The quickest broadband providers revealed

28 July 2009

New research has uncovered significant differences in broadband speeds across the UK, with more than a quarter of households unsure they’re receiving the broadband speed they pay for.

In response to a lack of “reliable” information on fixed-line broadband speeds, the regulator Ofcom carried out a major research project to compare the speeds offered by the UK’s nine biggest internet service providers (ISPs), and to glean how many homes actually receive the speed they pay for.

The research uncovered significant differences in the download speeds offered by providers. In April, the average broadband speed was 4.1 megabits per second (Mbit/s), compared to an average headline speed of up to 7.1 Mbit/s. Only 9% of people paying for broadband speeds of 8 Mbit/s actually receive speeds of over 6 Mbit/s, while one in five receive less than 2 Mbit/s.

Ofcom says that people living in urban areas are likely to enjoy faster broadband speeds compared to those in rural areas; however, all the ISPs surveyed experienced a slowdown in speeds of around 20% during peak evening hours of 8pm to 10pm.

Michael Phillips, product director at comparison service, says: “Ofcom's findings demonstrate that a first and second class culture of broadband users is emerging.

"Rural users are continuing to get a raw deal, with Ofcom’s findings showing that in addition to paying more than their urban counterparts, rural users also have to endure considerably slower broadband speeds."

Ofcom has now compared the UK’s nine major ISPs for the first time.

ISP and advertised speeds Average speed
AOL - up to 8 Mbit/s 3.3 - 3.9 Mbit/s
BT - up to 8 Mbit/s 3.8 - 4.2 Mbit/s
O2 - up to 8 Mbit/s* 4.1 - 5.1 Mbit/s
Orange - up to 8 Mbit/s 3.8 - 4.5 Mbit/s
Plusnet - up to 8 Mbit/s* 3.8 - 4.9 Mbit/s
Sky - up to 8 Mbit/s 4 - 4.7 Mbit/s
Talk Talk - up to 8 Mbit/s 3.9 - 4.6 Mbit/s
Tiscali - up to 8 Mbit/s 3.2 - 3.7 Mbit/s
Virgin Media - up to 10 Mbit/s 8.1 - 8.7 Mbit/s

* Sampled sizes for O2 and Plusnet were smaller than for other ISPs

Broadband speed is of increasing importance, as more people now use the internet to download video and music.

What are your broadband rights?

Amid concern about advertised broadband speeds, Ofcom has previously introduced a Code of Conduct that stipulates how ISPs should treat customers.

The Code means ISPs must provide customers with an estimate of the maximum speed they can enjoy at the point of sale, and must also explain the factors that might slow this down. For example, the further you live away from the ISPs exchange, the slower your speed.

If you are unlikely to achieve the estimated maximum speed, they your provider should offer you an alternative package without any penalties.

You can test your broadband speed online on websites such as's speed tester.

Improve your broadband speed

There are several things you can do to increase the broadband speed you enjoy at home.

1. Check the problems aren't being caused by electrical interference – speak to your ISP to find out how you could diagnose and rectify this problem.

Repositioning your router may also help improve your speed.

2. Ofcom’s research highlights that speeds at slower during peak times – this is between 8pm and 10pm. If you need to use the internet, try to do so outside of this peak period.

3. If you use the internet to download TV episodes, music and films, you will probably find your broadband speed will be affected.

These update downloads even when you think they are turned off, so check your settings and set the programme to ‘no peer to peer’. This means is won’t run when you aren’t using it.

4. Some ISPs have a fair usage policy – this allows them to reduce your speed if you have been using the internet heavily. If this has happened to you, contact your ISP and find out when your previously enjoyed speed will be returned, and how you can avoid this happening. in the future.

5. Switch your broadband package or move to another ISP – however, you may have to pay a penalty for leaving a contract, so do your research to make sure your new deal is worth it.

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