat can be made possible. We have suggested taxing the content providers by a levy on subscriptions. That seems possible.

Member

I agree with you malcolm but Ian where did I say I dint look to the future ?? I look to the future so far ahead that obviously it doesn’t register in some quarters . Just to get it straight what I have been talking about for a long time is what malcolm talks about — the MEANS of achieving it -aka- WHO PAYS ?? Your line Ian seems to be a government line of “killing 2 birds with one stone” – Public Hue+Cry – well beat down BT with adverse propaganda making a case to sell off the network to the Americans (our friends–as they say ) This achieves both goals quite nicely . Am I the only one who can see future government strategy ?? it sticks out like a sore thumb . I am telling you this sometime in the future we will, if WW3 doesn’t take place be putting our hands on heart and watching “Old Glory ” be raised and it will be for Amazon+Google +Sky .

Member

Ian wrote: “Wave: getting the heavy user to contribute is fairly simple. You simply implement a tax for quantity. A cost per Tb, if you like. Easily monitored and easily done. But the real point is the sloth-like progress of the roll-out. That’s where the government has to step in to force the industry’s hand, I think.” I have suggested that and getting rid of unlimited tariffs. Few have unmetered gas and electricity and goodness knows whey many still have unmetered water, as I did at my previous home. I very much agree that the government should take charge.

Member

Duncan: the difficulty in selling the idea that superfast broadband will become an essential and indispensable aspect of our lives in the not distant future is in itemising the uses for it. At this stage we don’t know the uses that could materialise, exactly the way we don’t know what speeds are needed for individual tasks. The one thing we can be sure of, however, is that society is moving towards an assumption of superfast connectivity and we cannot be left behind. I suspect one mistake is to lead the conversation with talk about downloading films. This is about far more.

In terms of paying for it I have already explained that governments can and do, because of the way in which modern sovereign economics works. It is, if you like, an investment in the future of the entire country. Nowhere, incidentally, have I suggested or implied we “beat down BT with adverse propaganda making a case to sell off the network to the Americans “. I’ve long thought the government should act to prevent the sale of vital UK assets to foreign powers. The US does that, and while we’re at it we should legislate to prevent the ownership of news media by anyone other than UK nationals.

Member

We, as a nation, need to generate wealth and provide something others, particularly overseas markets, want so we can pay for our food, raw materials and other imports for example. That wealth comes from endeavour, innovation, research, development and the production to make the profits. It provides employment, tax revenue, providing we do not offshore our manufacturing and lose the employment advantage. I would like to see far more support from “government” to build our economy in this way, whether directly from taxation, incentives for investors, attractions to set up and retain the innovators and producers. The proceeds will then allow us to invest in the better infrastructures we’d like, as well as more essential public services.

HS2 seems a little archaic in this context – we extol the virtues of electronic communication between remote parties and then seek to perpetuate moving people around at slightly higher speeds – to do what exactly? I would much rather see this money spend on developing existing rail systems with, for example, better signalling to increase speeds and capacity, and for integrated freight to free up the roads from traffic and pollution.

Member

I believe you’re basing this on a false premise, Malcolm. We probably need to escape from the idea that modern economics is essentially or even in any way similar to household economics, because I’ve slowly come to understand that it’s nowhere near as simple as that.

Current thinking identifies two types of transactions: Vertical and Horizontal. It defines any transactions between the government sector and the non-government sector as a vertical transaction. The government sector is considered to include the treasury and the central bank, whereas the non-government sector includes private individuals and firms (including the private banking system) and the external sector – that is, foreign buyers and sellers.

It analyzes imports and exports within the framework of horizontal transactions, arguing that an export represents a desire on behalf of the exporting nation to obtain the national currency of the importing nation if there are floating exchange rates and they use different currencies.

Although a net-importing nation will transfer a portion of domestic currency into foreign ownership, the currency will usually remain within the importing nation. The foreign owner of the local currency can either (a) spend them purchasing local assets or (b) deposit them in the local banking system. In each scenario, the money ultimately ends up in the local banking system.

I don’t pretend to fully comprehend the ideas yet, but one outcome is that we do not have to generate wealth in the accepted sense, since we can import what we want so long as other countries still want our currency.

To simplify it further (but I stand to be corrected by those who fully understand this) countries like the UK simply have too much financial inertia not to be able to continue importing or to retain a stable currency. It takes a cataclysmic event – such as Brexit – to affect our currency.

The other side of the coin is that investing in superfast broadband and HS2 and its offspring is what only governments can do, and doing it actually strengthens the economy, since both offer significant employment, and thus increases revenues which are the redemption of government IOUs, in effect.

Looked at from that perspective, the question becomes ‘Can we afford not to invest in HS2 and Superfast Broadband?’

Member

Ian, I respect your points and assertions. However you may be incorrect. and other people’s “false premises” may be right. I see countries like Greece whose economies were brought to their knees by overspending and, apparently, have not been able to recover simply by printing money and spending even more. Countries, like individuals, need to produce something others want to survive economically.

However perhaps 5 economists (experts) could contribute to this Convo and give us 6 different views.

HS2 will involve a good deal of foreign investment. Those investors will want their return. “Creating jobs” has been a much-used phrase in the past. But what is the point in creating jobs to work on something that may not be productive. Digging a canal then filling it in creates jobs. As does putting unnecessary people into public service. I’d rather see jobs that result from the creation of profitable enterprise.

Member

We still have not had much input on the proposal that Amazon, Netflix, etc. should be be required to contribute to the cost of improving broadband services, on the basis that their businesses profit from using broadband, are contributing to the existing problems and would benefit if more people had access to fast broadband. Income from foreign countries might help our economy.

Member

“The other side of the coin is that investing in superfast broadband and HS2 and its offspring is what only governments can do, and doing it actually strengthens the economy, since both offer significant employment, and thus increases revenues which are the redemption of government IOUs, in effect. Looked at from that perspective, the question becomes ‘Can we afford not to invest in HS2 and Superfast Broadband?’ ”

Well given you frame the question to give the answer hardly a fair example. Govt. could equally well pay for the Severn barrages, provide over-arching planning for electricity supply [rather than relying on a rag-bag of private firms], make major in-roads to transport planning giving very high prominence to electric only cycleways/roadways in London .

It could provide more capital to commercialising British inventions and holding golden shares, but no it ignores other pumps for the economy to one that enormously benefits London , and the other where what for businesses may be a necessity but for the vast majority of people the modern equivalent of bread and circuses.

I note that I think wavechange mentioned a farmer and a business suffering from poor broadband. Over 16 years ago I was looking at satellite broadband and its economics. And distributed direct line of site systems. Perhaps we are too good at complaining and not very good at doing stuff – is that possible?

Member

“Perhaps we are too good at complaining and not very good at doing stuff – is that possible?” Of course it is, because it does not need the same effort as proposing viable, positive, thought- through alternatives.

HS2 may, from London to Birmingham (or will it really be Birmingham to London?) reduce the fastest journey by 32 minutes. But this is really a small saving. For many outside London or Birmingham, once they have got up, dressed, breakfasted it might take them 1h 15m to drive to their local station, park their car, travel into London to the mainline station. Then, unless they have a meeting on the platform in B’ham, they might well need another half hour to reach their final destination. So a 49 min journey really takes them 2h 34m. Funnily enough that is exactly the same time it would take me to travel to my local station and pick up a standard train to Birmingham – and I do not live too far from the city. But my question is just what does transporting people around achieve economically – particularly when I suspect most will allocate the day to their assignment – including lunch of course.

Perhaps an HS line up the east coast bringing Scotland nearer might be good? That could reduce the journey time from 4h 10m to about 2h:30m. But, instead, the current route will reduce it to just 3h38m from what I read.

OOH! Just read the heading and apart from “speed” being common, we are well off topic.

High speed broadband – we need to produce to survive. It’s a pity that the speed test is related to downloading an HD film. As is said elsewhere, broadband is about other than that but is that currently the significant criterion? Perhaps those who present this information could give examples of download and upload times for tasks that really matter to us economically and for our wellbeing.

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Malcolm, I have friends in Greece and it seems they’re not doing anywhere nearly as badly as the media might want us to think.

Patrick: I agree. Except my ‘question’ was, as I’m sure you know, rhetorical.

Malcolm: on HS2 there are a lot of unknowns. And I agree that working on projects shouldn’t be commenced unless there is the likelihood that they will be productive. But where we differ is that I believe HS2 will be productive. However, I would agree it’s very much like the case for superfast broadband.

Both proposals (HS2 is no longer a proposal, as our youngest is already managing a chunk of the project) are projects started by those who believe they will yield unspecified advantages to the UK. Yes – the absurd simplification by the News media of a few minutes quicker travel time is facile and should be ignored, as it’s not really about that at all. What it’s about is the future and, as any banker will tell you, betting on futures is always a risk.

We cannot know for sure how it will turn out. We do know some things, however: the majority of business trips to London are from cities in the North and West. Fast, comfortable trains attract passengers. The Airline business is getting worse by the day. Motorways are becoming intensely overcrowded.

The trends, therefore, are for faster trains. Either that, or we wait for the latest research into Quantum pairs to produce teleportation. Might be a while, though.

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Although the headline London-Birmingham time is the current benchmark – because that will the first section of HS2 to open – the big prize will be when the next phase opens and the high speed trains are able to gallop along the London-North West leg and then run over the classic lines to Scotland. Bringing the Central Belt within three hours of the UK’s capital will be a real game changer.

In the meantime, the new line to the Midlands will enable many more intermediate services and freight trains to run on the existing tracks to increase capacity and journey opportunities. It also brings forward my lifelong dream of seeing Accrington Stanley get married to Crewe Alexandra.

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HS2 will reduce journey times to London by up to an hour (Manchester). So from when you leave home to arriving at your final destination might be around 3 hours instead of 4. Still a whole day with 6 hours travelling. My question is who, in 2033, are going to make these journeys and for what purpose? We might end up with it being used for freight.

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In which case a good use for it, but I suspect that won’t be the case. Everywhere in the world the High speed rail systems have been introduced, demand has steadily increased. You don’t know the answer to your question and neither does anyone else. Projects like HS2 are in same class as the new Aircraft carrier: we build these things because we believe they will be good for the UK in the long run.

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Even when the high speed trains reach Birmingham, the North West and Scotland will be considerably closer in time since half the journey will be done much faster than presently. The Birmingham speed-up has exercised minds but it is but a stepping stone for longer journeys that will attract passengers who wish to go further in less time.

There are now three or four trains an hour from London Euston to Manchester – virtually a suburban frequency. As soon as the extra services were launched by Virgin Trains they filled up – and it will happen again. Other developments in the Northern Powerhouse will drive this forward.

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The predicted time London-Glasgow/Edinburgh is predicted to be cut from 4h:30m to 3h:30m. By the time you add the travelling at each end, that is still a long day – around 51/2 hours each way. So it will involve an overnight stop for many. I simply wonder whether the saving really justifies the investment and who will make use of this service.

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And if they used an airline the time involved would be even greater. And on a train – unlike in most airlines – you can easily accomplish quite a lot in work terms. The other factor is that TV crews (who travel a lot between Salford and London) can take all their equipment into First class very easily. Not so on a flight.

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I’m always so frustrated with the WiFi service on trains. If you’re not paying a premium for the luxury of using the onboard internet (Virgin – bearing in mind most public places have free WiFi now) then the internet that is on offer is absolutely abysmal (GWR).

I’m going to be travelling for three and half hours next weekend between London and Devon and I’m already deciding which movies to download in anticipation of the long journey and which documents to make offline for me to work on… On a bank holiday weekend? I know. I’m mad.

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Dean – there is no such thing as free wifi – it has to be paid for somehow by someone.

Where trains and buses provide inclusive “free” wifi to passengers, I guess the cost is covered by the fares paid, so the quality of the service may be a case of only getting what you are paying for.

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Wi-Fi is related to the mobile phone signal coverage rate but as with landline broadband, there are still many who are not well served.

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Malcolm, I am not trying to press the case for HS2 but for faster communication across this tiny country by land and in safety, and in this respect I believe a high speed railway is a good answer. Given that the existing capacity on the most important routes is insufficient, so new lines are needed somehow, only a fool would build them to a 125 mph standard when technology is readily available to provide a faster journey. The existing West Coast main line from London to Glasgow had billions of pounds spent on it a few years ago but it is now overloaded and prone to disruption under the pressure of traffic. It cannot be physically refettled for higher speeds because of its alignment, curvature and gradient profile so a new line is the only practical alternative and primarily on account of the disruption that such an upgrade on a working railway would cause.

In terms of journey times from London to Glasgow or Edinburgh, if 3 hours was available [and I believe it is despite the cautious official predictions] I think passengers would flock to it and there will eventually be an economic shift and a population shift that might help with some of the other problems we discuss here. A 3½ hour train journey time is not unusual on many routes [the West Country, for example] which are not likely to see any improvement in speeds, and people embark on those journeys in the knowledge that they might only have a few hours in the capital. Shortening the time for journeys to Scotland, even before HS2 reaches the northern English cities, also makes communication quicker for people who live in Inverness or Aberdeen, for example.

As Ian has made clear, not everyone can or wants to fly so a good train service is essential, and in the 21st century “good” means at “optimum speed”, which is achieved by the best alignment of track and the best motive power available.

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I understand these points. I do question whether the huge extra cost, and lack of flexibility (no intermediate stations, no goods) for the higher speeds is really cost effective. And allied to this, I would still like to know who will use these services, for what purpose do large numbers need to travel so far. Is physical presence, other than holiday, entertainment for example, going to be so important when we will have huge improvements in electronic communication by the time these trains come into service?

And who will be able to afford the fares? We already have commuters complaining of their current fares and increase. If we had limitless money……. Will it be limited to the wealthy, to public servants, and those on expense accounts, subsidised by the rest of us through taxation?

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John, I hate to mention this but we are guilty of going off topic 🙂 There is no Convo on HS2; maybe a Convo on rail communications could be opened, or we could move downstairs to the Lobby?

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Agreed, but suggestions to move Conversations often result in a flurry of additional off-topic discussion. See what I mean.

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We find when in Devon that we either can’t get a signal or that it drops out all the time making it impossible to have any continuity.

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bishbut says:
9 September 2017

A service available EVERYWHERE should have been the government first priority not FAST broadband etc. for a few Mobile signals EVERYWHERE should be have been the first most important thing If it dose not affect MPs or Government advisors nothing will be done

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It has been dealt with in much the same way as the railways were built in the 19th century – left entirely to commercial interests so some areas were over-provided and others completely neglected with no lines and no services. I feel that where history has a lesson we should learn from it. At least a poor broadband network is easier to rectify than an inadequate railway network.

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Colum: thank you for that Cable statistic, which is downheartening, to say the very least. Once again we languish well behind in technology which, given the UK’s prominence in invention, is depressing, but almost expected these days.

I admit to being extremely worried by two things at the moment. One is that the government will simply roll over and agree to let Openreach do what they say, which – once the stick has been removed – will be extremely unlikely. The other is that the bar has been set far too low. I know why they chose 10mbs, but it still sends the wrong signal (no pun intended).

For me, anyway, I see no option other than for the government either to compel BT and OR to do the job to a higher standard (30mbs is the realistic minimum) or for the government to form its own installation company and work in competition with them. The UK has an unsung success story of state-owned industries, but those with vested interests always prefer we only hear about the problematic ones. A government owned and run Fibre Optic installation company could well be the best option.

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Hi @Ian, thanks for your comment. State-owned industry is obviously a huge debate, one that far beyond broadband! It’s certainly important to keep talking about though, and whilst there doesn’t appear to be any appetite from Government to nationalise the telecommunications markets, we’re always keen to here people’s views to help consumers get the best deal.

I’d be interested to know why you think 30mbps is the necessary minimum over 10mbps?

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10mbs was set, I suspect, because it exceeds the maximum 8mbps which is the standard ADSL fare over copper. In other words, the Government wanted to ensure fibre optic cable was being deployed, at least to local cabinets. 30mbps is sufficient to allow for full motion video (communications/ education) several devices and at least partially compensate for latency issues.

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This is true. I suppose on it all depends on what one considers the “necessity” bar to be when it comes to connectivity. The Universal Service Obligation has been described by government as a “safety net” and that 10Mbps should be ample for that. I think there’s probably a debate to had about whether streaming entertainment comes under those basic needs, but you’re right, there’s a lot of digital e-learning content online nowadays!

Interestingly, my home speed is below 10Mpbs and I regularly watch streamed TV with little problems, albeit not all the time, and it’s certainly not a universal experience!

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If there is a single user and the speed is reasonably stable then a modest speed is adequate for most purposes, and the time taken for large downloads is probably not critical. The situation changes if there are two or three users or if the speed declines at times of peak demand.

In my previous home I had standard copper broadband and for some reason I did not see any significant difference according to the time of day or day of the week. It was always around 7-8 Mbps and adequate for my requirement.

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bishbut says:
10 August 2017

Too many people think speed is the most important thing in their lives .If something is not super fast they are unhappy Slow down relax and enjoy life don’t rush into everything wanting to reach the end of your life as fast as possible .You will get there however slow you go soon enough even before you want to Which take note Speed is not everything

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There’s certainly a valid point there… I’m trying to make a conscious effort at the moment to deconnect from the internet at periods on evenings and weekends! I’m finding pretty hard though….. if anyone has any tips let me know!

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I survive on my present speed quite happily, but I am not into online gaming nor watching lots of films. So I genuinely do not know what speed is necessary for many people to do their essential tasks.

The criteria used to check speed here is downloading a 7.5Gb HD movie. 1hr 2 min in the UK, 51 min in the USA. Is our “essential” criteria for broadband how long it takes to be able to watch a film? “Essential” means something more useful to me.

We have had consecutive Convos complaining about speed. I would find it useful if Which?, or some of our more knowledgeable contributors, could list out what speeds we need to do particular online tasks.

An underwhelming 31st? The description depends how you want to portray the data. They looked at 189 countries. The UK average speed, they say, is 16.51 mbps. We are among 13 countries in the 15-20 bracket. 9 are in 20-25, 5 in 25-30 and the remaining 6 above that. We are above France and not much behind the USA.

China 1.55. India 2.06. Two major economies. Perhaps the grave danger of looking at an average – maybe the high speed is where it matters for business?

Just how is average speed measured? Is it what consumers actually get with their current connection, or what the could get if they chose fibre – either FTTSC or FTTP? In other words, is it what customers choose to pay for, or is it what the infrastructure can provide?

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The point seems to be that we’re languishing well down the list among developed countries in a technological arena which is rapidly becoming indispensable to life and already is to commerce.

But you asked for the speeds required to do particular online tasks. Well, you’d have to specify what those tasks were, how many devices the home might have that would utilise the internet, what the future needs of the family might be, what developments are likely in terms of household convenience, communications, medical needs, education and that’s just for starters.

As a comparison I imagine that people were more than happy to dump their sewage into streams until they suddenly discovered the flush toilet. Of have a bath in a tin tub in front of the downstairs fire until someone invented modern plumbing. As a child I remember that lettuce was stored in a bucket of cold water with a lump of coal. Butter, cheese and milk were hung in cloth sacks in the backyard. The wireless was powered by an accumulator and washing was done in a metal tub with a wooden dolly.

We survived on all that quite happily (or at least I did) but today we have two bathrooms, four toilets, two ‘fridge/freezers, two new vehicles, central heating, air conditioning, a balcony overlooking Snowdonia’s mountain ranges and a media server. We could survive on a lot less (might have to, if Trump keeps annoying the N Koreans) but we live healthier, more productive and happier lives than we did then. And superfast BB is fast becoming a necessity for that existence – not an option.

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At the moment the criteria seems to be watching movies. Is that how we like to judge whether a country languishes or not? I would think high speed for business would be an important criterion. Has that been measured?

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Thats the point when you mention Donald Ian , Americans have a childlike attitude to life it takes their intellectuals to point out whats wrong with that position and then they are made to shut up or inhabit radical websites to express their views but we are dragged along by our shirt tales, a nation that has a massive history and purports to be “wise ” . As I have said before our “wisdom” is now less than it was collectively long ago .

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“And superfast BB is fast becoming a necessity for that existence – not an option.” Ian

I simply do not agree with you Ian – necessity?

In this Which? article below superfast is designated 38-76Mbs and comes with pretty pictures how fast you can download films and other amusements. Which kinds of begs the question whether we are being manipulated by content providers like Netflix and addicts complaining about lack of speed when the real problem is limited good availability at 10Mbs which Ofcom deems the lowest acceptable limit.

I would dearly love to have the streaming services closed for a week to see how much speed through the network increases. The idea that people pay for bandwidth usage surely must make sense.

“Do I need to go superfast? Fibre broadband is great but isn’t necessary for everyone. For browsing the web, checking emails, uploading the odd photo to Facebook and even streaming from BBC iPlayer or Netflix, you don’t need a superfast connection. For iPlayer you need 2Mbps of sustained bandwidth to watch standard-definition content or 3Mbps for high-definition, while the minimum recommended broadband speed for Netflix is 1.5Mbps. However, you will likely benefit if you regularly: Use your broadband at the same time as other people in your home Download films or large online files on a regular basis Use online TV catch-up services from more than one device Upload videos and other large files to the web Play video games online Use video-calling services, such as Skype”

Read more: http://www.which.co.uk/reviews/broadband-deals/article/what-broadband-speed-do-i-need – Which?

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Without aspiration our streets might be lit with improved gas lighting, we could have a better horse & cart and telephones with better dials. As Ian has pointed out, there have been some radical improvements. I have some reservations because advancement is often accompanied by consumerism and waste.

The rapid evolution of personal computers and smartphones illustrates developments in technology. Go into any city street and you will see many people using their phones for a variety of purposes. The future is high speed communication and I see it as a waste to continue to use copper-based broadband because it will have to be replaced, probably sooner than later.

What’s wrong with finding a way to make those companies that profit from video delivery from paying for the roll out of decent broadband?

Interestingly, not everything moves on rapidly. My 1982 washing machine was retired last year and its replacement does much the same job as the old one.

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I wonder how many would agree with this view of “necessity”?

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This was my point Patrick when I was unable quote you a URL that gave the massive argument now going on in America on exactly the same issues as here raised by ALL the big US streaming conglomerates who were arguing with US ISP,s over their ability to stream unlimited amounts of very high definition films etc the ISP,s saying – but it reduces the bandwidth for others , it was near a blazing row . The fact is the world is controlled by 6 giant media organisations with a common “link” , these $billionaires are pushing this in Congress and as many places as they can and this ccountry is getting the hard end of it due to deregulation and “open for business ” attitude . While US ISP,s have some power poor old BT is being cynically manipulated by adverse media propaganda due to its poorer strength in the face of this onslaught . Its a power game with huge profits ( for some ) I just hope BT will last a few rounds.

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Hi @malcolm-r – really useful comment on helping consumers understand what speeds they need. I’ve definitely taken that on board, something for us to think about.

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Patrick: you’re reasoning on an extremely narrow base. And being beguiled into believing that “films and other amusements” are the only relevant fare.

There are two issues: bandwidth and latency. Now, if you think it’s only films and games that use the internet it’s time to think again. They may be what’re making the headlines, as they form the bulk of many people’s interests, but there’s a vast amount of traffic moving through the internet other than films and games. The real point is that a lot of things of which you’re almost certainly unaware are becoming increasingly dependent on bandwidth.

The real winner will be communications, but I’d respond by suggesting that your suggestion to “have the streaming services closed for a week to see how much speed through the network increases” is on a par with closing down the ‘phone network for the same period of time. I think we should be moving forwards.

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It would be useful if someone came up with “essential” tasks that need high speed connections, rather than just the generalities. I would like to know where the real benefits are, aside from entertainment.

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malcolm r says: Today 13:33I wonder how many would agree with this view of “necessity”? I tend to wonder how many agreed with the invention of the printing press. Because it’s the same argument.

We need to escape from the idea that this is all about streaming movies. It isn’t, any more than the printing press was about making comics.