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UPDATE UK Fixed Line Home Broadband ISP Speeds Hit 14.7Mbps Says Ofcom

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013 (11:01 am) - Score 2,438
fast broadband uk

Ofcom has published its latest biannual report into the real-world performance of fixed line broadband ISP speeds in the United Kingdom, which found that the average internet download rate had climbed to 14.7Mbps (Megabits per second) and that’s up from 12Mbps six months earlier (+22%). But rural areas continue to suffer from slow speeds.

Unfortunately the Digital Speed Divide between urban and rural areas shows little sign of closing. The average download speed for urban areas now comes in at 26.4Mbps (up from 21.4Mbps last year), while sub-urban areas saw 17.9Mbps (up from 13.2Mbps) and rural folk get just 9.9Mbps (up from 5.9Mbps). Elsewhere the average upload speed reached 1.8Mbps (up from 1.4Mbps in November 2012).

ofcom_average_uk_broadband_isp_speeds_august_2013

The primary reason for this rural vs urban divide is because rural homes often connect via longer copper lines (slower speeds via ADSL) and are usually last to benefit from upgrades to the latest access technologies (sparse populations are often commercially unviable for BT). So far the commercial roll-out of superfast broadband (25-30Mbps+) services has tended to focus on urban areas, which means that this performance gap has only widened.

Claudio Pollack, Ofcoms Consumer Group Director, said:

We are yet to see the full effect of Government measures to improve broadband availability in rural areas, which should also help to boost speeds. We also anticipate 4G mobile to have a positive effect on mobile broadband availability across the UK.”

The government’s plan to spend £1.2bn of state aid (not including the match-funded contributions from the EU and local authorities) on making superfast broadband available to 95% of the United Kingdom by 2017 could help to close the gap. But the related rollout has only just begun and the most remote rural areas will still have to wait awhile before they see the benefit.

ofcom_average_uk_broadband_isp_speeds_by_technology_2013

Meanwhile the proportion of broadband connections classed as “superfast” (i.e. offering an “advertised speed” of 30Mbps+) is also on the increase and has now hit 19% of residential broadband connections (up from 14% in November 2012).

The table above clearly shows how Virgin Media’s “cable” and BT’s FTTC/P technologies (not to mention similar FTTx services from KC, Digital Region, Hyperoptic and others etc.) have also continued to push average speeds upwards. In particular last year’s FTTC upgrade from a headline rate of 40Mbps to 80Mbps and Virgin’s double speed programme have clearly had an impact.

It’s particularly interesting to see how this performance breaks down between the major ISPs (below). But it should be noted that no data for EE, Sky Broadband or TalkTalk’s superfast fibre broadband (FTTC) services have been included, which is largely due to limited uptake and thus a lack of viable test data.

ofcom_average_download_speed_by_isp_may_2013

Of the 14 ISP packages included in the report, Virgin Media’s 120Mbps package achieved the fastest download speeds (average of 112.6Mbps) but BT and PlusNet’s FTTC based packages weren’t too shabby either. It’s also interesting to note that PlusNet appears to be one of the strongest, at least among the bigger ISPs, for older ADSL2+ products.

Claudio Pollack, Ofcoms Consumer Group Director, added:

With the average household now owning more than three types of internet-connected devices, consumers are demanding more than ever from their broadband service. Internet providers have responded by upgrading customers to higher speed services and launching new superfast packages.”

In total the packages listed in Ofcom’s report accounted for more than half of UK residential broadband connections during May 2013, although it should be noted that the regulators results are based off the installation of special monitoring routers (SamKnows) in 2,218 homes around the country (these performed 736 million separate tests on the various ISP connections). A somewhat limited sample size.

The regulator now states that it will “shortly” also be publishing new research into whether ISPs need to improve the information they provide on Traffic Management policies, which is also a key requirement of the new EU proposals to “Safeguard” an open internet and Net Neutrality (here).

Ofcoms UK Fixed Line Broadband Speed Study (May 2013 Data)
http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/../Fixed_bb_speeds_May_2013.pdf

UPDATE 11:41am

It’s worth pointing out that the ASA’s guidelines for tackling misleading promotions of “up to” broadband speeds (full summary) also requires ISPs to “demonstrate that [their] advertised speeds are achievable by at least 10% of users“.

Meanwhile people who do suffer serious speed problems can sometimes 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’re likely to achieve at home, and to try to resolve any problems when speeds fall significantly below the estimate.

If the speed problem cannot be resolved then customers should be able to leave their provider, without penalty, within the first 3 months of a contract.

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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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44 Responses
  1. Avatar New_Londoner

    Good to see the continuing improvement in both upload and download speeds, with the biggest % improvement in rural areas even before the impact of the BDUK contracts is felt. Useful stats based on a reliable methodology.

  2. Avatar DTMark

    If the average ADSL speed is in the region of 5 to 6 Meg..

    And rurals are predominantly, almost exlcusively served by ADSL solutions..

    How can the average rural speed be 9.9 Meg?

    • IMO it’s such a limited sample size, which is quite a big problem for questions like this, that it would only take a tiny number of fibre or cable solutions to push the overall average up.

    • Avatar JNeuhoff

      This figure actually represents a deepening digital divide, has nothing to do with improvements in broadband services for everybody.

    • Avatar DanielM

      I actually get 18.7Mbps on adsl now. Dunno why these adsl results are always so low.

    • Avatar DTMark

      From memory the average line length is a bit over 3km.

      According to the Kitz site, a good quality copper line of about that length would have an ADSL2+ IP Profile of about 6600kbps.

      Factor in variable line quality and aluminium lines, then contention, and you end up with a real world average speed of 5 to 6 Meg.

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      @JNeuhoff
      Quote “This figure actually represents a deepening digital divide, has nothing to do with improvements in broadband services for everybody.”

      Actually the rate of increase of download speeds in rural areas is higher than in urban areas. Yes it’s from a lower base but nevertheless it is increasing by a greater % than in rural areas. And remember, this is before many of the BDUK schemes have started to deploy, so if anything you’ll see the increase accelerate soon.

      So how do you conclude it “represents a deepening digital divide”?

    • Avatar Ignitionnet

      Lots of rural areas where there’s a village clustered around an exchange so average line length isn’t that high.

      Urban areas can spread out many kilometres from an exchange because they are, well, urban.

      There are of course exceptions where rural areas are served by an exchange in a neighbouring village or worse, however there are many rural areas which are actually so nicely clustered that they are cheaper than urban areas to deploy FTTP to.

  3. Avatar Slow Somerset

    Does anyone really know what the BDUK Impact has been up to now or how many houses have benefited, my guess is no one does or it is very few, so the Digital Divide will be here for ages yet if not always.

  4. Avatar dragoneast

    Is this just the Ofcom/SamKnows monitoring boxes? If so aren’t they a very select sample, and self-selected since you have to apply as far as I’m aware. I’m also not sure whether those on 20CN services with low allowances are also discouraged due to the bandwidth usage. Or are ADSL2+ services a minimum requirement?

    That’s th’trouble with broadband: despite the (somewhat ad hoc) attempts at explanation of sites like this one, the quality of information is so poor that you are never certain you are talking about the same thing – and you can draw any conclusion you want. Does anyone actually understand broadband provision in this country?

  5. Avatar ant

    “Virgin Media’s 120Mbps package achieved the fastest download speeds (average of 112.6Mbps)”

    Congratulations to them, my brother is very happy with Virgin and gets similar speeds on his 120Mb service, I only wish it were available in my area. My FTTC does not even reach 60Mb 🙁

    • Avatar DanielM

      FTTC (Which is DSL) could be looked at the very same was as adsl2+ only from the house to the cabinet and not exchange.

      its fake fibre. one of bt’s silly ideas.

    • Avatar Kyle

      Mine didn’t even reach 11Mbps!

      However, I’m deemed to be convered via a ‘superfast’ service…

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      @Ant
      Suggest you read the report through. Many of the congestion-related stats show cable in a pretty poor light compared to FTTx. Also the % speed offered vs advertised is lower than that for FTTx.

      @DanielM
      As for FTTC being “fake fibre”, the clue about what it comprises is in the acronym, why is fibre to the cabinet fake? Whether it’s using VDSL (FTTC as used by Openreach and others) or DOCSIS (cable), it takes fibre much close to the end user than say standard broadband delivered over copper from the exchange.

    • Avatar DanielM

      ” it takes fibre much close to the end user than say standard broadband delivered over copper from the exchange.”

      still doesn’t make it fibre though does it.. its DSL…. but it’s one of those strange things are country and gov allows. Just like we seem to be calling LTE 4g. but in reality the technical standards do not approve and LTE is 3g (LTE-A is 4g though)..

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      DanielM
      It’s fibre to the cabinet, nothing more, nothing less.

      Why is this an issue for you? If it does what I want, why would I care about the media, or indeed the transmission protocol?

    • Avatar FibreFred

      DanielM FTTC is part of the FTTX group, look it up.

    • Avatar JNeuhoff

      @DanielM: I agree with you, copper VDSL should not be called fibre broadband, because it isn’t.

      If it was a genuine fibre broadband, people wouldn’t report such low speeds like 11Mmbps for a 40mbps FTTC, or only 60mbps for a 80mbps FTTC. We are dealing with up-to whatever speeds, not genuine fibre speeds. A whopping 25% of VDSL copper lines are slower than 32mbps! A far cry from proper fibre broadband. Not even naked VDSL is available in the UK, which could have been used for affordable multi VDSL line bonding.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      So you also agree that Virgin’s Fibre broadband shouldn’t be labelled as fibre also? Bearing in mind in most cases FTTC brings fibre closer to the home than Virgin does

      As for 25% of VDSL lines being sub < 32Mbps… source?

    • Avatar Ignitionnet

      Being stuck on sub-2Mb ADSL I’m deeply moved that your FTTC only manages 60Mb.

      However do you cope on a day to day basis only being able to stream 6 sets of Netflix Super HD simultaneously?

    • Avatar DanielM

      @New_Londoner

      “It’s fibre to the cabinet, nothing more, nothing less.

      Why is this an issue for you? If it does what I want, why would I care about the media, or indeed the transmission protocol?”

      I have a problem with it because it’s not actually fibre. a real fibre connection would bring fibre to the house giving all fibre options. such as fast speeds and not up to speeds. on top of that it won’t suffer with weather problems like dsl does. and obviously less ping and hardly any jitter.

    • Avatar ant

      ‘Being stuck on sub-2Mb ADSL…’
      Of course you are.

  6. Avatar FibreFred

    Good speeds from FTTC then 🙂

  7. Avatar ant

    @Ant
    “Suggest you read the report through. Many of the congestion-related stats show cable in a pretty poor light compared to FTTx. Also the % speed offered vs advertised is lower than that for FTTx.”

    Page 22
    “Figure 4.3 shows that latency was lower for the superfast ISP packages covered by our research than it was for the ADSL2+ services, with packet loss being similar across all ISP packages. Average latency levels were similar across all of the superfast packages included in our research, clustered between 15 and 20ms. However our research indicates that packet loss tended to be lower on BT and Plusnet’s FTTC services than on Virgin Media’s superfast cable services, although it is unlikely that any of the levels of packet loss and latency observed among the superfast ISP packages covered in our research would have a noticeable impact on the consumers’ experiences of undertaking most online tasks.”

    Looking at the charts latency was actually lower on Certain Virgin packages at certain times of the day than on BT FTTC packages. Chart on Page 24.

    The only one significantly different (IE LOWER) was Plusnets 76Mb package. They should actually be congratulated on their significantly lower figure.

    The only what comes close to ‘poor light’ was Virgin 60Mb service. The 30Mb, 100Mb and 120Mb packages all had pretty much the same PEAK latency as BT 76Mb FTTC.

    Contention/Packet loss (page 22 chart) was pretty much even across all the products. As they say in their report anything with around 0.50% packet loss you are unlikely to notice, and the difference between 0.20% and 0.50% packet loss you will not notice in anything except benchmarking.

    The only thing FTTC wins outright in with no question of doubt is UPLOAD speed.

    Latency, contention, packet loss ALL of them in real life are pretty much similar be it FTTC or Virgin Media.

    The long and short FTTC is far better for upload speeds, Virgin Media far better for download speed on their top 120Mb package being around 33% faster than any FTTC product.

    Which is more important to people comes down to individual but i better most here rely on downloading more than they do uploading data.

    If you want fast broadbnad Virgin is the obvious choice for a typical user and that is of course if BT and Virgin were the only two providers on the planet.

    Data does not lie, Virgin apart from upload speed and despite this being a limited test of only a couple hundred users or so, wins in terms of download speed and by a considerable margin, latency and packet loss hardly even enters the equation as they are all pretty close in that regard. (except the plusnet figure of course).

    Well done to Ofcom for collecting the data.

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      @Ant
      If you read even further, the section on packet loss is pretty helpful, as is the one on jitter.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      *Cough* Ant

      Not sure what you are reading Mark, sorry Ant.. but once again the Ofcom report paints a poor picture for Virgin when it comes to Jitter and Packet loss, they’ve done a bit better in some other areas this year but still plenty of work to do.

    • Avatar ant

      “@Ant
      If you read even further, the section on packet loss is pretty helpful, as is the one on jitter.”

      No idea what you are on about. Page 36 shows packet loss data and as mentioned all are under 0.60% and as mentioned you will not see any difference because it is so similar, in fact for the 8-10pm period it actually says ‘NO Differences’. You will not notice anything on any service with less than 0.6% packet loss. The only time you would see any real difference is when benchmarking.

      As to jitter page 34 shows UPSTREAM jitter on BT FTTC ‘is better than’ Virgin while page 36 shows DOWNSTREAM jitter on Virgin ‘is better than’ on BT FTTC.

      Again, i imagine people rely on the downstream of their connection more than the upstream so again id sooner have Virgin, who once again are better on the downstream.

      BT also lose when it comes to DNS resolution so again its all pretty much nip and tuck, except what matter which is who is faster and thats Virgin.

    • Avatar Ignitionnet

      ‘Again, i imagine people rely on the downstream of their connection more than the upstream so again id sooner have Virgin, who once again are better on the downstream.’

      Tell gamers and those using VoIP / video, the only ones who realistically would care about jitter, that they rely more on downstream than upstream.

      You might want to look at the numbers too. Virgin aren’t just a little worse they are a lot worse on upstream jitter due to the nature of the technology and their usage of it.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      “You will not notice anything on any service with less than 0.6% packet loss”

      Oh ant/mark/keith/deduction, you really do need to stop. Gamers will notice

    • Avatar ant

      Online gamers are not most people or your typical user of the internet, but a small fraction. I have read the report and as pointed out to you twice it clearly states “…it is unlikely that any of the levels of packet loss and latency observed among the superfast ISP packages covered in our research would have a noticeable impact on the consumers’ experiences of undertaking most online tasks.”

      If you believe otherwise contact Ofcom to inform them they are wrong. Virgin had better downstream speed, better DNS resolution, better downstream jitter, on par packet loss, and better latency on some products. Virgin is superior, they were found to be the fastest not only in this Ofcom report, TBB testing, broadband.co.uk and netflix indexing.

      What you think is superior when so many reports and data say otherwise is irrelevant.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Show your Ofcom reports to gamers on Virgin and ask them if they feel any better because after all they are a minority.

      Facts are they are still the worst of the bunch for gaming, in that respect no real change to the last report on that front for your previous ISP of choice 😉

    • Avatar ant

      I agree there is no real change they are still faster than BT with lower downstream jitter, much as you would like to dismiss several report findings your armchair view did not collect as much data on the subject

  8. Avatar dragoneast

    No doubt I’ve overlooked some subtle nuance, but I’m not surprised to discover that a service with an advertised 120Mb speed is over a third faster than the best one with an advertised top speed of 76Mb can achieve (and I know it’s dependent on distance from the cabinet, I’ve personal experience). Though if the “typical user” requires that extra speed, then clearly I’ve never met one.

  9. Avatar RuralKent

    A problem with using average speed as the key measure is that a few very fast connections can really push up the average, while the majority see no improvement.

    How about a different measure – the average time to download a 1GB file, say. This measure is much more heavily influenced by the slowest connections rather than the fastest, but is no more “wrong” than measuring the average speed. It would, I suspect, paint a rather different picture. It is likely to show that while VM and BT’s competition for the highest “headline” speeds is indeed pushing up the average speed, there are still significant numbers of us stuck on very slow connections who have seen little or no improvement in recent years.

    For a typical domestic customer, an increase in speed from 50Mbps to 100Mbps will hardly be noticed. A 1Mbps to 2Mbps doubling on the other hand is very significant. Let’s reflect this in how we report the stats.

  10. Avatar Olorin

    “It’s also interesting to note that PlusNet appears to be one of the strongest, at least among the bigger ISPs, for older ADSL2+ products.”

    Easy reason for that. By default, Plusnet cap all ADSL2+ connections to 448Kb/s upstream, which boosts their downstream up higher than other ISPs who commit 1Mb/s or 1.3Mb/s. I will note Plusnet customers can request their connections to be uncapped to 1.3Mb/s should they wish.

    Source: http://community.plus.net/plusnet-adsl2-faq/ point 7

    • Avatar Ignitionnet

      Hrm nope, capping the ADSL2+ upstream at 448kbps has absolutely no impact on the downstream.

      The only thing that swaps upstream for downstream is ADSL2+ Annex M, which these aren’t.

    • Avatar Ignitionnet

      Also just to point out, from your source:

      ‘7. What’s the upload speed?

      The maximum upload speed on ADSL2+ is 1Mbps. However, this maximum upload speed can create an increased possibility of broadband faults for some customers. To ensure that the majority of our ADSL2+ customers do not experience avoidable problems we provide a standard upstream connection of 448kbps to our ADSL2+ customers. This will not affect your download speeds. Where upload speeds are important to you we can increase this to 1Mbps for you.’

      ‘This will not affect your download speeds.’

      Neither positively nor negatively.

    • Avatar Olorin

      Actually it does. It can make a big difference to mediocre lines in fact. Your upstream tones are always at the start of the DSL spectrum. Capping to 448k does not use as many tones as 1.3Mbit does, for obvious reasons. The otherwise unused spectrum is then re-mapped as part of downstream, increasing overall downstream speed. If you’re syncing 7+Mb/s this 448k cap could give you as much as 1Mbit extra to your downstream.

    • Avatar DanielM

      @Olorin

      Changing noise margins can also do that too.

      for example when i am on 6db i can sync at around 18.4 but when i am on 3db i can get 20.52Mbps sync

    • Avatar Ignitionnet

      ‘Actually it does. It can make a big difference to mediocre lines in fact. Your upstream tones are always at the start of the DSL spectrum. Capping to 448k does not use as many tones as 1.3Mbit does, for obvious reasons. The otherwise unused spectrum is then re-mapped as part of downstream, increasing overall downstream speed.’

      That doesn’t happen. The spectrum is not dynamic and is never remapped for very clear technical reasons, not least of which is crosstalk.

    • Avatar Ignitionnet

      Also to explain spectrum isn’t unused. If it were SNR margins wouldn’t change even if bit rates were capped. The reason margins are higher is that the required bit loading is spread throughout the available tones not concentrated into a few tones. Not only does this ensure increased stability but it also reduces cross talk by spreading the transmit power more widely.

      A line concentrating all its transmit power into a small frequency range would cause issues for other lines in the bundle.

      As previously mentioned crosstalk prevents spectrum remapping. People on ADSL2+ Annex M see the impact of this in quite a big way; their upstream bit allocations drop prodigiously when they go into the extended upstream tones due to cross talk with downstream signals near the exchange.

      Modems getting to dynamically adjust their own spectrum would be a nightmare which is why none of the ADSL standards support it. Have a look at the various members of the G.992 family, not one allows this, the spectrum is clearly defined for each and every standard and only certain clearly defined profiles permitted as specified in the ANFP.

  11. Avatar ant

    Yes Plusnet did better than BT threself

  12. Avatar dragoneast

    This sort of report is like a picture negative, it cannot show the detail which is the decider on an individual connection (which is what consumers care about). It’s lovely to discuss statistics, but apart from keeping us amused what does it achieve? There are local factors which have a vital effect on the connections of many people, including congestion, distance (in the case of DSL), poor maintenance and network infrastructure issues. So it’s like those mpg figures in car advertisements, however good the statistical methodology they reflect the real world experience of consumers more in the exception than the rule.

    I think one of the biggest bugbears of broadband in the UK is the lack of information and communication when your connection is sub-optimal; all the effort goes into promotion and marketing, and Ofcom too often seem to just join in the fray and act as cheerleader.

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