Broadband News

Nation shocked that countries with more full fibre or faster cable beat UK in speed tables

The comparison site cable.co.uk has taken the open M-Labs speed test data and has done some number crunching to create a league table on where the UK stands and its stoking the bonfire of bad broadband headlines.

CountryRankingMean Download SpeedTime to download 7.5GB file/movie
Singapore 1 55.1 Mbps 18m 34 sec
Sweden 2 40.2 Mbps 25m 30 sec
Taiwan 3 34.4 Mbps 29m 46 sec
Denmark 4 33.5 Mbps 30m 32 sec
Netherlands 5 33.5 Mbps 30m 33 sec
Japan 12 24.5 Mbps 41m 51 sec
United States 21 20 Mbps 51m 13 sec
Spain 13 19.6 Mbps 52m 15 sec
Germany 24 18.8 Mbps 54m 28 sec
United Kingdom 31 16.5 Mbps 1hr 2 m 1 sec

So first question is why is the UK average 16.5 Mbps based on the M-Labs data from May 2016 to May 2017, when we report a crowdsourced mean observed speed test of 27.4 Mbps (Q2 2017 - median is 18.9 Mbps) and the Ofcom model says 36.2 Mbps (Nov 2016 data - limited sample size with statistical modelling to create UK average).

If you have no idea where you stand on your broadband speeds our speed test will give you an analysis of how you compare to others, simply run the test and click the green analysis button at the end of the test to see how you compare with others in your region of the UK and also how your speeds compare for others on the same type of connection technology.

You have to understand the testing methodology and various sample sizes to get a better idea, the M-Labs testing is single thread based and thus is more sensitive to congestion and Wi-Fi connectivity, hence why in July 2017 our main multiple thread mean average for Virgin Media was 67.7 Mbps but a lowly 41 Mbps for single thread, over at BT Consumer this was 30.1 Mbps versus 27.6 Mbps. This means anyone trying to say the Ofcom results are wrong is comparing two very different measures, the single thread testing is generally good for giving an idea of how streaming video performs, but for download and subsequent playback of any file or video the multiple thread test results are more relevant. The Ofcom model does have some issues in that it is based on just 1 month's data every year and the sample sizes while carefully selected to give what is said to be a good model for distance limited technologies always carries the risk that some variations due to regional/local congestion are missed or under represented.

The choice of a 7.5GB movie to help convey the various speeds is interesting, as at standard movie lengths of 90 minutes to 2 hours this gives a bit rate of 8 to 11 Mbps, but the file size is apparently chosen to reflect the downloads from stores such as Xbox/Playstation which can have higher bit rates than streamed files and also reflecting longer films such as Lord of The Rings which push towards the 3 hour boundary. Of course most store downloads will let you watch as soon as a proportion has downloaded so you will not usually have to wait the full time to download the file before you can watch, but as a way of giving people a metric they can understand rather than "Megabits per second" which is often mis-quoted as "MegaBytes per second" (8 bits form a Byte when talking broadband speeds) it's understandable.

Our thinkbroadband Q2 2017 speed test results actually recorded a single thread mean download speed of 25.1 Mbps and a median of 17.8 Mbps. What is interesting is that our median result comes out so close to what cable.co.uk is describing as the mean, which suggests they may either be seeing a higher proportion of low speeds or lacking some of the faster users.

thinkbroadband Q2 2017 UK median download speeds
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UK median download speed in Q2 2017 - thinkbroadband speed test

thinkbroadband Q2 2017 UK mean download speeds
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UK mean download speed in Q2 2017 - thinkbroadband speed test

On the sample sizes the number of unique IP addresses in the M-Labs data was 354,329, but countries such as Germany which are larger was recording a much lower figure of 141,699, and what we don't know is the profile of users i.e. are the ratios of users at different providers what we would expect based on customer numbers something we keep a close eye on and is one of our alarms for when a provider has issues e.g. higher or much lower volumes of tests than we'd expect normally. The Ofcom model is based on many tests from just some 2,500 locations.

So as a UK mean we believe the M-Labs analysis from cable.co.uk is low, but this is down to the single-threaded nature and those running the test may not reflect the full gamut of the UK consumer broadband market, or put another way if we were in Germany we would not be publishing a national average based on 114,572 IP addresses without significant modelling work and similar with some other countries. Reliable international comparisons on broadband speeds are difficult to do and with roll-outs meaning the picture is constantly changing by the time rigorous analysis has been done the reality on the ground has moved on.

The countries that are above the UK generally have much faster packages from cable broadband providers such as Liberty Global (current owners of Virgin Media) or also have a high proportion of full fibre (FTTP or FTTB). What is interesting though is even that the average is not massively higher in countries where ultrafast services are much more widespread, and that is where the debate needs to be i.e. in countries with full fibre services are people buying the bare minimum package that means their needs and budget or are full Gigabit packages selling like hotcakes? If the latter, then the UK is very quickly going to lose its digital economy gloss.

thinkbroadband Q2 2017 top 30 postcode area average download speeds
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Top 30 postcode areas for average median download speed in Q2 2017 - thinkbroadband speed test

We specialise in the UK broadband market and as such our Q2 2017 analysis as the postcode area level highlights the variations across the UK and the fastest areas are unsurprisingly those that have had good superfast and ultrafast coverage for some time, i.e. long enough to allow take-up to make an impact on the average speeds.

thinkbroadband Q2 2017 bottom 30 postcode area average download speeds
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Bottom 30 postcode areas for average median download speed in Q2 2017 - thinkbroadband speed test

The slowest postcode areas out of the several thousand there are across the UK don't make for pretty viewing and the DG3 area is particularly slow; with a superfast coverage level of around 57% this should be no surprise and as the rural roll-outs in Scotland are still well underway. The lag between better speeds being made available and people upgrading are a big factor.

As with the BIG report we have seen some coverage use the low average speeds to talk about problems with the broadband USO and it appears that the only way the broadband USO will make some happy is if upgrades are automatic rather than on-demand and that people will pay no more than they do now. The unfortunate truth though is no matter who delivers the USO, it involves work and new hardware both costing money and someone somewhere has to pay for it, but it will help to safeguard better affordable services and provide a safety net for social inclusion. As a society we need to realise that free lunches are never free.

Update 12:40pm Just to add a note as to why we are using the median speed in our postcode area comparison, as we are dealing with clearly smaller areas and thus to avoid the pressence of a small number of ultrafast users skewing the results we feel that median is more representative of the picture in the postcode areas. The top/bottom 25% 20% 10% figures would help to make it clearer what the speed profile is for those areas, but that would swamp people with figures and similar reasons as to why we've not featured upload speeds. Any media outlets wanting more in depth information such as the upload speeds or ranges can use the contact details on our press page.

 

Comments

@thinkbroadband Nation shocked places that don't scream digital divide when companies prefer spending £300/home ove… https://t.co/mukZd2jfbI

  • @ultrafastcarl
  • comment via twitter
  • 14 days ago

For better or worse can’t force people not to use ADSL.

This table would look considerably better if we had loads of gigabit FTTP in the easier to deliver urban areas and killed off ADSL but:

Those outside those areas would be kicking and screaming about the digital divide.

Sky and TalkTalk would be complaining about not being able to sell largely obsolete services on the cheap from their obsolete LLU equipment.

Some people would be complaining about having to actually pay for broadband - see VM relaunching 50Mb to please the MSE crew.

With those in mind mid-table obscurity it is.

  • CarlThomas
  • 14 days ago

The consensus shout in the UK is we want 100% coverage, no matter how rural, but the impact of that focus has meant cities are lagging and in particular the coverage of FTTB.

The low levels of apartment living in UK combined with public housing, private landlord, providers not going made for adding Ethernet cabling to buildings years ago is a big reason why others can do better.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • 14 days ago

The resistance to infrastructure going on poles also doesn't help. Being able to rent municipal poles and run fibre along them is a tad cheaper than having to place infrastructure underground.

The demand for 100% coverage has indeed been problematic. Prices having to be the same throughout the country and the expectation that rural areas should be as well served as urban have, naturally, dragged urban areas down as they subsidise rural. With that the UK ends up in the situation where the most rural areas have a higher proportion of FTTP than urban ones.

These findings are of no surprise.

  • CarlThomas
  • 14 days ago

@CarlThomas
Why is Sky/TalkTalk/Vodafone LLU equipment in exchanges obsolete? It's used to not only supply their own ADSL2+ services but also to hand over vdsl2 services from the FTTC cabinet to their own network at the exchange. Unless you're saying vdsl2 is obsolete?

  • baby_frogmella
  • 14 days ago

VDSL2 is never handed over, it is an Ethernet over fibre link cable, so yes some LLU equipment to drag that IP data onto their own backhaul arrangements.

But having several providers duplicating ADSL2+ ports in an exchange should be obsolete by now and never was a big thing in many of the faster countries, i.e. higher speeds abroad often means a much smaller range of provider choice.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • 14 days ago

Mr Frogmella, I specifically mentioned ADSL, hence was referring to the MSANs.

The GEA CableLinks, and the LLU providers' MSANs actually, connect to switches. There is no need for the MSANs to be there to take GEA traffic.

We are well past time for ADSL to be put to bed. The quality spectrum freed up by its removal is a boon for LR-VDSL services.

  • CarlThomas
  • 14 days ago

@CarlThomas
"Prices having to be the same throughout the country" - they aren't. Market A areas pay significantly more - if I lived a few miles down the road I could be paying a third of what I pay now, and have broadband that was many times faster.

  • sheephouse
  • 14 days ago

Market A area price variation is largely just PlusNet these days and was done as a measure by Ofcom to encourage more LLU roll-outs which it has with 95% of premises having BT Wholesale plus one or more LLU provider option.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • 14 days ago

Openreach prices are the same throughout, Sheephouse. The Market A prices from BT Wholesale being higher are a regulatory weirdness intended to spur wholesale competition.

The fact is whether you are in an apartment building of 400 units next to an exchange or a property in the middle of nowhere in the Yorkshire Dales fed across 6 kilometres of poles Openreach have to charge your provider the same even though the cost of the initial build was wildly different and the ongoing maintenance costs are wildly different.

  • CarlThomas
  • 14 days ago

@andrew, it isn't just Plusnet that charge more - as far as I know it is only John Lewis that don't. Admittedly, many ISPs won't provide a service at all, but those that do (e.g. Zen) charge a lot more.
@CarlThomas, maybe you are right that Openreach are hard done by. Most rural business can't charge more than urban businesses, but have higher costs too. Of course, that won't last much longer, as many will close.

  • sheephouse
  • 14 days ago

So that small isp called BT Consumer is irrelevant?

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • 14 days ago

OK, amongst the ISPs that don't charge more are John Lewis and BT. I tend to discount BT as switching to them would halve my upload speed, as they don't offer ADSL Max Premium. However, I just checked their prices, and they are only £4.99pm more than John Lewis, and £11.49pm cheaper(!) than Plusnet (at least for the first 12 months). If only I could manage with <400Kbps upload I could save money, but I need Skype video for work and that needs a minimum of 500Kbps these days (it used to work with less).

  • sheephouse
  • 13 days ago

The danger of pushing over the price aspect is that there is no obligation on retailers to offer a service above 28 Kbps currently, so they can refuse to supply too.

In fact if the UK wanted to win bragging rights it would turn off broadband for all the long lines.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • 13 days ago

I don't have a problem with paying for a decent service, but I do find it rather annoying to pay more for a very poor product than others a mile away pay for a far superior product. ADSL Max was good in 2006 when it was installed in my local exchange, but the EO lines here are stuck with it - and continue to pay extra for it. Mine isn't a line length issue.

  • sheephouse
  • 13 days ago

21CN upgrades are planned everywhere too.

  • WWWombat
  • 13 days ago

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