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UK superfast broadband: Virgin Media downloads fastest, says Ofcom

UK superfast broadband: Virgin Media downloads fastest, say OfcomVirgin Media officially has the fastest download speeds in the UK according to recent figures published by Ofcom.  

Figures for May 2012 put speeds for Virgin Media’s fibre broadband head and shoulders above the superfast pack, where ‘superfast’ is defined as anything providing speeds above 30Mbps.

Virgin Media 100 (up to 100Mbps) ran laps around the nearest superfast equivalent from BT – BT Infinity 2 – which has a top download speed of 76Mbps.

Virgin Media’s leaps and bounds have been due in part to the recent programme of speed boosts, which has seen download speeds double in areas where Virgin Media is available.

Virgin Media best for downloads, BT best for uploads

Virgin Media’s spokesperson told us: “Britain’s broadband speeds are moving in the right direction as more people choose fibre optic and make the most of superfast speeds. We continue to invest in our network as we double the broadband speeds of millions of UK households, widening the gap between Virgin Media and other fibre providers.”

UK superfast broadband: Virgin Media downloads fastest, say Ofcom

However when it came to comparing upload speeds, it was BT that took the TeamGB gold medals. Average upload speeds on BT Infinity 2 (over 15Mbps) were faster than those on Virgin Media 100 (under 10Mbps) over a 24 hour period.

Upload speeds on the older BT Infinity package (the 38Mbps download service) were also comparable with those of Virgin Media 100.

A BT spokesperson said:

“Ofcom’s latest survey shows BT’s customers are getting faster speeds than ever before and faster than much of our competition… With the successful launch of our new Infinity up to 76 Mbps product and the growth of our Infinity footprint, we are helping more UK consumers get Superfast Broadband and increasing the average UK downstream speed.”

The reasons why BT Infinity 100 – BT’s FTTP service – and Hyperoptic’s 1Gbps broadband weren’t included in the round-up is due a lack of subscribers. Ofcom’s report says ‘We present data in the report only in cases where there are sufficient data points to deliver a statistically sound result.’ Once there are more ‘sufficient data points’ – or when more people start using BT Infinity 100 and Hyperoptic – we should see some very different results.

August 15, 2012

What does superfast broadband mean?

Superfast broadband is defined in this report as anything providing download speeds of 30Mbps or higher. Superfast broadband is exclusively fibre broadband. In this case, the fibre broadband products compared use FTTC – Fibre to the Cabinet – which is not technically ‘full’ fibre, as it uses copper wiring to connect the last mile.

Read our Fibre Broadband: What is FTTC aka Fibre to the Cabinet and what does it mean? feature for more information on how FTTC works.

What are the average superfast broadband UK speeds?

The average UK download speed for superfast broadband is now 35.8Mbps.

The average download speed for superfast broadband has actually decreased since November-December 2010, down 5.3Mbps from 41.1 to 35.8.

UK superfast broadband: Virgin Media downloads fastest, say Ofcom

This is partially due to BT’s entry into the superfast broadband market. Its main products – BT Infinity and BT Infinity 2 – aren’t as fast overall as Virgin Media’s. The average download speed of BT’s Infinity (up to 38Mbps) product has decreased from 36.0Mbps to 31.6Mbps.

Since last year however, the average speed has actually increased – 35.8Mbps up from the 35.5Mbps average reported in November 2011.

The average speeds of non-fibre broadband (ADSL2+ based broadband) is 5.6Mbps – read our feature on the latest ADSL2+ speeds here.

The average UK speed for broadband overall – including ADSL2+ and superfast broadband – is 9.0Mbps.

Who’s fastest in superfast broadband?

Virgin Media currently offers the fastest download speeds, according to Ofcom.

Virgin Media 100 provides the fastest average maximum speed (101.0Mbps-103.2Mbps) and the fastest peak-time speeds between 8pm-10pm at 80.1Mbps to 86.6Mbps.

UK superfast broadband: Virgin Media downloads fastest, say Ofcom

BT Infinity 2 by contrast has an average maximum speed of 63.1Mbps-68.8Mbps and peak-time average speeds of 54.7Mbps to 61.1Mbps.

Virgin Media 60, an up to 60Mbps service, compared favourably with BT Infinity 2 as well, with the BT package just a hair faster (2-3Mbps faster) in most cases.

Who’s got the fastest superfast broadband uploads?

BT currently offers the fastest upload speeds on a superfast connection according to Ofcom. BT Infinity 2 with an advertised ‘up to’ speed of 19Mbps for uploads has nearly double the upload speeds of Virgin Media 100, which has upload speeds of ‘up to’ 10Mbps.

Average upload speeds on BT Infinity 2 were found to be 15.6Mbps over a 24 hour period compared to those on Virgin Media 100 which were under 10Mbps.

UK superfast broadband: Virgin Media downloads fastest, say Ofcom

Upload speeds on the older BT Infinity package (the 38Mbps download service) were also comparable with those of Virgin Media 100.

This is because BT Infinity broadband has a download to upload ratio of 80/20, compared to the 10/1 download-to-upload ratio of Virgin Media’s services.

What else does Ofcom’s superfast broadband speed report measure?

Aside from speed, Ofcom’s report on superfast broadband takes into account quality. Latency, DNS response times, failure rates and jitter are all as important as speed for certain things like gaming and VoIP services like Skype. 


Who’s got the best superfast broadband web browsing times?

In this graph of loading times you can see that Virgin Media’s superfast fibre broadband offers better page loading times.

Average loading times for a web page was roughly second in all cases (everyday and peak times) across all three of Virgin Media’s packages (up to 30, 60 and 100Mbps). Virgin Media 60 provided the fastest load times overall, on or under the 400 millisecond mark in all cases.

UK superfast broadband: Virgin Media downloads fastest, say Ofcom

There was a greater variety of speed results with BT Infinity connections. BT Infinity (up to 38Mbps) provided load times just shy of 600 milliseconds and below 400 milliseconds. BT Infinity 2 (up to 76Mbps) provided less variable results, with load times ranging between 550 and 380 milliseconds.

So BT page load times were a little slower overall than those achieved on the Virgin Media services. We are talking milliseconds here so unless you’re super impatient there’s not a great deal of difference.

Speaking of which, its interesting to note that page loads times on ADSL2+ connections are faster than those on ‘superfast’ fibre broadband.

Who’s got the best superfast broadband latency?

Low latency makes for better gaming and VoIP calls. Latency is the time it take for information to travel from your computer to another. So in a multiplayer scenario or when you’re videocalling friends or colleagues you want latency to be as low as possible.

UK superfast broadband: Virgin Media downloads fastest, say Ofcom

Both BT Infinity packages boast better latency than any of the Virgin Media packages. Tests showed that everyday and peak time use showed that latency was always below 20 milliseconds on both BT Infinity and BT Infinity 2.

Latency on all Virgin Media packages were below 30 milliseconds, with performance at peak times the worst overall. In everyday situations latency was comparable with the BT packages, right on the 20 millisecond mark or in the case of Virgin Media 100 right under it.

Who’s got the best superfast broadband packet loss?

Packet loss refers to the proportion of data packets lost in transmission over a connection. This is another crucial factor for gaming and videocalling but also when streaming video – lost information can lead to glitches in games, video conference calls or when you’re watching a movie on demand.

As with latency, BT came out on top with under 0.2 per cent of lost data being recorded during both everyday use and peak times.

UK superfast broadband: Virgin Media downloads fastest, say Ofcom

With Virgin Media’s superfast packages, there was greater loss during peak times, when the networks were busy.

The faster services provided a better, less lossy service. Virgin Media 100 saw between 0.4 and 0.2 of data lost during peak times. Virgin Media 60 saw slightly worse performance, with packet data loss of between 0.7 and 0.2 per cent at peak times. Virgin Media 30 was the worst offender with between over 1 per cent and under 0.4 per cent of data lost at peak hours.

During everyday hours, data loss was less frequent. Again there’s a correlation with the more expensive and faster the package, the better the service.

Who’s got the best superfast broadband DNS response times?

DNS response times or DNS resolution refers to the time it takes an ISP to translate the website name (e.g. into an IP address. When DNS servers operate slowly, web browsing and general web use suffers.

UK superfast broadband: Virgin Media downloads fastest, say Ofcom

BT again emerges as the winner here, promising faster DNS response times in some cases nearly 10 milliseconds before Virgin Media. A slight difference you might think but one that could make all the difference if you’re a student, researcher, journalist or analyst and speed is of the essence.

Who’s got the worst superfast broadband DNS failure rates?

DNS failure refers to when an ISPs DNS servers can’t locate the domain name to an IP address. This results in the “Host could not be found” or “server is unavailable” messages you often see.

BT scored another small victory over Virgin Media here with tests showing that DNS failure happened less roughly 0.1 per cent of the time on average and during peak hours.

UK superfast broadband: Virgin Media downloads fastest, say Ofcom

By contrast, Virgin Media suffered from failure rates as high as around 0.7 on the Virgin Media 30 and 60 services at peak time and under 0.5 per cent on Virgin Media 100 in peak hours.

Overall results make for positive reading by both ISPs – DNS failure rates under 1 per cent are pretty amazing – compared to the failure rates of ADSL2+ broadband services.

Who’s got the worst superfast broadband jitter rates?

‘Jitter’ is defined as the rate of change of latency. The most common example where you’ll see jitter affecting you is streaming video. On YouTube or BBC iPlayer, you’ll see the grey buffer area loading at the bottom of the video. Often the grey buffer zone will stop or slow down even if you’ve got a fast connection.

When YouTube and iPlayer know the latency of your connection it’ll be able to define where the buffer. So if the latency keeps changing frequently, the app won’t know where to stop buffering – this is jitter.

UK superfast broadband: Virgin Media downloads fastest, say Ofcom

BT scores another (slight) win here. On both downloads and uploads, jitter was less of an issue on BT Infinity and BT Infinity 2 than it was on any of the Virgin packages.

Again, at peak times the Virgin Media connections suffered more, with non-peak time use comparable to BT. In fact, non-peak time jitter on Virgin Media 30 was lower overall than BT Infinity up to 38Mbps.

Virgin Media 100 also provided the lowest amount of jitter overall during non-peak hours racking up less than 0.2 per cent. But it also provided the most amount, closer to 0.4 per cent.

Overall, BT Infinity provided a more consistent and stable browsing experience.

UK superfast broadband – is there anything else?

That’s as far as the Ofcom report goes in terms of analysis. But when comparing broadband there’s other things you might want to consider. Price is the obvious factor; in some cases it might be better value for money to go with Virgin Media, in others, BT Infinity, depending on how close you are to your BT cabinet.

Then you’ve got to consider Virgin Media’s TV offerings which provide greater choice and flexibility over BT Vision. At least until BT announces its Premier League plans…

Then there’s availability – if you can get Virgin Media in your area but BT hasn’t connected your cabinet or exchange to its FTTC footprint (or vice versa) then the choice is a no-brainer.


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