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An improvement in download speeds is driving demand for high-quality downloads and transforming the online entertainment experience, new figures suggest.

Higher broadband download speeds are transforming consumers’ video viewing online habits, it has been claimed.

Recent figures from Speedtest.net revealed that the average broadband download speed hit 5Mb in October this year. This is up from a figure of 4.1Mb in January.

The availability of faster downloads has enabled consumers to move away from viewing low-quality video on YouTube in favour of a far richer, high quality visual experience offered by applications such as the BBC iPlayer and Channel 4 on-demand. The burgeoning popularity of the iPlayer was borne out by Speedtest.net’s survey results which showed that 957,000 people downloaded content and radio programmes in October alone.

However, according to Jessica McArdle, a spokesperson for Top 10 Broadband, one consequence of the growth of watching high resolution, quality content online is that it has left the UK’s outmoded ADSL network struggling to cope.

Moreover, she claims, the change in consumption of online video has in turn seen customers hit with unexpectedly high punitive charges as they inadvertently exceed their monthly download limits. This is because high-resolution, quality video files and streams require more data to be downloaded than their lower quality predecessors.

She explained: “Alongside the limitations of the existing network technology, the downside of this exponential growth in high-quality video streaming services like the iPlayer is that people are increasingly being hit with colossal, unexpected data charges for exceeding their download allowance – not ideal during this current recession.”

“With average speeds now over 5Mb making the rich media dream a true reality, download allowance remains the final frontier to be crossed before online HD entertainment becomes a viable option for the majority of UK broadband users. Only ISPs that can match these demands will remain viable options for the average video-hungry user.” News of the limits that the UK’s under-strain ADSL network could put on consumers’ usage comes amid increasing controversy over the roll-out of a replacement fibre-optic network. This has been stoked in recent weeks by speculation that BT could scale back its costly commitment to the fibre-optic network in the face of the global recession.

The improvement in download speeds has thus far been driven largely by the likes of O2 and Virgin Media, with the latter leading the way thanks to its early adoption of fibre-optic technology.

Read the full press release: High-speed broadband brings entertainment revolution - at a cost

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