UK lags in broadband quality

The UK does not have good enough broadband to consistently deliver high quality web access, falling behind not only the usual leaders, but coming in the bottom half of a ranking in a study by Cisco.

The survey conducted on behalf of Cisco by the universities of Oxford and Oviedo showed Japan still leads the global chart, followed by Sweden and the Netherlands. The networking firm looked at 42 countries, over half of which had consistently fast broadband capable of handing web apps. The UK was placed right in the middle of the quality rankings, below the leaders but also trailing France, the US and Bulgaria.

Upgrading the UK's apparently ailing broadband networks has been a hot issue of late, with reports the cost of a total fibre upgrade could near 30 billion. A government report released later today is expected to say operators must bear the burden of that price tag.

For the Cisco report, each country was given a Broadband Quality Score (BQS) based on download and upload throughput, as well as latency. The UK earned a BQS of 32 compared to Japan's 98 and Sweden's 55.

While earning praise for high usage and penetration levels, the UK had low speeds. It earned an average download speed of 4,042Kbps, upload speed of 412Kpbs and latency of 85ms. Japan averaged 16,720Kbps for downloads, 6,827 for uploads and 85ms for latency.

The UK was also criticised for not using enough different types of technology and a lack of market competition. Some 78 per cent of UK web surfers are using DSL, and 28 per cent are using cable. And BT dominates the market with 78 per cent share, followed by Virgin at 21 per cent.

The leading countries are ahead for good reasons, Cisco claimed. Japan which topped the chart by quite a margin views broadband as a source of competitive advantage, while the Northern European nations are willing to invest in upgrades, allow competition, and are supported by strong government vision, Cisco said.

Solid broadband connections are increasingly necessary as web applications become more data intensive, which will only increase in the next few years, as current bandwidth hogs like YouTube give way to HD streaming video, Cisco noted.

"Average download speeds are adequate for web browsing, email and basic video downloading and streaming, but we are seeing more interactive applications, more user-generated content being uploaded and shared, and an increasing amount of high-quality video services becoming available," explained Alastair Nicholson from Sad Business School at the University of Oxford.

Nicholson added: "Moreover, because the study also found significant correlation between a nation's broadband quality and its advancement as a knowledge economy, policy makers may need to consider how to create an environment to improve key broadband performance parameters in the future."