Broadband snapshots: UK

Key points

  • The real-world broadband experience is highly dependent on the location of users’ homes, and users care about the experience where they live, and not nationally. Users’ speeds are higher on almost every ISP in urban areas.

  • BT users see the fastest average broadband speeds in rural areas (34.4Mbps download, 11.1Mbps Upload), but are second in urban areas where Virgin Media users experience the highest average urban speeds (84.5Mbps download and 14.6Mbps upload).

  • ISPs’ users see different speeds even between different cities. Our Virgin Media, BT, Vodafone, EE and TalkTalk users across three of the U.K.’s three largest cities experienced their fastest download speeds in Birmingham, while our Plusnet and Sky users on average saw their fastest speeds in London and Manchester, respectively.

 

Analysis

Opensignal took a look at the U.K. broadband market and analyzed our users’ real-world experience when they connected using a selection of the country’s major Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

While national scores might come in handy as a quick guide to the experience users have with different service providers, the nature of the broadband service requires a more granular approach as users’ experience will vary depending on the location of their home and the infrastructure that is available, which will not necessarily be the same across the country. That is why we have divided our analysis of the U.K. into different types of areas to assess how the broadband experience on the same ISP varies across different locations.

Firstly, we looked at our users’ average experience in urban and rural areas on a selection of the U.K.’s largest ISPs using the Rural-Urban Classification from the U.K. Office for National Statistics, then we analyzed the average download and upload speeds our users experienced in the top three U.K. cities by population.

We observed a significant difference between our urban and rural users’ experience with our selection of ISPs placing differently across the two locales. 

Our Virgin Media users on average experienced the fastest speeds in download across urban areas with 84.5 Mbps, while they averaged 14.6 Mbps in upload. However, as a cable provider, Virgin Media’s homes passed are predominantly urban. In rural areas, home broadband users usually use their telephone line and technologies such as VDSL or ADSL from a different range of ISPs. 

BT users had the next fastest urban experience with 40.6 Mbps download speed and 13.0Mbps upload speed. In the rural areas, BT users experienced both the fastest average download and upload speeds — 34.4 Mbps and 11.1 Mbps, respectively. 

Interestingly, our Sky users on average saw 28.8 Mbps in download speed across both urban and rural areas, but while that score positioned Sky behind five other ISPs in urban areas, 28.8 Mbps brought the operator a long way up the list — behind BT alone — in rural areas. 

Meanwhile, we observed the largest gap in the urban and rural speeds that our users experienced on Vodafone’s broadband network, as its users across urban areas averaged 38.4 Mbps in download speed, while users in rural areas saw that average speed drop to 22.6 Mbps. However, our Vodafone users saw the fastest average upload speed we recorded across urban areas, which was 16.3 Mbps.

 

We also looked at our users’ experience in the three largest U.K. cities by population — London, Birmingham and Manchester — and found that our users on Virgin Media on average experienced the fastest download and upload speeds across the three cities. Virgin Media users saw fairly consistent values with download speeds ranging between 83.2 and 90.6 Mbps, and upload speeds steady around 14.5 Mbps, but while those download speeds appeared distant to our users on the other ISPs, the upload speeds looked within reach.

Our users on Virgin Media, BT, Vodafone, EE and TalkTalk experienced their fastest download speeds in Birmingham, while our Plusnet and Sky users on average saw their fastest speeds in London and Manchester, respectively, out of the three cities.

We noted that the U.K. broadband market is extremely different to the mobile market, with multiple new factors determining users’ broadband experience. For example, the technology type of the broadband connecting a house — ADSL, VDSL, G.fast, cable, wireless or fiber to the premise (FTTP) — will determine the maximum speed a user will be able to access with their internet service provider. Additionally, most ISPs — except Virgin Media – rely on Openreach for access to telephone lines needed to connect many of their users with ADSL, VDSL or G.fast.

Moreover, in the broadband market it is much more common than in mobile to have unlimited packages with speed tiering, which means that users’ composition and choice of broadband packages will inevitably affect their download and upload speeds. The quality of home Wifi can also affect users’ experience which is why many ISPs supply home broadband routers that include Wifi to their customers to help them enjoy a good broadband experience. These and other factors help explain the variation in users’ real-world broadband experience.