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Average UK broadband speed continues to rise

August 7, 2013

The average residential UK broadband speed reached 14.7Mbit/s in May 2013, Ofcom research reveals.

Ofcom’s latest report into fixed-line residential broadband speeds shows that the average actual UK speed has risen by 22% (2.7Mbit/s) in the six months to May 2013, and 64% (5.7Mbit/s) in the year since May 2012.

The report also shows that the average broadband speed has more than quadrupled since Ofcom first began publishing speeds data in November 2008 – an increase of 309% (or 11.1Mbit/s).

Take-up of ‘superfast’1 services and providers’ automatically upgrading customers on to faster broadband packages continued to drive the increase in the national average speed.2

Table One: Average actual UK fixed-line residential broadband speeds since November 20083

Superfast take-up and network upgrades driving speeds increase

The proportion of broadband connections classed as superfast – that is, offering headline speeds of 30Mbit/s or more – is increasing. By May 2013, 19% of residential broadband connections were superfast, up from 14% in November 2012 and more than doubling from 8% over the course of the last year.

By May 2013, 86% of UK fixed-line residential broadband users were on packages with advertised speeds above ‘up to’ 10Mbit/s, up from 76% six months ago and 68% in May 2012.

The move to higher speeds is partly down to Virgin Media’s network upgrade to double the speeds of most of its cable broadband customers. As a result, the average speed on cable has nearly doubled over the last year from 18.0Mbit/s to 34.9Mbit/s.

Consumers are also choosing to migrate to faster fibre packages. BT reported that it had 1.3 million fibre broadband connections at the end of March 2013, up from around 550,000 a year earlier.4 In May 2013, the average fibre-based connection speed was 43.6Mbit/s, up by over a third (38%) over the year.

Comparisons between ISPs’ download and upload speeds

Today’s report includes speeds measurements for three additional ISP packages – Virgin Media’s ‘up to’ 120Mbit/s cable service and Plusnet’s ‘up to’ 76Mbit/s and ‘up to’ 38Mbit/s fibre-to-the-cabinet services. All average speeds are measured over a 24-hour period.

Of the 14 ISP packages included in the report, Virgin Media’s ‘up to’ 120Mbit/s service achieved the fastest download speeds, an average of 112.6Mbit/s. The average download speed on Virgin Media’s ‘up to’ 100Mbit/s was 88.8Mbit/s.

Of the other superfast packages included in the research, BT’s ‘up to’ 76Mbit/s service delivered average speeds of 62.1Mbit/s, while Plusnet’s ‘up to’ 76Mbit/s achieved average speeds of 61.0Mbit/s. Virgin Media’s ‘up to’ 60Mbit/s package generated average speeds of 57.5Mbit’s.

Plusnet’s ‘up to’ 38Mbit/s package achieved average speeds of 33.7Mbit/s, compared with BT’s ‘up to’ 38Mbit/s service, which delivered 32.6Mbit/s on average. The average download speed on Virgin Media’s ‘up to’ 30Mbit/s service was 30.0Mbit/s.

The research reveals that the average download speed of all superfast connections included in the report continued to increase, reaching 45.3Mbit/s in the six months to May 2013 (an increase of 0.7Mbit/s, or 2%).

Table Two: Average download speeds by ISP package5

These ranges reflect the average speeds that would be achieved 95 times out of 100 if the exercise was repeated with 100 sets of different panellists. If the range of two operators overlaps, then these operators offer comparable performance. These ranges are not a description of the range of speeds actually measured.

Ofcom’s research also looks at upload speeds, which are particularly important to those consumers looking to share large files or use real-time video communications.

The research found that Plusnet’s ‘up to’ 76Mbit/s service delivered the highest upload speeds of all the packages measured, averaging 16.8Mbit/s.6

Measuring speeds at peak times

The report contains analysis comparing average peak time speeds (weekdays from 8pm to 10pm) with maximum connection speeds (the maximum speed achieved by each connection during the month).

Download speeds often fall during peak busy periods when a large number of people are using their broadband connections at the same. This puts capacity constraints on ISPs’ networks known as ‘contention’.7

In May 2013, the UK average peak time download speed was 14.2Mbit/s, 88% of the average maximum speed. This compared to an average peak time speed of 11.8Mbit/s in November 2012, or 90% of the average maximum speed.

The most significant differences in speeds achieved at peak times occurred for superfast packages.

Urban and rural speed comparisons

Today’s report outlines the differences between broadband speeds delivered in urban, suburban and rural areas.

Average actual download speeds for urban, suburban and rural areas have all increased in recent years – see table three.

Table Three: Average download speeds in urban, suburban and rural areas over time

Although the research shows average speeds in urban (26.4Mbit/s) and suburban areas (17.9Mbit/s) to be highest, speeds in rural areas are increasing at a faster rate than elsewhere (by 69% since May 2012 and 141% since May 2011).

The gap between average download speeds in urban and rural areas has nonetheless widened from 9.5Mbit/s in May 2011 to 16.5Mbit/s in May 2013. This is due to the lower availability of superfast broadband services in rural areas compared to urban areas, and because ADSL broadband speeds are also generally slower in rural areas because the average line between the home and the nearest telephone exchange needs to be longer. While the gap between average urban and rural speeds is likely to widen in the short term, Ofcom expects that it will begin to decline over time, as the availability of superfast broadband increases in rural areas.

The Government has committed funding to improve broadband in rural areas. This is to ensure that 95% of UK premises have access to superfast broadband by 20178 and that a minimum service of 2Mbit/s is available to all.9

Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director, said: “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. To help consumers make informed purchasing decisions, our report offers a useful insight into the actual speeds and level of reliability delivered by many of the broadband packages available on the market today.

“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.”

Ofcom broadband speeds research

This is Ofcom’s ninth report into fixed-line residential broadband speeds using data collected by research partner SamKnows.

The report provides data on the average performance of fixed-line residential broadband in the UK and of the individual ISP packages included in the research. In total, these packages accounted for more than half of UK residential broadband connections in May 2013.

The results help consumers to understand the significant variations in the performance of ISP packages and, when considered alongside other factors such as price, to make more informed purchasing decisions.10

All of the UK’s largest ISPs are signatories to Ofcom’s Voluntary Code of Practice on broadband speeds. Ofcom recently conducted mystery shopping to check ISPs’ compliance with the code.

Ofcom will also shortly be publishing research into whether ISPs need to improve the information they provide on traffic management policies.

Ofcom’s Broadband Speeds Research

ENDS

NOTES FOR EDITORS

The research looked at 14 packages provided by the seven largest ISPs by subscriber numbers. There were 736 million separate test results recorded in 2,218 homes during May 2013.

  1. ‘Superfast’ services are classed as those with an advertised headline speed of 30Mbit/s or higher.
  2. While some consumers are actively choosing to upgrade to superfast broadband packages to achieve higher speeds, many are benefitting from improved speeds as a result of internet service providers’ (ISPs’) network upgrades.  In many cases, these upgrades are made at little or no additional cost to the consumer.
  3. Prior to November/December 2010, speed measurements were carried out using “single-thread” tests, which involve downloading one data file. From November/December 2010 onwards “multi-thread” tests were used to reflect the fact that ADSL2+ technologies were configured to handle multiple users/processes at the same time. However, as ADSL1 technologies provide similar results for both test methodologies and before 2010, most consumers were on ADSL lines, broad comparisons of national average speeds are possible between different time periods.
  4. BT’s 2013 Annual Report.
  5. Source: SamKnows measurement data for all panel members with a connection in May 2013, Panel Base: 1,592. Notes: (1) Includes only ADSL customers within 5km of the exchange and in geographic Markets 2 and 3 and in the Kingston-upon-Hull area for Karoo; (2) Includes on-net customers only for LLU operators (3) Data for ADSL operators have been weighted to ISP regional coverage of LLU lines and distance from exchange; data for Virgin Media’s cable service have been weighted to regional coverage only; (4) Data collected from multi-thread download speed tests; (5) The range shown represents a 95% confidence interval around the mean.
  6. The average actual upload speed of a UK fixed broadband connection was 1.8Mbit/s in May 2013, 0.4Mbit/s (29%) higher than the average recorded in November 2012.
  7. Peak-time speeds and speeds more generally can sometimes also be affected by traffic management policies applied by ISPs.
  8. Government will also be working with industry to achieve 99% coverage through fixed or mobile solutions by 2018.
  9. Ofcom published an in-depth study earlier this year outlining the availability of different communications services across the UK. This included an examination of how broadband how availability varies between areas and how it might be improved to inform future broadband rollout strategies.
  10. Other measures which Ofcom has taken to improve the information available to consumers choosing broadband services include publishing 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 published a consumer guide to improving broadband speeds.
  11. The research was conducted in partnership with broadband monitoring company SamKnows. For more details, visit www.samknows.com. 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).
  12. Ofcom is the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, with responsibilities across television, radio, telecommunications, wireless communications and postal services.
  13. For further information about Ofcom please visit ofcom.org.uk. Ofcom’s news releases can be found at media.ofcom.org.uk

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