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Consumers prepare for Christmas broadband misery

Holiday pressure on already over-capacity broadband services is likely to leave consumers frustrated this Christmas, according to a survey

More than a quarter of British consumers are concerned that poor broadband will ruin their Christmas holidays, according to a survey by broadband services provider ViaSat.

Of particular concern to service users was the ability to stream landmark TV programmes, such as Christmas specials or reality show finals due to substandard connectivity. Users under the age of 24, who tend to rely less on broadcast television services, were especially worried about this.

Consumer broadband services are often at risk of slowing down during times of peak demand, due to high service contention ratios. These occur when multiple users attempt to use a finite amount of bandwidth.

Contended broadband services are much cheaper to provide than uncontended services because they allow the operator to squeeze more capacity out of the network, and offer a cheaper service to users.

ViaSat said it had already seen high numbers of people complain about slow broadband during the summer, when events such as the Olympics and Wimbledon saw high service usage as not all events or matches were screened on broadcast television services, which meant people were more likely to turn to catch-up streaming services.

Marc Agnew, vice-president of ViaSat in Europe, said the Christmas holidays offered a revealing glimpse of what users who could not access adequate broadband would miss out on.

“Just like charitable giving, festive meals and holiday decor, the internet has fast become a core part of the holiday season,” he said. “For many, it is essential for connecting with far-away loved ones; or a way to shop for gifts without having to experience those endless long lines. Others will turn to streaming services such as Netflix for their Christmas films, Spotify to soundtrack their New Year’s Eve party, or YouTube for extended yule-log fireplace videos.”

ViaSat’s researchers said there were currently 57 Christmas-themed movies available to watch on Netflix in the UK and they found 26,496 cover versions of Silent Night on Spotify. The Buster the Boxer Christmas commercial for retailer John Lewis has been viewed about 23.4 million times on YouTube at the time of writing.

The misery may already be setting in for some, according to the Daily Star, which has reported that an ongoing problem with Virgin Media broadband services in parts of London is set to last until at least a fortnight into 2017.

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A Virgin Media spokesperson apologised for the service disruption, which has caused users to lose connectivity during peak hours, which seems to suggest that the service was being partly overwhelmed by users.

But others are even worse off. Ofcom’s Connected Nations report, published last week, said there were still 1.4 million homes and businesses across the UK that lacked a connection capable of delivering speeds of 10Mbps or faster.

Although this was a marked improvement on a year ago, Ofcom group director Steve Unger said it was “unacceptable” that so many were still struggling to receive an adequate service.

The regulator reiterated its desire for more to be done to enable the quicker introduction of a universal service obligation (USO) for broadband, pegged at 10Mbps.

“The universal service would ensure every home and small business in the country has the right to a decent, affordable broadband connection of 10Mbps or above by the end of the current parliament,” said Ofcom in a statement.

“Ofcom’s analysis shows that this speed is sufficient to meet the current needs of a typical household. The online activity of users who can access this speed is far less constrained than those who cannot.”

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