Mar 20, 2023

Why has the UK Fallen Behind in High-Speed Broadband for Business? And how can we Fix the Problem?

It’s no secret that the UK’s high-speed broadband provision for business is lacking. While 84% of UK businesses have access to the internet, speed is still a significant issue. And in 2022, the UK fell from 50th to 56th place in a study of fixed-line broadband speeds for business. But why has this happened? How has the UK slipped so far behind other countries when it comes to the rollout of high-speed internet? And is there a realistic solution to the problem?

Why is the UK failing to keep up with high-speed internet rollout?

There are a number of reasons why high-speed broadband has become such a contentious issue in the UK. It started with a flawed privatisation model and continued with a lack of vision.

The privatisation of BT

When British Telecom (BT) was privatised, it led to what essentially became a privatised monopoly of the UK telecommunications infrastructure. Attempts were made to introduce competition into the market, with Openreach established in 2005 to enable 3rd parties to access that infrastructure. The problem is that Openreach is still ultimately responsible for the available speeds on the network. Leaving the only genuine choice open to businesses between Openreach and Virgin Media – the latter only available to small businesses and consumers in certain parts of the country. And there are a couple of reasons for this.

British infrastructure

OK, so it’s stating the obvious. But our cities, towns, and villages are ancient, and they weren’t designed to accommodate modern technology. In some areas, we have narrow roads and cobbled streets entirely incompatible with contemporary vehicles, because changing them would be enormously expensive. We also don’t have much space. Laying new infrastructure requires digging up roads, and demolishing walls of listed buildings. This wouldn’t just be expensive, but a bureaucratic nightmare. And the same problem applies to upgrading our tech infrastructure.

Poor planning

And, as is too often the case, a lack of insight has also caused the UK problems. Even very recently, there has been very little comprehension of how bandwidth requirements would grow over time. The UK’s successive governments have failed to understand how important the internet would become. And businesses are equally at fault. Shopping centres built in the last 15 years have communications infrastructure that was outdated at the time of construction. Exchanges in these buildings often have makeshift capacity add-ons which regularly fail, and due to contention ratios (the number of users sharing the same internet trunk), some lines still run at an average speed below 2MBPS. The outcome is poor service provision throughout.

What does this mean for British businesses?

While for many, a slower internet speed merely means inconvenience and the need for a workaround and makeshift solutions to poor connectivity. It also creates a two-tier, semi-class system for businesses. Where city-based competitors have a distinct advantage over their rural rivals.

Is there a solution?

There are a number of positives on the horizon.

Funding – The government has pledged £5 billion to help get Gigabit Broadband to the 20% of the UK currently underserved by high-speed broadband. This refers to a service that is capable of providing download speeds of 1GBPS and is currently available to around 66% of the country (through Virgin Media).

Falling prices – For larger businesses, the cost of traditional leased lines has also plummeted, especially in densely populated areas.

Mobile broadband is getting better – Although the UK ranks 79th for broadband speeds, we do much better when it comes to mobile data speeds, with a recent study ranking the UK 26th in the world. Putting us ahead of Japan, Belgium, France and Germany. And only slightly behind telecommunications leaders, Finland. And with 5G quickly becoming the connectivity of choice globally, this puts us in a really good position. As 5G investment is currently the quickest and most future-proof way of increasing available internet speeds. It is easily upgradeable.

With 6G expected to start rolling out around 2030, bringing speeds of up to 1TBPS, the UK could be well positioned to lead the way. Leaving the future looking a whole lot faster.

This article first appeared in:

Global Partners

We are very fortunate to work a range of amazing worldwide network partners

AT&T Verizon O2 BT Orange EE Vodafone Gamma
Flo Live Three Pangea Colt Wireless Logic Giacom Zest Global Gig
Salt Transatel Cross Connect Jola Telcoswitch 8x8