The January 2015 speed test results were published a few days ago and as always we will take a peek at some of the other data behind the main results. This month we are comparing the four main providers that everyone talks about BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media and looking at how for example their ADSL compares to their fibre based services.
The above chart shows the trend over the last six years for mean download speeds and reveals there is very little difference between the main ADSL/ADSL2+ providers, with the lead swapping around a lot. What is interesting is that while ADSL2+ technology and roll-out has been relatively stable for the last year the speeds continue to increase. This may actually be a side effect of those with the slowest ADSL speeds being the first to upgrade to a fibre based service, and is also reflected by a number of provides increasing the sales headline figure from up to 16 Mbps to up to 17 Mbps.
The difference between BT FTTC and Plusnet FTTC services is interesting since the connection speeds are in theory the same between the two providers. The launch of the 40/20 service by Plusnet in June 2014 does not explain the results, we suspect that it may be a mixture of consumer hardware and line set-up in the home and a preference for the 80/20 product at Plusnet which is £8 per month cheaper when there are no special offers.
We have looked at Sky and TalkTalk in a separate graph as the popularity of the faster 80/20 option is a lot smaller with these two providers, driven largely by the price and promotional activity centering on the up to 38 Mbps service. We have not published the upload charts for these two providers either because their product configuration just like BT and Plusnet is very different, i.e. Sky offer up to 10 Mbps on the entry level option whereas TalkTalk is up to 2 Mbps.
So while TalkTalk has the slower upload it does appear to win on the download speeds. The up to 76 Mbps service is slightly more popular with TalkTalk, which may explain some of the difference in speeds though. This highlights the difficulty of doing provider on provider comparisons since the marketing efforts of each provider have a major impact on which products people actually but, we have researched asking people more information about their broadband package, but the results are often very mixed with people far too often clearly picking the wrong product.
We have merged all of the FTTC results for this comparison and while there is a small amount of WightCable results in the cable line, it really could be described as an Openreach fibre versus Virgin Media chart.
The large dip in the cable speeds in September and October was puzzling, but this stabilised in November and has recovered for December and January. Generally this dip also reflects a rise in moans and groans about Virgin Media being slow in some places. The upgrade programmes from Virgin Media are clearly visible and it will be interesting to see how speeds fare in 2015 if another programme is launched to counter the expected roll-out of vectoring by Openreach.
After a period of rising speeds and then a big lead in 2013 as the up to 76 Mbps service was launched the overall FTTC speeds are pretty good, there is scope for improvement but that is reliant on people buying the up to 76 Mbps when their speed estimate says they will benefit. An awful lot of people who are given estimates in the 45 to 55 Mbps range pick the cheaper up to 38 Mbps service to save £5 to £10 per month. So our results are not an absolute measure of the performance of FTTC. The same people voting with their wallets applies to Virgin Media and FTTH providers, give people a choice of three products and invariably the middle one will be the most popular, irrespective of the various pro’s and con’s of the other two products.
The situation on upload speeds for FTTC and cable are very different, the step change from the cable upgrades is very apparent, but the story is pretty clear if you are involved in uploading content either to your cloud storage or working from home and need to make use of VPN connections then FTTC is the much more obvious choice.
We may consider for future updates trying to split out the up to 76 Mbps services from the up to 38 Mbps FTTC services to try and give people a better head to head comparison of the main providers.