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UK fixed-line broadband performance, May 2013 - The performance of fixed-line broadband provided to UK residential consumers

Published 07|08|13

Overview of UK broadband speeds

Average residential fixed-line broadband speeds reached 14.7Mbit/s in May 2013

Our research shows that the average actual download speed of a UK fixed broadband connection was 14.7Mbit/s in May 2013. The average download speed for packages above ‘up to’ 2Mbit/s and up to and including 10Mbit/s was 3.6Mbit/s, less than a tenth of that for connections with a headline speed of ‘up to’ 30Mbit/s and higher (45.3Mbit/s). Connections with a headline speed of above ‘up to’ 10Mbit/s and less than ‘up to’ 30Mbit/s had average speeds of 8.2Mbit/s in May 2013.

Figure 2.1 Average UK broadband speeds: May 2013

Source: SamKnows measurement data for all panel members with a connection in May 2013.
Panel Base: 1,592
Notes: (1) Data have been weighted by ISP package and LLU/non-LLU connections, rural/urban, geographic market classification and distance from exchange to ensure that they are representative of UK residential broadband consumers as a whole; (2) As sufficient sample sizes were not available for consumers on packages of ‘up to’ 2Mbit/s or less, data collected for these packages in April 2009 has been factored in, in proportion to share of all connections in May 2013; (3) Data collected from multi-thread download speed tests; (4) The above ‘up to’ 10Mbit/s and less than ‘up to’ 30Mbit/s category includes ADSL2+ connections which are not marketed using a connection speed.

Average broadband speeds increased by 22% in the six months to May 2013

The average fixed-line broadband download speed provided by UK residential connections has continued to increase. Compared to November 2012, our research shows that average actual download speeds increased by 2.7Mbit/s (22%), to 14.7Mbits. This represents a 64% increase compared to the May 2012 average of 9.0Mbit/s.

For connections of above ‘up to’ 2Mbit/s and up to and including 10Mbit/s, Figure 2.2 shows that average actual download speeds fell by 0.8Mbit/s. The fall in average speed recorded for this category is likely to be as a result of Virgin Media’s ‘double speeds’ upgrade programme, whereby Virgin Media’s ‘up to’ 10Mbit/s cable customers are being upgraded onto ‘up to’ 20Mbit/s or 30Mbit/s services. ‘Up to’ 10Mbit/s cable customers typically have much higher average speeds than the ADSL1 connections which make up the majority of the other connections included in this category (in May 2013 the average speed of an ‘up to’ 10Mbit/s cable connection was 9.3Mbit/s compared to 3.3Mbit/s for an ‘up to’ 8Mbit/s ADSL1 connection). Therefore, the fall in the proportion of these connections that are ‘up to’ 10Mbit/s cable connections has resulted in a fall in average actual download speeds in this category. Another reason is that, as BT continues to upgrade its ADSL network to offer ADSL2+, the ADSL1 connections that remain in this category are likely to be found in more rural areas, where the average length of line from the BT local exchange to the end users’ premises is likely to be longer, and average speeds therefore lower. (-1-)

The average speeds recorded for those on packages of above ‘up to’ 10Mbit/s and less than ‘up to’ 30Mbit/s rose slightly, by 0.1Mbit/s to 8.2Mbit/s. The proportion of connections that were ‘up to’ 20Mbit/s Virgin Media cable connections showed an increase over the period, as a result of Virgin Media’s ‘double speed’ upgrades. The average download speed for these connections was 19.0Mbit/s compared to 6.5Mbit/s for the ADSL2+ connections which make up the majority of the rest of the connections included in this category, so this shift will have an upward effect on the average speed of connections in this category.

The average speed of connections with a headline speed of ‘up to’ 30Mbit/s or higher continued to increase in the six months to May 2013, up by 2% (0.7Mbit/s) to 45.3Mbit/s. This rate of increase was much lower than the 23% and 6% respective increases in the average speeds of cable and fibre broadband services over the same period (see Figure 2.4).

The main reason for this was that the significant increase in overall actual cable broadband speeds was the result of Virgin Media’s ‘double-speeds’ upgrade programme, which doubled the speeds of most of its broadband connections. However, this did not lead to a significant increase in the proportion of Virgin Media superfast broadband connections that were ‘up to’ 60Mbit/s or ‘up to’ 100/120Mbit/s (rather than ‘up to’ 30Mbit/s), and the average speed of superfast cable connections did not show a similar increase to that of all cable connections.

Figure 2.2 Average broadband speeds: November 2008 to May 2013

Source: SamKnows measurement data for all panel members
Notes: (1) Data have been weighted by ISP package and LLU/non-LLU connections, rural/urban, geographic market classification and distance from exchange to ensure that they are representative of UK residential broadband consumers as a whole; (2) As sufficient sample sizes were not available for consumers on packages of ‘up to’ 2Mbit/s or less, data collected for these packages in April 2009 has been factored in, in proportion to share of all connections in May 2013; (3) Data collected from single-thread download speed tests prior to November/December 2010 and multi-thread download speed tests for November/December 2010 onwards; (4) The above ‘up to’ 10Mbit/s and less than ‘up to’ 30Mbit/s category includes ADSL2+ connections which are not marketed using a connection speed.

Superfast and ADSL2+ take-up continue to drive increases in average download speeds

A key driver of the increase in average actual fixed broadband download speeds over the past few years has been rising take-up of ‘up to’ 30Mbit/s and above services (also known as superfast services), a trend which continued in the six months to May 2013. Figure 2.3 shows that 19% of residential fixed broadband connections were classed as being superfast in May 2013, five percentage points higher than in November 2012 and 11 percentage points higher than in May 2012. Eighty-six percent of connections had an advertised speed above ‘up to’ 10Mbit/s in May 2013, a rise of 18 percentage points since May 2012.

This shift to higher-speed services is partially as a result of Virgin Media’s ‘double speeds’ upgrade programme, which doubled the speeds provided by most of its cable broadband connections. In addition, customers are also choosing to migrate to fibre broadband services, and over the course of the 2012/13 financial year the number of BT retail fibre broadband connections increased from around 550,000 (-2-) to over 1.3 million. (-3-)

There has also been a reduction in the proportion of connections between ‘up to’ 8Mbit/s and ‘up to’ 10Mbit/s, a fall of nine percentage points to 14% in the six months to May 2013. This is likely to be the result of a decline in the number of ‘up to’ 10Mbit/s cable connections resulting from Virgin Media’s continued upgrades. In addition, BT is continuing the upgrade of its ADSL network to offer ADSL2+, which moves connections out of the ‘up to’ and including 8Mbit/s to 10Mbit/s category. However, the rate at which this is happening is likely to have slowed, as coverage is now widespread.

Figure 2.3 UK residential broadband connections, by headline speed

Source: Ofcom, based on data provided by the UK’s largest ISPs by retail market share (representing 90% of the total market)
Notes: The above ‘up to’ 10Mbit/s and lass than ‘up to’ 30Mbit/s category includes ADSL2+ connections which are not marketed using a connection speed.

The average download speed for cable is above ‘up to’ 30Mbit/s

The average download speed for a cable fixed broadband connection was 34.9Mbit/s in May 2013, an increase of 6.6Mbit/s (23%) compared to November 2012 as a result of Virgin Media’s ‘double speed’ upgrade programme (Figure 2.4).

Overall, fibre panellists received the fastest average actual download speeds of the technologies included in this report (43.6Mbit/s), although there has been a marked slowing of the rate of increase. Between May 2012 and November 2012 average actual download speeds for FTTx services increased by 9.5Mbit/s (largely as a result of an increase in the proportion of FTTC connections that were ‘up to’ 76Mbit/s rather than ‘up to’ 38Mbit/s), whereas between November 2012 and May 2013 the increase was just 2.5Mbit/s.

Average ADSL speeds remained stable between May 2012 and May 2013.

Figure 2.4 Average actual download speeds for fixed broadband connections, by technology

Source: SamKnows measurement data for all panel members with a connection in May 2013
Panel Base: 849
Notes: (1) Data have been weighted by ISP package and LLU/non-LLU connections, rural/urban, geographic market classification and distance from exchange to ensure that they are representative of UK residential broadband consumers as a whole; (2) Data collected from multi-thread download speed tests.

The difference between urban and rural average actual speeds is increasing

There are two main reasons why average actual download speeds tend to be higher in urban areas than in rural areas. First, the average line length from the exchange to the end-user’s premises is shorter in urban areas, resulting in less signal loss and higher average ADSL broadband speeds. Second, there is lower availability of both fibre and cable broadband in rural areas, as providers tend to concentrate network build in highly populated areas in order to maximise their potential customer bases.

As mentioned previously, growth in superfast broadband take-up has been the main driver of increasing average UK broadband speeds in recent years (see Figure 2.3). However, the impact of increased superfast take-up on average rural broadband speeds has been less pronounced, because fewer consumers have upgraded to these services due to the lower availability of fibre and cable services in rural areas.

Our research shows that while average actual download speeds in urban, suburban and rural areas all increased in the two years to May 2013, the rate of increase has varied widely across these areas. (-4-) The average actual download speed in urban areas was 26.4Mbit/s in May 2013, an increase of 12.8Mbit/s (95%) since May 2011. This compares to suburban areas, where average download speeds have increased by 9.1Mbit/s (103%), and rural areas where they have increased by 5.8Mbit/s (141%) over the same time period.

Although the largest Mbit/s increases in average download speeds occurred in urban areas, the percentage increase in rural areas outstripped those in urban and suburban areas. This is because average speeds were lower in rural areas than in urban areas in May 2011, so the (smaller) Mbit/s average increase in rural areas (which was largely the result of upgrades to BT’s ADSL1 network to offer ADSL2+ and increasing LLU availability in rural areas) represented a larger proportion of average speeds in May 2011.

The difference between average urban and rural speeds increased from 9.5Mbit/s to 16.5Mbit/s between May 2011 and May 2013, and while this trend is likely to continue in the short term, we expect that it will begin to decline over time, as the availability of superfast broadband (in particular fibre broadband) increases in rural areas. (-5-)

Figure 2.5 Average download speeds for fixed broadband connections in urban, suburban and rural areas, over time

Source: SamKnows measurement data for all panel members
Panel Base: 2011; Urban 999, Suburban 382, Rural 323; 2012 Urban 1099, Suburban 391, Rural 294; and 2013 Urban 1362, Suburban 448, Rural 365
Notes: The UK average above will not match shown elsewhere in this report as different weightings have been used to enable us to provide comparisons by urbanity. Further statistical methodology is provided in Annex 3.

’Up to’ 100Mbit/s cable services had the most significant slow-down at peak-times in May 2013

Capacity constraints on ISPs’ networks mean that average actual download speeds often fall during busy periods (i.e. when a large number of connections are in use), and our research shows that in May 2013 the average weekday 8pm to 10pm peak-time download speed was 14.2Mbit/s, 97% of the 24-hour average speed (14.7Mbit/s) and 88% of the average maximum speed (16.2Mbit/s).

The 24-hour average and peak-time download speeds recorded in May 2013 were below the maximum speeds for all connection types included in our research (Figure 2.6). ‘Up to’ 100Mbit/s cable services had the largest percentage difference between average peak-time and average maximum speeds, with the average peak-time download speed (81.0Mbit/s) being 78% of the average maximum speed (104.0Mbit/s). In comparison, ‘up to’ 38Mbit/s FTTC had the smallest percentage difference between average peak-time and average maximum speeds, with the average peak-time download speed (32.1Mbit/s) being 93% of the average maximum speed (34.5Mbit/s).

Figure 2.6 Variations in download speed, by time of day: May 2013

Source: SamKnows measurement data for all panel members with a connection in May 2013.
Panel Base: 849
Notes: (1) Data have been weighted by ISP package and LLU/non-LLU connections, rural/urban, geographic market classification and distance from exchange to ensure that they are representative of UK residential broadband consumers as a whole; (2) As sufficient sample sizes were not available for consumers on packages of ‘up to’ 2Mbit/s or less, data collected for these packages in April 2009 has been factored in, in proportion to share of all connections in May 2013; (3) Data collected from multi-thread download speed tests.

The average actual upload speed of a UK residential fixed-line broadband connection was 1.8Mbit/s in May 2013

While broadband advertising focuses on download speeds, upload speeds matter to those sharing large files, using real-time two-way video communications, and for some online gaming. Our research shows that average actual upload speeds had increased to 1.8Mbit/s in May 2013, an increase of 0.4Mbit/s from the 1.4Mbit/s average upload speed recorded in November 2012.

Figure 2.7 Average upstream UK broadband speeds: May 2013


Source: SamKnows measurement data for all panel members with a connection in May 2013.
Panel Base: 849
Notes: (1) Data have been weighted by ISP package and LLU/non-LLU connections, rural/urban, geographic market classification and distance from exchange to ensure that they are representative of UK residential broadband consumers as a whole; (2) Data collected from multi-thread download speed tests.

Footnotes:

  1.- For ADSL broadband, the maximum line speed available is constrained by the length of the copper wire connection between the premises and the local telephone exchange, with speeds slowing down due to increased signal loss as the length of the line increases.

  2.- BT’s 2012 annual report: http://www.btplc.com/Sharesandperformance/Annualreportandreview/pdf/BTAnnualReport2012.pdf

  3.- BT’s 2013 annual report: http://www.btplc.com/Sharesandperformance/Annualreportandreview/pdf/2013_BT_Annual_Report_smart.pdf

  4.- The methodology used for this analysis is explained in Annex 3. The figures here should not be compared to other figures in the rest of the report as they were calculated using a different methodology.

  5.- Superfast broadband availability is expected to reach 95% of households by 2017.

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