/ Technology

When ‘Great Expectations’ are not met


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


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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

“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.

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?

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.

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.

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?

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:


and this is another


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.

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.

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.

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


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.

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

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

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.)

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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?’

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.

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.

“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?

“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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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?

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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?

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.

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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“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?

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.

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

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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.

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.

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.

Then tell us what you regard as necessary internet activities and the speeds they need. This Convo talks about speeds but not about what they are needed for. They need a purpose if they have significant cost implications, to the taxpayer or existing users.

I am simply interested in the facts that lie behind this topic so we can make considered judgements. At present the basis of the Convo – the average speed quoted for the UK – is in doubt and may well be higher. But “average” is not helpful; what would be more helpful, for example, would be to know the % of users who lie above a minimum speed., one that allows all essential tasks to be performed within reasonable time.

This is all about the future: high speed internet has the same potential to achieve change in society as Gutenberg’s printing press, Archimedes’ approximation of pi and the Chalcolithic invention of the wheel.

Fine – if we want to be left behind. After all, we have no heavy industry, we can’t compete on labour costs and our tourist industry isn’t that wonderful. What’s this country’s major export? Intellect and finance are two of most significant, and both depend on – guess what? That’s right: high speed internet.

There are numerous examples of ways in which substantial amounts of data are transferred via the internet, other than video and games. Off-site data storage and backup is an obvious example. Many users will have their phones, tablets and computers synchronised. If you buy household goods it’s best to think about future needs rather than what is needed today.

Malcolm: I wrote :”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. “.

The analogy with Gutenberg is, I suspect, very accurate. He could not possibly have known what an invaluable and essential tool it would become in the years that followed. If someone had rounded on him and told him to justify the expense he couldn’t have done it – of that I’m sure. Because he had no concept of how immensely influential the written word would become. The internet is the printing press of today. I get by on a respectable 7.8mbps at the moment, but when my line developed a fault it reset to 3 and the difference was incredible. If felt like the stone age.

Here’s another use which I haven’t mentioned: web site creation. More and more people are creating and developing their own sites, now, and that takes time and needs good upload speeds.

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UK universities have the Janet network, which was described as the fastest computer network in the world at the time I retired. That sounds like marketing, but some university research is reliant on high speed computing.

Your final paragraph is proposing a similarity to closing down phonelines which my example certainly did not suggest closing the internet. If you wish to make an analogy it would be if we cut connection for adult sites, gambling sites, astrology sites, etc.

However as an analogy it fails anyway as we have no congestion of the telephone lines.

Fortunately having worked for an insurance broker that was also incidentally a company that was an early pioneer of line of sight for BB speeds in around 2003 I am very familiar with latency and bandwidth hogging. As a small brokerage using an on-line quote system it was in the companies interest to have good latency and bandwidth. We, as an ISP, bought in bandwidth and sold it on, and dealt with the customers complaints. Direct line of site being affected by weather and aerial positioning.

We were a bit of a poster child and had visits from Welsh politicians and interested parties wishing to set up their own systems in Wales rather than wait for BT.

Whilst I can understand people who are found of entertainment wanting the very best for the least money the use of the word necessity , which would be true for many organisations, still seems wrong to employ to the average person in the UK.

Expect nothing at all then you will keep having happy surprises all the time

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Duncan – I am well aware of the public being manipulated by business but that’s not where I’m coming from. I worked in a university where we had very fast internet connections. I’m not sure how fast because it was usually off-scale if I ran a test. I have never downloaded a film in my life but have struggled to move data around via copper broadband. I don’t doubt that media companies are causing much of the desire for fast broadband but it would be good to hear from some younger people who work with computers and experience the frustration of slow and unreliable connections.

Colum, were the speeds measured as what consumers currently achieve on the service they have chosen, or what they could achieve if they connected to their fastest available service?

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So if consumers chose a higher speed service if it were available then the “average” speed that Cable Co measure in the UK would increase? Have I read you correctly duncan? If so, the speed measured is not any indication of the country’s status, but of its consumers choices?

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Thanks Colum for keeping contact with this Covo. Did you go to Lauren’s lunch meeting out of interest? I hope it results in more Which? staff engaging as you have.

I think it crucial that we have meaningful statistics. If a figure is uncertain, based on limited data, it should be stated. At present we are suggesting the UK is an “underwhelming 31st” but if that is based on what consumers currently subscribe to and not the best they could get then it does not mean a great deal.

I’ve read the data from Cable and I don’t think it “is based on what consumers currently subscribe to and not the best they could get “. It’s hard to see exactly how they’ve acquired the data, but my best guess would be that they’ve used the download example of an HD Movie (which simply makes a good and easily comparable example) from the fastest connection they could. In which case it’s pretty conclusive that overall we’re not in a great place.

Actually, I suspect it would be ever worse were they to make a comparison of the percentage of subscribers that can obtain the highest speeds.

If they check by consumer, which is what I gather, then I presume they can only use the consumer’s actual connection. Perhaps this could be clarified. If many choose not to have a faster available connection then that could depress the figures.

Ofcom publish an annual report on home broadband:

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I agree with most of this, Duncan, but why make allowance for the distance from the cabinet? That is not something that customers have any control of, and being a long distance from the cabinet is one of the reasons why customers can suffer slow speeds.

I have a feeling I might not have understood your point. 🙂

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Thanks Duncan. I understand now.

Something else that could have made clear in the introduction perhaps, if this is the case? Perhaps Colum could let us know whether or not this is the case.

Presumably as well as FTTC, we could also choose FTTP to get even higher speeds?

You could – for extra cost. However, you asked for essential uses and I keep posting more of them. The most recent one concerns if you have to go into hospital.

You may not be aware that all x-rays are now sent digitally across the internet. That’s in addition to patient notes, alerts, updates and information dissemination and it’s all stuff that you’d want to arrive on time. Potential cancer investigation results are also sent digitally. Hospitals these days are incredibly dependent on high speed internet and many don’t have the bandwidth they need.

I know two consultants who have access to high resolution X-rays and MR scans at home. Prior to this it meant driving to the hospital to have look at a photo. That’s a good example, Ian.

It would be useful to know what speeds industry, commerce, academic institutions and public bodies get. I’d suggest these are essential beneficiaries. Perhaps this is outside the scope of Which?

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I live on a privately owned road with only BT poles. Just recently I noticed a yellow sign has appeared “Warning Over head fibre cables” . Does this mean we are about to get fibre optic broadband running to the poles then the house ?

I hope so. Maybe your existing connection was to slow for you to receive the email telling you about it.

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Duncan – While what you say about Virgin Media having exclusive control over the ducts and lines they own [although they can rent them out], I doubt there is a place where VM have infrastructure that isn’t also served by a parallel Openreach service so BT would not need to use VM’s.

So long as Openreach has an overwhelming monopoly on infrastructure I believe it is in consumers’ interests for other telecom service providers to have unfettered access. Consumers’ interests are the only ones that should count in my opinion. These are the terms under which BT Group operates; it has accepted them and does not complain about them. On the other hand, Virgin Media and other telecom service providers have consistently complained in recent years about the delays, obstructive behaviour, and other impediments put in their way by BT when trying to utilise its infrastructure. That is why Ofcom acted as it did, enforced the separation of Openreach, and compelled it to be entirely even-handed in its treatment of different TSP’s.

The first sentence in my comment above should read “While I agree with what you say . . . “

When I measure the speed of my Virgin broadband (nominal 150Mbs) using speedtest.net , I nearly always get a reported download speed of around 160Mbs. Yet, using other speed test facilities, I get dramatically different figures. Moreover, I have a Sam Knows box installed in my system that is used to monitor the speed at regular times of the day (see http://www.SamKnows.com ), the reports from which are used in the compilation of national statistics. But SamKnows figures during daytime usually show my speed to be in the region of 40Mbs. On the face of it, I’m getting the speed I pay for (150Mbs) – or am I? I just don’t know.

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Sorry guys VM is excuse the French crap, know many people who use their service and get nowhere near some of the figures some of the guys here are talking about, I pay for 100mb and have very rarely got over 50mb hard wired. The problem we have is the requirement for more bandwidth speed continually growing due to higher quality equipment we now all own. The issue with that is, its no good having a film in the old 405 lines type quality when its a massive HD quality film that sucks up bandwidth at a huge rate., none of us would stand for that, or would we have any choice…… This situation will only get worse in the future and speeds will probably fall back to close to the old copper cable speeds of 30mbs the more the system gets overloaded. There’s no easy answer, if billions more were spent on infrastructure that would soon also be overwhelmed, our consumption for ever better quality and more humans using the system. This will inevitably lead us back to where we started and allow the suppliers to make massive profits at the expense of everyone, simply put, our own fault. They truthfully cant supply, we over consume, we loose out, they don’t give a monkeys.

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Can we be entirely sure that the cinema chains are not pumping rubbish around the internet in order to slow it down and make the downloading of HD films too difficult? They are facing a bleak future as more and more films are being made for, or released straight to, the internet, the reproduction quality of home viewing equipment [especially sound] is becoming superior to the cinema experience, and the viewing conditions in cinemas are a lot more expensive and far less comfortable. The only advantage of cinema screenings left is the newness of the releases which depends on the close connections between the production companies and the cinema chains. Once that link is broken I can see cinema dying a death. Why should we have to watch tosh just because the schools are on holiday?

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Screening Room was mooted in early 2016 but there’s been little about it since then. The problem is the model: set top box for around £120 then roughly £49 per downloaded movie which you can only watch and not keep. I suspect it will only appeal to those who simply can’t wait and have money to spare, but the inability to keep a copy is what I suspect will work against it.

“Greece is on course to avoid a debt default this summer after creditors reached a deal with Athens on reforms including pension cuts and tax changes that will continue until the end of the decade. …….”

The agreement also paves the way for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to join the country’s third, €86bn (£73bn) bail-out programme……

The country’s unemployment rate ended the year at 23.1 per cent in December, revised up to that level from 23 per cent in November – the highest in the eurozone…….

I don’t have friends in Greece, so can only go by reports. But none of what Greece has gone, and is going, through seems particularly healthy when the rest of Europe has to bail it out.

Greece’s broadband speed is similar to Australia.

I, personally, seem not to have suffered from the austerity imposed in the UK. But many might not have a similar view for their own situation.

On your first point, it was the supposed issues with Greece that first set me to trying to comprehend how macro international economics works. They have high unemployment, – that’s true – but apparently many Greeks work cash in hand so don’t register as employed. But the IMF will continue to bail them out simply because there’s no realistic alternative. The ones suffering are those employed in the public sector, as I understand it.

On your second point – that you don’t seem to have suffered – the answer is simple: those above 65 haven’t. In fact, they’ve become wealthier. It’s the young who are suffering: young nurses, doctors, teachers, social workers – they’re the ones being squeezed, especially those with young families. Personally, I fear that the divide will become unpalatable for many youngsters and Logan’s run will make a return.

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I wonder how many over-65s on limited pensions would agree that they “haven’t suffered” but “become wealthier”?

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The over 65s have had pension increases under the triple lock which exceeds increases for any workers. The word ‘wealthier’ is accurate, although I appreciate it might not feel like wealth as such. But the young are those who’ve suffered the most.

Increases of 2.5% are wonderful – except they probably don’t seem like it to those wealthy pensioners on a basic £122.30 (or for later applicants £159.55) a week. % increase is a fairly useless measure – it is ££s that matter, so the pensioners getting an extra £3.90 a week might not be ecstatic. All ages who have wealth will survive without any pain. It is all those who already struggle financially that suffer. Count ourselves lucky.

Well of course you’re right, although no pensioner only entitled to the basic ever gets only the basic. But perhaps that should have been denied them? Or, as I’ve often argued, why were the increases and the levels of pension so derisory in the first place? After all, there is no provable or objective reason why wages and pensions have been kept so low for so long.

And of course the 24 year-old whose parents own an international media company is unlikely to be left without a few bob. But the statistics reveal that the group suffering most are the working young. Those setting up house, starting a family and having to buy the essentials – such as chairs and washing machines. Rental costs for properties are far in excess of mortgage costs.

If the pensioner gets additional benefits, they may well have been frozen – most are. A pensioner with additional pension, such as SERPS for example, will not see a 2.5% increase. And as many pensioners are unlikely to have “future prospects” or the ability to supplement their income I doubt many could be considered as doing better than the young.

I had 3rd hand chairs and a secondhand twin tub when we set up home. Establishing a family and a home involves sacrifice – forget the non-essentials – but endeavour produces results.

We are supposed to be talking about Great Expectations for broadband not being met. What the Dickens are we discussing pensions for? 🙂

Ian has pointed out the problems the young face with high rent costs, etc. It makes more sense to buy rather than rent, but in expensive areas that is not an option to many young people. I’m sure single-parent mothers left with a couple of kids to support and many other will be suitably impressed by the need to sacrifice. 🙁

I pointed out that broadband speed and national prosperity may not be linked – a suggestion made earlier to justify high speed broadband having priority – citing Greece as an example. The Convo was then diverted onto the over 65’s. You are, of course, quite right to draw attention to this wavechange. A common occurrence in Convos is that someone throws in a contentious comment that attracts reactions from others. It should really be transferred to The Lobby.

However, i would suggest that the cost of high(er) speed broadband will be beyond the reach of those “wealthy” over 65s who get by on the state pension, and yet for whom broadband is more necessary perhaps than to others because of their increasing lack of mobility, for one. All the more reason to ensure that essential tasks that they need to undertake should be done on standard broadband and not require a high speed connection

wavechange, many of us faced high costs in expensive areas, and made sacrifices to try to achieve what we needed (rather than wanted), particularly when we were young. How else do you suggest we deal with this? However, this should really be transferred to The Lobby.

I very much agree that this should be despatched to the Lobby. We desperately need input from young people with current experience, otherwise it’s as relevant as us giving our thoughts on how to operate the Space Shuttle.

No-one has yet given a reason why the entertainment companies that profit from using broadband services should not contribute to the cost of providing a fast service for more users. Duncan did mention the situation in the US.

I have no interest in economic matters but I wonder how much this country is losing out as a result of inadequate broadband services.

I’d like to see substantiated information on whether broadband speed is a problem to those who really need it, as opposed to its use for entertainment. I do not see that the speed survey referred to in the intro can be used to evaluate a country’s position without more detailed information that it does not give. I do not see, using that data, a correlation between a country’s economic position and its broadband speed; probably because a country–wide average speed is not a useful criterion.

I would like to see data for the speeds needed to perform essential tasks to be able to set a realistic minimum target.

Conjecture is one thing but hard facts are needed to make considered decisions. I would hope Which? might invite some expert contributions to help us understand this topic better.