The BBC News Online has revealed the results of new research into UK broadband notspots, which are locations where high-speed Internet access is either not available or runs very slowly (less than 2Mbps). The Samknows study found that roughly 3m UK homes fall into this bracket, which could make the government's plans to deliver a minimum broadband speed of 2Mbps to the whole country by 2012 very difficult (related news).
The map was produced by comparing a sample of UK postcode data against estimated line length, a major factor in determining broadband speed because performance (e.g. via ADSL broadband) diminishes over greater distances, and known information about real-world testing of ISP service speeds.
Predictably urban areas remain the dominant places for faster broadband speeds, while remote and rural locations see far lower performance. The new research, which was based on 1.5 million records, estimates that 15% of UK homes are using telephone lines that are not capable of reaching 2Mbps. More than 4,000 lines were also found to be connected via a telephone exchange that can't even deliver broadband.
This new prediction differs from BT's data (below), which was referenced in January's interim Digital Britain report and appears to show a much smaller figure. Naturally it's very hard to be accurate with variable technologies that, once online in the real world, often operate differently from predicted performance.
BT's UK broadband speed estimation
Lord Carter's final Digital Britain report, which is due to surface next month, is expected to outline how it will solve this dilemma and deliver 2Mbps to everybody. It's expected that a variety of technologies, such as satellite, wireless (Wi-Fi/WiMAX) broadband, Mobile Broadband ( 3G , HSPA etc.) and upgrades to existing land lines will be used to plug the gaps.
However, we have repeatedly raised concerns about this new pledge, which only appears to focus on the raw promise of a faster download speed. Upload performance, service flexibility (usage allowances), latency performance, affordability (many rural homes are also on low incomes) and blocked applications (services must not block essential apps like VoIP or Instant Messaging) have not been addressed.
The other issue is that the government's plans could be too short-term. Come 2012, when we all finally have access to speeds of 2Mbps, people would quickly look around to find that half of the country can now get anything from 40Mbps to 100Mbps via newer cable services delivered via BT and Virgin Media. Content will have evolved alongside such developments and naturally rural locations will effectively be back at square one.
In addition Thinkbroadband has also launched a new Broadband Notspot website, which is calling on people to register if they live in a location where broadband is either unavailable or runs at a speed slower than 2Mbps. Hopefully the results won't be too skewed by poor ISPs that fail to deliver 2Mbps to areas that do actually support it.
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