The latest round of figures from the Ofcom speed research indicate that the UK average download speed is continuing to follow its growth trend. As of November 2011 it was 7.6 Mbps which compares favourably with the May 2011 figure of 6.8 Mbps.
This speed increase is not across the board on all products, but much of the ups and downs in averages are attributed to people migrating to faster cable broadband and fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) services in the last six months.
At a cursory glance the above averages suggest things are getting worse, but the national average is very dependant on the spread of packages people are buying, which also shows how the availability of superfast services is changing the landscape. In the last six months packages sold between 10 Mbps and 24 Mbps have become the dominant market sector, but with the speed uplift programme from Virgin Media and continued FTTC and fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) roll-outs in six months time we can expect to see a new row with a growing percentage figure for products over 40 Mbps.
|Package||April 09||May 10||Nov 10||May 11||Nov 11|
|Less than 8 Mbps||30%||8%||4%||2%||1%|
|Between 8 Mbps and 10 Mbps||62%||68%||54%||51%||41%|
|Over up to 10 Mbps||8%||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|Between 10 Mbps and 24 Mbps||n/a||24%||41%||45%||53%|
|Over 24 Mbps||n/a||n/a||1%||2%||5%|
An area that broadband providers often shy away from, and even the new BCAP advertising rules do not take into account, is the difference between peak and off-peak performance. The following data from Ofcom attempts to inform the decision making process, though as ever there will be local factors that mean some people see much larger variations and some fair usage policies will also see some people having speeds cut a lot more than this table suggests.
|Nov/Dec 2010||Nov/Dec 2010||May 2011||May 2011||Nov 2011||Nov 2011|
|Package||24-hour||8-10pm weekdays||24-hour||8-10pm weekdays||24-hour||8-10pm weekdays|
'up to' 8Mbps
|4.1 - 4.8Mbps||3.8 - 4.4Mbps||4.0 - 4.3Mbps||3.4 - 4.0Mbps||4.0 - 5.0Mbps||3.9 - 4.8Mbps|
'up to' 8Mbps *
|3.4 - 4.4Mbps*||3.3 - 4.2Mbps||3.7 - 4.3Mbps||3.2 - 4.0Mbps||3.7 - 4.9Mbps||3.5 - 4.7Mbps|
'up to' 10Mbps
|9.5 - 9.7Mbps||8.9 - 9.4Mbps||9.3 - 9.6Mbps||9.0 - 9.5Mbps||9.3 - 9.6Mbps||8.8 - 9.3Mbps|
'up to' 20Mbps
|5.9 - 8.7Mbps||6.8 - 8.5Mbps||7.3 - 8.9Mbps||7.3 - 9.1Mbps||7.8 - 9.7Mbps||7.6 - 9.5Mbps|
'up to' 24Mbps *
|-||-||5.6 - 7.9Mbps||5.5 - 7.3Mbps||7.7 - 10.0Mbps||7.6 - 10.0Mbps|
'up to' 20/24Mbps
|9.9 - 11.6Mbps*||9.5 - 11.0Mbps*||9.6 - 11.7Mbps||10.0 - 11.5Mbps||8.8 - 10.7Mbps||8.6 - 10.5Mbps|
'up to' 20
|-||-||6.0 - 8.2Mbps||6.6 - 7.6Mbps||6.3 - 8.1Mbps||5.7 - 7.4Mbps|
'up to' 20Mbps
|-||-||6.7 - 8.9Mbps||6.6 - 8.4Mbps||7.2 - 9.3Mbps||6.3 - 7.9Mbps|
'up to' 20Mbps
|7.4 - 8.8Mbps||7.3 - 8.7Mbps||7.1 - 8.0Mbps||7.2 - 8.1Mbps||6.8 - 8.3Mbps||6.8 - 8.2Mbps|
'up to' 24Mbps
|7.7 - 9.3Mbps||7.5 - 9.0Mbps||7.7 - 8.6Mbps||7.0 - 8.5Mbps||7.2 - 8.8Mbps||7.1 - 8.7Mbps|
'up to' 40Mbps
|30.5 - 33.1Mbps||27.4 - 30.3Mbps||33.1 - 34.9Mbps||32.3 - 34.1Mbps||35.4 - 36.7Mbps||35.2 - 36.5Mbps|
'up to' 30Mbps
|-||-||30.7 - 31.3Mbps||30.1 - 30.9Mbps||30.6 - 31.4Mbps||30.4 - 31.2Mbps|
'up to' 50Mbps
|43.9 - 47.2Mbps||43.1 - 46.6Mbps||47.7 - 49.0Mbps||46.3 - 48.4Mbps||47.4 - 48.8Mbps||46.8 - 48.5Mbps|
A major factor hidden amongst national averages is that we all don't live in average locations, many people live in urban areas with lots of provider choice and others live in rural areas with a sole wholesale provider in the form of BT Wholesale. The speeds for the various broadband markets in the UK are:
The variation in speeds is also carried through to the UK nations, England 7.8 Mbps, Scotland 7.2 Mbps, Wales 7 Mbps and Northern Ireland 6.7 Mbps. Though while it looks like Northern Ireland and Wales are the places to avoid for broadband, as with the rest of the UK, location in these areas is the key. Also, if you are getting well under the average and have neighbours getting better speeds, look at the package you are signed up to, and for those with ADSL/ADSL2+ whether the phone wiring in your property may be hindering your speed.
While the report focuses mainly on download speeds, as does the advertising industry, Ofcom does offer information on the other important metrics for a broadband connection, namely upstream speed, latency, packet loss, DNS resolution times, DNS failure rates and jitter (both upstream and downstream. The Ofcom report spends some 23 out of 80 pages covering these metrics, but we only have space for a small summary.
"More and more people are choosing fibre optic broadband and making the most of superfast speeds. Virgin Media continues to deliver the UK's fastest broadband, over and above what we advertise according to Ofcom, and we're about to boost the speeds of millions of homes yet again with our doubling upgrade and the introduction of 120 Mbps. It's good to see Britain's broadband speeds moving in the right direction and the new advertising rules will, for the first time, force out competitors to be more honest about their 'up to 24 Mbps' claims. We hope they'll try to keep up."Jon James, Executive Director of Broadband, Virgin Media
Jon James could be seen as throwing down the gauntlet particularly with the lower price point products that go head to head with the advertising claims the ADSL and ADSL2+ providers use. With the new BCAP guidelines any speeds mentioned in advertising have to be achievable by 10% or more of customers. Thus Virgin Media cable products with their fixed speed connections stand to win in simple comparison tables. The competition in the area of superfast services is much more of a head to head with the Openreach FTTC products represented by BT Infinity in the Ofcom testing standing up well in terms of speed and they are shortly to boost speeds.
The launch of the FTTC product from Sky in April 2012 will also help push the UK averages ever higher, and while for the next twelve months most Market 1 and Market 2 areas will see the digital divide extend, once the various superfast broadband schemes start to deliver, this divide will start to diminish. The digital divide will never vanish, as there will always be varying speeds across the country, the key thing is to minimise the size of the gap without stifling commercial competition like we have seen between BT and Virgin Media to wear the UK speed crown. Though we should never forget while the big providers battle over the crown, there are new small entrants already offering 1 Gbps though with coverage levels that mean they will not register on any Ofcom testing.
We welcome reaction from broadband providers, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org, we will feature the interesting responses later today.