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Sky plays catch-up to make ADSL2+ broadband 23 per cent faster in 2013

Sky boosted its standard broadband speeds to catch up with rivals BT, EE and Plusnet in 2013…sneaking ahead of peak-time laggards TalkTalk.

Communications watchdog picked up the surge for Sky users in its latest national survey of broadband speeds from the UK’s big seven ISPs, with the UK average rising to 17.8Mbps.

There’s no longer any significant difference between BT, EE, Plusnet and Sky, while TalkTalk lags slightly behind, with a noticeable difference in the 8-10pm weekday peak.

Sky plays catch-up to make ADSL2+ broadband 23 per cent faster in 2013
Sky Broadband took a leap forward in 2013

Sky said: “We are committed to improving our broadband services in terms of reliability, speed and customer service. We are pleased that Ofcom continue to recognise our investments in these areas.”

The improvement is down to introducing new technologies into the network such as Nitro and G.INP which improve customers’ speed and stability, replacing older routers with the new Sky Hub, and analysing and amending customer line profiles, Sky added.

Around two-thirds of British homes connect to the internet via ADSL2+, using the copper BT phone line connected to their ISP’s own equipment at the telephone exchange.

If you’re living in the Hull and Yorkshire East Riding area where local ISP Karoo has a monopoly, you can be confident that it’s the overall fastest ADSL2+ broadband providers.

Ofcom conducts surveys of fixed-line broadband speed in May and November annually, using ‘white boxes’ from analysts SamKnows, in the homes of 2,391 UK residential broadband users. The report covers both ADSL2+ broadband and superfast broadband services including Virgin Media and FTTC (fibre to the cabinet).

Hopefully we’ve made it easy, but here’s the complete Ofcom report on UK fixed-line broadband performance, November 2013.

Sky plays catch-up to make ADSL2+ broadband 23 per cent faster in 2013
These days, there’s not a lot between them

What does ADSL2+ broadband mean?

Despite a lot of publicity for fibre broadband, 64 per cent of British homes still get their broadband over their old-fashioned copper phone line using a technology called ADSL2+, with a top speed of around 20-24Mbps.

ISP’s providing ADSL2+ broadband can fit their own equipment at the local telephone exchange, which enables them to fine-tune your broadband connection, and link you directly to their national backbone networks which connect to the rest of the internet.

The major factor affecting ADSL2+ is the customer’s distance from the exchange, so Ofcom excludes users more than 5km away. Customers in some rural areas may be on an older, slower technology called ADSL Max.

The second factor is contention – how many users share an ISP’s equipment in the exchange and its backbone links – which will show up during peak times as everyone tries to connect to demanding services like BBC iPlayer and Netflix.

Other differences will reflect the quality (and age) of your ISP’s unbundled equipment in the exchange, and how well they have optimised your connection.

UK average ADSL2+ speeds

Ofcom’s national average for up-to-20Mbps ADSL2+ connections in November 2013 was 7.4MbpsOfcom’s national average for up-to-20Mbps ADSL2+ connections in November 2013 was 7.4Mbps, and it’s as good at peak time as it is for the rest of the day.

That might seem a lot lower than the headline speeds – usually around 16Mbps – but it’s a good enough clip for high definition video with a bit of surfing on the side.

Upload speeds in the same category were 900kbps (0.9Mbps), which isn’t much good if you want to use services like Skype, and suggests many providers are squeezing their upstream bandwidth to take on customers without providing more bandwidth overall.

Who’s got the UK’s fastest ADSL2+ broadband?

Ofcom’s useful conclusion is that there’s no real difference between download speeds for BT, EE, Plusnet, Sky and TalkTalk. 

The most notable difference is our headline story: Sky has improved its game and boosted average speeds by 1.8Mbps to 9.7Mbps.

TalkTalk’s average speeds are slightly lower than the rest, but even at peak times they’re well within the range of the other ISPs.

SamKnows also analysed the data to tease out which ISP has the worst contention ratios by comparing peak time speeds to the daily average.

Overall, more than half of panellists achieved peak-time speeds that were higher than 90 per cent of their maximum speed, although for BT and EE this was only around 65 per cent of customers. 

Around 70 per cent of Sky customers achieved peak-time speeds that were higher than 90 per cent of their maximum speed, while TalkTalk and Plusnet were best with about 75 per cent.

Sky plays catch-up to make ADSL2+ broadband 23 per cent faster in 2013
Nobody does it better. No, really.

Who’s got the fastest ADSL2+ uploads?

EE, Sky and BT were the fastest uploaders for their average maximum, 24-hour and peak-time upload speeds – around 900kbps (0.9Mbps) for the daily average.

TalkTalk and Plusnet were clearly lower at around 700kbps (0.7Mbps), and it’s also worth noting note that ADSL2+ upload speeds don’t change at all at peak times. It’s always good to share.

Sky plays catch-up to make ADSL2+ broadband 23 per cent faster in 2013

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

Getting a web page to load quickly makes for a smooth surfing, and is a good reflection of other factors such as download speeds, latency and DNS resolution times.

BT and EE take joint first place, loading pages in around 750 milliseconds – around the time it takes you to recognise a simple object like a tree.

Plusnet was only slightly behind at just over 1s, with TalkTalk and Sky about 1.4s. 

Sky plays catch-up to make ADSL2+ broadband 23 per cent faster in 2013

Who’s got the best ADSL2+ latency?

Online gaming is very sensitive to latency – the time it takes for a single packet of data to travel from your PC to a third party server, and back again.

EE has the lowest and best ADSL2+ latency at just over 20 milliseconds, with BT, Plusnet and Sky all around 25ms, and TalkTalk data travelling slowest at just over 30s.

Sky plays catch-up to make ADSL2+ broadband 23 per cent faster in 2013

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

The more data your connection loses, the more your computer has to request again, with high rates of loss a major pain for online gaming, degrading internet phone and video calls, and causing the dreaded buffering of streaming audio and video.

BT, EE, Plusnet, and TalkTalk performed well overall with a latency of around 0.2 per cent (1 in every 500 packets) across the day, although TalkTalk’s packet loss almost doubled at peak time.

Sky fared worse with a 24-hour average above 0.5 per cent (1 in every 200 packets), although it’s slightly better during peak time – no worse than TalkTalk or Plusnet.

Ofcom says a single packet of data would account for about 0.2 seconds of video, but consistent losses will mount up.

Sky plays catch-up to make ADSL2+ broadband 23 per cent faster in 2013

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

ISP’s operate DNS servers which translate the web addresses you type – like recombu.com – into numerical IP addresses usch as 194.33.179.25 which refer to actual computers in the internet. If these are slow, your browsing will suffer.

There was a clear loser in this category: TalkTalk had an average DNS resolution time of about 31ms, while BT, EE, Plusnet and Sky all came in at around 38ms. None of the ISPs rated were any worse at peak time than across a day.

Sky plays catch-up to make ADSL2+ broadband 23 per cent faster in 2013

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

If your ISP’s DNS server can’t translate a domain name to an IP address, you’ll get a message like ‘this server is unavailable’ or ‘host could be found’. 

Although the table looks bad for EE during peak time, Ofcom says that with a typical failure rate of 0.2 per cent (1 in every 500 requests), there’s no practical difference between BT, EE, Plusnet, Sky and TalkTalk.

Sky plays catch-up to make ADSL2+ broadband 23 per cent faster in 2013

Who’s got the worst ADSL2+ jitter rates?

Services like Skype and online gaming can often cope with a constant latency, but if the latency rate is changing all the time that’s much harder to compensate – this is ‘jitter’.

Voice-over-IP services include a jitter buffer of about 20 milliseconds, so anything within this should be acceptable, and fortunately no-one fared worse that about 1.5ms. It’s calculated in both directions as upstream and downstream.

Just for the record, though, EE and Sky had upstream jitter below 1ms, while BT was just behind at about 1ms, while Plusnet and TalkTalk both bothered 1.5ms of jitter. Downstream was even better, with everyone below 1ms, although TalkTalk was slightly behind the crowd.

Sky plays catch-up to make ADSL2+ broadband 23 per cent faster in 2013

Sky plays catch-up to make ADSL2+ broadband 23 per cent faster in 2013

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