Broadband Speeds of 10Mbps Needed for an Effective Quality of Service - ISPreview UK
The United Kingdom’s telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has suggested that there is an “increasingly compelling argument” for fixed line broadband download speeds of 10Mbps (Megabits per second) to be considered a requirement for an “effective quality of service,” especially where there is simultaneous use of the connection by different services or users within the home.

At present the Government’s official policy as part of their Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme is to make “super-fast broadband” speeds of greater than 24Mbps available to 95% of the population by 2017, with download speeds of at least 2Mbps also being available to everybody as part of a non-legally binding Universal Service Commitment (USC).

But Ofcom’s new Citizens and Communications Services report, which was published today and looks at the availability, accessibility and affordability of communications services across the UK (note: nearly all of the statistics it uses have already been published), claims to have identified three key “coverage challenges” for the future.

Fixed Broadband Availability (Ofcoms Top 3 Coverage Challenges)

  1. A small but significant number of homes are still unable to access a service of at least 2Mbit/s, and there is more work needed to deliver wider availability of good quality broadband, especially in rural areas.
  2. There is an increasingly compelling argument that speeds of 10Mbit/s are needed to achieve an effective quality of service, especially where there is simultaneous use of the connection by different services or users within the home.
  3. Superfast broadband coverage has increased rapidly, but remains short of universal coverage, and there are challenges around rural coverage and also some urban ‘not-spots.’

Admittedly Ofcom, which are somewhat stating the obvious above, then goes on to remind us that 78% of UK premises can already order a Next Generation Access (NGA) broadband connection and 8% of broadband connections operate at speeds of less than 2Mbps; although over half of those already have the option of switching to a supposedly “superfast” service. Take note much of this info. is from their old June 2013 data and the regulator will be releasing new information very soon (thank god).

<Graph showing download speeds in the UK for 2013>

Interestingly Ofcom, which since as far back as 2012 has been suggesting that the 2Mbps USC should perhaps be lifted to 8-10Mbps (here and here), now indicates that this could instead form the basis for a third level of broadband performance to gauge the quality of consumer services.

Precisely what this would mean in practice is not yet clear, although we suspect that it’s more of a change for Ofcom’s own reporting than one that could impact Government policy. One of the reasons we say that is because the Government has retained their existing USC level of 2Mbps, despite Ofcom’s earlier suggestions that they adopt something faster.

On top of that the BDUK definition of “superfast” (24Mbps+) still differs from Ofcom’s definition, which much like the EU pegs the figure at 30Mbps+ (note: some newer BDUK contracts do use the 30Mbps figure).
Ofcom’s Report Extract

Moreover, the broadband speed required by a typical household is likely to increase over time, as individual applications require more bandwidth, and the number of simultaneous applications increases. We may begin to view around 10Mbit/s as the effective quality of service broadband consumers expect, with 2Mbit/s more of an ‘essential’ level. Last year we estimated that around half of all broadband connections in the UK were at least 10Mbit/s.”
Otherwise Ofcom’s new report merely appears to re-hash old data that can be found in their various other studies, such as the Fixed Broadband Speeds Report, Infrastructure Report and Communications Market Report (CMR). Ofcom’s next major Infrastructure Report is due out before the end of the year and that will be a more productive read.

As to whether 10Mbps does give consumers an “effective quality of service”, well that will invariably remain a matter of debate. Granted you can do most things with 10Mbps, but with HD video streaming becoming common place and 4K likely to follow, not to mention those 50GB game downloads, then we can already see it being put under strain.

Ultimately everybody has their own unique requirements and expectations, yet if we’re going to start saying that people need 10Mbps for an effective connection quality then perhaps we should just make that the national USC and get on with the job of making it possible. Alternatively we could consider 24Mbps+ to be the USC, especially as that’s going to become the eventual aim of all this deployment work.