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Cable.co.uk’s worldwide broadband speed league – how has the Earth reacted to our findings?

Wednesday, August 9th 2017 by Dan Howdle
Yesterday, we released our worldwide broadband speed league table. Consisting of the average broadband speeds measured across 189 countries it was the culmination of months of work on the part of myself and Mark Ashton (our head of development), and our project partners, M-Lab – an amalgam of New America's Open Technology Institute, Google Open Source Research, Princeton University's PlanetLab, and other supporting partners.

The figures/rankings are now public. Have a look yourself and see what you make of them. What's been most interesting to me, however, has been the worldwide reaction, which depending on the country (and the outlet) have consisted of outrage, rivalry, and denial.

It has revealed not only how various countries' actual place in the broadband world compares to where they feel they should be, but also how those nations feel about those others who through history, proximity or nurtured negative perception 'should' be doing worse than they are.

Outrage

Take the UK press, for example. Our release took a somewhat scientific approach when it came to reporting what 31 in the world meant for Britain. We tried to ensure that we weren't leading anyone by saying 31 was particularly bad or good. We just pointed out the facts: The UK is behind 30 others, 20 of which are in Europe (17 in the EU), but that it's also ahead of some 158 other countries.

But of course, we knew that some of the UK press would do what they always do: Pick some countries about which the general public wrongly assumes inferiority, and claim outrage that our broadband is slower.

"Latvia," they say. "Latvia has better broadband than us, and you know what Latvia's like! It's all grey and Orwellian and people queue for a potato and…" – you get the idea. But of course the image in our heads that the press aims to leverage is almost always wrong.

The reality is that Latvia is not only beautiful and thriving, it also has the highest percentage pure-fibre broadband network to be found anywhere in Europe.

Suffice to say I take a very dim view of an outlet who disparages other nations based on an incorrect public perception that it itself continues to promote. If you're angry about Latvia having better broadband than the UK you can either grow up or move there.

Rivalry

More amusing, perhaps, is how some of the local rivalries have played out. It took New Zealand tech site Computerworld.co.nz all of one paragraph before pointing out it was 'well ahead of Australia'. Another site even stated matter-of-factly that Australia was being 'flogged by the Kiwis' – as if this is Rugby, not broadband speeds.

Fascinating, though, isn't it, that ranking countries by almost anything stirs up precisely the same national sentiment?

The Taiwanese arm of The China Post was thrilled to have snapped up third place in the league, pointing out it was ahead of Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea, and reserving a whole paragraph to point out just how much better it was than China.

Denial

Last, but not least, some publishers and organisations, (I'm guessing not liking their place in the table), decided to dispute the data. We included full descriptions of our methodologies, including ownership of the potential weaknesses of measuring global speeds in different ways, ours included.

"There are many things that impact the download speed reported by a broadband speed test. Included in this is what the test is trying to achieve in the first place. Some tests, such as that written by OOKLA, work hard to drive the 'last mile', the link between the test initiator and their ISP. This isn't very indicative of a web user's real-world experience, but an attempt to measure the speed of the line in ideal conditions," we said.

"The NDT application tests more internet infrastructure than an OOKLA test, sometimes connecting to a server that isn't even in the same country as the web user running the test. This combined with the fact that NDT only uses a single TCP connection means that the figure is more a measure of user experience than it is of absolute line speed. Neither approach is right or wrong – they are simply different."

You can read our full methodological description here.

Despite our transparency, some organisations, such as the Malta Communications Authority (MCA) (among one or two others) launched a critique of our methodology.

The MCA said of our methodology that "its efficacy for benchmarking performance across countries is severely limited". And took the line that with our numbers not distinguishing between mobile and fixed line technologies they are invalid.

We don't agree, obviously, but welcome constructive critique (and the MCA's is definitely that) in whatever form it comes. I'm genuinely grateful to the MCA for taking an interest.

As of this morning I continue to monitor the global reaction with great interest (as well as the occasional giggle).

Dan Howdle, Cable.co.uk

Dan Howdle is Cable.co.uk’s resident telecoms expert. Dan appears regularly in the UK press to talk about issues faced by UK consumers on matters of broadband, TV and mobile, and has appeared on BBC Breakfast, ITV News, Sky News, and on a number of BBC and non-BBC UK radio stations. If you have a question for Dan, you can email him at expert@cable.co.uk.

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