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Travelogue Broadband Experiences

Throughout this year I have once again travelled extensively through USA, Europe, Asia and Latin America. Naturally, being in this industry I watch closely the various developments in broadband, mobile and WiFi. When you are travelling obtaining access is never far from one’s mind. This also provides good opportunities to compare what is available, where, what the quality is, and so on.

Looking back over many years there is no doubt that, no matter where you travel, there has been incredible progress. Even as recently as a decade or so ago you had to be a real ‘warrior’ to get access—sometimes it was a problem relating to finding access, and at other times it was the struggle to get the laptop or the phone to work.

While the situation has improved I still prefer to walk into a shop and get them to put the new SIM in order to make sure it all works. The company that arranged my mobile phone data access in Mexico City took an hour to get it to work. However, in general the equipment nearly always gets itself connected nowadays, and even in many of the developing countries access is commonly available as long as you don’t travel beyond the country towns and into the villages. Quality, however, generally becomes a real issue the further away you are from any of the main cities. It is sometimes at a quality level that is totally unacceptable—only a connection between 1 and 3 in the morning—so typically a capacity issue.

I often smile when looking at those fantastic OECD and other stats that give country overviews of people connected, speed connected and so on. I feel it is safe to say that they are all lies. I had much better WiFi access in the Mexican towns that I visited earlier in the year than I had in many of the towns in the so-called developed economies.

Some of the places with the worst access would be New York City, Melbourne, Canberra, London, Auckland, Wellington and Paris. You can sometimes be lucky, but the mobile and WiFi access is often appalling. I really cannot understand why business hotels in this day and age still can’t provide a good, stable broadband connection. Often it is a capacity issue, as access in the morning and evening is much worse than during the day when people are out. In the case of bad mobile signals, I would think that it would be in the interest of the hotels to discuss this with the operators and find a solution for it; a small dedicated base station could perhaps do the job.

The best access I have ever had was in Japan. Every hotel I stayed in had a dedicated fibre connection. I also had this once in a hotel in Shanghai—and, by the way, at no extra cost. Australia and New Zealand remain the countries with the highest hotel broadband access charges.

I was also impressed with my mobile connections in Spain and the Netherlands, not just because of the good quality but also because of the low cost. Two weeks in Spain for E20 and one week in NL for E10 and I still have credit left! At the same time, one week in Mexico cost US$100.

When staying or visiting people in their homes some interesting observations can be made. There, without any doubt, the quality of the service is better in the developed economies than in the developing economies. But services vary greatly. Some houses already have FttH—I think I have encountered that a dozen times—and the quality there is always good. Mostly, however, there are cable or DSL connections and here again the service varies widely from street to street, suburb to suburb. But as I am finding out this week in the Netherlands, where I am at the moment, the HFC 50MB/s service fluctuates during the day, with sometimes getting worse than my 4-8MB/s in Bucketty.

Prices remain the most puzzling. In the USA a 50Mb/s can cost you $50 in one town and exactly the same service $100 in another place from another provider. Obviously lack of real and effective competition is an issue here. Also here in the Netherlands the 50MB/s I am using costs $135 (including pay TV), a new competitive service that is being launched now offer a similar service for less that half this price.

In general terms the reality of broadband access and broadband quality depends more on a very local situation. If you are in the right place, perfect services; two streets further on, big problems. This is basically the case wherever I travel.

By Paul Budde, Managing Director of Paul Budde Communication

Paul is also a contributor of the Paul Budde Communication blog located here.

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