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The Top 7 Fastest National UK Home Broadband and Mobile ISPs – Q1 2015

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015 (5:39 am) - Score 35,675

The first quarter of 2015 has seen the average Internet download speed for the largest seven national home broadband ISPs in the United Kingdom crawl up from 24Mbps at the end of 2014 to 24.72Mbps now, while the average for the country’s primary Mobile Broadband operators reached 14.42Mbps (up from 11.71Mbps in Q4 2014).

As usual some providers, such as BT and Virgin Media in particular, tend to perform better for download performance because they have a higher number of subscribers taking “superfast broadband” connections and this affects the average.

Naturally Virgin Media continues to deliver the fastest download speeds (54.17Mbps) because they’re urban focused and their entry-level cable package is a 50Mbps service. By comparison the other big ISPs have to cater for rural areas with slower ADSL lines, as well as faster ‘up to’ 80Mbps FTTC lines, which will hinder their performance.

But Virgin’s cable network isn’t perfect and indeed their average upstream performance (6.63Mbps) isn’t as strong as the ‘up to’ 10-20Mbps capability of some FTTC lines, which allows BT, Zen Internet and PlusNet to all etch out a small lead over the cable operator.

Generally the big home broadband ISPs have all shown a gradual improvement over their score at the end of last year. Since then Virgin has announced a major network expansion to 17 million premises by 2020, plus a trial of DOCSIS 3.1 technology (here), and BT has pledged to roll-out G.fast speeds of 500Mbps to “most homes” over the next decade (here). On top of that the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK programme is continuing to push faster connectivity into more areas, thus speeds should continue to improve.

The Fastest UK ISPs – Average Download Speed (Megabits per second)

No. Operator Q1 2015 Result Q4 2014 Result
1. Virgin Media 54.17Mbps 53.20Mbps
2. BT 25.97Mbps 25.61Mbps
3. Zen Internet 25.08Mbps 24.22Mbps
4. PlusNet 23.28Mbps 22.64Mbps
5. TalkTalk 16.20Mbps 15.25Mbps
6. Sky Broadband 14.27Mbps 13.59Mbps
7. EE 14.09Mbps 13.52Mbps

Average Speed = 24.72Mbps

The Fastest UK ISPs – Average Upload Speed

No. Operator Q1 2015 Result Q4 2014 Result
1. BT 7.96Mbps 7.64Mbps
2. Zen Internet 7.65Mbps 7.47Mbps
3. PlusNet 7.28Mbps 6.89Mbps
4. Virgin Media 6.63Mbps 6.43Mbps
5. Sky Broadband 4.49Mbps 3.79Mbps
6. EE 3.91Mbps 3.19Mbps
7. TalkTalk 2.95Mbps 2.73Mbps

Average Speed = 5.84Mbps

At this point we should say that the above ISPs aren’t the fastest home broadband operators and if we were to expand our list in order to include niche companies, which often only focus upon smaller or more specific areas, then we’d immediately need to include true fibre optic (FTTH/P) operators like Hyperoptic and Gigaclear (there are others but most don’t produce enough data to be included).

By way of a quick sample, Hyperoptic delivered average downloads of 132.02Mbps and uploads of 124.53Mbps, while Gigaclear produced downloads of 124.89Mbps and uploads of 147.10Mbps. Most of these ISPs also offer a 1000Mbps package, but not everybody takes the fastest / most expensive option and reliably speed testing such connections can be tricky (they push the limits of online speedtests, routers and even some computer Ethernet LAN ports etc.).

Meanwhile, on the Mobile Broadband (3G and 4G) front, performance among the four primary operators has continued to improve at a sharper pace and that’s largely thanks to the impact of faster 4G, which is being rapidly deployed across the country. No prizes for guessing which operator leads this pack, with EE still benefitting from a big head-start in the 4G race.

The Fastest Mobile Operators – Download Speed

No. Operator Q1 2015 Result Q4 2014 Result
1. EE 20.43Mbps 13.26Mbps
2. Vodafone 14.26Mbps 13.78Mbps
3. O2 11.63Mbps 10.69Mbps
4. Three UK 11.38Mbps 9.12Mbps

Average Speed = 14.42Mbps

The Fastest Mobile Operators – Upload Speed

No. Operator Q1 2015 Result Q4 2014 Result
1. EE 9.09Mbps 6.32Mbps
2. Vodafone 6.65Mbps 6.46Mbps
3. O2 5.80Mbps 5.47Mbps
4. Three UK 5.30Mbps 4.50Mbps

Average Speed = 6.71Mbps

It’s worth pointing out that EE’s sudden surge is likely to be more a reflection of how Ookla has cleaned up their old data for Orange and T-Mobile, which now correctly amalgamates those results under the parent EE brand. We suspect EE’s lead would be a lot less if we were able to separate out 4G and 3G performance, but the data source isn’t that constructive.

Going forward we’d anticipate that mobile speeds will continue to improve thanks to the ever expanding 4G coverage and the adoption of newer technologies, such as LTE-Advanced and Carrier Aggregation (here and here), which over the next few years have the potential to quadruple current performance.

Disclaimer: All of this data is gathered using Ookla’s universal Speedtest.net service and we then calculate the average speeds from only the providers listed above (Ookla’s overall figures are sadly too skewed by business and niche ISPs for us to use).

It’s also important to take average speeds like those above with a big pinch of salt. Every home is different and performance can be affected by all sorts of issues, many of which are beyond the provider’s ability to control (e.g. slow wifi / home networks or poor home wiring), thus we do not consider the above data to be a reliable barometer for individual users, but it can help to highlight general changes in the market.

Ookla’s data also attempts to reflect the fastest sustainable throughput performance by dropping a chunk of the slowest tests and a smaller slice of the fastest results for each ISP, which has its merits but also skews the results a bit.

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