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Super-Fast Broadband

Last Edit: 21/05/17

Superfast broadband is a popular term that is used to describe Internet access that has a download speed that exceeds 30 mbit/s. At present, the primary access technology that provides super-fast broadband in the UK is fiber optic networks, but the term encompasses any access technology that surpasses 30 mbit/s. You may ask why 30 mbit/s? this was the definition provided by the European Commission in 2015, and supported by Ofcom. That said, many users and national governments would rate any access speed that exceeds 24 mbit/s as superfast; this is due to ADSL2+ - generally the highest DSL speed provided - supporting a maximum download speed of 24 mbit/s.

Virgin Media were the first to implement a fixed line superfast broadband network in 2009: with their VDSL2 (FTTC) technology; capable of providing a download speed of up to 50 mbit/s. BT Openreach were the next to offer superfast broadband via their own fiber network. Ofcom forced BT to open it's fiber optic network to other ISPs in 2010, therefore, when other ISPs - such as Plusnet and Freeola - sell superfast broadband access, they are doing so while utilising BT's network. Some mobile broadband technologies are also capable of supporting superfast speeds: Long-Term Evolution (LTE) (3G) and Long-Term Evolution Advanced (LTE-Advanced) (4G) are currently capable of exceeding 50 mbit/s. That said, while superfast broadband encompasses different technologies, the majority of UK users currently access it via Virgin Media's or BT's fiber optic networks.

Ofcom, in 2015, stated that around 85% of the UK's population can access superfast broadband, but this figure was substantially lower for rural areas (around 55%). Ofcom's annual report of average broadband speeds (across the UK) in 2017 has indicated, for the first time, that the average speed of UK Internet users exceeds the superfast definition:

This will be music to the ears of those bearing the responsibility of providing a superfast broadband network. Gordon Brown's Labour (UK) Government developed a scheme to ensure that the whole of the UK would have a broadband speed of at least 2Mbps by 2012. More recently, (2011) the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition Government announced they had shelved Labour's Digital Britain project and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt promised he would develop a strategy to create Europe's best broadband network by 2015. The coalition Government ear marked £800milliom to help develop the UK's new super-fast infrastructure, and the project is currently being overseen by the Government's Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme.

With Virgin Media currently implementing their fixed line EuroDOCSIS 3 technology (capable of download speeds of 300 mbit/s), BT Openreach planning to release their fixed line G.fast technology by 2020 (capable of download speeds of 330 mbit/s), and the mobile 5G technology being rolled out by 2020 (referred to as a super-fast mobile network and capable of download speeds of 100 mbit/s) it should ensure that superfast broadband is a reality for the majority of the UK by 2020-2025. The one issue, and a continuing issue when it comes to broadband access, is that their technologies are only planned to be released in urban areas initially, and the gap between the city and the country (rural) looks likely to widen.