Are rural ADSL connections slowing down?
It has been suggested various times that the most rural ADSL users in the UK are getting slower and slower, so we have analysed some six years of speed test results to come up with some evidence for or against this assertion.
We are specifically looking at those telephone exchanges that at the end of 2014 were still only offering an IPStream Max based connection (up to 8 Mbps) and have excluded any Sky or TalkTalk customers who are very likely to be ADSL2+ based. In theory the size of the TalkTalk LLU network normally means that 96% of UK households have that LLU operator running from their exchange and thus an ADSL2+ option.
The graph shows no sign of an overall slowdown, in fact since 2011 the increasing take-up of IPStream Max (up to 8 Mbps) versus the older fixed speed 0.5, 1 and 2 Mbps products has made a significant difference. The difference between the two plots as things stand now will be down to the difference between ADSL2+ and ADSL. The median download speed in the very rural areas is 3.9 Mbps, with 25% recording speeds below 2.2 Mbps, the national picture has a slightly higher median at 4.2 Mbps, but the speed of the bottom quartile is the same at 2.2 Mbps. The size of the IPStream Max only footprint is believed to be around 10 to 15% of UK households.
As we were running this analysis we decided to also look at FTTC speeds, which may seem counter intuitive since we are looking at exchanges only offering up to 8 Mbps from BT Wholesale, but there are plenty of exchanges now where FTTC is available with only the old 20CN ADSL services from BT Wholesale. This is because the fibre cabinets in rural areas are often linked back to a larger telephone exchange which has the better 21CN WBC backhaul network already available.
No surprise to see the first FTTC connections arriving late in the rural areas and also ahead of the BDUK roll-outs, though since 2012 the availability of FTTC on those exchanges with only IPStream Max has increased dramatically. The steep wise in the national FTTC speeds in 2012/2013 when the up to 76 Mbps option was added is less obvious in the more rural areas.
Of course the fact that the statistics do not show a widespread slow down for ADSL based services does not mean some people are not seeing worse peak time congestion than they did a couple of years ago, simply that once you aggregate into a larger sample the experience of a handful is swamped.
Of course download speeds are not the full story, so we have also plotted what is happening on the upload speeds, interestingly while the mean speed on the IPStream Max exchanges is on the rise in the upload direction, the median is staying stuck at 0.4 Mbps, suggesting that there is a rising use of IPStream Max with its up to 832 Kbps upload by those who have discovered it and are chasing better upload speeds.
As always the major jump in upload speeds that FTTC brings is clearly visible and this makes a massive difference to how the modern internet with all its cloud based uploading from cameras and phones behaves.