U.K. Hits "Superfast" Targets, But the Target Keeps Moving

Remember when the United Kingdom in 2010 announced plans for “superfast” internet access blanketing the British Isles? That is pretty much done. Nearly 95 percent of U.K. customers now can buy internet access at minimum downstream speeds of 24 Mbps.

Of course, speeds change fast in the internet access business. When the “superfast” initiative was launched, back in 2010, 24 Mbps might have seemed “superfast.” At that time, about 68 percent of U.K. customers had services with headline speed (not actual experience) of between 8 Mbps and 10 Mbps.

In practice, actual average speeds were perhaps half the “headline” speeds. By April 2017, typical average U.K. internet access speed had climbed to 36 Mbps.

By way of comparison, U.S. average internet access speeds  were less than 4 Mbps in 2010, by some estimates. By 2017, average speeds had jumped to 23 Mbps, by some reports, while other studies said average speeds were up to 55 Mbps.

Speeds increase at Moore's Law rates, one can argue, at least for some suppliers, such as the cable companies. Comcast has doubled speed every 18 months, for example. Prices likewise have changed about as you would expect for a Moore’s Law rate of change.

When at least some suppliers are doubling speeds every 18 months, most targets and goals set by government are going to be eclipsed very quickly, no matter how ambitious the goals seem at the moment.

The impact of Moore's Law has been clear: with just a modicum of competition, U.S. access speeds have climbed quickly into the “hundreds of megabits per second” to “gigabit” (1,000 Mbps) ranges.

Even mobile access, which historically trails fixed bandwidth and speed, is poised to emerge as a functional substitute for fixed access in the 5G era.


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