The UK has plummeted down the global broadband speed rankings to rate as one of the slowest countries in Europe, with a typical household taking more than twice as long to download a movie than the average home in western Europe.
Britain has dropped 13 places in an annual study ranking the average broadband speeds of 221 countries and territories, placing it 47th fastest in the world. Last year, the UK ranked 34th for average broadband speed.
The report, based on 577m broadband speed tests worldwide, now ranks the UK’s average broadband speed as the eighth slowest in western Europe. Consumers in 21 countries, including major economies such as Spain, Germany and France, enjoy faster speeds.
For consumers that means digital tasks such as downloading a film to watch take significantly longer, with the average broadband speed in the UK less than half that of the western European average. In the UK it takes on average 18 minutes to download a 5GB movie to watch, in Spain it takes just 12 minutes, Sweden eight minutes and Switzerland six mins.
The UK’s history as a global laggard in rolling out next-generation full-fibre broadband, which will provide internet speeds to future-proof the country’s homes and businesses, is proving costly. According to Ofcom, just over 10% of UK households have access to it, compared with above 80% in many developed countries.
“The UK is comparatively late in its rollout of pure fibre networks, which is causing it to stagnate while other nations gain ground,” said Dan Howdle, consumer telecoms analyst at Cable.co.uk, which publishes the annual report.
Many of the countries and territories that have leapfrogged the UK this year have comparatively small populations, such as Malta, Puerto Rico and Romania, and can roll out networks much more rapidly.
“It is obviously easier to upgrade a country or territory to full-fibre the smaller it happens to be,” Howdle said. “However, the UK still finds itself a long way behind many nations of equal or greater size.”
Addressing the UK’s laggard status was one of Boris Johnson’s first priorities when he was elected prime minister. He wants a complete “gigabit speed” UK network, a combination of full-fibre and other super-fast technology used in Virgin Media’s cable and broadband network, by 2025 and has pledged a £5bn fund to support services reaching the most remote parts of the UK.
This article was amended on 2 September 2020 to clarify that population size was being referred to when describing Romania as a smaller country than the UK. An earlier version also suggested Puerto Rico was a country, rather than a territory. This has been corrected.