Ofcom monitors broadband speeds in the UK via two main methods, sync speed data supplied by operators which is usually summarised in the Connected Nations report and a deep analysis from actual testing via some 4,824 linux boxes deployed to panellists across the UK. Today sees Ofcom release the results from analysis carried out in November 2016.
Obviously comparisons will be drawn with our own monthly publication of speed test results, but there are lots of differences in the way the data is collected, at the simplest level you can call the Ofcom data the modelled approach and ours is a massed observation exercise. Various plus points and minus points exist on both, e.g. ours includes Wi-Fi which can influence results, but conversely with so many using Wi-Fi all the time its important in the full consumer experience, and modelling from a small sample can miss variations and it is also difficult to look at areas like FTTP (Ofcom has recruited more FTTP based testers, but not enough to feature in this report). One emerging trend is that ECI cabinets for VDSL2 are not increasing in speed the same way as Huawei cabinets due to the roll-out of various technical changes.
"Cable broadband is typically faster than copper-based services, but a significant minority of users experience severe slowdowns in peak times
Contention occurs closer to the customer in superfast cable networks, making it more difficult to add new capacity to reduce the effects of network congestion. But despite suffering from higher levels of slowdown than ADSL and FTTC, superfast cable services still had the highest average download speeds throughout the day. There was also much greater variation in the levels of contention experienced by superfast cable customers, with a significant minority experiencing severe slowdowns. For example, while 47% of ‘up to’ 50Mbit/s cable panellists had a peak-time average speed of 50Mbit/s or higher, 9% received less than 10Mbit/s. There was less variation in the performance of FTTC connections; less than 1% of our FTTC panellists received a peak-time average speed of less than 10Mbit/s, while less than 5% had a maximum speed equal to or above the advertised speed, compared to 90% of superfast cable panellists."Ofcom on cable broadband speed variations
Each month we cover our speed test results there are invariably questions about the Virgin Media speed variations, but Ofcom is clear that their data is also recording wide variations, and given the fact that this can be very localised with cable broadband the reality for some people is likely to be very different to the Ofcom results. As with previous SamKnows results Virgin Media cable also fares badly for jitter which is crucial for gamers and its worse at peak times with cable broadband performing worse than ADSL2+ in this respect.
As an incentive to upgrade to a better service if it is available (and millions have the option but have chosen not to, which is especially galling for those crying out for better services and do not have the option) Ofcom has looked at disconnections, with ADSL performing worst at an average of 1.1 disconnections per day, ADSL2+ was better a 1 and cable and FTTC had a combined average of 0.3. So much better, but oddly the data suggests the cable up to 200 Mbps service is worse than the cable up to 50 Mbps service for disconnections and up to 52 Mbps is better than up to 38 Mbps VDSL2.
One take-away for anyone looking at the difference in performance in rural and urban areas, is that Ofcom has used the BlueWave Geographic Locale dataset to split into 7 groups, this set is apparently widely used in market research, our data analysis relies on the ONS classification system, thus the two may not fully align and this is important when comparing speeds, coverage and other metrics.