This month, Ofcom published their last report into ISP performance in terms of UK fixed line broadband. This report revealed that the average download speed has risen from 59.4Mbps (last year) to 69.4Mbps now. Upload speeds also increased from last year’s 10.7Mbps to 18.4Mbps now.
However, there is unfortunately still a gap between broadband speeds in urban and rural areas.
Ofcom 2023 Study on UK Broadband ISP Speeds
Study data was collected during March of this year using custom routers and ISP supplied routers installed inside customer’s homes. It’s a highly accurate method of data collection, and gathers information at router level during idle periods of usage. For these reasons, it stops the influence of slow Wi-Fi and local network congestion.
It’s worth noting that this research focused on the larger ISP’s, restricted by the small sample size. Also, don’t forget that speed test results don’t automatically equal network availability!
For example, currently:
- Fixed line ‘superfast broadband’ (30Mbps +) are available to almost 98% of the UK
- ‘Gigabit capable’ networks (1000 Mbps +) cover over 76% (using both full fibre FTTP and Hybrid Fibre Coax lines) or 56% with just FTTP.
Let’s not forget about ADSL
ADSL is still used by up to 3 million lines. Although this is mostly in areas where there are few other alternatives, FTTC still remains very popular (15.6 million active lines) in locations where there are gigabit-capable connections available.
In reports like this one from Ofcom, speed testing figures can be dragged down by customers still using slower copper-based ADSL2+ and FTTC lines (up to 20-24 Mbps and 40-80 Mbps respectively).
Whilst the take up of faster connections is increasing, there are some customers who will be reluctant to to upgrading. This could be due to:
- Cost of upgrades to a faster connection (faster services are quite often more expensive)
- Not knowing that there are alternatives available
- Fees for exiting a contract
- A fear of switching
What are the UK Median Download and Upload Speeds?
In 2023, the average download speed was 69.4Mbps and upload speed was 18.4Mbps.
The report from Ofcom shared data on real-world average speeds for different types of connection:
- ADSL2+ – Average download speeds during peak times as well as across 24 hours ranged from 11.2 to 1.7 Mbps.
- FTTP – Average download speeds during peak times as well as across 24 hours ranged from 34.7 to 66.8 Mbps.
- Cable – Average download speeds during peak times as well as across 24 hours ranged from 134.5 to 1,137.1 Mbps.
- Full Fibre – Average download speeds during peak times as well as across 24 hours ranged from 74.8 to 919.8 Mbps.
Remember that performance can be affected by a number of things. Connections that use copper wire (FTTC, G.fast, ADSL) suffer with signal loss over distance. Results can also be affected by things like:
- Network congestion
- Traffic management
- Service Faults
- Poor home wiring
FTTP May Not Actually Be Slower Than Cable
Although the figures from Ofcom’s report seem to suggest otherwise, Cable might not actually be faster than FTTP.
Firstly, the ‘fixed superfast product take up’ reflects the percentage of UK customers that have chosen a package with download speeds of 30 Mbps or more.
Gigabit ‘cable’ download speeds may look like they are higher than FTTP, but that could be down to the provider (Virgin) setting its profile speeds as faster than their advertised rates.
Therefore, FTTP is not necessarily a slower technology than cable.
Rural Connections Still Falling Short
Unfortunately some rural areas and even digitally disadvantaged urban areas are yet to be reached by ‘superfast’ connections.
Sadly it is harder to make an economic case for the investment in remote rural areas, meaning that the commercial roll-out of gigabit-capable networks has been rapid in urban areas and at a much faster pace than rural areas.
There is still a big gap between performance in urban and rural areas. This could be reflective of the influx of commercial FTTP builds within cities and towns.
In Ofcom’s report, the data on this was limited as it only looks at the two most common rural broadband technologies. These are FTTC and ADSL. Unfortunately, copper ADSL lines in rural areas tend to be much longer than ones in urban areas, making them less reliable and more prone to signal attenuation.
When looking at the peak times of between 8pm and 10pm, the report from Ofcom presented a difference of 26% between the average download speed in urban and rural areas (70.3 and 56 Mbps respectively). It’s worth noting that the average download speed has increased from last year for both rural and urban areas. In March 2022, there was a 585 difference between speeds, so perhaps the gap is slowly closing.
Could the Universal Service Obligation Help Rural Wi-Fi?
The Universal Service Obligation (USO) sets a minimum download speed of at least 10 Mbps. Anyone who is not getting this could consider using the USO to improve their connection. This doesn’t happen automatically unfortunately – It needs to be requested.
Interestingly, provider BT/EE are using 4G devices to help tackle anyone not achieving speeds in line with the USO. Whilst it can be transformative for some connections, it doesn’t work for everyone so an alternative may be needed.
One possible option would be FTTP, however this is often too expensive to deploy under the USO and still won’t solve the issue in that last 1% of premises.
How Will Project Gigabit Help Rural Areas?
Project Gigabit is a £5 billion project from the government, ensuring that ‘gigabit-capable’ broadband services (1 Gbps +) reach at least 85% of UK premises by the end of 2025. The aim is to have nationwide (99%) coverage by 2030.
Much of this funding is being used on that final 20% of premises in hard to reach rural and semi-rural areas. Great news, but it will take time to deliver and see the benefits.
How Can You Resolve Broadband Speed Problems?
Unfortunately, sometimes broadband speeds do fall below the initial estimates for your line. But did you know that Ofcom’s Voluntary Code of Practice for Broadband Speeds can help you to resolve any problems with internet speeds that arise and are not in line with the estimates a member ISP provides on connection performance during the order process.
Which ISP’s are Ofcom members of the Voluntary Code of Practice for Broadband Speeds?
- NOW TV / NOW Broadband
- Talk Talk
- Utility Warehouse
- Sky Broadband
- Zen Internet
When you are in the ‘sign up’ stage, you can use the code to obtain more information on connection speeds. If these then fall below what was guaranteed and expected, it can help you to exit that contract if things don’t improve. ISP’s are allowed one month to resolve the issues, and if at that stage there is still a problem then the customer can walk away from the contract with no penalties. This ‘right to exit’ can also apply to phone and TV bundles that were purchased along with the broadband.
You’ll have noticed that only the larger ISP’s are members (apart from Vodafone which is noticeably absent!). Many of the smaller ISP’s don’t sign up due to the costs involved with adapting to Ofcom’s code being too high.
If you want to read more and see the data in full, you can find the full Ofcom Report for 2023 here.