How fast should broadband be? header image

Published: 22nd Jun 2016

Just how fast does broadband need to be? That's a question a lot of people seem to be asking at the moment. 

As things stand, the government is currently working to bring super-fast broadband, which it classes as 24 Mbps or faster, to 95 per cent of the UK by 2017. For the remaining five per cent, it aims to provide a minimum service of two Mbps. 

However, many commentators have criticised the latter target, claiming this is not a sufficient level of connectivity for the final five per cent, which will largely be comprised of rural communities.

Indeed, the telecoms watchdog Ofcom has recently raised this issue, with a new report from the organisation suggesting ten Mbps may be a more suitable target.

It said the use of broadband in the typical UK home is growing at an "unprecedented" rate and this means the government's initial plans may no longer be relevant.

"The average UK household or small business is downloading 53 Gigabytes (GB) of data on their fixed broadband line every month - equivalent to 35 feature films, and a 77 per cent increase on 2013. The average home is also uploading 7 GB of data to the internet each month, equivalent to 3,500 digital photographs," the watchdog said.

"On connections slower than ten Mbps, performance for these web activities may be impaired. Video streaming, in particular, can work less well when there are simultaneous demands on bandwidth from different devices in the home," it added.

Ofcom said it is highly likely that a household of four would require a broadband speed of ten Mbps due to various online activities taking place at the same time. For example, were a family streaming a film in HD (six Mbps), watching catch-up TV (two Mbps), engaging in a video call (1.5 Mbps) and browsing the web (0.5 Mbps) at the same time, these actions would require a connection of ten Mbps to perform properly.

The telecoms watchdog is not the first voice to question the two Mbps target. In October, V3 reported on a speech from the shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport Harriet Harman, who said this figure is not ambitious enough. 

She also accused the coalition government of complacency and said that were Labour in power, it would focus more on ensuring a good level of connectivity across the UK, rather than fixating on super-fast speeds in certain areas.

A poll has recently been carried out by Cable.co.uk, which asked people what they considered to be the necessary broadband speed for a typical household. Only 8.8 per cent of respondents said they think between two Mbps and eight Mbps is suitable, which suggests most Brits see the government's target as out of date.

Concerned that you might only be guaranteed a connection speed of two Mbps once the government's broadband rollout is complete? Satellite broadband may well be the answer. The technology can bring speeds of up to 22 Mbps to even the most remote areas and has been widely lauded as an ideal means of connecting the final five per cent.