UK broadband sees speeds increase

Just days after the UK comms regulator released the latest edition of its Connected Nations report showing just how far the reach of broadband services is spreading across the country, especially in regions that have traditionally been underserved by reliable and fast services, Ofcom has now published its latest research into the performance of home broadband services in the UK, showing that average download speeds for home broadband connections have continued to increase.

The UK home broadband performance report was carried out to shine a light on the performance available to homes in the UK at the end of March 2023. It was obtained by measuring the performance delivered to customers’ routers and using data provided to Ofcom by the UK’s four largest broadband providers. The study focused on median averages, rather than mean averages, when analysing connection performance for the reason that Ofcom did not want the small numbers of users with ultrafast or very low-speed connections skewing the report and losing generality.

Fundamentally, the report found that the average download speed for UK broadband users was 69.4Mbps in March 2023, a 17% increase year-on-year, as people have upgraded to higher-bandwidth services, including full-fibre connections.

The proportion of lines receiving a 24-hour average download speed of at least 30Mbps was 88% in March 2023, up from 83% in March 2022. Just 3% of connections had an average 24-hour actual download speed of less than 10 Mbps in 2023, down from 4% in 2022. Less than 1% of lines had an advertised download speed under 10Mbps. Furthermore, there was a large increase in average upload speeds, rising to 18.4Mbps in March 2023. This was a year-on-year increase of 7.8Mbps (73%).

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One of the key regular findings revealed in recent years by Ofcom’s Connected Nations study was the persistent digital divide that exists between rural and urban connectivity. In terms of speeds, the latest report found that the gap between urban and rural speeds has narrowed, indeed more than halved in a year, with a 26% difference between average urban (70.3Mbps) and rural (56.0Mbps) download speeds during the 8pm-10pm peak-time period. This was 58% in 2022.

Superfast products – those with an advertised speed of 30Mbps or higher – accounted for 93% of all home broadband lines. The share of residential broadband connections that were superfast products increased from 91% to 93% in the year to March 2023, while 11% of lines were ultrafast products with advertised speeds of at least 300Mbps. Just 3% of lines had an average 24-hour actual download speed of less than 10Mbps in 2023, down from 4% in 2022. This is the minimum download speed that Ofcom regards as being required to deliver a “decent” service.

The data showed that average download speeds for basic (36-38Mbps) fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) services were around three times those of ADSL2+ services, while upload speeds were more than eight times those of ADSL2+. Cable and full-fibre services recorded the highest average speeds. Performance varies by package and technology, but broadband services using the same wholesale input tend to perform similarly.

Across all connections, 8pm-10pm peak-time download speeds averaged 95% of maximum speeds. ADSL2+ connections suffered the highest proportional network slowdown during busy periods, with peak-time download speeds averaging 92% of average maximum speeds in March 2023.

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Not surprisingly, cable and full-fibre packages provided the fastest download speeds. Cable connections had the biggest increase in their average download speed, rising by 71.3Mbps (36%) to 270.6Mbps. The average download speed delivered by full-fibre connections increased by 1.9Mbps (1%) year-on-year to 149.2Mbps.

While noting that users can achieve improved performance through switching technology or speed tier, Ofcom found few differences between comparable services offered by providers that based products on the same wholesale inputs from market-leading provider Openreach – that is, the likes of BT, EE, Plusnet, Sky and TalkTalk. The fastest median average 24-hour download speed was recorded by Virgin Media’s 1.13Gbps cable package (1,137Mbps), while Gigaclear’s 300Mbps full-fibre service had the highest average upload speed (337Mbps).

Investigating network congestion and contention, Ofcom discovered that the effect of network congestion during busy periods was lowest for full-fibre lines. Across all connections, the average 8pm-10pm peak-time download speed (67.7Mbps) was 95% of the 71Mbps average maximum speed, up from 94% in March 2022. Similarly, the average daily minimum speed (63.3Mbps) was 89% of the average maximum speed, up from 87% in March 2022.

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