Western Europe dominates global broadband speed

Annual assessment of global broadband speeds calculates that the gap is widening between the leaders and the laggards, with the countries focusing on pure fibre achieving the most success

Despite Western Europe being very much in the broadband fast lane, the UK has fallen to 47th place, from 34th a year ago, in an analysis of more than 557 million broadband speed tests worldwide.

The 2020 Worldwide Broadband Speed League research – designed and compiled by Cable.co.uk with data gathered by M-Lab – found that out of the speed tests carried out across 221 countries, although global broadband speeds continue to trend upward, the faster countries were the ones lifting the average, pulling away rapidly and leaving the slowest to stagnate.

It said that in all cases, those countries ranking highest have a strong focus on pure fibre (FTTP) networks, while those mainly offering FTTC and ADSL networks slipped further down year on year.

The five fastest countries had download speeds that were 276 times faster than the five slowest territories. A year ago, this differential showed that the top five were about 125 times faster than the five slowest.

Liechtenstein topped the table at 229.98Mbps, with last-place South Sudan 394 times slower at 0.58Mbps. This would mean downloading a 5GB file would take two minutes and 58 seconds at the average speed in Liechtenstein, while it would take 19 hours and 31 minutes in South Sudan.

Western Europe dominates the global speed table, with eight of the top 10 fastest countries in the world for broadband. Hong Kong (105.32Mbps) and Hungary (99.74Mbps) were the only two nations to make it into the top 10 fastest in the world outside of Western Europe. Countries in northern Africa collectively had the world’s lowest average speed of 3.80Mbps, while Western European nations collectively recorded the highest average speed regionally, 81.19Mbps.

Some 32 of the top 50 fastest-performing countries are located in Europe (Eastern, Western and Baltics), with six in Asia (excluding the Near East), seven in the Caribbean region, three in Northern America, and one each in Oceania and Central America. By contrast, 32 of the 50 slowest-performing countries are located in Sub-Saharan or northern Africa, five are in Asia (excluding the Near East), five are in the Near East, three are in the CIS (formerly USSR) region, three are in Oceania, and one each in South America and the Caribbean region.

The survey showed that 109 countries failed to achieve average speeds of 10Mbps or greater, the speed deemed by UK telecoms regulator Ofcom to be the minimum required to cope with the needs of a typical family or small business.

The UK was found to have an average speed of 37.82Mbps, now among the slowest in Europe and behind 46 other, predominantly European, countries. The UK average puts it 22nd out of 29 states in Western Europe, the eighth slowest. Average speeds in the UK are less than half of the Western European average of 81.19Mbps.

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Dan Howdle, consumer telecoms analyst at Cable.co.uk, slammed BT-owned broadband provider Openreach as holding back the UK in terms of the availability of fast broadband. “Countries and territories with a heavier reliance on, or ongoing investment in, pure fibre (FTTP) networks, or are upgrading to fibre or LTE from even more aged technologies, continue to see their averages rise,” he said.

“Those that are somewhat late to that particular party, however, the UK being a case in point when it comes to pure fibre networks, have slipped back as others have risen faster.

“While around 60% of the UK has access to the Virgin Media network and can get speeds of up to 516Mbps, and there is limited availability of smaller networks, such as Hyperoptic, offering gigabit speeds, while the Openreach network remains the anchor that keeps average speeds in the UK comparatively low.”

Howdle added: “Entry-level fibre packages and ‘fast’ fibre packages on Openreach have been set at around 30-35Mbps and 60-70Mbps, respectively, for more than five years now, with no significant changes beyond how those speeds are advertised. Ultimately, the UK, specifically Openreach, is comparatively late in its roll-out of pure fibre networks, which is causing the UK to stagnate, while other nations gain ground.”

The Worldwide Broadband Speed League is an open source project with contributors from civil society organisations, educational institutions and private sector companies. M-Lab is led by teams based at Code for Science and Society, New America’s Open Technology Institute, Google, Princeton University’s PlanetLab, and other supporting partners.

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