UK lags world in new broadband league table

Download speeds rise but uploads still slow

The UK is falling slowly but surely down the global league table for broadband, and is particularly weak in improving upload performance, a new Cisco-backed survey has found.

The survey of 72 countries analysed by the Oxford Said Business School and the University of Oviedo from 40 million Speedtest.net tests ranked the UK joint 18th in broadband performance in 2010, one place down on 2009, and three behind its 2008 rank.

Download speeds show reasonable improvement, rising to an average of 6.4Mbit/s, and latency is now also a respectable 51ms, but upload improvements appear to have barely shifted at all, rising from 368kbit/s in 2008 to 2010's 596kbit/s.

Although upload speeds are less important to subscribers today, tomorrow's applications such as consumer telepresence require, by Cisco's own admission, at least 3.5Mbits/s upload throughput to work correctly. At the current rate of improvement, it could be years before this is viable on current trends. Cisco has a big investment in the technology.

Away from the global broadband hotspots, most of which are small nations such as the Netherlands and Iceland or even city havens such as Hong Kong or Singapore, the picture in developed countries is equally mixed. Throughput is improving as you'd expect it to, but upload performance is clearly not a priority.

Beyond that the report is full of the same boosterism that inflects all reports on network and computing infrastructure, equating broadband performance with economic 'leadership'. It could also be the case that broadband leadership reflects other factors rather than creates them. Smaller, richer, possibly homogeneous countries build better broadband because they can.

Interestingly, the study looks at mobile broadband for the first time and hints that this could represent a plausible way of improving throughputs away from cities, which will enjoy the best of fixed broadband for the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately, again the UK is stuck in the slow lane in relative terms, with average download speeds of 796Kbit/s, with uploads at 283kbit/s. Latency remains very modest. Even top mobile broadband performer Sweden can only manage 1.2mbit/s download. That's OK for broadband-on-the-move, but it's going to struggle to do more than allow basic web applications.

"Broadband leadership is a very complex issue. While this study sheds light on it, it should serve as a guide only to help countries and cities define their own priorities and measure the success of their policies," said Cisco senior director, Fernando Gil de Bernab.

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John E Dunn

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