The UK government defines superfast broadband as 24Mb/sec.
What’s more, that definition is an average speed, so your ‘superfast broadband’ could be running at 5-8Mb/sec for much of the day.
Is fibre the answer?
That depends on the fibre connection we are talking about. Domestic fibre connections are definitely not the answer.
Fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) connections are better than ADSL copper wiring, but they don’t have the capacity because the connection is shared between fifty premises. An additional issue with FTTC connections is the final few hundred metres of copper cable; a material that is fundamentally unsuited to carrying massive amounts of data.
Fibre to the home (FTTH) connections are better than FTTC, but your internet connection is still shared with fifty households, so you will never get the maximum speed out of the fibre.
This high contention ratio was a way to roll out fibre connections quickly but means that everyone on a domestic optical fibre connection gets less than the quoted speed for much of the time. The overcrowding problem is getting worse every year.
When fibre first started rolling out in the 1990s the only demands on it were from personal computers. Thirty years later things are different. Every home has multiple laptops and tablets. Phones, smart TVs, music streaming and smart fridges put additional strain on the line.
If you take out a business plan with your local ISP, they may offer a lower contention ratio than is available on the domestic plan. However, your line is still shared and the capacity will still be inadequate for a modern connected business to operate at maximum efficiency.
Your own fibre connection which is exclusively yours is the answer.
Fibre can handle massive amounts of data traffic. However, when you have a high contention ratio, your line’s ability to carry your essential business data is compromised by neighbours watching catch-up TV or downloading music.
A leased line means your internet speed stays hot, even at 8am when school students are talking to each other over breakfast. Even on a Friday evening when neighbours are downloading films to watch, your leased line capacity is all yours, so it still works at full speed.
A leased line is the only way to guarantee your fast always-on data transfers and your ability to connect to the cloud apps your operations depend on. Your exclusive connection is the only way your employees can perform their essential tasks simultaneously on the one line without everything grinding to a halt.
The UK government offers £2,500 Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme grants towards the cost of a leased line, and if you are in Wales you can get an extra £3,000 from the Welsh Government.
This map from the UK government website shows where Gigabit vouchers have been used.
Clearly, there are many less populated parts of the UK where no leased lines are available.
The government is pressurising BT to install more leased lines and to reduce their charges, but BT is a monopoly provider of high-capacity fibre internet connections, so they are going to proceed at their own snail’s pace.
The map referenced above gives a good idea of where you will be able to have a leased line installed but check before committing because there is never going to be a roll out to every address in the British Isles: there is always going to be 5% with no genuine superfast broadband available.
English towns and cities in the Midlands and South-East England are best served by the technology. Meanwhile, rural communities, especially in Wales and Scotland are far behind because of the higher connection costs and fewer revenue-earning opportunities for BT.
The government is high on rhetoric, but actions come a poor second. Ambitions such as the most connected country in Europe, and 100% connection to ultra-fast broadband are quickly watered-down in the face of commercial realities.
Even government definitions of superfast broadband are laughable. Standard 24Mb/sec broadband with a contention ratio as high as fifty is only ever going to be suitable for undemanding domestic customers who are prepared to put up with internet speeds dropping to zero at certain times of the day.
The only way a business can guarantee its internet connection is fast is to pay for a leased line, but these lines are not universally available and they constitute a large investment for start-up companies.
Further reading on business broadband
Rural broadband: how to improve your speed