Cable ahead in Ofcom speed test

By Julian Clover

July 28, 2009

Virgin Media has come out favourably in a survey conducted for the regulator Ofcom, which showed the average broadband speeds in the UK were significantly below the headline figure.
On average customers on Virgin Media’s ‘up to’ 10 Mbps cable service received speeds that were over twice as high as those experienced by ‘up to’ 8 Mbps DSL customers.

Generally the research, conducted for Ofcom by GfK NOP and Sam Knows, found that in April 2009, average broadband speeds were 4.1 Mbps, equivalent to just 57% of the average advertised headline speeds. These fell further during the evening peak of between 20.00 and 22.00, when actual speeds were measured at an average 3.7 Mbps.

However, it was not entirely good news for the cablenet, whose broadband services cover around 49% of the UK. Even though Virgin Media’s 20 Mbps packages delivered the fastest speeds within the 1,600 home sample, the 13 Mbps average still fell significantly short of the headline rate. Virgin’s 50 Mbps offering was not a part of the survey.

The survey also found 8 Mbps services delivered via ADSL2+ technology to be significantly faster than those on ADSL1. However, the survey notes that it is not just access technologies that are the determining factor in establishing the fastest speed. Plusnet, which predominantly uses ADSL1, produced speeds comparable with ADSL2, while AOL (a user of ADSL2), was generally slower than Plusnet.

Among the top eight DSL operators, where average download speeds are within a range of 3.2-5.1 Mbps. The faster average speeds were delivered by O2, Orange, Plusnet, Sky and Talk Talk, with AOL and Tiscali at the foot of the range.
Part of the reason for the disparity is likely to be network contention – the number of subscribers on the network at any one time – that can constrain speeds at peak times.

Andrew Ferguson, editor, said the scope of the report meant that smaller operators running much higher contention rates had escaped scrutiny. “It is rather disappointing that Ofcom have only looked at the largest providers only passing a brief comment in the body of the report that smaller providers exist. Whilst this does cover 90% of the current UK broadband user base, one of Ofcom’s statutory duties under the Communications Act 2003 is “to further the interests of consumers in relevant markets, where appropriate by promoting competition”