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Consumers benefit from UK broadband speed surge

July 27, 2011

-          Average UK broadband speed increases by 10 per cent in six months

-          But gap between actual and advertised speeds widens

UK consumers are benefiting from a boost to broadband speeds, new Ofcom research revealed today.

The average UK broadband speed increased by 10 per cent, from 6.2Mbit/s in November/December 2010, to 6.8Mbit/s in May 2011.

And almost half (47 per cent) of UK residential broadband users are on packages with advertised speeds above 10Mbit/s in May 2011, compared to 42 per cent in November 2010 and just 8 per cent in April 2009.

But the gap between actual speeds and advertised (‘up to’) speeds has also increased.

The average advertised speed in May 2011 was 15Mbit/s, 8.2Mbit/s higher than average actual speeds of 6.8Mbit/s.  In November/December 2010 the gap was 7.6Mbit/s (average actual speed was 6.2Mbit/s and average advertised speed was 13.8Mbit/s).

Superfast broadband available to most consumers…

Superfast broadband services are now available to most UK homes*, and availability continues to grow.

Ofcom has recently launched a broadband map of the UK to show performance in different areas and to help Government and local authorities decide where money needs to be invested in better broadband, including extending superfast services.

Ofcom’s research found that superfast services offer significantly faster speeds than copper ADSL broadband, with much smaller differences – or no difference – between headline speed claims and actual speeds.

The average download speed on Virgin Media’s 30Mbit/s service offered average speeds of 31Mbit/s and its 50Mbit/s service offered average speeds of 48Mbit/s.  BT’s Infinity service, which has a headline speed of 40Mbit/s, offered average speeds of 34Mbit/s.

…but most consumers have copper ADSL broadband

However, over 75 per cent of UK residential broadband connections are currently delivered by copper ADSL telephone lines. Speeds for these consumers depend on the length and quality of the line running from their home to the local exchange.  The closer a consumer lives to the exchange, the better the performance.

The research found that the average download speed received for ADSL ‘up to’ 20Mbit/s and 24Mbit/s ADSL services was 6.6Mbit/s, and more than a third of customers (37 per cent)on these packages received average speeds of 4Mbit/s or less.

Differences between Internet Service Providers (ISPs)

Average download throughput speed during period
24 hours 8 to 10pm weekdays
BT ‘up to’ 8Mbit/s 4.0 to 4.3Mbit/s 3.4 to 4.0Mbit/s
Plusnet ‘up to’ 8Mbit/s* 3.7 to 4.3Mbit/s 3.2 to 4.0Mbit/s
Virgin Media ‘up to’ 10Mbit/s 9.3 to 9.6Mbit/s 9.0 to 9.5Mbit/s
BT ‘up to’ 20Mbit/s 7.3 to 8.9Mbit/s 7.3 to 9.1Mbit/s
Karoo ‘up to’ 24Mbit/s* 5.6 to 7.9Mbit/s 5.5 to 7.3Mbit/s
O2/Be ‘up to’ 20/24Mbit/s 9.6 to 11.7Mbit/s 10.0 to 11.5Mbit/s
Orange ‘up to’ 20Mbit/s 6.0 to 8.2Mbit/s 6.6 to 7.6Mbit/s
Plusnet ‘up to’ 20Mbit/s 6.7 to 8.9Mbit/s 6.6 to 8.4Mbit/s
Sky ‘up to’ 20Mbit/s 7.1 to 8.0Mbit/s 7.2 to 8.1Mbit/s
TalkTalk ‘up to’ 24Mbit/s 7.7 to 8.6Mbit/s 7.0 to 8.5Mbit/s
Virgin Media ‘up to’ 20Mbit/s* 17.6 to 18.7Mbit/s 16.4 to 18.1Mbit/s
Virgin Media ‘up to’ 30Mbit/s 30.7 to 31.3Mbit/s 30.1 to 30.9Mbit/s
BT ‘up to’ 40Mbit/s 33.1 to 34.9Mbit/s 32.3 to 34.1Mbit/s
Virgin Media ‘up to’ 50Mbit/s 47.7 to 49.0Mbit/s 46.3 to 48.4Mbit/s

NOTES:  (1) The ranges show the average performance of each ISP package presented as a range around the mean – where the range of two operators overlaps, differences in performance between the operators are not statistically different at a 95% level of confidence; (2) Karoo is the name of the broadband service offered by KCom to consumers in Kingston-upon- Hull; it is included in the research for the first time.; (3) *Indicates a small sample size – results should be treated with caution.

Highest upload speeds

Download speed is the main performance measure by which broadband services are advertised and is the most important single measure in determining broadband performance.  However, there are other measures, such as upload speeds which can be important considerations for consumers, especially those looking to share large files or use real-time video communications.

The research found that BT’s Infinity service (‘up to’ 10Mbit/s upload speeds) continued to provide the highest average upload speeds , which at nearly 9Mbit/s were more than twice as fast as any other service tested.

The UK fixed-line broadband performance report, undertaken in partnership with SamKnows, can be found here: http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/market-data-research/telecoms-research/broadband-speeds/broadband-speeds-may2011/.

Broadband advertising

Although fewer ISPs now advertise their services by headline speed, Ofcom continues to be concerned that theoretical ‘up to’ speeds have the potential to mislead consumers.  Earlier this year Ofcom recommended to CAP and BCAP, the committees that write the advertising codes administered by the Advertising Standards Authority, that a Typical Speeds Range (TSR) should be included in advertisements by ISPs who advertise based on the speed of the service.

Ofcom believes that the TSR should represent the range of speeds actually achieved by at least half of customers, and where ‘up to’ speeds are used in an advert, then the TSR must have at least equal prominence.  The theoretical maximum ‘up to’ speed stated must also be a speed actually achievable in practice by a material number of customers.

CAP and BCAP are currently concluding their review of the use of ‘up to’ speeds in broadband advertising and are expected to announce their decision in early autumn.

Clear broadband information for consumers

Ofcom is committed to ensuring consumers have access to clear information about their broadband speeds.  The broadband speeds Code of Practice was introduced to inform prospective broadband customers of their likely speed before signing up to a service.

Ofcom set out changes to the Code of Practice last year, which come into effect today (27 July).

The key changes to the revised Code are:

-   instead of receiving a single point estimate of the maximum speed on their line, consumers will be given a speed range (based on customers with similar line lengths) which is more likely to be accurate than a single point; and

-   a new option for customers to leave their provider without penalty if they receive a maximum line speed which is significantly lower than the bottom of the estimated range, and ISPs are not able to resolve the problem.  Customers would be able to leave within the first three months of their contract.

The revised Code has already been implemented by ISPs including Virgin Media, BT Broadband, O2 and Sky**.  Other providers have signalled their intention to sign up during the next few months.

Ofcom has published a list of ISPs who signed up to the new Code of Practice so customers know who is offering the clearest information on achievable speeds.  Ofcom will also undertake a mystery shopping exercise in the next few months to assess compliance with the Code.

Ofcom Chief Executive, Ed Richards, said: “The UK broadband market has transformed since Ofcom first published its research two and a half years ago.  By publishing this research, Ofcom has encouraged ISPs to invest in faster broadband networks; we are now seeing consumers increasingly move to higher rated services and enjoying genuinely faster speeds.

“Consumers also have access to better broadband information, allowing them to decide which provider to use based on actual speeds they can achieve at home.

“However, the research is still telling us that some consumers are not receiving anywhere near the speeds that are being advertised by some ISPs.  Ofcom continues to urge the CAP and BCAP committees to make changes to their advertising guidance so that consumers are able to make more informed decisions based on the adverts they see.”

ENDS

NOTES FOR EDITORS

*57% of homes are either in Virgin Media’s cabled areas or served by a superfast enabled telephone exchange. Superfast services are available across Virgin Media’s entire network and typically 80-90 per cent of lines attached to a superfast broadband enabled telephone exchange are currently able to subscribe to a superfast broadband service.

**Sky currently provides speed ranges for online sales and will be able to do so for telephone sales from late summer 2011.

1.       The research looked at 14 packages provided by the seven largest ISPs in the market, representing over 75 per cent of residential broadband subscribers in the UK.  455 million separate performance tests were carried out in 1,767 homes in May 2011.

2.       Other measures which Ofcom has taken to improve the information available to consumers choosing broadband services include publishing consumer research on the quality of customer services, publishing data about the level of complaints received for ISPs and providing an accreditation scheme for price comparison sites.  Ofcom has also today published an updated consumer guide to improving broadband speeds.

3.       The research was conducted in partnership with broadband monitoring specialists SamKnows.  For more details, visit www.samknows.com.

4.       The Communications Act 2003 requires Ofcom to make arrangements to find out about consumers’ experiences of electronic communications services, which includes broadband services, and the way they are provided (section 14). We do this by carrying out research into their experiences of these services. Subject to certain exceptions, we have a duty to publish the results of our research and to take account of it in carrying out our functions (section 15).

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