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Virgin ‘fastest’ in new broadband speed test

Virgin closest to advertised speed in Ofcom’s test

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Virgin has fastest average speed in Ofcom broadband speed test

Cable broadband company, Virgin Media has outperformed the likes of AOL, BT, O2, Orange, Plusnet, Sky, Talk Talk and Tiscali in the broadband watchdog Ofcom’s recent broadband speed test.

The broadband speed test, carried out in partnership with Ofcom’s technical partner, SamKnows and market research agency Gfk NOP, involved over 60 million service performance tests carried out in over 1,600 homes from November 2008 to April 2009.

The overall average UK broadband speed was 4.1Mbps, compared with an average ‘up to’ headline speed of 7.1Mbps.

To see how the big broadband providers who performed best and worst for speed measure up for customer satisfaction, including which ISPs made Which? Best Buy status, read our broadband and phone, internet and TV package reviews.

Virgin, AOL, Tiscali and others

In a comparison of nine of the UK’s biggest broadband providers, Virgin Media’s average range of 8.1 – 8.7Mbps made its up to 10Mbps service significantly faster than the others tested. In contrast, Tiscali and AOL’s up to 8Mbps services had significantly slower average speeds than most of the other broadband Internet Service Providers (ISPs) tested.

Average speeds were worked out over a 24 hour period and took into account varying distances customers had from their local exchanges.

In most cases, the comparison between broadband ISPs was made based on their up to 8Mbps broadband services. Virgin Media doesn’t offer cable broadband with an ‘up to’ 8Mbps speed so Ofcom tested its up to 10Mbps service instead. However, the company was still much closer proportionally to its advertised 10Mbps speed, than the other ISPs were to their ‘up to’ 8Mbps services.

The average speeds found over a 24-hour period for the nine major broadband providers in Ofcom’s research are shown below (we show first the advertised speed and then the average speed achieved in practice):

  • Virgin Media ‘up to’ 10Mbps: average 8.1 – 8.7Mbps
  • O2 ‘up to’ 8Mbps: average 4.1 – 5.1Mbps
  • Sky ‘up to’ 8Mbps: average 4.0 – 4.7Mbps
  • Plusnet ‘up to’ 8Mbps: average 3.8 – 4.9Mbps
  • Talk Talk ‘up to’ 8Mbps: average 3.8 – 4.6Mbps
  • Orange ‘up to’ 8Mbps: average 3.8 – 4.5Mbps
  • BT ‘up to’ 8Mbps: average 3.8 – 4.2Mbps
  • AOL ‘up to’ 8Mbps: average 3.3 – 3.9Mbps
  • Tiscali ‘up to’ 8Mbps: average 3.2 – 3.7Mbps

Ofcom points out that sample sizes for O2 and Plusnet were below 50.

Of course factors, such as satisfaction and price are also important when choosing a broadband package. See our broadband review for our latest satisfaction results (including Which? Best Buys) and the latest package details for all the major ISPs.

Ofcom’s findings once again confirm the results in Which?’s original investigation that showed consumers on ‘up to’ 8 Mbps broadband packages achieved nowhere near their headline speeds. See our guide on how to boost your broadband speed for more information.

Actual broadband speeds

Ofcom found that less than 10% of the respondents on an ‘up to’ 8Mbps broadband package received average speeds of more than 6Mbps, and one in five received an average speed of less than 2Mbps.

The research also discovered that overall, consumers experienced slower speeds during peak evening times (between 8-10pm).

As consumers increasingly use the internet for bandwidth-heavy applications, such as watching TV programmes on BBC iPlayer for example, consumers need to know the speeds they can realistically achieve with their services.

Which? Technology editor Matt Bath said of Ofcom’s findings: ‘As such a small number of people are able to reach any where near the headline speed of their broadband package, ISPs need to make it very clear at point of sale what speed individual customers are likely to achieve in reality. 

‘If they are unable to measure up to this promise, broadband providers should make it easy for customers who are unhappy with broadband speeds to get out of their contracts after they have signed up.’

For more information on watching TV online, see our guide to Online TV.

Broadband speeds code of practice

Ofcom took measures to act on broadband speeds in December 2008 by requiring all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) signing up to the Broadband Speeds Code of Practice to provide an accurate estimate of the maximum speed they can expect when signing up to a service.

Since 5 December 2008, over 95% of people choosing a broadband service have been covered by the Ofcom broadband speeds Code of Practice.

Under the code, ISPs must also explain to customers the factors which determine the actual broadband speeds they can receive and give guidance on how to improve speeds.

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