The UK’s average broadband speed has climbed to 14.7Mbps, according to new data from telecoms watchdog Ofcom. However, fears of a digital divide appear real, as the gap between speeds in urban and rural areas has widened to 16.5Mbps.
The number is an increase on the 12Mbps reported in March 2013 and represents a fourfold increase since Ofcom started reporting average UK broadband figures in November 2008, when the figure was 3.6Mbps (see table below).
Data showing rising broadband speeds since November 2008
Upload speeds remain painfully slow, though, with an average of 1.8Mbps, up from 1.4Mbps in November 2012. The data was gathered from 736 million test results recorded in 2,218 homes throughout May 2013.
The reason for the download improvements is the availability of superfast services from providers such as BT and Virgin Media, with 19 percent of connections in the UK now superfast, measured as over 30Mbps. This is up on 14 percent superfast service uptake in November 2012.
Virgin Media in particular gets credit for doubling the speeds of customers’ connections on cable, resulting in average speeds for users rising from 18Mbps to 35Mbps. BT has 1.3 million fibre customers too, up from 550,000 in May 2012.
For those in rural areas, speeds have risen to an average of 9.9Mbps, up from 4.1Mbps in May 2011. This is some way behind the average urban area speed of 26.4Mbps, a gap of 16.5Mbps.
The government will be hoping its Broadband Delivery UK programme closes this gap in order to avoid a digital divide where broadband services in rural areas are far behind those in urban locations.
Ofcom consumer group director, Claudio Pollack, said the speed improvements were great news for the UK and it should only get better in the future as schemes like BDUK come to the fore.
“We are yet to see the full effect of government measures to improve broadband availability in rural areas, which should also help to boost speeds,” he said. “We also anticipate 4G mobile to have a positive effect on mobile broadband availability across the UK.”
Virgin Media said the figures proved that doubling broadband speeds was clearly benefiting customers.
“We’ve doubled the broadband speeds of millions of Virgin Media homes, bringing significant benefits to consumers and driving a real shift in the UK’s broadband ambitions,” the firm said.
BT had not responded to a request for comment on the data at the time of publication.
The announcement comes amid numerous debates about the government's broadband strategy, with its BDUK process coming under intense criticism for failing to generate competition and a lack of transparency from BT and councils on rollout locations.
This could change, though, after BT said councils could release rollout locations, something the government urged councils to do. BT signed two more deals under the BDUK framework this week worth £45m, with both Oxfordshire and Worcestershire councils.
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