bbc.co.uk Navigation

Rory Cellan-Jones

Touring Broadband Britain

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 2 Jun 08, 09:20 GMT

I'm writing this in a hotel with a view across to the Isle of Skye, borrowing a slow broadband connection in a place where there's no mobile phone signal and the local phone-box is my only other means of communication.

It's the starting point for our tour of Broadband Britain, which gets underway on TV, on radio and online from today. The aim is to assess the speed and state of broadband at the moment - and take a look at the technologies which could promise faster speeds and more mobility in the years to come.

From this remote place, where they struggle to get broadband at all, we travel to Dundee on Wednesday, where they are being promised a high-speed connection by fibre-optic cable laid through the sewers. Then we travel south by train, trying out mobile broadband, and arrive on Thursday in Milton Keynes, where some residents are using Wimax to get online. Our last stop on Friday is Ebbsfleet in Kent, where BT will start laying 100Mbps fibre into homes in a new housing development later this year.

Along the way, we'll be testing speeds wherever we go using a couple of methods, and we'll be inviting you to join in - look out for the test page on the BBC website which goes live on Tuesday morning on the technology pages.

Neil DrakeWe will also be trying wherever possible - and this is what is making me just a tad nervous - to use broadband to send all our video and audio back and to do our live broadcasts. With me are top producer Jonathan Sumberg and cameraman/editor/engineer/general miracle man Neil Drake, seen in the picture trying out some of our equipment at BBC TV Centre before we left.

Our trip comes at a time when the debate about whether Britain needs faster broadband - and who should pay for it - is getting more heated. We hope to shed some light on the present and future state of Broadband Britain.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Hello Rory,

    I recently bought a 3g mobile broadband dongle and have seen some amazingly mixed results.

    At home in rural South Yorkshire, the signal is excellent. However, move along a mile to the next village and there's no connection whatsoever!

    Ditto with London
    This weekend I was able to get a reliable, lightening quick connection in my hotel room - but a slow and unreliable signal when I went into the same hotel's lobby area! A distance of 15 metres!

    I am looking forward to seeing what your experience will be across the UK Rory!


    Jim Connolly
    www.thetechnewsblog.com

  • Comment number 2.

    Hello Rory

    Have a good trip, you and the team.

    I'm on BT broadband and it can be a bit slow. It's ok for most stuff, but for streaming high resolution video, forget it.

    If broadband is going to become the new way to access TV etc, I don't think there's any real alternative to fibre.

    Look forward to reading your reports.

    Alan, Devon

  • Comment number 3.

    I live in the remote North West Highlands. Wonder if you are staying close by? I can get broadband connectivity usually around 3MB's.
    For information on extending fast broadband to schools and council premises in the Highlands and Islands see http://www.pathfindernorth.co.uk/
    This is a £59Million investment.

    Jim Henderson
    http://jimhenderson.wordpress.com

  • Comment number 4.

    I had the pleasure of travelling on an old GNER (I am unafiliated) train from Edinburgh to London last December which had free WiFi Internet even to us slobs in standard class.

    It stopped working in tunnels, but generally worked well. It even gave you a live map of where you were.

    It was great for streaming music/downloading podcasts on a long boring trip. You should try that out. No need for that silly expensive 3g stuff.

  • Comment number 5.

    Rory,

    If you wish to make a small detour to Battersea and see what is possible on standard broadband connections, do contact me.

    Here's what the telco 2.0 community said.
    http://www.telco2.net/blog/2008/04/post_13.html

    Enjoy your trip, keep asking about throughput (not speed) and packet loss.

    Regards

    Mike

  • Comment number 6.

    Rory,

    On your way south, how do you fancy a short stop?

    Halfway between Leeds and York (if you're on the train), and slap bang in the middle of the A1/M1/A63 "golden triangle" (if you're driving), you will find a village which has fibre optics to the two telephone cabinets and uses copper overlay for broadband, running 5 kilometres to the nearest town.

    Most houses round here can't get connected simply because the copper provides limited capacity. Those who do, are extremely lucky if they can get stable connections above 512mbit.

    We've had two incidents where thieves have tried to steal the copper because it's so lucrative.

    BT claim they have not demonstrated to themselves internally, that it's "cost effective" to use an existing cable and upgrade an existing cabinet, but they are convinced that buying 12km worth of copper cable to give a handful of customers a flakey internet connection for a couple of years until they get round to replacing the kit is cost-efficient.

    How does that work? I'll tell you.

    Because broadband isn't available to all, they don't have to tell anyone it's available.

    This means they can carry on selling other products which by sheer coincidence make sure that the customer can't upgrade to broadband very easily in the future.

    BT are selling "second line" (which is enabled by splitting a phone line thereby making sure neither line can be broadband activated), and ISDN (which BT claims can't be broadband enabled).

    This isn't a question of technology. Broadband is possible over ISDN.

    It's not even a question of cost. The kit required to enable broadband over fibre to the cabinet, is not that much.

    It's protectionism, pure and simple.

    As long as customers can't aspire to have broadband, PERIOD, they have no reason to leave BT and go to another internet service provider.

  • Comment number 7.

    An interesting 'experiment' Rory. However, it isn't the case that living in dispersed (remote) communities means slow broadband.

    I live (and work) on the west coast of the Isle of Mull and can get broadband at around 5.5 Meg.

    When I lived on Merseyside I was getting just under 4 Meg.

    It is true that if I lived a few miles away I would struggle to get 512K. It is this massive variation which is aggravating for customers, but such variations are not limited to 'remote' locations.

  • Comment number 8.

    Whilst researching a post for my blog, I read an excellent post by Om Malik of gigaom.com; all about broadband coverage in London.

    His post, called; "In London - a glimpse of a broadband future" shows how massively impressed he was with what he saw!

    You can read his post here:
    http://gigaom.com/2008/05/26/in-london-a-glimpse-of-a-broadband-future



    Jim Connolly
    www.thetechnewsblog.com

  • Comment number 9.

    Here's an alternative broadband map and speed test,
    http://www.baudmap.com/uk

  • Comment number 10.

    Rory,

    It's worth pointing out that most of the broadband speed test sites are not really that accurate. I've got the Virgin Media 20Mpbs package and get the full 20Mbps at all times. To put this in perspective, your test video on the news article page took three seconds to download. However, the speed test widget on the same page reported 4.4Mbps.

    To make matters worse, many web servers are unable to serve files at anything close to 20Mbps. If you are on a faster service, the best way to test is to download at least two files at the same time from two different servers and calculate your results from that.

    Steve

  • Comment number 11.

    The OECD is the quintessential source for broadband data and has a very good portal for it online. http://www.oecd.org/sti/ict/broadband

    They've also written on what the differences are between various broadband technologies. For instance how BT's ADSL2+ compares to Virgin's DOCSIS technology and how that impacts businesses and regulation. http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/49/8/40390735.pdf

    there is also a report out on what government can do more. http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/32/58/40629032.pdf

    And there is also a report out on what can be done on a global scale: http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/17/53/40596368.pdf

  • Comment number 12.

    There isn't only a problem out in the country. We have friends who live in the middle of Finchampstead in Berkshire, surrounded by hi-tech companies in Bracknell and Reading, and who are struggling to get Broadband at all because most of the village is connected to a telephone exchange in Eversley. On the Wokingham side there are some houses that are connected to the Wokingham exchange and get good speeds, but most of the people in North Finchampstead are lucky if they can get a 512kbps or 256kbps connection. Even those on the opposite side of the village closest to Eversley are lucky to get more than about 2mbps. We live barely a mile down the road, and are connected to the Arborfield exchange and I'm getting 7mbps.

  • Comment number 13.

    Its great that this is finally being checked. For your information I downloaded the 10mb quicktime video in 8 seconds and I am based in Reading on virgin media 20mb.

    One note though, when watching the video it asks for us to tell you our times, but does not seem to say how or provide any link to do so on the page it orginates from. it only shows the quick speed test link.

    Or I could just be stupid?

  • Comment number 14.

    Rory's download test says "let me know your result' but I cannot find a link to do this so here's mine for what it's worth - 1 min 22 sec on a Mac G5 on a connection supposed to be "up to 8" Mbps but which has just run out at 2.3Mbps. Not too bad looking at your map but not what I'm paying for.
    That's in Chelmsford, Essex.

  • Comment number 15.

    Rory

    I did your download test but can't see an obvious means of letting you have the results.
    The 10Mb file took 2min 35 secs.
    I'm in Long Clawson, Leicestershire.


    Alan

  • Comment number 16.

    Hi Rory,

    i am on the virgin media 20mb broadband package and I've got to say I'm very happy with it i connect to it in two ways both through my "N" wireless router. i have my xbox 360 wired directly in to the router where i get 17mbps average if i plug my laptop into it. when using it wireless i get an average of 13mbps.

    i think this is good considering i live on a council estate on the outskirts of Birmingham

    Adam

  • Comment number 17.

    Best wishes Rory. Got 0.9 mps in Springburn in Glasgow. (Is that really as bad as it sounds..?) Let us know where you'll be in Glasgow and we'll bring tea and scones. Q

  • Comment number 18.

    sorry forgot to give the results of the test. it took 3 seconds to download

    Adam

  • Comment number 19.

    For those interested, www.samknows.com is a great broadband resource where you can pinpoint your exchange, LLUs etc

  • Comment number 20.

    Hi Rory,

    'Tested' my broadband connection using the little widget thingy on the Article page - it read 3.8Mbps and I am paying for a 4Mbps connection from VirginMedia so that's fine by me!..

    Downloaded your 10MB movie too - my connection did it in 1min 50sec; although the download speed didn't read higher than 95Kb/Sec.

    Interesting stuff!
    =]

  • Comment number 21.

    Rory,

    It will be interesting to see how you get on when you visit Milton Keynes.
    For such a modern city we have terrible Broadband, I live on a new estate and can only get 1-1.5 Meg (With the wind behind it!) in fact the tester on the BBC website reckons 0.8Meg!.

    Problem is, big spread out city and not many telephone exchanges. None of which are near either of the 2 homes I have lived in so far!(Even the cables are routed up and down the grid roads, extending the length)

    We do have WiMax however which one of your colleagues had a chat with me about once (Iain Mackenzie) which was supposed to up speeds and make broadband more accessible here. In the end Pipex disappeared, a new company Freedom4 took over and are in partnership with the local council to promote WiMax, with the only problem being the crazy high cost of 2Meg over WiMax being £25 a month. This does not compare well to most other ADSL providers.

    We also have cable (Virgin) but that is the really old BT one which cannot support modern stuff like digital TV or broadband and there is no sign of it ever being upgraded.

    So here we are a modern city with poor broadband in modern Britain.

    So to all you ISP's and providers out there. Please,Please,Please come and speed up our city!

    Regards,

    O

  • Comment number 22.

    Thanks for all the great comments and suggestions. I'll be trying to keep giving feedback on my broadband experience this week, especially the speed at which I can download that 10mb file. So far it has taken me 49 seconds at home, over 4 minutes at a slow hotel connection - and just 16 seconds sitting under the Arnisdale mast.

    And thanks to all who've invited us to drop by on our tour. Unfortunately the sheer logistical challenge of this operation means our route and schedule are pretty well set in stone.

    But do keep telling us about your experiences - good and bad - with broadband speeds.

  • Comment number 23.

    I tried the 10MB video file download: 5:46 on my desktop, using Firefox's built-in download tools, at about 30KB/s on an "up to" 8Mb line. However, at the same time, I used a download manager with four download streams which took 1:08, about 147KB/s. Slightly better. However, I also tried it on my laptop with the same download manager and four streams and averaged 300KB/s, peaking at over 600.

    Unfortunately, like so many tests of this nature, the result is far too dependent on a number of factors to give a fair indication - chiefly in this case, I think, the bandwidth that the BBC servers are prepared to allocated to a single stream.

  • Comment number 24.

    Hi Rory

    I live in the centre of central Scotland within 8 minutes from the M8 and 8 mintues from the M9 and I cannot get broadband.

    I run an IT technology company and over the years I have tried many times to get broadband, without success.

    On a good day I get 44 kbps, so downloading large files is a complete no no for me.

    Could you please help highlight the problems of those communities, not in the Highlands, Wester Isles or the Borders, that have been left behind.

    Kind regards

    Liz

  • Comment number 25.

    I have a holiday house in a small village in the south of France, population 650, I subscibe to broadband via Wanadoo at a speed of 100mbs - why is this speed avaiable in rural France but no-where in Great Britain?

 

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

BBC.co.uk