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Ookla 2018 Study Awards the UK Fastest Mobile and Broadband ISPs

Wednesday, January 31st, 2018 (12:13 pm) - Score 2,175
fast broadband uk

Ookla, which runs the popular Speedtest.net service, has today published their annual ‘Speedtest Market Report‘ for the United Kingdom. Overall the country ranked 29th in the world for average fixed line broadband ISP speeds (Virgin Media is the fastest) and just 46th for mobile (EE is the fastest).

Before we get started it’s important to note that Ookla has a tendency to weight their results more toward the positive side, thus their reported speeds may often appear better (extremely inflated) than 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 only appears to examine the largest national providers in the market and generally ignores the often significantly faster or smaller alternative networks, such a Gigaclear and B4RN etc. (although Hyperoptic does pop-up when looking at UK cities). Furthermore the same caveats apply to this study as they would any other report based on internet speed testing, but we’ll come back to that later.

UK Fixed Line Broadband Speeds

According to Ookla’s fixed speeds report, which is based on data gathered between Q3-Q4 2017 from 5.18 million users (25.38 million tests), the average “mean” fixed broadband speed in the UK is 50.16Mbps for download (up from 39.76Mbps in 2016) and 9.96Mbps for upload (up from 8.84Mbps in 2016). Perhaps surprisingly, Scotland tops the table with a download of 70.29Mbps (this result is highly questionable).

ookla_2018_uk_broadband_speeds

Overall the United Kingdom ranked 29th in the world for download speed, putting us between Aruba and Portugal, and 77th for upload speed, putting us between Aruba and the Cayman Islands. This also means that we’re 25.1% above the global average.

The five fastest administrative regions in the UK are all in Scotland: West Dunbartonshire (98.97Mbps), Inverclyde (97.38Mbps), Falkirk (89.25Mbps), Dundee City (89.23Mbps) and Renfrewshire (88.39Mbps). The fastest county in Wales, Swansea, comes in at 59.31Mbps, while the fastest in Northern Ireland, Belfast, comes in at 38.53Mbps.

Meanwhile the fastest ISP was found to be cable operator Virgin Media, which is hardly surprising given that Ookla has only focused upon the largest providers. Virgin’s EuroDOCSIS based hybrid fibre coax (cable) network is focused on urban areas and also much more capable (top package of 350Mbps) than Openreach’s national ‘up to’ 80Mbps FTTC (VDSL2) or 20Mbps ADSL2+ platform (most ISPs use OR’s network).

Sadly neither full fibre (FTTP/H) nor G.fast coverage is currently significant enough in the UK to have any real impact below.

The Top 5 Major ISPs – Speed Score
1. Virgin Media 79.91Mbps
2. Plusnet 24.31Mbps
3. EE 20.90Mbps
4. TalkTalk 16.83Mbps
5. Sky Broadband 16.69Mbps

We should also point out that Ookla’s “Speed Score” above is a bit odd because it incorporates a measure of each provider’s download and upload speed to rank network performance (90% of the final Speed Score is attributed to download speed and the remaining 10% to upload speed). We rather wish they’d just given a straight split of download and upload speeds.

Curiously Ookla also decided to include BT’s siblings, EE and Plusnet, but not the main operator itself. Apparently they only looked at ISPs with 3% or more of total test samples in the market for the period and clearly BT fell outside of the top five.

Fastest ISPs by City

Next we also get a table of the fastest ISPs by UK city, which sees both Virgin Media and Hyperoptic get a mention.

City City-wide Download (Mbps) City-wide Upload (Mbps) Fastest ISP Speed Score
Edinburgh, Scotland 75.97 9.21 Virgin Media 80.01
Glasgow, Scotland 60.31 9.78 Virgin Media 74.51
Birmingham, England 59.99 8.6 Virgin Media 78.75
Leeds, England 58.46 11.58 Virgin Media 78.67
Cardiff, Wales 57 10.35 Virgin Media 68.93
Liverpool, England 55.58 8.88 Virgin Media 77.82
London, England 52.53 16.12 Hyperoptic 117.4
Manchester, England 47.21 12.45 Hyperoptic 96.21
Sheffield, England 43.21 8.98 Virgin Media 68.95
Belfast, Northern Ireland 38.62 7.16 Virgin Media 74.9

UK Mobile (3G/4G) Broadband Speeds

Finally, Ookla has also published some results for the fastest mobile operators, which is based on data gathered from 850,000 users and 2.62 million tests. Overall the average “meanMobile Broadband speed in the UK is 26.36Mbps for download (up only a little from 24.63Mbps in 2016) and 11.05Mbps for upload (up from 10.11Mbps in 2016). This time England tops the table with a download of 26.87Mbps.

ookla_2018_uk_mobile_broadband_speeds

At this point it will come as no surprise to find that EE (BT) has been named as the fastest Mobile Network Operator (MNO) in all four countries (most other studies report a similar outcome). This is hardly a surprise given that EE tends to have the most advanced 4G+ network, with the widest coverage. On top of that they also own more Mobile-friendly radio spectrum than their rivals, which is excellent for Carrier Aggregation.

The Top 4 Mobile Carriers – Speed Score

1. EE 32.99Mbps
2. Vodafone 21.15Mbps
3. Three UK 20.39Mbps
4. O2 16.95Mbps

One other thing that may be worth considering is that some networks, such as Three UK, attract a larger number of data hungry users due to their “all-you-can-eat” plans. This may put pressure on network congestion and that in turn could also influence service performance.

Other Notes

Reports like this serve a useful purpose in that they help to keep track of change, particularly in terms of take-up via faster connectivity solutions. Nevertheless it’s also very important to take such reports with a pinch of salt and to avoid conflating them with network availability, which is particularly relevant for fixed line providers.

Generally it’s estimated that fixed line “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) capable networks should now be available to around 95% of UK premises (rising to 98% by around 2020), although in reality many people have yet to upgrade (not everybody can afford, is aware of or even feels the need to do so). As a result a little under half the country still subscribe to significantly slower copper ADSL lines and these will drag the results down.

Lest we forget that connection performance can also be impacted by many other factors, such as poor home wiring, user choice of package speed (e.g. even if 1Gbps is available most people may still pick a slower / cheaper option), hardware choice, slow WiFi, network congestion and so forth.

Something else to consider is that speed tests often muddle up residential and business connectivity, which can be a big problem where higher capacity links are concerned. A single multi-Gigabit leased line could disproportionately influence the results vs several slower home connections.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
3 Responses
  1. John

    Surely, as you point out, consumer package choice / affordability must be key considerations. ISPs will often attempt to oversell, but in practice very high speeds have little relevance for anyone but fanatical downloaders or households running multiple simultaneous applications (and how many of those are there?)

  2. captain.cretin

    Ookla also always insist I live in London, and choose a London test server – even though I live over 100 miles from London (as the picket flies).

    • Jonny

      If your ISP’s peering is in London then it’s probably the shortest distance in terms of where the packets need to go.

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