Life in a Notspot

On Tuesday the BBC released information on the ‘hotspots’ and ‘notspots’ of broadband access around the UK. Their research put pay to the theory that it’s always those who live in rural areas that struggle as many of the worst areas were in commuter belts. Villages practically next door to each other can have varying levels of connectivity.

mapThe Samknows map took postcodes from across the UK in areas with known slow connections, or zero broadband availability, and plotted them on a map. On the map the red dots represent postcodes with ADSL broadband speeds of less than 512Kbps and the blue dots represent postcodes with ADSL broadband speeds of less than 2Mbps, while black dots represent areas where no broadband is available – under 1% of homes in the UK cannot get any broadband at all.

All this information is a little worrying given that the government has pledged to provide all homes in the UK with speeds of at least 2Mbps by 2012.

Technology Correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones has also been carrying out a timed download test in locations round the UK. The BBC allows you to test your own broadband speed using it’s connection tester and then add a comment on its broadband map.

I thought I’d have a go at this. My speed varied between 0.8 and 1.3 Mbps (depending on when I took the test and which browser I used – IE seemed to be slower). It took me almost 50 seconds to download a 10Mb quick time file. I am officially a notspot (though Thinkbroadband, a site where you can report broadband problems, would classify me as a slowspot). It’s quite possible that the test isn’t accurate, though a quick check on broadbandspeedtest did come up with similar results.

A “not-spot” is an area where you can’t get broadband services (at all, or at a reasonable cost)

A “slow-spot” is an area where you can only get a broadband service with a speed of below 2 Mbps (downstream)

On a day to day basis I don’t have any problems using the connection and can do all I need to (including uploading video), though there are moments when I might need to do a bit of reading while I wait for a large file to arrive. I don’t do a lot of work with high quality images or videos and manage to watched streamed video fairly OK. I live in a pretty old house so my problems might be to do with the state of the wiring or something related.

I don’t really feel disadvantaged in anyway but maybe if my job did entail working on big files I might feel differently. It seems the decision over whether an individual can be a remote worker isn’t just dependant on whether their organisation will allow it or how responsible they are as an individual. It also depends on where they live.

I also noticed that on the ‘Have your say’ section someone had commented “How long is it going to be before people who want a fast connection ask estate agents, “How fast is the internet connection at that address?” – this is an interesting one. My post on the House of the Future speculated that in the future setting your house up for home working would be a real bonus. Perhaps now that geographic connectivity is being openly charted broadband connection will be one of the searches that solicitors look into? Something along the lines of “...Are you on a flood plain? Are you in a broadband notspot?

If that’s the case maybe I do need to shout louder and have Mr Government pop round and fix our local fibres!


The Limitations of Broadband

As Virgin Media unveil their 50 Megabits per second (Mbps) domestic broadband service today the papers are also reporting on the fact that many UK customers have exceeded or come close to exceeding their broadband usage limit. This is based on a report by consumer group uSwitch.

The report reveals that many users do know actually know their limit and wrongfully believe that their unlimited service means just that.

I’ve mentioned issues with unlimited use before.

Interestingly, I recently conducted an internal survey here at UKOLN on Broadband use that also shows what a confusing area this can be, even for those who would be classified as ‘fairly technical people’! Confusion aside the survey indicated that most people who do a significant amount of work from home use a speed of 8mb +; and almost all have unlimited downloads.

I think here at UKOLN we feel that it would be good to offer more support for staff when choosing a broadband provider. At the moment we are still unclear what form this would take as our remote workers are scattered around the country and everyone has their own requirements.

Maybe we could come up with some tips or pointers to good resources.

Any thoughts?

Staying Connected: Technologies Supporting Remote Workers


I have just had an article published in the latest edition of Ariadne. The article looks at the technologies that support remote working, from broadband to Web 2.0 social networking tools. It covers:

  • What Do Home Workers Want?
  • Connecting – Broadband, Virtual Private Network, Wireless
  • Communication Technologies – E-mail, Telephony, Voice over Internet Protocol, Virtual Meetings, Online Chat, File Transfer, Blogs
  • Collaboration Technologies – Wikis, Shared Applications, Project Management
  • Social Networking
  • Technical Support – Security Technologies
  • Case Studies
  • Putting It All Together

It is an introductory piece, so if you are interested in any particular areas you will need to delve deeper, or follow the blog, but hopefully it will offer a starter for 10 for people who have just become, or are thinking about becoming, remote workers.

Who’s the Bestest Broadband Broker?

This week the Gadget show looked into the best broadband deals.

They tested each provider for speed and download limit. Much to my husband’s delight our current provider Zen came top for customer service, they’ve also recently won the Which award for the best Broadband provider.

O2 won the title of best all round deal, being both cheap and fast. Sky also came highly recommended.

Deciding on the best broadband supplier for your area can be difficult, but broadband finders such as and broadband finder will allow users to search for broadband providers using their own specifications. Many will assess what type of usage allowance you will need (light, medium or heavy) based on your Internet usage activity and the speed of access you require. The Gadget show also recommend Simplify Digital, as you can actually speak to a real person on the phone! Limits on broadband range from 1Gb a month to 30Gb or unlimited use.

Unlimited use is an interesting one. The Gadget show are currently running a campaign attempting to stop some of the UK’s Internet Service Providers advertising their broadband services as having unlimited downloads. Many put a block on users who have over excessive use. The Consumer Choices blog provide a good explanation of the issues.