Which? publishes speed test results but are they right?
Which? has analysed its speed test results for the period September 2017 to September 2018 and published the median download speed results by local authority and the press headlines are lapping it up.
Identifying areas such as the Orkney islands (3Mbps), Allerdale (5.7Mbps), Shetland Islands (6.7Mbps), Argyll and Bute (7Mbps), Moray (7.1Mbps), Fermanagh and Omagh (7.4Mbps) and Ceredigion (7.5 Mbps) as being the slowest local authority areas of the UK is not a surprise to us and also should not be a surprise to those using our own data resources which has a list of the UK local authorities updated every quarter. Visitors to thinkbroadband and others using our broadband speed test technology for the same 7 areas recorded the following median download speed Orkney Islands 11.1 Mbps, Allerdale 22.3 Mbps, Shetland Islands 12.3 Mbps, Argyll and Bute 15.3 Mbps, Moray 18.4 Mbps, Fermangh and Omagh 18.2 Mbps and Ceredigion 16.9 Mbps.
The Orkney Islands is marginally faster than the Scilly Isles (10.3 Mbps) in our data but the figures from our speed test results are for Q4 2018 and if we look at Q4 2017 Orkney was down at 8.1 Mbps so the speeds are improving since we are showing a figure of 11.1 Mbps for Q4 2018. The chart illustrates the story nicely for Orkney with ADSL/ADSL2+ services still dominating broadband on the islands. The figure of 3 Mbps as a median reported by Which? does look unusually slow especially when you consider that the median download speed for ADSL/ADSL2+ on the islands is 4.8 Mbps (upload 0.3 Mbps), for those who have upgraded to FTTC the median is 32.3 Mbps (5.7 Mbps upload). So we don't know why Which? is so much slower, it may be they have a higher proportion of visitors testing using Wi-Fi, without access to the full individual results for comparison with others in the same postcodes it is impossible to say much more.
The Which? release does make some worrying statements about the broadband universal service obligation that may cause confusion to the public who implicitly trust a household name like Which? The parts that worry us the part about the Government pledging to ensure 10 Mbps as bare minimum across the country and Wales and Scotland having additional schemes in place. The reality of the broadband USO is that it Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all share the same USO once finally implemented and people will need to request the 10 Mbps service from the USO provider (most likely BT). This makes it very different to the BDUK programmes and the need to request means that it may be many years before the USO has a significant impact on speed test results for different areas. The detail of how the broadband USO will work should be published in 2019 and people able to start demanding a better connection in 2020, small things like how long from request to delivery, technology used, price and usage allowances are the unknowns we are waiting to be resolved.
We cannot finish without saying some words about Allerdale, Which? claims a median download of 5.7 Mbps and our figure is 22.3 Mbps. Allerdale is a relatively mature FTTC area exceeding the current coverage levels of Orkney way back in 2015 and has superfast broadband available to 91.9% of premises, the median for FTTC in the local authority area is 29.9 Mbps (6.5 Mbps up) and ADSL/ADSL2+ 5 Mbps (0.6 Mbps) with a technology split of 69% FTTC and 31% ADSL. The Which? figures look unusually low and the trend over time for the rising take-up of FTTC looks reasonable in our data.