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UPD2 Ofcom Report Finds UK Average Broadband ISP Speeds Rise to 9Mbps

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012 (11:30 am) - Score 2,754
Slow Broadband Speed UK Internet Download

The UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has today published its latest study of the United Kingdom’s average fixed line internet performance. The report, which is based on data from May 2012, reveals that the average broadband download speed has jumped from 7.6Mbps (Megabits/sec) in the last survey to reach 9Mbps now (+19%).

Unfortunately one consequence of the new Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) guidelines for tackling misleading promotions of “up to” broadband ISP speeds (full summary), which has caused many ISPs to stop promoting speeds altogether, is that Ofcom can no longer produce a headline (advertised) vs real-speed comparison. Thankfully it remains very easy to see the difference between technologies.

ofcom average uk broadband isp speeds may 2012

To put that chart into perspective; ADSL2+ connections are theoretically capable of delivering speeds up to 24Mbps, although these are highly susceptible to interference through poor home wiring, longer telephone lines (among other things) and thus return comparatively slow performance.

Meanwhile Virgin Media’s Cable Modem (cable) platform currently offers top speeds of between 30Mbps and 100Mbps (note: not everybody has the new speeds yet), while BT’s FTTC is able to deliver a maximum of between 40Mbps and 80Mbps (note: most consumers are still on their 40Mbps service). Let’s take a look at how this works out with some real-world examples of ISP performance (BT’s 38-76Mbps solution is FTTC and Virgin’s is Cable).

ofcom uk broadband package speed table may 2012

Overall it should be clear that the ADSL2+ lines deliver well below what the technology itself is capable of, while the newer superfast broadband services seem much more capable, albeit not without some loss.

We also fully expect BT’s FTTC service to suffer slower real-world speeds in the future, which will occur as it pushes out to more rural areas where the technology’s VDSL2 component can lose performance over the longer telephones lines. Average actual speeds recorded for FTTC connections have already fallen by 12% (from 36Mbps to 31.6Mbps) in the six months to May 2012.

Indeed the urban versus rural Digital Divide is still quite stark. Ofcom’s latest data reveals that the average broadband speed in rural areas is now 3.5Mbps (up from only 3.3Mbps in Nov 2011), which compares with 10.5Mbps in urban areas (up from 8.8Mbps).

Ed Richards, Ofcom’s CEO, said:

Our research shows that the move to faster broadband services is gathering momentum. Consumers are benefitting from network upgrades and the launch of new superfast packages, giving them faster speeds and greater choice.

We are continuing to work with the advertising code-writing bodies and ISPs to ensure that speeds advertised reflect actual speeds experienced, to allow consumers the ability to make informed decisions when shopping around to find the most suitable package.”

Separately Ofcom’s study found that 8% of residential broadband connections were superfast (i.e. delivering internet download speeds of 25Mbps+), compared with 5% six months previously and just 2% in May 2011. Most of the recent speed increases are as a direct result of this slow but steady growth in adoption. It should be noted that superfast broadband services are currently available to around 60% of the UK.

Overall Virgin Media’s ‘up to’ 100Mbps package was the fastest UK service and delivered average actual speeds of 88.3Mbps over a 24 hour period, while the 38Mbps and 76Mbps (advertised) BTInfinity service delivered a real-world average of 32.2Mbps and 58.5Mbps respectively. Clearly BT’s latest 80Mbps FTTC solution has caused the gap between what is possible and what is delivered to widen as it stretches the technology’s capabilities.

Consumers whom suffer serious problems with their ISPs broadband speed can get help through Ofcom’s Voluntary Broadband Speeds Code of Practice (Version 2), which requires member ISPs (Listed Here) to explain to new customers the access line speed that they are likely to achieve at home, and to try to resolve any problems when speeds fall significantly below the estimate. According to the v2 Code, if the problem cannot be resolved then customers will be able to leave their provider, without penalty, within the first 3 months of a contract.

As a side note, it’s worth remembering that Ofcom’s study only reflects packages from 8 of the UK markets largest broadband providers. It’s also based on tests that occurred in just 1,831 homes, which were carried out via specially adapted routers. Quite a small sample size.

Ofcom’s UK Fixed-Line Broadband Performance Study May 2012
http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/broadband-research/may2012/Fixed_bb_speeds_May_2012.pdf

UPDATE 1:17pm

As usual we’ve had a bunch of new comments on the report reach our inbox over the past hour. Both are quoted below.

Boris Ivanovic, Chairman of ISP Hyperoptic, said:

If the UK wants to compete in a global arena, the area that must be addressed is the Government mindset. As it stands, the UK fails to make the top 10 countries for broadband speeds and doesn’t even figure on FTTH leader-boards. As a nation, it’s very much a follower than a leader and that needs to change.

The irony is that the UK is one of the biggest users of technology. The average Briton is spending 50 hours a week online and online shopping per person is higher than anywhere else. The UK internet economy has been valued at £82bn – worth almost 8.3% of GDP – more than any other country in the world. As such, high speed broadband is increasing moving from a “nice to have” to a necessity by which to do business. And as far as our personal lives go, it’s becoming essential from a social perspective and is judged by many to be more important to them than the likes of coffee, or even sex. Yet despite this adoption and appetite, there is a clear disconnect between the level of demand and the quality of the UK broadband infrastructure.

In order to address this mindset the Government needs have a much more ambitious vision and pragmatic strategy, supported by a financial investment. £530 million may sound like a lot, but it doesn’t when you put it into context. The Chinese government recently allocated 80% of its $303 billion infrastructure investment for broadband FTTH development. If you pro-rata that per person in the UK you would be looking at least £8 billion. By putting clear and ambitious investment in an infrastructure that has distinct correlation with the UK economy, it will deliver long term long term RoI. You have to question whether the £17 billion for HS2 would be better spent on a broadband infrastructure.

In addition to the investment, the Government needs to be clear about the goals they are setting for themselves and the market. Firstly, they need to agree universal coverage of high-speed internet. For 90 per cent of the population it’s imperative it is delivered via FTTH – the technology exists to bring standardised cost effective 1 Gig speeds to the majority of UK businesses and consumers. Secondly, for remote areas where it isn’t cost effective to pull fibre to, there are extension options to plug the gap – such as satellite broadband.

In summary, the country’s broadband strategy needs to be far more ambitious. If the UK is constantly trying to plug the demands of yesterday, it won’t be ready to enable the needs of tomorrow. The nay-sayers that ask why we need speeds of up to 1 Gig just need to look at how speeds have evolved over the last ten years. The industry is expanding at an astronomical rate and we need to think ahead and lead, rather than follow.”

Chris Holland, Communications Consumer Panel Member, said:

It’s good news that average broadband speeds are improving and that fewer internet service providers (ISPs) make speed claims in their advertising. The Panel has consistently argued that ISPs should stop using potentially misleading ‘up to’ speeds. We know that consumers on the same package can receive different speeds – depending, for example, on things like their distance from the exchange. That’s why we are calling on ISPs to provide equally prominent additional qualifying information if they advertise a headline ‘up to’ speed.

We also want to remind ISPs that the Code requires them to give potential new customers information about their likely broadband speeds early in the sales process, before they decide to buy a new service. Ofcom’s recent Voluntary Code of Practice on broadband speeds mystery shopping research found that 7% of consumers would not get a speed estimate via telephone sales – but, even when the consumer was given that information, in just over a third of the cases (34%) it was because the caller had to request it.

Consumers can only make an informed choice if they can easily compare different packages and providers. We will be watching developments in this area carefully to ensure that consumers are not disadvantaged.”

UPDATE 24th August 2012

It’s worth noting that Ofcom’s study also appears to exclude test results from Market 1 areas, which mostly reflect the last 10% of the UK’s most rural population where BT is usually the sole provider of broadband services. In reality this wouldn’t have much of an impact on the overall result as it only affects a tiny number of tests.

It would perhaps be useful to see a larger study or breakdown of broadband performance in Market 1 areas.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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20 Responses
  1. Avatar Phil

    Ofcom report is misleading as always is. My plusnet average ADSL2+ is around between 11 and 13 meg but down to between 9 and 11 lately. And my virgin media 100 meg is 104 meg before traffic shaping kick in and throttling down to 48 meg.

  2. Avatar SlowSomerset

    This just shows that the digital divide is getting bigger all the time same places just getting faster and faster while the others get left behind when the hell are BDUK going to get their fingers out.
    Another thing that would be useful is instead of saying that 60% of the population can get super fast broadband why not show areas by percentage, I think that will never happen as it would show superfast broadband plans by bt etc for the shambles it is.

  3. Avatar bobEvans

    What the report highlights very starkly is just how inadequate FTTC is. It is already falling in speed fast and that is with low take up and few areas with long lines. As the rollout increases the average speed could easilly fall to sub 25Mps

    • Avatar FibreFred

      What is inadequate about an average of 32 and 58Mbps? What can’t you do with those speeds?

      I don’t think that’s too bad to be honest considering the technology. 6Mbps shy of its 38Mbps and 18Mbps shy of it 76Mbps (which was always going to be the case as to get those speeds you have to be much closer)

      Especially when you compare it to Virgin’s 100Mbps offering that is 12Mbps shy of its advertised speeds, what is their excuse? Bet you won’t see Usain Bolt harping on about that on TV 😉

  4. Avatar Mr Consumer Gullible

    Interesting to see Virgin Media at the top as usual. 
     
    Try my up to 60Mb cable service when peak time kicks in and you’ll see it traffic shaped down to 11mb as my recent tests highlighted.  The tests were done over 5 working days between 14:30 and 18:00 and around 17:00 the drop off in speed is staggering.
     
    None of the advertisements are worth the html they are published in as they manipulate them as and when they see fit and Ofcom clearly condone it, we accept it and mores the pity still pay for it.

  5. Avatar SlowSomerset

    Would we accept this if your electric power or gas supply was reduced at peak time so you could not use your tv, kettle or heat your house properly at peak times I think the answer would be a big no so what happening here then.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Well for a start its totally different, how’s that?

      Also on a side note you do realise we are all going to be forced into paying to renew the ageing energy infrastructure through higher bills over the next 20-30yrs?

  6. Avatar FibreFred

    “2.17 The proportion of BT FTTC panellists receiving less than 90% of their 24-hour average speed at peak times was 2% for its ‘up to’ 76Mbit/s service and 3% for its ‘up to’ 38Mbit/s service, while among the three superfast Virgin Media cable services included in the analysis it was 10% for Virgin Media’s ‘up to’ 30Mbit/s and ‘up to’ 60Mbit/s services, and 24% for its ‘up to’ 100Mbit/s service. This suggests that while there is relatively little contention in BT’s FTTC network, levels of contention are higher in Virgin Media’s cable network.”

    So Ofcom recognise that Virgins network suffers high contention and BT’s FTTC has relatively little. I’m sure Deduction will enjoy reading that 😉

    • Avatar FibreFred

      In fact if you look at all of the other relevant graphs – latency, packet loss , dns resolution/failure and especially jitter Virgin come out very poorly indeed.

  7. It would be good to have a choice of superfast broadband – the choice of a few suppliers of ADSL is really no choice. Having decent broadband is an issue that the UK Government should be taking seriously, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland have because they have their own government that are more focussed on this issue. England has more focus on promises over delivery.

    It is no good getting to the General Election in May 2015 without promised delivery of superfast – because further promises will not wash.

  8. Avatar Happyness

    Looks like Virgin wins hands down again…
    “Overall Virgin Media’s ‘up to’ 100Mbps package was the fastest UK service and delivered average actual speeds of 88.3Mbps over a 24 hour period, while the 38Mbps and 76Mbps (advertised) BTInfinity service delivered a real-world average of 32.2Mbps and 58.5Mbps respectively.”

    Virgin Medias 100Mbps service is 11.7Mbps slower than advertised MAX speed

    BTs 76Mbps FTTC service is 17.5Mbps slower than its advertised MAX speed.

    In fact Virgins 60Mb service even almost pwns (as the kids say) BTs 76Mb FTTC service…
    Virgin Media ‘up to’ 60Mbit/s
    63.2Mbit/s to 65.5Mbit/s MAX
    54.7Mbit/s to 57.0Mbit/s 24 Hr
    52.3Mbit/s to 55.2Mbit/s 8-10pm
    BT ‘up to’ 76Mbit/s
    63.1Mbit/s to 68.8Mbit/s MAX
    55.3Mbit/s to 61.7Mbit/s 24Hr
    54.7Mbit/s to 61.1Mbit/s 8-10pm

    In fact looking at that Virgins 60Mb service also gets far closer to its advertised speed than BTs 76Mb FTTC product.

    NONE OF THIS IS A SHOCK THOUGH, we all know when it comes to advertising speeds BT were the original inventors of the MYTHICAL UPTO NONSENSE.

    Also interesting to read as the deployment of FTTC wears on its average speeds just keep getting lower… Its BT ADSL2+ all over again LOL

    Virgin wins, gets nearer its advertised speeds, clear to all now.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Deduction I see you’ve ignored my comments above 😉

    • Avatar Deduction02

      1 Wasnt me that posted previously
      2 Poster named Happyness is entirely right with every FIGURE they posted
      3 There is a 100Mb/15Mb BT Infinity package.
      4 Virgin Rules
      5 Get use to it

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      I assume you’re ignoring the stats around jitter etc, and also those on upload speeds? In other words, you’ve been taken in by the TV advertising, don’t want to think through the performance implications for cable highlighted by the key indicators for congestion, nor the relatively poor upload performance? Just saying. N

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      Oh, and let’s not forget the very real difference in approach between the companies on throttling. Read the FUP for each company for their top packages, note Virgin will throttle all traffic on excessive use, BT does not, is unlimited (may only restrict P2P, and then only at certain times).

    • Avatar Deduction02

      Comparing in the main the 2 top products those being 76Mb from BT and 100Mb from Virgin there are no real significant differences
      1) Page 38 of the report…
      http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/broadband-research/may2012/Fixed_bb_speeds_May_2012.pdf
      Clearly shows Peak time jitter for Virgin 100Mb is not that bad, the difference between it and jitter on the 76Mb BT FTTC product would not likely be noticed. its literally all around of 0.5ms difference. Over a 24 hour period this will equal out to be basically no difference, again as the chart shows with 24 times being all of 0.1ms difference.
      Id agree if your argument was BT 38Mb FTTC is better than the Virgin 30Mb product. (Thats more a significant difference) and ofcom mention this later down the page.

      2) Upload speed for many is still far less important than download speed, unless you are a heavy torrenter (which is throttled to death on virgin and BT) or you upload to to a cloud backup service TBs of data, then you are unlikely to regularly need 10+ Mb uprates. Nice to have i admit, needed for most, not really.

      3) Latency on BTs 76Mb FTTC and Virgins 100Mb product likewise is similar in that report. In fact none of it factors into making the virgin product worse, page 25 of the report clearly shows the Virgin product loads webpages quicker. The latency chart on page 28 clearly shows BT 76Mb FTTC latency peaks around 19ms while Virgin 100Mb peaks around 23ms so around a 5ms difference which again to most will hardly be noticed. Ping times of 23ms also in no way indicate congestion….. Ping would be VASTLY higher than that.

      4) Both BT and Virgin throttle just in different manners. BT infinity Option 1 products have a hard limit, if you go over that limit you pay £5 per gig more. Option 2 products ALL non time critical data (its not just P2P, newsgroups as an example also fall into non time critical data) is subject to throttling, BT vision is also given priority. Virgins approach is to have a data limit at specific times and reduce you speed if you go over that figure for a specific amount of time. Or the long and short of it NEITHER PRODUCT is really unlimited and IMO NEITHER company should be allowed to market it as such. Skys FTTC product is the only (for sensible money anyway) Next gen product that is not subject to traffic tinkering. Nothing is throttled AFAIK in any way on that.

      The long and short of it Virgin in no way is a congested mess like you have been babbling on about. It performs BETTER than 76Mb FTTC in some areas, similar in many other areas and maybe slightly worse in others. Both products are much of a muchness and perform better than each other in varying areas all of which the report shows and all of which people should take not of instead of people with a selective reading disorder.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      ^ I can only assume you haven’t read or don’t understand the Ofcom report. Or can but just don’t want to believe the results.

    • Avatar Deduction02

      ^ I can only assume you dont like the truth lol

  9. Avatar Happyness

    Oh and pity ofcom didnt cover the 100Mbps FTTC product, those results would had been even funnier.

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