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We’ve come a long way since the dialup days. Internet connectivity has rapidly become key to everyday life.

Not just any old connectivity, either. Speedy, dependable internet is essential whether you’re in the office, ‘WFH’, streaming that on-demand series, gaming, flicking through TikTok, video calling the grandkids or just checking the news. 

Even some smart fridges, thermostats, security and lighting systems rely on an internet connection! Suffice it to say, a busy office or full household can put a lot of strain on your bandwidth these days — and our usage is only growing.

Courtesy of our team of connectivity experts, let’s take a look at what sort of speeds we’re getting in the UK in 2022 and how yours stacks up for your needs. Oh, and what’s to come?

We’re a nation of internet lovers

According to the latest ONS data on internet use, the number of households in the UK with an internet connection has grown to 96%, with 99% of adults aged 16-44 classified as ‘recent internet users’. Even amongst households with those aged over 65, four in five now have internet access.

87% of all UK adults shopped online in the last year, making us the highest spending online consumers across the world. Half of us used a virtual assistant smart speaker, with around a fifth using internet-connected energy or lighting controls. The most recent data shows that 54% of those aged over 75 are recent internet users.

It wasn’t always this way, of course.

A quick timeline of household internet connectivity in the UK: from dialup to broadband to fibre-optic

Many of us will be familiar with dialup internet connections that make use of phone lines. These slowly began to appear in UK homes in the mid-to-late 1990s, bringing with them the unmistakable screeching, buzzing and hissing of modems ‘shaking hands’ whenever you connected.

Dialup delivered far slower speeds than we’re now accustomed to — maximum download speeds of 56Kbps were advertised with the most advanced modems. A snail’s pace, especially considering the actual speeds experienced were much slower; 1–6Kbps was not uncommon.

Intensive, image-heavy websites could take minutes to load, with hours-long file downloads a feature of our lives. Then there was the inconvenience of disconnecting whenever someone picks up the phone… 

Broadband packages began to appear in the early 2000s. These early connections ran on ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line), advertising speeds in the region of 500Kbps; around ten times faster than the speediest dialup connections, so relatively extremely fast — but still 200 times slower than today’s common speeds. 

At the time of their launch, prices were steep — BT’s service was around £29.99 — prohibitively expensive for what was essentially a ‘nice to have’! Takeup was quite slow, with less than 1% of households enjoying broadband in 2002. Around mid-2003, the first 1Mbps packages were advertised. Whilst still expensive, costs of 500Kbps packages fell. 

By 2007, broadband uptake reached half of UK households — finally displacing dialup — with average speeds of 4.6Mbps. This revolutionised what was possible. Video sharing websites like YouTube proliferated and more users than ever could access snazzier, image-heavy websites for working, browsing and shopping. By 2008, ADSL2+ connections were launched in Britain. Like ADSL, these ran on copper lines and brought with them then-lightning speeds of up to 22Mbps.

Around 2010, the development of fibre-optic infrastructure took speeds to another level. The first 100Mbps speeds were advertised in 2011, with fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) networks becoming more widespread. By 2020, the number of households with internet access had risen to 96% — from only 9% in 1998.

At present, 97.2% of UK households can access speeds of over 30Mbps (defined as ‘superfast broadband’), adequate for decent streaming, gaming and browsing. These connections, however, are still largely delivered over copper ADSL networks, rather than fibre.

Internet speeds in the UK: how do we stack up globally?

Despite our love of the internet, our dependence on it and our world-leading online shopping habits, according to a number of measures, the UK enjoys distinctly average internet speeds by global standards. In fact, we’re amongst the slowest in Europe.

According to Speedtest’s Global Index — one of the most up-to-date, comprehensive indexes of worldwide internet speeds — the median download speed in the UK is 63.74Mbps. That’s approximately half that of world leaders including Singapore, Denmark, Spain, New Zealand, France and the United States.

Ofcom’s most recent UK home broadband performance report shows that the median download speed was 50.4Mbps, with an upload speed of 9.4 Mbps. Median is a better reflection of speeds likely to be achieved; averages can be distorted by very fast connections.

World Broadband Speed League – a slightly older (yet still illuminating) index — shows the UK is 22nd out of 29 states in Western Europe when it comes to speed.

The fastest broadband connections in the UK are those making use of full-fibre lines. Ofcom’s report notes that Virgin Media’s 516Mbps service recorded a download speed of 490.3Mbps, with the fastest upload speeds seen on BT’s full-fibre service — a median of 50.6Mbps.

Why are UK internet speeds comparably low?

It’s all down to our infrastructure. Many household internet connections still rely on copper wiring that’s over 100 years old — where electrical pulses are carried along metal strands — typically providing a download speed in the region of 30Mbps.

To achieve the hallowed 100Mbps+ download speeds — or even ‘gigabit-capable’, 1000 Mbps speeds — you need fibre infrastructure. This carries pulses of light on its glass threads.

Fibre optic cables are more durable, faster and smaller than copper wires — but more expensive. There are many parts of the UK where fibre rollout has been delayed, particularly in rural areas.

Openreach, the company in charge of building and maintaining broadband networks for the UK’s homes and businesses, is aiming to gradually phase out copper networks in favour of full fibre networks, setting a date of December 2026.

What internet speed do I need?

Ofcom classifies a ‘decent’ internet connection as having a download speed of 10Mbps and an upload speed of 1Mbps. Indeed, UK households have a legal right to demand these speeds. If you don’t have them, you can request an upgrade.

We’d consider 10Mbps slow by today’s standards, but it’s usually sufficient for basic tasks such as checking email, working online, standard definition streaming and browsing social media. 30Mbps is what’s considered ‘superfast’ by Ofcom, but we’d recommend a speed of at least 40Mbps for the average household with several users. 

A download speed of 100Mbps and upload speed of 10Mbps is the point at which your connection is able to easily handle multiple people performing intensive activities like video calling, HD streaming or gaming.

Speeds of 250Mbps are suitable for multiple very heavy users performing ultra HD streaming and other intensive tasks. 1Gbps download speeds (1000 Mbps) are even now possible — which really is extremely fast.

In some areas, we’re even seeing requests and availability for 10Gbps connectivity, with growing interest from large, highly-connected businesses and holiday parks. The costs of this are not too prohibitive.

How to check your internet connection speed

According to the latest insights from Ofcom, the median download speed for UK households is 50.4 Mbps, with upload speeds at 9.4 Mbps. Does yours stack up? There are a number of useful online resources for quickly and easily measuring your current internet download and upload speeds. 

Be sure to try at different points during the day; you may find your speeds drop at peak time.

If you don’t feel like your home or business is getting the speeds you’ve been advertised, it might be something to raise with your internet provider. You might also want to explore our quick guide to boosting your signal speed, strength and range, or potentially look at investing in a plan that has higher speeds.

As we mentioned, if you’re one of few unlucky households who don’t currently get 10Mbps download speeds and 1Mbps upload speeds, you have a legal right and can request an upgraded connection.

Our team of internet connectivity experts are always on hand to assist, too — drop us a message today!

And what might internet speeds of the future look like in the UK?

If Openreach keep their promise of rolling out fibre connectivity and retiring copper networks in the coming years, expect speeds to climb substantially and begin to resemble speeds seen in countries like Denmark, South Korea and the US — who all typically enjoy over 150Mbps.

Whilst 1Gbps speeds might be a little bit overkill even for the busiest, most internet-intensive households, we imagine these kinds of speeds becoming increasingly widespread and affordable, particularly for highly-connected businesses and organisations. Even now, 10Gb speeds are starting to become more widely available and affordable.

So, want to supercharge your connectivity?

Enlist the help of our friendly team of internet experts. At We Are Your IT, we offer a range of internet, WiFi and broadband support services for home users and businesses.

From boosting a limp WiFi signal in your house to designing, implementing and managing your business’ entire network infrastructure, our team have over 20 years experience helping users enjoy the very best internet connectivity possible.

Drop us a message through our contact page, give us a bell on 03303 800 100 or ping us an email at contactus@weareyourit.co.uk.

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