/ Technology

Rural vs urban broadband speeds – the divide widens

Woman in field using laptop with cows

Three-quarters of Brits use the internet every day. However, 17% of homes still aren’t connected at all. And one problem is that the divide between urban and rural broadband speeds is widening…

Ofcom recently reported that the average broadband speed increased by 64% between May 2012 and 2013, and yet the average speed between urban and rural broadband has widened.

There are also a substantial amount of people who remain disconnected.

According to the Office of National Statistics, four million British homes still aren’t connected to the net.

Just not interested in the internet?

As it gets easier and more secure to use the internet for routine tasks, I’m surprised to see that the majority (59%) of those four million Brits say that they just don’t see the need to get online. Will the government’s plans to educate people on the benefits of the internet improve this?

The good news is that speeds are up according to Ofcom, which is partly due to more households using a fibre optic or cable connection (up 12%). In May 2013 the average UK speed was 14.7Mbit/s – 64% faster than at the same point in 2012.

However, the availability of superfast connections remains limited in rural areas and this looks to be accentuating the rural divide.

The rural divide has widened

The gap between average broadband speeds in rural and urban areas has almost doubled over the last year – from 9.5Mbit/s to 16.5Mbit/s.

And it isn’t just the lack of fibre optic or cable that’s slowing our countryside down – your good old ADSL connections are also slower. This is because the nearest telephone exchange is often further away from homes in rural areas compared to people who live in cities. However, it is worth noting that average rural speeds, which now sit at 9.9Mbit/s, are increasing at a faster rate than urban speeds.

Do we really need superfast speeds?

The government has plans to improve broadband in rural areas, with the goal of giving 95% of UK households access to superfast speeds by 2017, with a minimum service of 2Mbit/s available to all.

The question is whether internet providers will continue to concentrate on speed rather than coverage. Will faster internet get more people online? Do we all need to be using (and paying for!) superfast connections? Surely what most internet users want is a reliable connection, offering a decent speed and at a fair price?

Do you suffer from super-slow download speeds? Are you tempted by superfast broadband?

Comments
Profile photo of rarrar
Member

The emphasis should be on coverage , those who live in rural communities with no broadband or <2 Mbps broadband are severely disadvantaged especially if they have children who almost require internet access for schoolwork. These households are also likely to have few local amenities, no public transport and probably high electric or oil heating bills.

Profile photo of william
Member

I’m on 20Mb (speedtest rates it at 20.53 download and 1.15 upload) which was upgraded from 10Mb for “free”, although there were 3 price hikes between being told of the doubling and actually getting it.

Speed isn’t as important as reliability for me, I just wish it was 24/7 365 days a year. Unfortunately its not, I don’t think I’ve ever had a whole year free of issues. The last issue being just over a week ago and no internet for best part of day.

I’ve been “online” for almost 25 years now, yet my parents still aren’t and they have no desire to be so “enabled”

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

I can’t understand why it should be a matter of astonishment that 17% of homes are not connected to the internet. While the internet is useful, it is not indispensable and I don’t think there should be too much pressure to get everybody connected, although I agree that it is absolutely essential that every household should be able to access fast broadband if it wants to. Using a computer at home represents a considerable expense, taking into account the cost of paper, ink, ISP subscription, and electricity. People who have plenty of time and not much money can manage very well without one – for the time being at least, but increasingly there are penalties for paper transactions which for utilities should be outlawed in my opinion. People without broadband shouldn’t have to pay more to receive paper bills for a telephone service! I agree with Rarrar that access to fast broadband in rural areas should be a priority because of the disadvantages already experienced in remote locations. I predict that many people will actually withdraw from the internet as time goes by and their circumstances change.

Profile photo of mars express
Member

John Ward writes: “I can’t understand why it should be a matter of astonishment that 17% of homes are not connected to the internet. While the internet is useful, it is not indispensable..”

It becomes more indispensable with time, however. Unfortunately, not everything advances with the same pace. Today, for example, I find that the “new” Which? web site has become unusable for me, serving blanks pages when I click on certain, *indispensable* links… Why should Which?, of all organisations, leave some of their members behind?

Member
Katharine says:
12 August 2013

I’m on 1.3MB (if I’m lucky). Appallingly slow, and I’m 10 miles from Bristol! Hardly in the middle of nowhere.

Member
cyberdoyle says:
13 August 2013

The scandal is that councils are giving the incumbent the funding to make the divide even wider. The money is going to patch up openreach cabinets, they call it ‘fibre broadband’ but it isn’t, they are making it go through the old phone lines to keep us tied to this monopoly for another decade. Those who don’t live near a cab will still get very slow speeds and many will remain on dial up. Lots of people only have a landline for broadband, they use mobiles for calls, and this is what BT intend us to carry on paying for. Its all a scam. Its time we had some fibre, moral and optic.

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

Harriet – You quote ONS data but your link is to a BBC article apparently quoting ONS data. They also do not provide a link to the original work by the ONS or the date when the research was carried out and how derived. I expect better from Which? and the BBC.

“Researchers said the advent of 4G mobile speeds had helped boost the number of us getting online. ” Seems a statement hanging in mid-air and one is left with the impressio of more data collected by a “survey” to boost a particular aim. In case anyone has doubts about the medias use of “surveys” I recommend Ben Goldacre’s “Bad Medicine” where he illustrates at length the bogusness of many surveys and how the media is only too happy to fill space with them..

However there appears to be a possible fundamental flaw in trying to link the measurement of households on-line to people using mobile phones to access the Internet. My children and my nephews and nieces I suspect have their bill sent to their old home address whilst living somewhere else in short-term accommodation.

Profile photo of Harriet Patterson
Member

Hi Dieseltaylor,

Here’s a link to the top line that the ONS provide on the stats, sorry I didn’t include it before – http://whi.ch/17mp9qj

From that page you can also download the spreadsheet of results. These results suggest that when asking people what their household internet connection was, mobile broadband accessed through a handset was an option for people to choose. I guess this would cover people who perhaps don’t have fixed broadband but only use their mobiles regardless of where the paper version of their bill gets sent.

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

Thanks Harriet for the link. It makes it much more interesting to know that you are looking at the original data even if the actual question[s] asked is [are] missing. It is also regrettable that time spent does not form any part of the information gathered which might have been very interesting.

The figure of 83% household is apparently an estimate: ” UK estimates from 1998 to 2004. GB estimates from 2005 to 2013″. In any event it is not crystal clear if either of our views is explicitly ruled out but I think you are probably right!

I take an interest in surveys as even the most innocuous of questions can be misleading. I have seen surveys referring to last year when they actually mean the last 12 months. Which? tends to do surveys such as have you had problems with your vacuum cleaner without asking about amount of usage of the device. They also do not allow for people who have two vacuum cleaners.

Surveys can be rigged and can be flawed : ) Especially inside a business. Look at Microsoft at their gift for anticipating what the market does not want and then producing it.

I will see if the ONS can provide the source of the data, when and what the questions were asked and the size of the sample.

Member

>>> Which? tends to do surveys such as have you had problems with your vacuum cleaner without asking about amount of usage of the device. They also do not allow for people who have two vacuum cleaners. <<<

The latest Which? survey I've completed asked about my experiences in a chain hotel, but then made a fundamental blunder (in my view) in not asking how much I paid for the stay. I used free Avios miles. If I had paid hard cash I would have given quite a different response! And paying rack rate doesn't bear thinking about.

Profile photo of Ciara Davey
Member

Hi,

Thank you for raising these very interesting comments as its great to know that member’s are thinking about the questions we’re asking in surveys and feeding backing suggestions for possible improvements. I’ve tried to address all of your concerns below and I hope this is helpful.

In surveys that focus on member’s experiences with a service we often ask people to think about their most recent experience in (for example, a hotel, or with a holiday company) or we’d ask them about the product they use most often (and even in this case, where appropriate, we’d ask about usage as we take how long people have owned a product for, is taken into account when we weight the data). We also use what’s called loops in the design of our surveys so if someone owns a product we know is quite niche, we’ll often ask them questions relating to this particular niche product firstly, before we ask them questions relating to any other products they might own. This enables us to get a better overall spread of products/services to report on.

The reason why we didn’t ask about the cost of staying at a hotel in our recent UK hotels chains survey is because the price can vary significantly depending on when you booked the hotel (i.e. whether this was months in advance, last minute, whether you walked in off the street or booked it via a special offer online). But I absolutely do take your point that price can affect your experience which is why we included a new question this year which asked “How well did your experience of staying at… match your expectations?” We also asked about value for money which takes into account price and this year was the first year we asked about whether customers staying at the Premier Inn had a good nights sleep under the premier Inn’s ‘good nights sleep guarantee’ so we did address the issue of price in this survey. We didn’t address the issue of using Avios miles because its a fairly niche topic and different reward schemes have different terms and conditions and we wouldn’t be able to verify these results unless we asked another set of questions which would affect the response rates to other questions we’d posed in the survey.

I hope this answers your query but as I said before, its always really useful to get feedback and please do get in touch if you ever wish to raise an issue.

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

Ciara – on the 8th August I sent Nikki an e-mail regarding the hotel survey and she said she would send it on for a response – which I have not received yet. The gist of my concern was that it was labeled a survey on hotels but in fact was solely about chain hotels so wasting my time even opening it up and trying to answer.

>
> Please enter a response for question ‘Which, if any, of the following UK hotel chains have you stayed in during the last 12 months? Please do not include independent hotels or B&Bs.
> Please select all that apply.’

The first question was have you stayed in a UK hotel in the last 12 months …… which leads me to wonder why not head up the survey request e-mail as “Chain Hotel Experiences over the last 12 months”. Save some membership time which may not be of much account to Which? but I resent having my time wasted because someone does not think of the user experience.

Member

Hi Ciara,

Thanks for your response on the hotel survey. I did of course provide this feedback as part of the survey itself, but was really just backing up dieseltaylor’s observation with another example where the results of a survey can never be better than the questions asked.

You also make a very interesting point about how the answer to the question: “How well did your experience of staying at… match your expectations?” might be assumed to have some correlation with the amount paid.

In my case, I didn’t take the price paid into account at all when awarding the hotel a high score. I simply expected to have the usual grotty corporate hotel experience of tired furnishings, fixtures and fittings, dripping taps and hair under the bed, plus an unimaginative cooked breakfast … and I wasn’t the slightest bit disappointed by the experience! 🙂

Member
Susanne Jones says:
13 August 2013

I recently moved half a mile away from my previous home. I had been getting a decent broadband service but now !! – it is very poor, probably about 30% of what it was previously. It is so irritating.

Profile photo of alfa
Member

There must be millions of people who live near the furthest point from an exchange so it doesn’t matter if you are rural or urban.

We get 4.5ish Mb/s if we are lucky. It is acceptable most of the time but not fast.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I am not surprised that a substantial number of homes do not have Internet access. As John has said, there is the cost factor and that includes the expense of sorting out problems if you don’t have the expertise or patience to do this yourself. Using a computer online presents various risks, including phishing and many dodgy online traders. For most of us, the benefits of using the Internet greatly outweigh the disadvantages.

Member

It is scandalous that urban and rural broadband speeds should vary so much. However it is equally outrageous that we have to pay 1 price no matter how slow (or fast) our broadband speed is. Should there be a sliding scale depending on how fast your broadband speed is?

Member
Gerald says:
14 August 2013

As a physicist, and an experienced computer hack (since 1976) I despair that UK Gov can’t admit the obvious: there is a big rural-urban divide, and there always will be. We live two miles outside the M25, but it counts as a country road. Why? No cable, no mains sewerage, no bars (on mobile phone), no gas (until recently by chance) and only ADSL broadband. We’re lucky. Our local exchange serves our local hospital which is well-connected. So we can get nearly 8 Mbps via our 3km of copper telephone wire. Is it ever likely to run faster? No. It’s just physics. Is anyone going to dig up our five miles of road to lay cable or fibre for the fifty country addresses it serves? No, not till hell freezes over. It’s just economics. Is radio or mobile phone the answer? Doubt it, that’s both physics and economics. What about a direct line-of-sight laser link? Not with all these trees. The truth is simple: in many rural locations, adsl over telephone lines is as good as it gets for the next zillion years. I manage two other country locations for relatives. One gets 2.5 Mbps. The other gets about 1 Mbps, dropping to half that in wet weather. So it goes. National Government can’t solve this. Local Government can’t solve this. Comms companies can’t solve this. Rural communities need to accept that the national comms system is forever two-tier, and in the countryside you’re on the bottom rung. Forever. Cloud computing? Not down a country lane. Not up a hillside. Not in an isolated valley. We have to accept this as certainty, cease grumbling about it, and now work out how to live with that, which is a whole other story.

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

Thank you for applying reason and commercial logic to the divide Gerald.

Perhaps like cars huge top speeds are irrelevant for the vast majority of users; if they are incredibly important than perhaps you need to move.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I agree with Gerald. It is about time that someone should point out the practical and economic issues. Nevertheless it must be incredibly frustrating for anyone who is still dependent on dial-up, like a farmer I know. In his spare time, he does valuable work on countryside management but is unable to handle email attachments that present no problems for the rest of us.

Member
Dr Emmett Brown says:
14 August 2013

I’m lucky to get 1.5Mb/s here in Hill Valley. I foolishly tried to download the high-definition release of one of my favourite films, only to find it still downloading more than three days later (about 88 hours if I remember correctly). It’s not on.

Member
Alan Granger says:
14 August 2013

I agree with Gerald’s comments to a degree. But we are a victim of the BT monopoly of old. Having recently been to Costa Rica most if not all is covered by proper mobile coverage which we don’t have in UK. It’s fine to say 98% coverage but that is population not ground area. Far too many areas have no phone signal let alone 3G. As for getting 4G anytime soon, forget it.
It is all very frustrating. I live 2.5 miles from a big exchange but have a direct link. 2.5 Mbps on a good day, often nothing. The new fibre to cabinet will not help at all as there is no cabinet. Mobile coverage is poor and so you just live with it.
I asked the open reach engineer what I could do and he said ‘move house!’

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

Very admirable country Costa Rica. I am not sure it is a good example for telecommunications as with no real legacy of a fixed telephone system the economics of putting in a good mobile network were inescapable. The country also benefited [until 2011] from a central organisation unlike the UK.

I also suspect that with nimbyism due to a heavily populated country the UK has not made it easy to plant transmitters willynilly across the landscape. And I believe that with high density of users more masts are needed.

When I worked in the early days of broadband our little company was offering groundbased line of sight transmissions as an alternative to satellites and perhaps those options remain but the Government seems intent on establishing it as a right for everyone everywhere to have what they want.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satellite_Internet_access
Shared access for a village being an option.

Member
Gerald says:
15 August 2013

As a rule of thumb, there’s a more-or-less inverse relationship between copper cable-length and network speed. A basic copper pair (like a telephone wire) can reliably carry 100 Mb/s over 100m. It might work up to about 150m, but it ain’t guaranteed. While it is possible to get faster speeds over copper networks within buildings, it needs multiple pairs in specially formed cables, carefully joined and carefully installed without sharp bends and kinks – all sorts of things you can’t expect from an old telephone wire running along a roadside. Lengthen the cable to 1km (1000m) and the speed drops to about 10Mb/s. Lengthen it further to 10km and it drops to about 1 Mb/s. This is just a rule of thumb, but matches what we find in rural locations. So if you measure the length of wire between your location and your local telephone exchange (or “green cabinet”, if your area enjoys such luxuries) – a car’s odometer will do nicely for this – you can make a reasonable guess about how fast ADSL broadband will run between those two points. And plan your life accordingly. I wish politicians and telecomms providers would just acknowledge this as a fact of life…

Member
Katharine says:
15 August 2013

I’ve read the above comments with great interest.

As I said before, I’m 10 miles from Bristol and my average speed is about 1.3, if I’m lucky.

We recently had a council survey to complete, asking if we’d be prepared to pay extra for 20MB speed. What planet are they on? Even 2 would be great! Can’t the councils try and boost those areas where the speed is very slow, rather than giving faster and faster speeds to areas whose broadband is already fast?

The idea of charging people according to the speed they get is excellent – that would give the providers and incentive to increase speeds for those whose connection is slow.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Katharine

Are your neighbours getting the same speed? When I switched to broadband I was getting no more than 0.8 Mbps within 5 miles of a city centre. I complained to no avail but when I found I could get four times the speed in a tiny village in the highlands of Scotland I complained again and suddenly the speed increased five fold. Problems with phone wiring can cause problems too, so it’s best to start by seeing what speed your neighbours achieve.

Member

We really need to know how far you are from your exchange to know if 1.3MB (I assume you mean 1.3 Mbit/s) is reasonable or not. What does BT estimate your line speed to be, as opposed to actual?

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

I also worked for BT a couple of decades ago and I know that there is/was some ropey old copper lines and switching around connections in the cabinet would make an appreciable difference to connection speeds.

Member

You could well be right, but it is not always external factors. I’d put my deteriorating Internet speed down to ageing copper / water / wind, but it turned out to be a faulty ADSL modem. With a replacement installed and stable for a couple of months, I’m now connecting at 7 Mbit/s.

The problem is, unless you have a spare ADSL modem or are prepared speculate and fork out for a new one, you might never find this out.

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

It has been remarkably warm and dry these last couple of months ………
: )

I am sure you will be fine and it does go to show how easy it is to get things wrong. I have just completed removing the thick layer of dust from my main computers fans which I suspect strongly will sort out the various recent problems of erratic freezing and loss of Internet as a driver was “missing”.

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

Actually the fault was a dying PSU. Apparently they can give a raft of nasty intermitten symptoms which do not relate obviously to power.

Fortunately easily replaced once I had watched a video and read some guides. And cheaply too as father-in-law had a spare.

Member
Katharine says:
15 August 2013

We all get the same rubbish speed (we’re a hamlet of about 20 houses).

To add insult to injury, my “BT desktop help” keeps on popping up, telling me my speed is too slow, offers to investigate/improve it and of course nothing happens.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Sorry to hear this, Katherine, but I know people who have been able to improve their speed by sorting out problems in their home and others like me who have had their ISP do something at their end.

As Em says, a lot depends on the distance from the exchange.

Member
T Dempster says:
16 August 2013

Rural broadband upgrade to superfast fibre is worryingly patchy with some exchanges being updated but not all cabinets being replaced which means that some rural areas will have superfast and superslow on the same exchange or even on opposite sides of a small village.
Getting any meaningful update from BT is a joke as they have developed an inprenetrable communications system such that talking to a knowledgeable manager proves impossible – not bad for a communications company!

Member

I live in Suffolk where BT is using government grants to extend faster broadband to parts of the county that would otherwise be uneconomic to reach. In deepest darkest Suffolk my village is scheduled to get ‘up to 24 mbits’ by 2015 but we are part of the ‘final phase’ i.e. the lowest priority.

It’s my understanding that the total grant should cover all the work required but if expenditure estimates for 2013 and 2014 are exceeded, and there must be a reasonable chance of that, then we will slip out of the picture and be back to square one.

As far as I can see from other comments, nobody has mentioned the possible alternatives of satellite or a fixed 4G system (not part of the existing mobile network) for rural areas.

The Norwegians have installed a 4G system in Svalbard giving humans, and any polar bears on the internet, a whopping 100 mbits!

You can currently buy a 2 way satellite system called Tooway that will give 20 mbit download and 6 mbit upload. A local official from the Federation of Small Business has this system and assures me he’s very happy with it. He showed me the printed results of a speed test confirming Tooway’s claims.

It’s not cheap but if you have a small business or a pressing need for anything faster than my current 1.75 mbit download and 0.1 mbit upload, or even still have to use dial up, I would have thought it was worth looking into.

If Which? is not currently testing the Tooway system could I suggest that it does so asap as wired High Speed Broadband looks like being a pipe dream for millions of rural dwellers for years to come.

Profile photo of william
Member

I wonder if the Norwegians have the equivalent of freeview which is affected by 4G transmitters over here and that for a cost can be “fixed”.

Member

I’m not a techie but my understanding is that Freeview in Britain transmits on the 800mhz frequency and there are many alternative frequencies available for 4G.

Member
Katharine says:
16 August 2013

There’s a Govt grant being awarded round here too, to boost broadband speeds, but our village is too small to qualify for that help. We’re firmly outside the grant zone.

Member
Mark says:
16 August 2013

Some other considerations:
Number of users in the household. Parents and 3 teenagers in the household will mean an increased demand on bandwidth. More occupiers the more demand so a need for gretaer bandwidth just like a busy office.
The increasing need for upload speed. Telcos should be proving synchronous connections.
Rural areas cannot support one Telco let alone competition. OFCOM have divided up the UK into 3 types of areas. Areas with market competition = metropolitan. Areas without market competition i.e true rurality and areas in between these.
I wish the HS2 rail money was used to provide FTTH Fibre to the home. It would create far more economic wealth than making Birmingham a suburb of London and a greater divide between north and south.
I have come to the conclusion that mostly elderly greying or balding politicians make bad decisions on broadband because they do not understand it and and are badly informed.

Profile photo of BBSlowcoach
Member

To whom it may concern: I am not a ‘techie’ either but as I have been discovering lately:

1) Most properties are connected to the exchange via a cabinet

2) Fibre to to Cabinet (FTTC) actually bypasses the exchange and goes to a new cabinet that is installed alongside the existing copper cabinet. The fibre cabinet will then be connected to the copper cabinet

3) A ‘prototype’ ducting for fibre to the premises is underway in Cumbria using agricultural mole-draining style technology. Once the ‘hole’ is created ducting is fed through the tunnel and the fibre threaded through the ducting. This ‘ancient and rural’ technology looks set to rescue the lack of spread of the technical age to ‘isolated’ communities at a more modest price than say satellite (at risk of space debris of course). The good thing is that when installed rural sppeds will leapfrog urban speeds by some margin!

4) You can check for your cabinet at http://www.btwholesale.com/includes/adsl/main.html then you just have to find it to discover the distance from it. Google Street view can help as well.

5) For BB speedtesting try http://speedtest.btwholesale.com or for those who can get it http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/diagnostics#results

6) I have heard that ASDL is being closed down. In my rural exchange it is wef 1st April 2014. It is being replaced with 21CN WBC ASDL2+ which was enabled on 24th June 2013.

I hope some of this helps those who need it.

Must post before my connection drops out. It has tried it a few times whilst writing this!

Member
Mark says:
17 August 2013

Thanks. The best site for BB informatio, in my opinion is Sam Knows –

http://www.samknows.com/broadband/broadband_availability

Member

Further to BBS’s post above, I can recommend both of these speed testing sites, over some of the trash that pops up if you Google “broadband speed” or similar, so bookmark them now or create shortcuts on your desktop.

If you are on a BT supplied copper link (which includes many 3rd party ISPs), it is important that you complete BOTH of the tests available on speedtest-dot-btwholesale-dot-com. In other words, do not ignore the “Further Diagnostics” button after completing the basic speed test.

Click it and enter your phone number in the relevant box “Telephone Number of the broadband circuit:” Then click “Run Diagnostic Test”. You should see: “Sending results to the server…” This test doesn’t always complete, but persist until you get back something like:

Additional Information:
Your DSL Connection Rate :7.07 Mbps(DOWN-STREAM), 0.45 Mbps(UP-STREAM)
IP Profile for your line is – 6 Mbps

(This is the profile for my ADSL modem that is 2.6km from the exchange, in a rural area – all copper overhead cables)

Your DSL Connection Rate is the speed your ADSL modem connects to the exchange. There is a close correlation between this value, the distance to the exchange, the quality of the copper, the noise on the line and the capabilities of your ADSL modem to sync up (or “train”) with the signal from the exchange.

What is most important here is the IP Profile for your line. This is a “throttle” on the speed that the exchange determines to avoid data loss. So in theory, for my connection, I could receive data at 7Mbps but, if the line slows down for any reason, I would start to lose data. So data is never sent at more than 6Mpbs to avoid this scenario.

Your line speed cannot and will not exceed the current IP Profile speed.

It is this mysterious “IP Profile” that is the stuff of legend and myth – “Don’t switch your modem off” – “It could take up to 10 days for your line to recover” – etc. All possibly true, but with the above information, you can monitor the IP Profile and see whether your line is behaving according to expectation and past experience.

After a car crashed into a telegraph pole, taking out our broadband for several days while BT Openreach “investigated” the cause (!!!), the repaired line speed was awful. But, because I was able to monitor the IP Profile speed and watch it recover and eventually restore itself to full health, I wasn’t immediately back on the phone to complain. In fact, the final improvement to nearly a month as the exchange gradually reduced the SNR it was happy with. (SNR is a value you can get from your ADSL modem, if you know where to look and what it means.)

So make a note of the IP Profile value while you are satisfied with broadband performance. If your broadband connection slows down in future, check it again and compare. If your IP Profile value has dropped off, you or BT need to investigate – it is not your ISP’s fault or someone else using too much bandwidth.

One other point to mention is that at higher DSL Connection Speeds, the IP Profile goes up in big jumps of about 0.5Mbps. So a tiny change to your setup – a better ADSL modem, a shorter wire to the wall plate, changing or eliminating the filter, can have a dramactic effect on your broadband speed limit, if you can cross the next 0.5Mpbs threshold.

Profile photo of BBSlowcoach
Member

Em, many thanks for adding this additional insight.

I didn’t appreciate the signifigance of the IP Profile in the test result. I will be following your monitoring tips.

Tried the diagnostic test just now – my speed according the Thinkbroadband (an excellent information site with very helpful staff http://www.thinkbroadband.com) monitor that I run, is up and down rather this afternoon – but it wouldn’t run. Must have caught an ‘off’ moment in the speed fluctuations I enjoy!

Member
Robbie says:
18 August 2013

Several years ago I bought an internet radio because where I live in the country I am in a black spot for radio reception. At first it was really good but now after several years the service has deteriorated to a point where the radio has to stop and buffer at least once an hour, this is particularly bad early evening.
I suspect but have no way of proving that BT has sold download services like Homeview etc. into a system that does not have the capacity to support it properly, there is just not enough band width.
I think Which should investigate this dumbing down as a consumer I feel cheated here by the theft of something that I had and no longer have.
If this is the case then a complaint should be made to Ofcom to see what they can do.
I would encourage any other Which readers who have seen this same problem to also write in to get things moving on this.

Member
Anon the Mouse says:
19 August 2013

My work is in a rural location, we have broadband. For years it has been at the magnificent speed of 0.04Mbps. It’s recently become more usable at the blisteringly fast speed of 0.36Mbps.

Which is a complete contrast to my home in a nearby city where I get and sustain 120Mbps.

Member
Katharine says:
19 August 2013

My connection was flaky over the weekend, and I now find it’s jumped from 1.3 to 12!!! Amazing. I hope it lasts.

Member
Gerald says:
21 August 2013

To elaborate, for DIY diagnosers living down country roads: Various websites (like Samknows) can identify from your BT phone number which exchange you’re connected to, and via which “green cabinet”. In my case, as a worked example, I’m told I’m on XXX exchange, via cabinet Y. Cab Y is at a country road junction, near where I live. The BT wiring here runs through their ducts along the roadside. You can see the occasional manhole cover marked BT, or British Telecom, or Post Office, depending on its vintage. There’s usually one at the foot of each telegraph pole used for taking off wires to connect to houses.Tracking the route from house via cab to exchange (car, or google maps) tells me that’s about 1.6 miles, or about 2.5 km of copper telephone cable. This allows us to get over 6 Mb/s – we’re quite lucky as things stand.
But what of the future? XXX exchange runs vanilla ADSL (8Mb/s max). Will an upgrade to ADSL2 (24 Mb/s max) help me? Not a chance. The 2.5km of phone line between me and XXX is the limiting factor. No amount of new kit in the exchange will change what can get down our phone-line. But upgrade our cab Y – only 200m away from us – with Fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) and we could get a stonking 40 Mb/s plus. But to do that ain’t trivial. Green cabinets are basically just big passive junction boxes sitting on the pavement. Replacing cab Y with a fibre cabinet requires (a) pulling a mile-and-a-half of fibre-optic link through the existing ducting without calamity, and (b) supplying enough electrical power to the cabinet for the fibre switch gubbins inside it from no very obvious source. (Maybe the phantom-powering system used for telephones can do this – telephone lines are powered from an exchange.) Now think of the other practicalities. The cabs near the XXX exchange, in the village centre, have much shorter cable lengths, more connected subscribers, and are closer to sources of power. It pays to convert those first. BT can then remove the fat cable looms which serve those cabs, sell the copper for scrap, and make more space in the ducting for pulling through fibre links to the more remote cabs like ours. So, while in theory it’s possible to transform the broadband speed to our house just using BT’s infrastructure, by any practical measure we must be last in the queue. What’s true here will be true for many rural locations outside village centres. So it goes. We should not hold our breath.

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Member
Gerald says:
21 August 2013

Oops: typo. Should be LSOTT not LCOTT…

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Another good informative post. The quality of information is getting reassuringly factual. : )

PS On Virginmedia 20mbps download and 1.1 uploading. Not really luck as good connections – travel to work countryside and BB were all considerations in buying. The need to be over say 4mbps for me is limited as I do not stream movies etc. Downloading Wikipedia was probably the biggest D/l I have ever done.

Member
Gerald says:
21 August 2013

A note for pole users: BT’s cabling has largely disappeared into holes in the ground – except mostly for rural areas. In my country area, the phone lines pop up now and again, to run up a pole, from which they are swung out to connect a handful of properties. The more pre-war the houses, the more likely they are to be connected via poles. Nothing wrong with that, except: BT’s cable infrastructure is now owned by its spun-off subsidiary, BT Openreach. For wires slung from telephone poles, Openreach has a policy to fix, not to maintain. (Believe me on this; I’ve quizzed Openreach about it.) In other words, the business does not think it cost-effective to clear over-hanging branches (and such-like) from phone-lines. Instead, the policy is to wait for branches to bring the lines down during winter gales, then fix whatever’s broken once you’ve reported a fault to your service provider. Using your mobile phone, presumably. If you have bars, that is. For Openreach, this might be a cost-effective business policy short-term, but it’s sure storing up trouble long-term. Trees just grow. And grow, and grow, and grow. We no longer maintain roadsides, hedgerows and ditches as we once did. What’s good for butterflies is, alas, not good for rural phone-lines. Who will keep the lines clear in future? Not Openreach – not their policy. Not councils – no money. As the problem grows (ha!) I guess it will fall to rural dwellers and communities themselves to maintain their own bits of infrastructure. Just don’t tell the HSE about who’s up the ladder with the chainsaw…

Member
Gerald says:
24 August 2013

Yesterday, I met my first fibre cabinet (in Richmond, Surrey). It was humming away, and had a warning sticker (Danger, 230v) on the side. This suggests it’s mains-powered, not powered from the exchange using the same DC system which powers telephones. This matters, because of power-cuts. Down our country lane we get power-cuts several times per year. (It goes with having overhead power-lines as part of the local power network.) Some winter days power can be off for many hours – but, luckily, the phones still work, being powered from the telephone battery backup system in the local exchange. Vital in case of emergency. But if our nearby rural cab gets converted to fibre, and runs off the same mains as we do, what will happen in a power-cut in future? I accept that we may lose our broadband connection in a blackout, but if we also lose our phone line I’m most concerned. Need to find out if this is the downside of FTTC.

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I am told by my County BB installaion authority who are working in league with BT on the rural roll out programme that is already underway, that the Fibre Cabinets have full battery back-up.

So I guess it will only be very serious black out problems (heaven and government ‘green’ policies allowing) that will cause disruption. Such extreme events will probably be addressed by the employment of generators to charge the batteries as necessary.

Member
David Heatherington says:
21 September 2013

I refer to your excellent article “Broadband divide leaves rural communities behind” in the October 2013 issue but the situation is even much bleaker than you paint it. As you rightly quote “the government plans to improve broadband in rural areas with the goal of giving 95% of UK households access to superfast speeds by 2017 with a minimum service of 2Mps available to all”.
It creates the impression that 95% of rural broadband users will have this service but in fact it will be more like 50% . Official statistics from the World Bank report of 2010 calculated the urban population of the United Kingdom to be 90% of the total population so the government is only committing to provide this service to half of the remaining rural population. Your report states an average rural speed of 9.9Mb but where I live in County Durham the average speed is more like 2Mb and this is regarded as quite good compared with others around me some of whom can’t raise 1Mb.
Rural communities are certainly being left behind as the private sector is not going to lay miles and miles of fibre optic cable through countryside where the population is scattered. The world wide web was once heralded as the panacea for rural businesses which would be able to operate on a par with their urban counterparts. People would relocate from the cities to the countryside where they would be able to work from their own homes. In reality it will soon be impossible to set up a business in some parts ofthe countryside because of the broadband divide. As the internet becomes the default way of communicating daily business and systems are created with an expectation of ever-increasing broadband speeds it will impact on everybody and the minimum 2mbps will be no use at all.

David Heatherington
County Durham

Member
Mike Miall says:
23 September 2013

Reference rural broadband speeds. Iam connected by fibre optic to the nearest box, in the village and thence by copper wire to the house. My provider is Supanet and we can rarely achieve 2mps download and 1mbs upload. BT engineers say that it would not matter who the provider was as the route would be the same!
I notice Supanet is rarely if ever included in your surveys.

Member
Gerallt Huws says:
27 September 2013

‘Average speed of just 9.9Mbps’ in rural households’ – what planet are you living on?

Member
Gerald says:
1 November 2013

Yesterday, I met my local OpenReach engineer down my country lane. I thought he was restoring phone lines torn down by recent storms, but he explained he was preparing for FTTC installation in our village. Gobsmacked. He was most helpful about the process:
1. They construct an extra pipe (a plastic conduit) within the large conduit running from exchange to cab.
2. They can then feed the fibre cable from exchange to cab using air pressure to push it along (“Blown fibre”). I’ve only met this before within buildings, so I didn’t know you could do the same aong a few miles of underground pipe.
3. They then power the cab from mains by tapping into the nearest mains grid cable – usually in the road somewhere.
4. They can then reposition the fibre internet kit from the exchange into the new or upgraded cabinet. Hey Presto: FTTC…
According to my engineer, the old telephone lines, with phantom-powering for emergencies, stay in place. However, this does imply that while the phone will continue to work during power-cuts, the FTTC system will fail in a power-cut; whereas our current ADSL connection continues to work during power-cuts (provided we keep our end live from battery-backup).

This would make FTTC a mixed blessing in areas which are very prone to power-outages.

Member

It’s not just the distances in the rural community that cause slow broadband speeds. I’m just 0.5Km from my local BT exchange but my maximim download speed is 7 Mbps. The main reason is that BT only offer ADSL MAX from this exchange with a theoretical max speed of 8 Mbps.

BT keep saying they are going to upgrade to thier 21 CN network and will then offer ADSL 2 but the date keeps slipping. It should have been available now based on thier previous dates. There are NO plans for BT to install fibre at this exchange and there are no LLU operators at the exchange so I’m stuck with a BT based service (from another ISP)

With only about 1200 customers in total connected to this exchange (not all have broadband) there is little commercial incentive for BT to offer high speed broadband in this area. Mobile is not an option as we can bearly get a 2G service, let alone 3 or 4G