We have gone back an analysed our speed test data stretching back to 2008 and have split the day into four different time zones.

  • Night – Midnight to 7am
  • Daytime – 7am to 3pm
  • Afternoon – 3pm to 6pm
  • Evenings – 6pm to Midnight

The afternoon session has been split out into its own three hour segment as past experience shows that this can be the peak period for some providers, where the combination of business use and children/young adults coming home from school and college can give a spike in data volumes compared to the more obvious evening period.

The analysis is restricted to the largest six providers because we need a large volume of tests to give a reasonable sample size and because of the reality that speed test usage is very low during the night period we will not normally be publishing that.

Don’t panic we have not forgotten about upload speeds, we are tracking those as well, and a quick summary of the effect on the median upload speeds is below. In subsequent months we will also look at the effect on latency.

Table of Average Median Download Speeds for Providers in June 2015
Provider Daytime Afternoon Evenings Daytime/Evening Change
BT 14 Mbps 13.6 Mbps 13.6 Mbps -2.9%
EE 8 Mbps 6.7 Mbps 7.4 Mbps -7.5%
Plusnet 9.9 Mbps 10.4 Mbps 10.6 Mbps +7%
Sky 9.3 Mbps 9.3 Mbps 8.3 Mbps -10.8%
TalkTalk 8.3 Mbps 7.9 Mbps 7.7 Mbps -7.2%
Virgin Media 44.3 Mbps 41.2 Mbps 34 Mbps -23.2%
Table of Average Mean Download Speeds for Providers in June 2015
Provider Daytime Afternoon Evenings Daytime/Evening Change
BT 20.6 Mbps 20.6 Mbps 19.7 Mbps -4.4%
EE 12.3 Mbps 12 Mbps 12.1 Mbps -1.6%
Plusnet 17.7 Mbps 17.5 Mbps 18.7 Mbps +5.6%
Sky 13.8 Mbps 13.3 Mbps 12.3 Mbps -10.9%
TalkTalk 13.7 Mbps 13.2 Mbps 12.9 Mbps -5.8%
Virgin Media 52.1 Mbps 47.3 Mbps 40.8 Mbps -21.7%

While the dips of 7 to 8% in the evenings were roughly what we expected, the rise for PlusNet users goes against the grain and while not always the case it does happen fairly often which may be a factor of traffic management PlusNet utilise. The large drop in Virgin Media speeds is something plenty of our forum users will be well used to, though even with a 20% drop their mean and median speeds are still well above the other providers, we may in future months take a look at the effect on latency as for people like gamers and those using VoIP and webcams that can be a big factor.

Of course there will be individuals who have very different stories, so we should emphasis that these results are across the whole of the UK. The historical trends are worth looking at particularly as we have not published this information before to avoid too many lines on each chart we have just plotted the 7am to 3pm period versus the 6pm to midnight period.

Graph of peak vs off peak

Historical pattern for median peak and off-peak download speeds at BT

The rise in speeds as FTTC has been rolled out and adopted is clearly evident and what is clear is that back in 2009 to 2011 the gap between peak and off-peak speeds was larger as a proportion of the overall speed. The sharp dip in median speed for May and June 2015 may be part of the usual cyclical pattern, if we see median speeds continue to dip then something serious is happening. This variation from month to month is why we try to always publish the historical trends so people can evaluate the pattern over time.

Graph of peak and off-peak speeds

Historical trend of speeds at EE

The EE data does not stretch back as far as the other providers due to the shift from Orange to EE, but does show that more often for EE users there is a dip in the speeds in the evening.

Graph of Plusnet peak speeds

Profile of PlusNet speeds over time and time of day

The PlusNet chart is interesting, until May 2012 the pattern was very much what you would expect, but since the peak and off-peak have jostled around and for a few months in 2014 the peak speeds were better. This seems to fly in the face of the trend for people to complain about broadband speeds at PlusNet on our forums, but as always it is difficult to know if it is a vocal 1% complaining with 99% having no problems, the pattern when there have been other periods of congestion at any provider is usually a few canary users saying something is up followed by the wider user base noticing after a few weeks or months. So for now it is a case of keeping an eye to see if a pattern emerges.

Graph of speeds at Sky

Historical Trends at Sky for Evening versus Daytime speeds

The plot from Sky speed tests shows pretty much what we expected to see and while the drop is not consistent each month at least with the mean speed being three times faster than 2008 the gaps are not necessarily three times wider.

Graph of TalkTalk speeds

Chart of Evening versus Daytime Speeds at TalkTalk since 2008

Overall a similar pattern at TalkTalk to the Sky chart, but it looks slightly like overall the drop is more noticeable. Given both TalkTalk and Sky have their own fibre backhaul network we would almost have expected better performance than the BT Wholesale based providers. Of course one cannot expect totally congestion free connections, the main reason consumer and SME broadband is as cheap as it is because we do not buy a massive chunk of dedicated capacity, otherwise we would paying monthly prices in line with Ethernet that carries bandwidth guarantees.

Graph of Virgin Media speeds

Variation in download speeds for Virgin Media users

The Virgin Media graph was a surprise to us, we know that some people in parts of the UK do complain about large drops across the time of the day but we did not expect to see it show up so clearly. Of concern is that while other providers have not seen the gap widen as speeds increase with Virgin Media does look wider compared to 2008 and 2009. So while DOCSIS and coax may be better at delivering broadband at high speeds compared to CW1308 twisted pair cables this final mile of the delivery is not the total story for end users. Maybe the adverts about hooking up lots and lots of devices to Virgin Media cable are being too successful. If there is another round of speed upgrades at Virgin we hope that the network capacity gets a serious uplift otherwise we will see the gap widen.

Table of Average Mean Upload Speeds for Providers in June 2015
Provider Daytime Afternoon Evenings Daytime/Evening Change
BT 5.2 Mbps 5.2 Mbps 5.2 Mbps 0%
EE 2.5 Mbps 2.8 Mbps 2.5 Mbps 0%
Plusnet 4.7 Mbps 4.9 Mbps 5.3 Mbps +12.7%
Sky 3.3 Mbps 3.1 Mbps 2.9 Mbps -12.1%
TalkTalk 1.8 Mbps 1.7 Mbps 1.8 Mbps 0%
Virgin Media 6 Mbps 5.6 Mbps 5.3 Mbps -11.6%

The upload data is interesting with three providers showing no big difference, but as with downloads there is some variation over time. The exception seems to be Sky where upload speeds still dip at peak times. The dip on uploads was less at Virgin Media compared to downloads and seems to be reflected in the historical trends to, which helps to highlight that the dip in Virgin Media speeds at peak times is probably not because all the historical 20 Mbps package users come online.

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