Rarely do you get through a commercial break in Coronation Street without seeing one of the big internet service providers (ISPs) telling us how astonishingly fast their connection speeds are; wowing us with ultra-fast download times and enlightening us all to the wonders of new fibre optic broadband connections.
And, for many across Surrey and indeed the rest of England and Wales, these claims are broadly true. For increasingly large numbers of commercial and home use internet, download speeds are such that we can now stream the Breaking Bad boxset without the temptation to drive our foot through a suddenly frozen monitor. For those fortunate enough to be within a ‘fibre zone’ the days of watching a slowly rotating wheel on a heavily pixelated screen to the soundtrack of a grating whirring whistle from your telephone line are happily confined to nostalgic memories of a more primitive era.
However, the reality is that while high-speed internet connection is available to ever more offices and homes in the UK, there still remains a significant number stuck in the past and suffering speeds that remain painfully ponderous.
Throughout Surrey, for instance, there has – and in many cases, remains to be – a disparity between speeds in the major towns and the more rural areas.
For example, taking a snapshot of connection speeds from March 2015 (using broadbandspeedchecker.co.uk) showed connection speeds in Guildford ranging between 38mb/s and 87mb/s across most major suppliers (BT, Virgin, Plusnet, TalkTalk et al). By contrast, the same search in Tilford near Farnham showed speeds ranging between 1.7mb/s and 10mb/s. By way of comparison, downloading a full HD 2-hour movie would take less than 10 minutes at 87mb/s as opposed to more than 5 hours at 1.7mb/s.
Of course, that’s not to say that fast speeds are not attainable in these rural areas, but the mapping of speeds currently does highlight that there appears to be far less consistency once you head outside of the bigger towns and conurbations (around the Camberley and Frimley areas for example speeds can range from 1.5mb/s in the outskirts to nearly 60mb/s in the more built up and industrial areas).
This is not exceptional to Surrey of course. Take a snapshot across any of the old county zones across England and Wales and you’ll likely find the same types of disparity. Which is problematic for those unlucky enough to live in one of those ‘black spot’ areas where speeds are that much lower.
This is the reason behind Superfast Surrey – a partnership project between Surrey County Council and BT. With a national initiative to bring fast broadband connection to everyone in the UK, Superfast Surrey’s remit has been to install a fibre network to the areas of the county that the major suppliers have neglected due to economic reasons. Companies such as BT and Virgin have been rolling out their fibre optic offering across large swathes of Surrey, however, the economic realities are such that not everywhere has been viable to cover. The Superfast project is aimed at plugging that particular gap.
The initiative began in 2013 and continued to roll-out throughout 2014 with the aim of completion by the end of the year. The target has been to provide fast internet access in excess of the national average speed of approximately 25mb/s to businesses and homes in these otherwise un-tapped areas (in the region of 84,000 buildings and homes). To successfully achieve this would mean, according to their website, a version of high-speed broadband would be accessible to around 99% of the county’s population.
Inevitably, one would assume, there will still be a greater choice and higher speeds in the more populated areas, but maybe the roll-out will deliver a more unhindered online experience and a chance to enjoy all those Youtube clips with a little more clarity.