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UK fixed-line broadband performance, November 2013 - The performance of fixed-line broadband delivered to UK residential consumers

Published 15|04|14

Overview of UK fixed broadband speeds

The average fixed broadband download speed reached 17.8Mbit/s in November 2013

Our research found that the average actual speed for UK fixed-line residential broadband connections in November 2013 was 17.8Mbit/s (Figure 1.1). The average actual speed of superfast fixed broadband connections (i.e. those with a headline speed of ‘up to’ 30Mbit/s or higher) was 47.0 Mbit/s, which was over five times the average actual speed of connections above ‘up to’ 10Mbit/s and less than ‘up to’ 30Mbit/s (8.4Mbit/s). The average speed for connections above ‘up to’ 2Mbit/s up to and including 10Mbit/s was 3.3Mbit/s, less than a tenth of the average speed for superfast connections.

Figure 1.1       Average UK broadband speeds: November 2013

Source: SamKnows measurement data for all panel members with a connection in November 2013
Panel Base: 985
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, the last data collected for these packages was in April 2009 and this data has been factored in, in proportion to share of all connections in November 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 3.1Mbit/s in the six months to November 2013

Average actual fixed broadband download speeds continued to increase in the six months to November 2013. The average actual speed across all residential connections was 17.8Mbit/s, which was 3.1Mbit/s faster than that recorded six months previously and 48% higher than the 12.0Mbit/s average speed recorded in November 2012. Sufficient sample sizes were not available among our panel for connections with headline speeds of ‘up to’ 2Mbit/s and less because of the current low market share of these connections (less than 0.1% of the total in November 2013), so the performance of these connections is not analysed in detail. However, connections with a headline speed of ‘up to’ 2Mbit/s or less are included in Figure 1.2 to accurately reflect average actual speeds across all connections.

Average actual download speeds increased for every category compared, except for connections above ‘up to’ 2Mbit/s and up to and including 10Mbit/s, where speeds fell by 0.3Mbit/s between May and November 2013. The likely main driver of the fall in average speed recorded for this category is Virgin Media’s ‘double speeds’ upgrade programme, whereby Virgin Media ‘up to’ 10Mbit/s cable customers have been upgraded onto ‘up to’ 20Mbit/s or ‘up to’ 30Mbit/s services. ‘Up to’ 10Mbit/s cable customers typically had much higher average speeds than the ADSL1 connections which make up the majority of the other connections included in this category, so it is probable that the removal of cable connections from the category has led to a fall in its average speeds.

The average download speed for connections above ‘up to’ 10Mbit/s and less than ‘up to’ 30Mbit/s slightly increased, by 0.2Mbit/s to 8.4Mbit/s, between May 2013 and November 2013. Again, this is likely to be largely due to Virgin Media’s speeds upgrade programme, which increased the number of connections which were ‘up to’ 20Mbit/s cable connections in this category, thus increasing the average speed of connections in this category (in November 2012 the average speed of an ‘up to’ 20Mbit/s cable connection was 18.9Mbit/s compared to 7.4Mbit/s for ADSL2+ connections with a headline speed above ‘up to’ 8Mbit/s).

Download speeds for connections ‘up to’ 30Mbit/s and higher increased by 1.7Mbit/s from 45.3Mbit/s in May 2013 to 47.0Mbit/s in November 2013. This increase is likely to be due to increased take-up of higher speed services,  again partly driven by Virgin Media’s ‘double-speeds’ upgrade programme, which was concluded in December 2013.

Figure 1.2       Average actual broadband speeds: November 2008 to November 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 November 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.

A quarter of UK residential broadband connections had a headline speed of ‘up to’ 30Mbit/s or higher in November 2013

The proportion of residential fixed broadband connections that had a headline speed of ‘up to’ 30Mbit/s or higher in November 2013 was 25%, meaning that a quarter of residential broadband connections in the UK are considered to be superfast. This represented an increase of five percentage points from May 2013, when 19% of connections had a headline speed of ‘up to’ 30Mbit/s or higher. We consider the increased take-up of superfast connections to be a key factor driving the increase in average actual speeds across all connections.

The proportion of connections that were over ‘up to’ 10Mbit/s and less than ‘up to’ 30Mbit/s in November 2013 was 64%, a decrease of two percentage points on the previous six months, suggesting that consumers are upgrading from these connections to superfast services. The proportion of connections that were ‘up to’ and including 8Mbit/s to 10Mbit/s fell by three percentage points in November 2013 to 11%, while for the second successive reporting period, connections with a headline speed of less than ‘up to’ 8Mbit/s accounted for less than one per cent of connections.

Figure 1.3       UK residential broadband connections, by headline speed

Source: Ofcom, based on data provided by the UK’s largest ISPs by retail market share (representing over 90% of the total market)
Note: 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.

The average speed of cable connections increased by 5.3Mbit/s in the six months to November 2013

The average download speed of residential cable broadband connections was 40.2Mbit/s in November 2013 compared to 34.9Mbit/s in May 2013, an increase of 5.3Mbit/s over six months. This increase  is likely to have been driven by Virgin Media’s now completed ‘double speeds’ upgrade programme, which took place over the course of 2013, and contributed to average download speeds over cable connections being only 2.7Mbit/s lower than those over FTTx(-9-) connections in November 2013, compared to a difference of 8.8Mbit/s in May 2013.

Although panellists with fibre connections had the fastest average speeds overall, the average speed of FTTx connections fell by 0.7Mbit/s between May and November 2013 to 42.9Mbit/s. This is likely to be partly due to the proportion of FTTx connections that were ‘up to’ 76Mbit/s (rather than ‘up to’ 38Mbit/s) falling slightly during the period, the first time that this has happened since the faster services launched.

Average ADSL speeds were 6.7Mbit/s in November 2013 compared to 5.9Mbit/s in May 2013, however, this increase was not statistically significant. We will continue to monitor the average actual download speeds for ADSL connections in future to determine whether this increase in ADSL download speeds continues and, if so, which factors are driving this.

Figure 1.4       Average download speeds for fixed broadband connections, all connections including ‘up to’ 2Mbit/s and less, by technology

Source: SamKnows measurement data for all panel members with a connection in November 2013
Panel Base: 985
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.

Average download speeds in urban areas were almost three times those in rural areas in November 2013

Average download speeds tend to be faster in urban areas than in rural areas. There are two main reasons for this: the first is that the average line length from the exchange to the end-user’s premises tends to be longer in rural areas (which can result in increased signal loss and lower ADSL speeds) and the second is that the availability of technologies that are capable of providing superfast services, such as fibre and cable, tends to be lower in rural areas as ISPs tend to focus network rollout in urban areas so as to maximise their potential customer bases.

The average actual download speeds for UK urban, suburban and rural areas shown in Figure 1.5 below are calculated using a different statistical methodology to the UK-wide averages that appear elsewhere in this section of the report. While this methodology does enable us to compare download speeds by geographic area over time, the research is not explicitly designed to measure speeds by urbanity. As such, these results should be treated as being indicative only. Further details regarding the statistical methodologies used in this report are provided in Annex 3.

Our indicative analysis shows that the average download speed in urban areas increased by 21% to 31.9Mbit/s in November 2013, almost three times the estimated average download speed in rural areas (11.3Mbit/s). The average download speed in suburban areas in November 2013 was 21.8Mbits, an increase of 22% from May 2013. The increase in download speeds in rural areas in the six months to November 2013 was not statistically significant. As such, the increase in speeds from 9.9Mbit/s to 11.3Mbit/s should be seen as indicative only.

There was a difference of 20.6Mbit/s between average download speeds in urban areas and those in rural areas in November 2013, up from 16.5Mbit/s in May 2013. As the availability and take-up of superfast services in urban areas rapidly increases, it is likely that the difference in average broadband speeds between urban and rural areas will temporarily grow. However, we expect that speeds will become more evenly matched across the UK as fibre broadband availability increases in rural areas.

Figure 1.5       Average download speeds for fixed broadband connections in urban, suburban and rural areas: May 2011 to November 2013

Source: SamKnows
Panel Base: 2011; Urban 999, Suburban 382, Rural 323; 2012 Urban 1099, Suburban 391, Rural 294; and 2013 May Urban 1362, Suburban 448, Rural 365; 2013 November Urban 746, Suburban 292; Rural 271
Notes: This analysis by urbanity uses a different weighting methodology to that employed in the rest of this section. This methodology is likely to overstate the results and calculation of an average UK download speed from this data would yield a figure of 25.3Mb/s, which is different to the figure shown elsewhere in this section. Further detail regarding the statistical methodology used is provided in Annex 3.

Average urban fibre broadband speeds were over 50% faster than those in rural areas in November 2013

Our indicative analysis shows that average download speeds were faster in urban areas than rural areas on both ADSL and fibre connections in terms of the average maximum, 24-hour and 8pm to 10pm weekday peak-time speeds.

In November 2013, the average actual download speed over FTTx connections in urban areas was 46.8Mbit/s, 17.2Mbit/s faster than the average actual speed on FTTx connections in rural areas (29.5Mbit/s), although the rural FTTx figure is indicative only as it is based on a sample of just 17 rural FTTx panellists. Although average actual download speeds over FTTx connections were higher in urban areas than rural areas, average download speeds over rural fibre connections were over five times faster over than those on rural ADSL connections (4.0Mbit/s), although once again the rural figures should be treated with caution due to small sample size. Average peak-time speeds on fibre connections in urban areas were 46.3Mbit/s, 95% of the average maximum download speed, while in rural areas (where figures are once again indicative due to small sample size) average peak-time speeds were 29.0Mbit/s, 91% of the average maximum.

Average actual download speeds on ADSL connections in urban areas were 7.6Mbit/s, almost most twice those in rural areas. The average peak-time download speed on ADSL connections in urban areas was also 7.6Mbit/s, 90% of the average maximum speed over this type of connection (8.4Mbit/s). In comparison, the average peak-time download speed on ADSL connections in rural areas was 3.9Mbit/s, 87% of the average maximum download speed.

Figure 1.6       Average actual urban and rural ADSL and FTTx download speeds

Source: SamKnows
Panel Base: Urban ADSL 420, rural ADSL 171, urban fibre 147, rural fibre 17.

The extent to which download speeds are affected by peak-time network contention varies by technology

Download speeds vary by time of day and tend to fall during peak-times, when a larger number of connections are being used, as a result of capacity constraints (contention) on ISPs’ networks (Figure 1.7). For all types of connections analysed, the peak-time speeds were lower than both the average maximum speed and the 24 hour average speed. In November 2013, the average 8pm to 10pm weekday peak-time download speed across all connections was 17.5Mbit/s, which was 92% of the 19.0Mbit/s average maximum speed and 98% of the 24 hour average.

Cable connections ‘up to’ 120Mbit/s experienced the most variation between peak-time download speeds and maximum speeds. The peak-time download speed on ‘up to’ 120Mbit/s cable connections was 108.8Mbit/s, 86% of the average maximum speed and 95% of the 24 hour average over this type of connection. Cable connections ‘up to’ 30Mbit/s and ‘up to’ 60Mbit/s experienced less variation: the peak-time download speed on ‘up to’ 60Mbit/s cable connections was 58.4Mbit/s, 93% of the maximum speed and 98% of the 24 hour average. For ‘up to’ 30Mbit/s cable connections, the peak-time speed was 30.2Mbit/s, also 93% of the average maximum speed and 98% of the 24 hour average.

FTTC connections were less affected by peak-time contention than cable connections. The peak-time download speed on ‘up to’ 38Mbit/s FTTC connections was 32.5Mbit/s, 94% of the average maximum speed and 99% of the 24 hour average, while the peak-time download speed on ‘up to’ 76Mbit/s FTTC connections was 64.0Mbit/s, 96% of the average maximum speed and 99% of the 24 hour average.

For ADSL connections capped at 10Mbit/s or less, the peak-time download speed was 3.2Mbit/s, 86% of the average maximum speed and 98% of the 24 hour average, while peak-time download speeds on ADSL2+ connections above ‘up to’ 10Mbit/s were 93% of the maximum speed and the same as the 24 hour average.

Figure 1.7       Variations in download speed by time of day: November 2013

Source: SamKnows measurement data for all panel members with a connection in November 2013.
Panel Base: 985
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 November 2013; (3) Data collected from multi-thread download speed tests.

The average actual upload speed of a UK residential fixed-line broadband connection was 2.3Mbit/s in November 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 increased to 2.3Mbit/s in November 2013, an increase of 0.5Mbit/s compared to the 1.8Mbit/s recorded in May 2013. This increase is most likely driven by increased take-up of superfast services, which tend to have faster upload speeds than those provided over older technologies.

Figure 1.8       Average upload UK broadband speeds: November 2013

 
Source: SamKnows measurement data for all panel members with a connection in November 2013.
Panel Base: 985
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 speed tests.

The full document is available below

Footnotes:

 1.- FTTx is a term used to refer to any broadband network architecture using optical fibre to provide all or part of the connection between the local exchange and the end-user’s premises.

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