THE BLOG
01/11/2013 09:37 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Are You Stuck in a Broadband Black Hole?

When it comes to playing the lottery, most people understand the chances of their dream win are very slight and will shrug off a loss. With the lottery of broadband speeds in the UK on the other hand, losing out can be much more frustrating.

The issue of actually being able to get broadband at all was a big talking point a few years ago, but as our dependency on the internet has increased so have our demands on the infrastructure. While there are a few spots with no broadband access, the focus of most complaints is the patchwork of speeds, with availability varying wildly from neighbour to neighbour.

Some households feel like they are trapped in a broadband black hole, struggling with a meagre 4Mbps while the rest of their street enjoys a service that is several times faster. The cause is often historic and older areas that have grown organically over the years and can have much worse telephone wire infrastructure than those planned from scratch.

Another issue is that in the 1980's when cable TV was given its various franchise areas the nation was divided up but gradually merged into the one provider under Virgin Media. However there are still chunks of their franchise areas not offering a service. This means that many towns now have streets that got cable TV in the 80's and 90's and now have access to 100 Mbps broadband if they want it whereas just twenty feet away another street does not.

The first generation of broadband services (ADSL and ADSL2+) was a simple matter of adding some hardware at the telephone exchange and a way to get the data out to the Internet, so almost everyone got something - even if it was not the fastest speed.

From 2009 onwards, the faster VDSL2 based services have started to be rolled out and rely on putting a new green street cabinet next to the existing telephone cabinet. While BT (via its Openreach division) has done this for some 17 million premises (expect this to increase to 19 million by the end of Spring 2014) across the UK, there are still millions that cannot access the service and not every cabinet is enabled for the VDSL2 (fibre to the cabinet) in an exchange area. In this scenario, parts of large towns get better service while others don't and those connected directly to the telephone exchange are often left waiting longest to see any improvements.

So when can people expect help out of their black hole, and what exactly can they do to escape?

Unfortunately the quickest way to escape might be to simply move property. Those planning a move can make sure they avoid falling into a black hole by asking the existing resident what their coverage is like. Never rely on promises from providers that a better service will be available in a few months, as while these do sometimes take place on time, there is a whole host of likely delays.

As with many areas of British life, the situation in the countryside is very different. Most rural residents are now generally waiting on projects signed between the County Council and BT. These vary in terms of how many will be helped, but the general aim is to getbetter broadband with speeds of 25 Mbps and faster to 90% of the country by the end of 2015 (current projections suggest summer 2016 to hit the target). The exact coverage level will depend on your county, so a little online hunting should reveal the target levels.

Anyone worried about broadband will not have missed the headlines about the projects being delayed by two years, but the reality is that the projects are actually starting to deliver. Some parts of the UK are ahead of others, but information is sparse on exactly which houses and businesses will see what level of improvements.

This makes things difficult for people with slow broadband to find out exactly when things will improve, and while there are various maps they tend to be too broad to tell which streets are covered. In theory the state of play is going to improve as projects progress and plans become more firm, however as the work involves a fair bit of digging and installing new street cabinets, precise information is difficult.

There is some light at the end of the tunnel for those who are tired of being ignored by the major rollouts as it's actually possible for them to buy a personal rollout of their own. Commercial operators like Gigaclear offer FTTP (fibre-to-the-premises) to an area if around 300 connections can be secured. A company called Hyperoptic has also concentrated on London and can install fibre to give Gigabit speeds to individual blocks of flats and is looking to expand outside London.

Both of these options are a guaranteed way out of the black hole and operate independently from the BT rollout, but depending how people rate their community organising skills they might find it easier to cross their fingers and keep an eye on the rollout headlines.