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Plusnet and O2 broadband top Ofcom’s ADSL2+ speed test surveys

Ofcom’s latest figures for the state of Broadband Britain show that Plusnet’s services provides the fastest download speeds on non-cable ADSL2+ lines. 

Compared with BT, Karoo, O2, EE, Sky and TalkTalk, Plusnet came out on top, managing 11.7Mbps at best and an average 8.8-11.0Mbps download speed over a 24 hour period. 

During peak times (measured from 8:00PM-10:00PM on weekdays) Plusnet came out on top again, kicking out speeds between 8.7-10.9Mbps. 

As for uploads, O2 hogged the limelight here, with an average maximum speed of 1.1Mbps and average 24-hour and weekday peak period speeds of 1.0Mbps. 

Plusnet and O2 broadband top Ofcom’s ADSL2+ speed test surveys

What does ADSL2+ broadband mean? 

ADSL2+ is the type of broadband commonly used by most people in the UK today and provides a theoretical top speed of 24Mbps. ADSL2+ is delivered over the old copper telephone lines and is used most prominently by the likes of BT and Kingston Communications, who operate the Karoo service in Hull. 

Ofcom and SamKnows have measured speeds for more than 2,000 customers of BT, Karoo, O2, EE, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media during November 2012, to deliver the latest report. For the ADSL2+ survey, there is no data for Virgin Media, as it uses fibre optic cable to deliver its broadband services. 

Plusnet and O2 broadband top Ofcom’s ADSL2+ speed test surveys


UK average ADSL2+ speeds

The average download speed for ADSL2+ broadband services, which theoretically provides speeds of up to 24Mbps, has crept up from 7.3Mbps to 8.1Mbps. This is a bigger increase since the last report, which noted a climb of just 0.03Mbps. 

For broadband users on older up-to-10Mbps ADSL packages, the average speed has actually  gone down to 4.4Mbps from 5.6Mbps in the last survey from May 2012. Ofcom attributes this to Virgin Media’s speed boost programme, which has seen customers previously on 10Mbps moved up to higher speed services. Previously, this data from Virgin customers on up to 10Mbps lines would have been collected and used for this category. 


Who’s fastest in ADSL2+ broadband?

Plusnet is currently kicking out the fastest download speeds on ADSL2+-based lines. BT, Karoo and EE aren’t far behind, but Sky and TalkTalk’s download speeds are trailing the pack.

Compared to the leader for download speeds (Plusnet), Ofcom’s figures showed that Sky managed a maximum average speed of 9.7Mbps while TalkTalk was slightly better at 9.8Mbps.

Over 24 hours, Sky connections provided speeds between 7.5Mbps to 9.1Mbps and TalkTalk a similar 7.4Mbps to 9.1Mbps. During peak times, both ISPs provided speeds between 7.4Mbps to 9.1Mbps.

Plusnet and O2 broadband top Ofcom’s ADSL2+ speed test surveys

Who’s got the fastest ADSL2+ uploads? 

O2 is sitting pretty with the fastest upload speeds – 1.1Mbps maximum and 0.98Mbps-1.0 over 24 hours and during peak times. 

By comparison, it’s worth noting that none of the ISPs services surveyed – BT, Karoo, EE, Plusnet, Sky and TalkTalk – provided upload speeds lower than 0.7Mbps. 

EE was rated to be second best while top dog for downloads Plusnet’s upload speeds were found to be slowest overall. As you can see from the chart above, there’s little real difference between the services in terms of speed. 


What else does Ofcom’s fixed broadband speed report measure? 

As was to be expected, the main variable affecting speeds on all the ADSL2+ connections was the distance from the customer to the local BT exchange. 

It’s perhaps worth noting at this point that data on ADSL-based speeds was only gathered from customers located 5 kilometers outside of an exchange. So while this is useful for those located in cities, towns and built-up suburbs, it’s perhaps less useful to those out in the wilderness. 

As well as simply looking at raw speed, the report takes a glance at web browsing times, latency, packet loss, DNS response times and failure rates, and jitter, to build a complete picture of who’s got the best broadband services for different situations. 

For example, gamers will want to pay attention to latency as it can spell life or death in multiplayer situations and slow web browsing times can mean that busy web pages – ones with lots of banners and animations – would take longer to load. 

Plusnet and O2 broadband top Ofcom’s ADSL2+ speed test surveys


Who’s got the fastest ADSL2+ web browsing times? 

Figures show that BT and Karoo customers are getting the best web page loading times. Looking at the graph you can see that over a 24 hour period, loading times on Karoo lines are never above 1,000 milliseconds whereas BT connections, in the same time period, suffers from slightly slower page load times at their worst. There’s not a huge amount of difference between these two – both BT and Karoo performed better than the rest. 

Plusnet and O2 broadband top Ofcom’s ADSL2+ speed test surveys

Who’s got the best ADSL2+ latency? 

Latency (aka ping) is the time it takes for a single packet of data to travel from a user’s PC to a server and back again. Low latency is ideally what you want, making for a more responsive online gaming experience. 

For latency, Ofcom found that EE customers experienced the lowest amounts across  24 hour period and during peak times. If you’re in an ADSL-only area the suggestion is that EE will give you something of an edge in multiplayer frag fests. Plusnet, O2 and BT all offered similar levels of latency, all around 20 milliseconds. Karoo, Sky and TalkTalk customers all made do with ping north of 30ms. 

Plusnet and O2 broadband top Ofcom’s ADSL2+ speed test surveys

Who’s got the best ADSL2+ packet loss rates? 

As well as latency, packet loss is a factor for high end gaming performance. Skype video calls and streaming audio and video on things like Spotify and Netflix can also be affected by a high packet loss rate.

Ofcom’s findings show that BT, Plusnet, Sky and TalkTalk all performed well. Approximately 0.2 and 0.3 per cent of packets were lost over 24 hours and during peak hours.

Karoo and O2 fared quite badly in these areas, with O2 customers suffering particularly during peak times. There was a general trend where all ISPs reported higher rates of packet loss during peak hours, though given that this is during a time of the day when most people will be online, you’d expect this.

Plusnet and O2 broadband top Ofcom’s ADSL2+ speed test surveys


Who’s got the best ADSL2+ DNS response times? 

The Domain Name Service is integral to how the internet works, changing IP addresses like 194.33.179.22 into domain names (google.com, ofcom.com, recombu.com and so on). 

DNS response times measure how long it takes your ISP to locate an IP address after you type in a URL. The slower the response time, the slower your web browsing experience. 

BT, O2 and Plusnet come out on top here with around 22-27 milliseconds of response time. EE and TalkTalk provided a better experience overall than both Sky and Karoo which racked up the slowest response times. 

Plusnet and O2 broadband top Ofcom’s ADSL2+ speed test surveys


Who’s got the worst ADSL2+ DNS failure rates? 

DNS failure is, in a nutshell, when your ISP fails to display a web page. If it hasn’t converted a web address (such as recombu.com) into an IP address. If this happens you’ll sometimes see a ‘host not found’ or ‘this server is unavailable’ error message.

Of course, if you incorrectly type a web address in you’ll see a similar message, although this isn’t your ISP’s fault…

DNS failure rates are another way Ofcom has measured the quality of broadband connections. Sky and BT fared particularly well here above TalkTalk and Plusnet slightly. Karoo by far fared the worst, reporting failure rates above 0.8 per cent at peak times and over 0.6 over 24 hours. 

Plusnet and O2 broadband top Ofcom’s ADSL2+ speed test surveys


Who’s got the worst ADSL2+ jitter rates? 

Jitter refers to have stable a connection is. Jitter refers to the rate of change of latency, or how consistent your connection is at sending data from A to B at the same speeds. As with latency, the lower your jitter, the better your broadband connection is going to be for things like VoIP calls and online gaming.

All of the ISPs surveyed reported low levels of jitter on downloads and uploads. Something like Skype can typically cope with 20 milliseconds of jitter without things being affected too much. None of the services here displayed jitter rates on downstream connections higher than 1.5 milliseconds.

Plusnet and O2 broadband top Ofcom’s ADSL2+ speed test surveys

With upstream jitter, a noticeable trend is that jitter tends to increase during peak times. The only two ISPs that didn’t suffer from this were O2, where jitter was more or less the same during all times of day and Sky, where jitter was actually significantly lower during peak hours.

Karoo fared pretty badly for jitter during peak times and doesn’t compare as well to the other services throughout the day either. Sky, TalkTalk and BT demonstrated the lowest levels of jitter overall.

So what does this all mean? 

Hopefully this will give you a better idea of what broadband services are best for you. It’s not just about how fast your broadband service is but how reliable and stable it is too, depending on what you want. Things like latency and jitter are important things to consider if you’re looking at getting broadband for gaming or you want to make Skype calls to relatives or friends overseas. On the other hands if you’re after broadband for checking emails and surfing the web and shopping online then you’ll want to look at page loading times and DNS failure rates.

You should also note that this survey, based on data gathered from subscribers living 5 kilometers away from BT exchanges, doesn’t give us a wholly accurate picture of the state of broadband services in the UK, so people living further out from an exchange will have different experiences. 

We’ll take a closer look at Ofcom’s findings of the superfast services offered by BT and Virgin Media, to see how the fibre optic-based services stand up.

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