National Broadband News

UK broadband speeds climb as digital divide narrows

3rd October 2014
UK broadband speeds climb as digital divide narrows

The average broadband speed delivered by cable services is now faster than that of fibre, according to Ofcom research.

In the six months to May 2014, the average speed delivered by cable broadband reached 43.3Mbit/s, overtaking the average speed for fibre connections for the first time (42.0Mbit/s).

Ofcom’s report measures actual residential broadband speeds in the UK. It is intended to help people understand the performance of different broadband technologies and internet service providers’ packages, and make more informed purchasing decisions.

Key findings from the research show that, between November 2013 and May 2014:

  • the average actual UK broadband speed increased by 5% (0.9Mbit/s) to 18.7Mbit/s;
  • take-up of superfast services (those with a headline speed of 30Mbit/s and above) increased from 24% to 28% of connections, while average superfast speeds remained stable at 47Mbit/s;
  • the extent to which speeds were maintained during peak evening times varied significantly between broadband packages, ranging from 76% to 96% of maximum speeds.  

Average speed by technology

The average speed delivered via cable broadband connections increased by 3.1Mbit/s (8%) to 43.3Mbit/s in the six months to May 2014. This was mainly due to cable customers upgrading to faster services.

Over the same period, average speeds for fibre connections decreased by 0.9Mbit/s (2%) to 42.0Mbit/s. In the UK, the majority of fibre connections are either up to’ 38Mbit/s or ‘up to’ 76Mbit/s. In the six months to May 2014, the mix of these fibre packages changed, with the proportion of the lower speed ‘up to’ 38Mbit/s fibre connections increasing slightly. This, coupled with a small decrease in the average speed recorded for 'up to' 76Mbit/s connections, resulted in an overall reduction in the average speed for fibre services.

Average speeds for ADSL connections - the most common type of broadband - increased by 0.7Mbit/s (10%) to 7.4Mbit/s during the six months to May 2014. This is potentially a result of broadband infrastructure improvements related to fibre roll-out, such as capacity upgrades, which are also benefitting ADSL connections.

Fastest download and upload speeds by provider

Virgin Media’s ‘up to’ 152Mbit/s cable service, which launched in February 2014, achieved the fastest download speed over a 24 hour period, averaging 141.9Mbit/s.

This was followed by BT’s ‘up to’ 76Mbit/s fibre package, which delivered an average download speed of 62.0Mbit/s.

Ofcom’s research also examines upload speeds, which are particularly important to those wishing to share large files or use real-time video communications. The research found that Plusnet’s ‘up to’ 76Mbit/s package delivered the fastest upload speeds at 17.1Mbit/s on average.

Measuring speeds at peak times

Broadband speeds can fall at peak times due to the volume of people trying to access the network simultaneously. This is known as network ‘contention’. The research found that the extent to which speeds were maintained during peak periods (8pm to 10pm) varied significantly between providers.

EE’s ‘up to’ 38Mbit/s package experienced the greatest degradation in speeds during peak times. The average speed for this type of connection between 8pm and 10pm was 27.2Mbit/s - 76% of the maximum speed (35.8Mbit/s). Five per cent of consumers on this package received average peak-time speeds that exceeded 90% of their maximum speed.

In comparison, customers on Sky’s ‘up to’ 38Mbit/s package saw the least degradation in average speeds. Speeds achieved during evening peak-time (34.5Mbit/s) were 96% of the average maximum speed (35.9Mbit/s).

The rural and urban gap

Many people living in rural areas experience slower broadband speeds. This is because broadband speeds over ADSL are generally slower in rural areas due to longer distances to the telephone exchange. It is also as a result of the limited availability of superfast broadband services in some rural areas.

The data suggests, however, that the gap between speeds in rural and urban areas could be narrowing. This is to be expected as rural availability and take-up of fibre broadband services increases. 

New data on internet disconnections

Ofcom’s report includes new analysis on disruptions to consumers’ internet connections, or ‘disconnections’. These occur when a modem loses connection to the internet and people cannot load web pages, access email, play online games or download or stream files.

This early analysis indicates that ADSL broadband customers experienced an average of 0.5 disconnections lasting longer than 30 seconds per day.

Customers on superfast fibre and cable broadband packages experienced less disruption to their internet connections - an average of 0.1 disconnections lasting longer than 30 seconds per day.

Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: “More and more consumers are benefitting from improvements to the UK’s broadband infrastructure. While good progress is being made, there is still work to do in ensuring more widespread distrbution of high-speed, reliable broadband services across the UK.

“It’s important for us to provide consumers with the best possible information to help them understand the options available to them when choosing broadband, how different packages perform, and what they can do to get the most from their services.”