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Ookla Award the Fastest BIG UK Mobile and Fixed Line Broadband ISPs

Thursday, November 17th, 2016 (8:12 am) - Score 1,487

The company behind the popular Speedtest.net service, Ookla, has published its annual ‘Speedtest® Market Report‘ for the United Kingdom and revealed that we rank just 30th in the world for average fixed line broadband speeds (Virgin Media is the fastest ISP) and 32nd for Mobile Broadband (EE is top).

Before we get started on the summary, it’s important to note that Ookla has a tendency to weight their results more toward the positive side, thus the speeds they report may often appear better / more inflated than almost all other studies. Much of this occurs because they drop a sizeable chunk of the slowest tests and a smaller slice of the fastest results for each ISP.

On top of that Ookla has adopted a very narrow focus with their report, which only examines the largest national providers in the market and ignores the significantly faster / smaller alternative networks (e.g. Hyperoptic, Gigaclear and B4RN’s 1000Mbps FTTP/H connections). There are a few other caveats too, but we’ll cover this later.

Sera Tajima, Ookla’s Report Author, said:

“It’s not surprising that a highly-developed country like the United Kingdom (UK) has the fifth highest fixed broadband subscription rate and the fourth highest mobile subscription rate in the world. What might be surprising is the inconsistency of connectivity. Large cities like Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester have access to fast internet speeds on high-quality infrastructure while London is dotted with “not-spots” that have no broadband access, no mobile connectivity, or both.”

Now on to the results.

UK Fixed Line Broadband Speeds

According to Ookla’s report, the average fixed broadband speeds in the UK for Q2-Q3 2016 are 39.76Mbps for download (up 18% over Q2-Q3 2015) and 8.84Mbps for upload (a 23% increase over Q2-Q3 2015. The UK ranks 30th in the world for average download speed and 18th in Europe, coming in just behind Bulgaria, Moldova and Germany.

The European average download speed was 25.94Mbps in Q2-Q3 2016, although the UK’s upload speed comparison is bleaker with the UK coming in at 67th in the world and its average upload speed is less than half the European average of 19.92Mbps.

The Top 5 Major ISPs – Avg. Download Speed
1. Virgin Media 161.33Mbps
2. BT 63.23Mbps
3. Plusnet 59.53Mbps
4. TalkTalk 37.57Mbps
5. Sky Broadband 36.27Mbps

The Top 5 Major ISPs – Avg. Upload Speed
1. BT 18.61Mbps
2. Plusnet 18.41Mbps
3. TalkTalk 14.71Mbps
4. Virgin Media 12.31Mbps
5. Sky Broadband 9.61Mbps

Take note that some providers will have a higher proportion of slower ‘up to’ 20Mbps ADSL customers than others and this can skew the average result, but it doesn’t mean the provider itself is “slow“. This is why Virgin Media does so well because all of their customers are on a superior HFC Cable or FTTP network and their entry-level package is a respectable 50Mbps, with top speeds going up to 300Mbps.

Similarly BT has a high proportion of up to 40-80Mbps FTTC (VDSL2) “fibre broadband” lines, which puts them above others with the same service types where slower ADSL remains much more dominant.

One other thing to mention is that Ookla’s data cannot distinguish between residential and business connections. Indeed their report notes that Virgin Media showed speeds of almost 1Gbps in several regions, including Farnham, Abbotsley and Badsey. But that performance is not available to home users.

UK Mobile (3G + 4G) Broadband Speeds

The average download speed on modern Mobile Broadband devices in Q2-Q3 2016 was 24.63Mbps (a 38% rise over Q2-Q3 2015), while the average upload speed of 10.11Mbps was a 31% improvement over Q2-Q3 2015.

As with fixed line broadband, the UK’s average mobile speeds are slower than might be expected on a global scale. The country’s average mobile download speed ranks 32nd in the world, 22nd in Europe, closely following countries like Bulgaria, France, and Montenegro. The UK ranks 40th globally for average mobile upload speed.

The Top 4 Mobile Operators – Avg. Download Speed
1. EE 32.83Mbps
2. Three UK 22.46Mbps
3. Vodafone 21.24Mbps
4. O2 15.91Mbps

The Top 4 Mobile Operators – Avg. Upload Speed
1. EE 12.09Mbps
2. Three UK 9.61Mbps
3. Vodafone 8.93Mbps
4. O2 8.21Mbps

As usual EE comes top, just as they tend to do with almost all other studies and that’s largely due to their superior 4G network coverage. It’s worth considering that most other reports into mobile network performance tend to look almost exclusively at urban areas and will use a set base of hardware, while Ookla reflects millions of tests from masses of different devices and locations.

Pinning the reality of mobile performance down is difficult due to the variable nature of the service and in that sense Ookla’s output is perhaps much more usefully reflective of UK performance than the results for fixed line providers, but experiences do differ.

Other Notes

It’s important to take average speeds like those above with a big pinch of salt. Every connection 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 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.

On top of that speedtests tend to reflect the connections that people use, but crucially they do NOT always reflect the availability of faster networks. For example, roughly 91% of premises within the United Kingdom are covered by a “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) capable fixed line network, yet 56% of fixed broadband lines are still on old and slow pure copper ADSL packages.

When the UK is ranked in terms of fixed line network availability, we tend to perform considerably better (EU Broadband Progress Report 2016 – Power Point Slides).

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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.
Leave a Comment
7 Responses
  1. GNewton says:

    As the report says, the UK only ranks 30th in the world for average download speed and 18th in Europe. The UK’s upload speed comparison is even worse: The UK only comes in at 67th in the world and its average upload speed is less than half the European average of 19.92 Mbps.

    This is a far cry from the UK becoming a leading digital economy, and a reflection of failed government and Ofcom policies.

    1. AndyH says:

      It’s also telling despite 91% NGA availability, more than 50% of lines are on older ADSL packages. A lot of countries have retired ADSL in areas where VDSL/cable has become available.

      I used to live in an area where there was FTTP availability, but uptake was less than 30% (based on a survey by the parish council). The average ADSL speeds in the area were between 1-3Mbps. In a large number of cases, people just did not know FTTP was available (clearly due to the lack of major ISPs selling and advertising the service).

    2. MikeW says:

      The country has approx 25 million fixed broadband connections, of which 11 million are connected via an NGA, superfast-capable, medium.

      The other 14 million have not yet upgraded; Of course, there is a portion that would upgrade if NGA were available to them … but this is likely to be around 1-2m.

      That leaves 12m or so that are quite happy on the slow-but-cheap packages they already have. Their choice obviously has a huge impact on the averages.

    3. Chris P says:

      U/D speeds are like the speedo in a car, my car goes up to 140, but unless i go on a race track or motorway i’m rarely going to go over 30, her speedo goes upto 120 but again the car rarely goes over 30 despite dual carriageways and motorways being a few miles from where we live.

      the point is that regardless of the top speed people want to pay for the bare minimum especially when they will rarely if ever reach the top speed of their connection in normal operation.

      If all connections cost £40 per month regardless of speed but the operators got more of that £40 the faster service they provided you can guarantee they’ll be supplying the fastest access speeds possible where they can, especially if they got a bonus for supply to challenging areas.

    4. 125uS says:

      There’s 196 countries in the world GNewton – That puts the UK in the top 15%. When you consider that the UK is amongst the cheapest in the world – that looks pretty impressive.

      Consider also that one way to achieve high speeds at a country level is to simply not serve rural areas at all. A fair comparison must include availability and price as well as speed.

  2. 125uS says:

    A 38% increase in a single year is quite significant.

  3. Billy says:

    I have a rock solid 8 Mbps ADSL2+ connection that is ideal for reading the news and buying junk off eBay. I see no benefit to upgrading. Upgrading == spending twice as much money doing the same old thing. Obviously when Santa brings me my 750 Petabyte SSD and I decide to mirror the intarweb I will need to reconsider my position.

    After 10 years of sub 1 Mbps speeds, 8 Mbps for half the price is worth the upgrade. When I can get 40 Mbps with another corresponding 50% price cut, it will be time to upgrade again.

    Sorry if I’m ruining the UKs rankings but I’m sure there’s a politician out there that can pontificate about the UK being a world leader in digital doings, and thus cancel out my perceived detrimental behaviour.

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