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British communications regulator Ofcom says consumers are achieving average residential broadband speeds of 9.0Mbit/s. According Ofcom’s research, new ‘superfast’ packages, including Virgin Media’s ‘up to’ 60 Mbit/s service and BT’s Infinity 2 ‘up to’ 76 Mbit/s service,  have contributed to the rise in average speeds.



The watchdog says consumer migration to faster services is gathering momentum. While some consumers choose to upgrade to superfast broadband packages to achieve higher speeds, many are benefiting from improved speeds as a result of Internet service providers’ (ISPs’) network upgrades, at little or no additional cost to consumers.  In May 2012, over two-thirds of UK fixed-line residential broadband users (68%) were on packages with advertised speeds above ‘up to’ 10Mbit/s, an increase from 48% in May 2011. 


Average Actual UK Fixed-Line Residential Broadband Speeds Since November 2008 


Date Average Actual UK Fixed-Line Residential Broadband Speed
Nov 2008 3.6Mbit/s
May 2009 4.1Mbit/s
May 2010 5.2Mbit/s
Nov/Dec 2010 6.2Mbit/s
May 2011 6.8Mbit/s
Nov 2011 7.6Mbit/s
May 2012 9.0Mbit/s

Copper, Cable and Fibre Performance

Of the different types of broadband technologies, Ofcom found cable broadband connections generated the greatest increases in average speed in the six months to May 2012 – up by 3.6 Mbit/s (26%) to 17.9 Mbit/s. Over the same period, average speeds delivered by ADSL broadband – a technology that delivers broadband over copper wires – increased by 10%, from 5.3 Mbit/s to 5.9 Mbit/s. Average actual speeds recorded for fibre to the street cabinet (FTTC) connections, however, fell by 12% (from 36.0MBit/s to 31.6Mbit/s) in the six months to May 2012.

Network Upgrades to Meet the Need for Speed

The noticeable overall improvement in speeds is, in particular, the result of ISPs upgrading their broadband networks. BT’s upgrade of its copper ADSL network, for example, has seen many customers move from ADSL1 technology to the faster ADSL2+ technology, while BT’s upgrade of its FTTC service has seen an up to 76 Mbit/s service launched alongside its up to 38 Mbit/s service. Similarly, in February 2012, Virgin Media started to double the speeds of most of its broadband connections, increasing the top speed of its fastest package to up to 120 Mbit/s.

Comparisons Between ISPs’ Download Speeds

Of the 12 ISP packages, Virgin Media’s up to 100 Mbit/s service was the fastest. Of the other superfast packages, the average download speed on BT Infinity’s up to 76 Mbit/s service was 58.5 Mbit/s, compared with Virgin Media’s up to 60 Mbit/s at 55.9 Mbit/s. BT’s up to 38 MBit/s package achieved speeds of 32.2 Mbit/s whilst Virgin Media’s up to 30 Mbit/s service had average speeds of 30.1 Mbit/s. During busy peak periods, a higher proportion of Virgin Media cable customers experienced speeds of less than 90% of their average maximum speed, compared to BT Infinity fibre customers.

Broadband Advertising

In April this year, guidance on the use of speed claims in broadband advertising published by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP), came into force. The guidance states advertised speed claims now have to be achievable by at least 10 per cent of the relevant ISP’s customer base. Many ISPs have therefore changed the way they advertise their broadband services. For example, ADSL2+ services, which were previously promoted using the technology’s maximum theoretical speed of up to 24 Mbit/s (which was rarely achieved in practice), are now being advertised as up to 16 Mbit/s. Some ISPs have moved away from promoting their services primarily on the basis of speed focussing instead on price or added value features such as free security.


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