Ofcom: UK Broadband Speeds Show Sharp Rise

Average broadband speeds in UK homes rose sharply last year, according to regulator Ofcom, with download speeds rising by 28 percent.

But Ofcom’s figures found sharp disparities between urban and rural broadband and speeds across different parts of the UK.

Average fixed-line download speeds across the UK rose to 46.2 Megabits per second (Mbps) in November 2017, compared with 36.2 Mbps a year earlier, with upload speeds rising by 44 percent to 6.2 Mbps.

The typical household consumed 190 gigabytes of data per month, fuelled by Netflix and other streamed television services.

Superfast upgrades

Ofcom said the rise was driven by users upgrading to superfast services, which are now available to 93 percent of premises in Britain. Ofcom defines superfast broadband as having a minimum download speed of 30 Mbps.

While the increase was substantial, Ofcom noted that only three in five UK households currently subscribe to superfast broadband services, meaning many more would have the option of doing so.

Ofcom said in many cases users could move from less reliable copper-based ADSL connections to fibre at no extra cost by asking to be switched in areas where the faster technology is available.

“With some superfast services actually costing less than standard broadband, consumers could upgrade and still save money,” said Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at comparison site uSwitch.com.

“It’s fantastic to see more and more people signing up for faster connections, and I encourage everyone to contact their broadband provider, or a comparison website, and check if they’re able to upgrade,” said Minister for Digital Margot James.

Ofcom highlighted speed improvements by cable provider Virgin Media during peak evening hours, ascribing the change to an investment in additional network capacity.

The company’s “up to 200 Mbps” product delivered the fastest measured download speeds, averaging 193.6 Mbps over 24 hours. Virgin Media launched a 300 Mbps product in 2017, but accurate figures for the service were not yet available.

Rural lag

Rural connection speeds were, however, far lower than those in urban areas, Ofcom found.

In cities 59 percent of connections delivered average speeds over 30 Mbps during the 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. peak usage period, with 17 percent under 10 Mbps.

In rural areas the proportions were nearly reversed, with 23 percent over 30 Mbps at peak times and 53 percent under 10 Mbps.

The disparity was largely due to lower availability and take-up of cable and fibre services in the countryside, Ofcom said.

Regional speed gap

The regulator also found a substantial speed gap between the fastest areas of the UK and the slowest, with England registering 47.8 Mbps download speeds on average and Wales at the bottom of the list with 33.4 Mbps.

Scotland was second at 43.6 Mbps and Northern Ireland was third with 39.2 Mbps.

Ofcom obtained its figures via speed-testing boxes at the properties of about 4,700 volunteers.

Later this month broadband providers are to be obliged to quote average peak-time speeds in promotional materials rather than the “up to” figures often used until now.

Mobile habits

The regulator reported its findings on UK mobile phone habits as well, finding that on smartphones internet use was considered more important than making phone calls.

Ninety-two percent of those asked said web access was very or extremely important, compared with 75 percent for phone calls.

Users connected to the internet via Wi-Fi three-quarters of the time, far more often than via a cellular network.

Eighty-four percent of those surveyed said they were satisfied with the overall network performance of their mobile provider.

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Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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