/ Technology

Superfast broadband – is speed your priority?

The current government hasn’t minced its words over its plans for broadband. It dove straight in with a goal for the UK to have ‘the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015’. So how close are we?

Superfast broadband can broadly be described as any service that’s advertised as offering a speed of over 24 Megabits per second (Mbps). It runs over fibre networks rather than the old-style copper ADSL ones that simply can’t cope with the same speeds.

The most widely known superfast services are probably BT’s Infinity, which boasts speeds of up to 40Mbps, and Virgin Media’s cable packages which claims to reach as high as 100Mbps.

Superfast broadband targets

According to Ofcom, superfast broadband networks can now be accessed by 58% of UK households. Sound like a lot? Well, the government wants 90% of UK homes and businesses to have access to a superfast service by the end of 2015.

It’s a grand aim, though I think it’s rather interesting that the target is around availability rather than people taking it up. But perhaps that’s a wise caveat – is the average Brit actually concerned enough about broadband speed to upgrade to a superfast service?

I’m lucky enough to live in an area where a superfast connection is already available, though there’s not a choice of services yet (I’m currently with Virgin, but BT’s service will arrive at my postcode in March this year according to its broadband checker).

And, I must say that I do notice the difference in response time when I go back to my parent’s house and their slower connection.

There’s only a small time lag, but it’s definitely a frustrating one, especially when websites I use regularly take noticeably longer to load. Perhaps if I’d never have experienced a superfast connection I wouldn’t even have noticed this, but now I don’t think I could go back to a ‘standard’ service.

Don’t forget rural areas

I haven’t forgotten about the remaining 10% of households that the government expects to be without superfast broadband by 2015. We’ve heard from many of you who currently struggle to get any sort of decent broadband speed, let alone a fast one.

The government does have targets in place for these people as well, with an aim to get everyone on a minimum 2Mbps broadband service by 2015. I certainly think it’s more important to get this right first, before concentrating on making already fast services even faster.

That’s not to say less populated rural areas won’t benefit from superfast speeds too – the government’s allocated over £530 million to ensure these areas get access to a superfast service. Time will tell if this actually happens, and I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on how this progresses.

There are more superfast options available to us than ever before, with TalkTalk, Plusnet and Zen Internet offering services on top of BT and Virgin. The question is – are you interested in upgrading to one? And if you already have, have you noticed a significant difference?


I think better coverage is more important than greater speed. On holiday in the UK I often find there is no mobile signal and have to visit the local library for internet access.

I get 19 Meg from an ADSL connection and am not a heavy user, watching Catch-Up TV occasionally. This is sufficient for me. I see no advantage to switching to “Superfast” fibre broadband, particularly as it would cost over twice as much.

Norman says:
6 January 2012

I already pay BT for up to 10mb but in theory only get 2.2mb due to the distance from the exchange. They are offering me BT Infinity of which I will have to pay more. Why can’t they istall it free so that I get what I am already paying for and susposed to get i.e. 10mb

Majikthise says:
6 January 2012

Speed is not such a priority for me any more. We’ve got the 30 mbps Virgin service, which is about mid-range for them. According to speedtest.net I normally get slightly better than advertised speeds (the modem is actually set to 33.33 mbps). We find much speed is plenty for us even though we’re a self confessed family of geeks with all 4 of us using the internet at the same time most nights. Downloads are the only thing that uses up our full bandwith and they generally complete quickly at these speeds so the chances of 2 downloads running at the same time and slowing each other down are minimised.

Being a geek, I do sometimes find myself eyeing up Virgin’s 50 and 100 mbps services, but when that happens I generally slap myself about the face and remember that we don’t actually need that much speed.

jenks says:
6 January 2012

I would love to get even 2Mb and that applies both in the country (rural area) and in London. I have 2 different suppliers but both are as bad. I assume it is down to throttling the service. I don’t game or regularly download video. The lines are capable of higher throughput as occasionally I get a service at a decent speed but it is very occasionally. I have the feeling that my rural supplier is throttling so that I join the campaign in the village for a high speed link and in London they are trying to get me to transfer to high speed now. Sorry I’m not prepared to play and pay for something I don’t need at the moment. I just want what I pay for which is a decent broadband service.

Marius says:
6 January 2012

I had 2 sons gaming, wife and daughter surfing/shopping and downloading the latest “Tunes” while I attempt to contact the work server, and only a basic broadband package. I upgraded to Virgin 50mb and never looked back ! All doing what they want, when they want, together, at the same time and little or no slowing down at all ! Have been promised notification of the 100mb and with streaming films etc that they’re getting into, will happily upgrade…….depending on the price !

Deljanwhite says:
6 January 2012

I play Poker on line and a stable fast internet connection is essential. Previously I had o2 broadband with which I was very happy except that I was tied to a BT landline. Because of my geographical location the fastest speed I could get was 5.7mbs, added to which the signal kept dropping and getting disconnected in the middle of a Poker game is disastrous not to mention expensive. Since changing to Virgin 30mbs fibre optics (I’m actually getting 31.7mbs believe or not), life couldn’t be sweeter.

Bobby Roberto says:
6 January 2012

I’m on Infinity and the speed is great … and usually enough for this household … but as important is reliability, the installation of fibre to our nearest green box has improved things enormously. Of course I’d like more speed but not at the cost of reliability … I can adjust to a slow connection but not to no connection.

I have just upgraded to BT Infinity 40Mb fibre optic service, and actually get 38.5Mb. I can now update my website without being timed out, updates now take only a few minutes instead of hours and BBC i player is now worth watching. When the price comes down i will be really happy!!

Grumpy Gitt says:
6 January 2012

My gripe is that ‘offered’ speed is not actual ‘achievable’ speed! I currently use Sky who offer 20Mbps but I usually achieve 2Mbps, with a maximum of 4Mbps for my location. When I lived 1-mile away I had O2 and got 8-10Mbps! I cannot go on to Virgin or BT Infinity as there is no fibre optic line installed or in the foreseeable future. Will the Government’s Superfast broadband give ‘offered’ or ‘achievable’ minimum 24Mbps? I would pay for this if it were available.

Martin Rayner says:
6 January 2012

In Windermere we are a priority rural broadband initiative area. I get 1Mbit broadband, my neighbours in Winster cannot get broadband at all, only 3 miles outside Windermere. Cumbria is a county with a massive mountain range in the middle. Road, rail, water, or air communications are terrible. Fibre connected Cumbria will transform the county more than any other initiative for the people of this county. A 90% broadband penetration target would leave Cumbria untouched. We must challenge everybody in Cumbria to settle for nothing less than a fibre connected community. If we have to lay the fibre ourselves then let’s do it.

I fail to see the need for superfast broadband for the majority of domestic consumers.

I currently receive about 5Mbps. I find this adequate for video (YouTube) and iPlayer. The video streams work fine for me without hesitation. My other usage is general browsing and email. Browsing is not always as fast as I would like but then the overall throughput is probably more dependent on the speed of the server and my PC rather than the ADSL link.
It would seem that the application for superfast broadband is to support gaming, HD TV and concurrent multiple video streams. I would regard this as being a bit specialist and wanted by only a small fraction of users.
I am in a position to get superfast broadband. My ISP is PlusNet. Currently I pay about £6.50/month. Superfast would cost an extra £10/month but would include 4 times the usage allowance (download quantity). It happens that there is a suitable green cabinet just across the road from me so my copper run would be very short. Consequently, I would anticipate a very high speed. However, I do not see that this is worth an extra £120 /year plus the hassle of changing service and router. Perhaps I will ‘upgrade’ as costs fall and I happen to have sufficient spare time to spend on the change.
This is the view of someone who receives about 5 Mbps. Below 3Mbps would make me think differently. I have friends in rural areas who can only get 1.5Mbps. At these speeds, normal internet browsing does seem to be impacted by the slow throughput, especially YouTube and video. In these cases superfast might be suitable.

I think that the government has set its objectives incorrectly. Superfast is not a requirement for the majority of the domestic market. What is necessary is to provide at least 4Mbps right across the country. If superfast will do this then fine. But I suspect that the criteria that limit throughput in rural areas over copper will also be significant for superfast as low uptake will result in low numbers of FTTC cabinets, and hence still long copper runs.

It’s not just rural areas with slow speeds, Keelta. I live in an urban area and never get more than 1mbps. And my exchange is enabled for fibre but I can’t get it!

I am unable to get a reliable broadband connection with Talktalk in Porthcawl, South Wales, anyway in spite of subscribing to their “unlimited” service. It is slow and seems continually to drop-out between 23.00 and 00.30 every day without any ability reliably to reconnect – frustrating if bidding on eBay etc. I assume the BT infrastructure is inadequate. If improved technology would provide more reliability (at any speed) then I would be for it.

These days more and more is requested online from us. Tax, Pensions, Vat, NHS, Education, Job Centre! More and more is being pushed towards the internet.. and quite rightly so, but if the public can’t get the connection in a reasonable time frame and with moderate kit the system falls short!!
To realisticly move forward the infrastructure needs to be available to all, and needs to be faster than you conceive of today. This is where the Government should be pushing more investment not subsidising ex-bankers golden parachutes!!…. look to the future and get a step ahead for a change!

David says:
6 January 2012

Yes, I will upgrade. Currently I have BT at “up to 20Mbps”. What this means in practice is 3.2Mbps. BT called recently and asked if I would renew my contact for another year. I declined because of the slow speed, which I quoted. Their representative said that the speed I was getting was not possible – I politely disagreed. I was asked how old my computer was – three years. Aha! That was the answer – the BT reason for my slow speed was then determined to be my old machine. I will not entertain Infinity. BT are too quick with smug answers plucked from the ether, rather than genuine assistance.

Majikthise says:
6 January 2012

I must say, reading these comments I do feel rather spoilt. I have never had ADSL broadband. I went straight from dial up to cable around 10 years ago. So I’ve never really experienced the persistent slow downs, throttling or drop-outs people complain about here. I’m currently on Virgin’s mid-range 30 meg service, which promises a typical (as opposed to “up to”) connection speed of 30.62 meg. I actually get a little bit more than that in practice.

Returning to the topic, while speed is not a priority for me, that’s only because I don’t have to put up with a 2 meg connection like many do. Our 30 meg service suits my family of 4 avid technophiles very well at the moment and we take the bandwidth it gives us for granted, like clean drinking water or electricity. While I agree that reliability is the most essential quality in a broadband connection, I feel I must disagree with those who say things like “nobody needs more than 5 meg”. As with most thing computer-related, there’s a kind of Parkinson’s law that applies to broadband. Usage expands to fill the available bandwidth and people find themselves doing things that wouldn’t have been practical at lower connection speeds. While they may believe their 5 meg connection is fast enough at the moment I bet they wouldn’t consider going go back to it after living with a 30 meg one for a few months.

Keir says:
7 January 2012

East Sussex is a priority area for Superfast Broadband; our appalling road infrastructure (we have NO motorway and only 12 miles of dual carriageway!) means that finding alternative means of doing business and communicating with each other are essential. East Sussex County Council recently announced they were putting cash on the table to ensure that rural areas in the county don’t get left off the superfast highway. This is welcome news to businesses in the area and we see the rollout, which commences this year, facilitating a whole range of new business opportunities. I fully support the Government’s superfast broadband initiative as one that will facilitate the growth of new business and improve services for resident’s across the county.

Dexter says:
8 January 2012

If people are willing to pay for ever faster broadband, super, commerce at work.

The government absolutely should not be subsidising faster broadband! There are much higher priorities.

It should be a free market and the role of government should be to apply minimal effective legislation and regulation to promote a fair and competitive market. Now part of that legislation might insist that “big players” must ensure between them that everybody has access to a minimum (say 1Mb/s) to provide basic services within a max capped cost (say £50 a month).

My main point is fast broadband is a lifestyle choice, and people should pay for their lifestyle.

Slightly off tangent but I want my broadband charge to reflect the speed I receive. I am in one of those up to 20mb bands but the line restricts me to about 1.5. Surely this should be reflected in my monthly charge as it should with all broadband users.

Anon the mouse says:
10 January 2012

That would be a company wanting to be fair and keep customers happy, don’t think there are many of them left anymore.

Completely agree with you Derek and it’s a topic we’ve talked about many times, most recently here: https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/broadband-speeds-up-to-advertising-ofcom/

David says:
10 January 2012

Derek’s comment is spot on really! If the price were proportional to the % of notional speed there would be some mighty cheap broadband charges around. That would be the best incentive for companies to do something about it! It would benefit the vast majority of web users I suspect.