The average broadband speeds Britons are receiving from major ISPs rose by nearly 10Mbps last year, to hit 64Mbps.
Ofcom’s annual report into fixed-line home broadband speeds also found that upload speeds from these services nearly doubled, from 7.2Mbps and 14Mbps.
The regulator used modified routers from internet analysts SamKnows to gather data about real-life, in-home broadband speeds—not those advertised by ISPs. These “whitebox” routers were installed in 1,950 UK homes and recorded the speed of their connection during idle times so as not to be impacted by local network congestion and slow WiFI speeds.
The tests, conducted in November 2019, deliver a high degree of accuracy. But because the sample size is small the data they provide only reflects speeds from major internet service providers including BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media. Connections from smaller providers, notably alternative full-fibre networks, are excluded.
The tests reveal that our broadband connections have accelerated sharply in recent years—good news for our lives of TV streaming and video calling. Average download speeds were just 17.8Mbps in Ofcom figures published in April 2014 (based on testing likely performed during late 2013). By November 2019, they had more than tripled.
Ofcom’s report also reveals average speeds for different broadband technology types. Unsurprisingly, cable and FTTP connections came out ahead.
Average broadband speed shouldn’t be confused with availability. Across the UK, 96% of premises can access superfast (24Mbps+) speeds, through FTTC and Virgin Media cable connections. Among those households, 74% take up connections with at least superfast speeds.
Furthermore, six in 10 households can access connections with speeds exceeding 100Mbps (usually described as ultrafast), primarily through Virgin’s network but also via G.fast and expanding full-fibre networks.
However, many customers won’t take advantage of the fastest speeds available to their homes. These ultrafast will often be excessive to their needs and too costly for their budgets. In fact, around a third of broadband customers in the UK still use slower (10-11Mbps) ADSL broadband connections, discouraged from upgrading by the higher costs of other services or lack of knowledge. The continued prevalence of ADSL connections drags down overall results.
However, customers may soon be pushed off ADSL connections by their poor support of some of the UK’s favourite internet pastimes. Ofcom found that ADSL connections reliably delivered just 17% of Netflix videos in ultra-high-definition, compared to 97% from superfast cable and fibre connections.
Ofcom’s report also included a brief study of performance by specific ISPs in March 2020, in order to track the early impact of the coronavirus lockdown and resultant spike in broadband data use on networks. Their data suggests that ISPs are largely coping with a surge in traffic, with average download and upload speeds falling by just 1% and 2% respectively.
Performance on Virgin’s network slipped more precipitously, by 10%, at the end of the month, weeks before the network was rocked by widespread outages. But the worst performance came from TalkTalk, which saw average speeds crash by nearly 15% on 10 March. That was unrelated to the coronavirus crisis, however. 10 March marked the release of Call of Duty Warzone, a wildly popular video game with a hefty 83-101GB download.
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