UK ISPs and Broadband Speeds

It’s not often that LockerGnome gets the opportunity to see things from the perspective of the United Kingdom. I know and completely understand that LockerGnome is based in the United States and can only report on what happens “at home,” but I am extremely pleased to be one of the few who provides these perspectives from outside of the United States and that I can help LockerGnome be even more well rounded as both a community and a company. Today’s article is on UK ISPs (Internet service providers) and broadband speeds, which is a particularly thorny issue.


Across the pond we have a wide choice of ISPs that have a wide range of prices — I will try to give UK and US currency conversion as we go. The two big companies are BT (British Telecom) and Virgin Media, although BSkyB (British Sky Broadcasting) is trying to compete with Virgin Media. Both Virgin Media and BSkyB are broadcasting companies; Virgin is via a fibre-optic cable, and Sky is via a satellite dish. There are many other ISPs like Plus Net, o2, Orange, and probably more than a few that I’ve missed. Prices range from £6.50 ($10.40) to £45 ($72.52), and I have to admit that I’m paying the £45 a month for BT Infinity.

BT is upgrading its network over the whole of the UK to fibre-optic cable. Thus BT Infinity was born in direct competition with Virgin Media, which already has a cable network for television, phone, and broadband. BT Infinity and Virgin Media give customers broadband speeds of up to 38 Mbps (Megabits per second), although Virgin Media is already advertising up to 50 Mbps for certain customers. BT Infinity is not available to everyone in the United Kingdom just yet, but BT is saying that everyone will be eligible for Infinity by December of 2013.

Broadband Speeds

In the UK we have a lot of broadband advertisements stating an “up to” speed for your broadband connection. This is not your ISP taking a mean average of customers’ actual broadband speeds. This is your ISP taking the highest speed that maybe two or three customers receive and pasting “up to” to the beginning so that it doesn’t have to be exact or actually tell potential customers that they will get 2 Mbps and not the “up to” 30 Mbps that it is quoting. The mean average for an ISP may be 10 Mbps, but if an average user is looking at 10 Mbps versus up to 30 Mbps, the ISP is going to go for the up to speed in its advertisement campaigns.

The part that is absolutely laughable is the fact that, in the UK, we are fighting for 10-15 Mbps for everyone, and yet places that are considered “developing nations” are getting 25-30 Mbps as standard for their users. This information is coming from, which places the UK at number 33 on its charts. I am only getting “up to 38 Mbps” because I am paying through the nose for the privilege. There are still users in the UK who are getting less than 3 Mbps for broadband and are paying anything between £20-£30 ($32-$48) for this.

The main reason is because we don’t generally like to complain. We are a great nation of moaners, but very rarely does anyone complain. I don’t know if it’s because it might inconvenience someone at the company or because there is a potential that someone would lose their job because — gasp — they didn’t do their job properly. Any time I’ve told stories of complaining and getting a payout or a result where someone lost their job, the question that I always get asked is “What if he/she had a family and you got them sacked?” The whole point is that they wouldn’t have been sacked/fired if it was their first mistake. The message is “Complain, Don’t Moan.”

My Experiences

UK ISPs and Broadband SpeedsI’ve been with Wanadoo broadband (later known as Orange Broadband), Sky Broadband, and BT Infinity. Wanadoo was actually pretty decent as an ISP, but I moved away from it to Sky because Sky was offering everything for £10 and money was tight. Its broadband all-in-one router/modem box was a weird-looking thing that didn’t (and still doesn’t) look like your typical all-in-one router/modem box, but it was well-designed. I never had a problem with it overheating or doing anything out of the ordinary.

Sky Broadband, on the other hand, was an absolute nightmare to work with. It gave me a Netgear all-in-one router/modem that was updated to Sky Broadband’s own software that crippled the router’s function. This router/modem was crippled to the point of overheating and was prone to loss of connection. I called Sky on several occasions and was once told that we could get a replacement only to be called up the next day to be told that, no, we couldn’t get a replacement because there were a lot more diagnostics to be done.

The next time I called Sky was in regards to this all-in-one router/modem overheating. I was told by a Sky Broadband representative that the all-in-one router/modem was not to be kept on 24/7. I decided to call Netgear — this all-in-one router/modem manufacturer — and ask someone there. The representative at Netgear told me that this all-in-one router/modem was designed to say on 24/7 and designed to have a 99% uptime. The representative went through some of the router’s parameters and what they should be. It turns out that Sky was trying to push the all-in-one router/modem in the wrong ways and that was why it was being unreliable. After the call to Netgear, the all-in-one router/modem behaved and I had no further problems with it.

BT Infinity has been absolutely great. There is one small problem, though, and that is the BT HomeHub was supposed to be replaced with its new third generation version, but when I called up it turned out that we weren’t eligible. The wireless signal does tend to drop every now and again and I’ve not found a way to stop that from happening. I’ve changed the channel, I’ve moved the HomeHub, and I’ve changed every setting around four or five times. We now work around it and it seems to work well most of the time. I get 30-35 Mbps and it is very nice, thank you very much.

So that’s my perspective from the UK. As the LockerGnome readership spans the globe, I’d be interested in knowing about what kind of experiences you have on your side of the planet. Leave some comments and let us know!

Article Written by

John “Scotsman” McKinlay is a 25-year-old autistic living in Glasgow, Scotland. He has been an online presence since 1998, but has only recently found that his voice and writing skills could bring him into the world of blogging and podcasting -- with a bit of YouTube on the side. He joined the ranks of LockerGnome back in March of 2012 and has been warmly received both by the LockerGnome staff and by you lovely ladies and gentlemen of the LockerGnome audience.

  • Aidan

    I get less than 1Mbps. 1.35Mbps if I’m lucky. I live in Lowestoft,Suffolk,UK (most eastily point in the UK) and we are the ‘lowest of the low’ when it comes to broadband speeds. It sickens me that in S.Korea they got just under roughly 40Mbps… It takes me about 2 full days to upload a 5 minute video to youtube.

  • Daniel

    Also coming from the UK it’s great to see Lockergnome covering topics not just in the US base. I was with BT for a long time but for the price I was paying Virgin offered a much faster DL. 

    It’s still baffling to me that despite our governments push for lightning fast DL speeds we are still slugs compared to other countries. I didn’t realize it was as bad as you state though John!

  • Matthew S.

    Since you asked…

    I work for a US ISP that offers a variety of speeds, up to 100 Mbps for residential service.  Most people get between the range of 15-30 Mbps, sometimes as low as $40 for the 30 Mbps alone. You pretty much get that for bandwidth, and we have a variety of speedtest sites to make sure you’re getting that.

    I’ve actually fielded calls from people complaining that their connection was slow, when on 2 different speed tests they were getting over the bandwidth they were paying for.

    One thing you have but we don’t, though, is that you get the modem with the service.  It leaves people open to having their own modem, but even the modems from us don’t come with bad firmware.

  • William Skinnybill Meade

    > BT Infinity is not available to everyone in the United Kingdom just yet, but BT is saying that everyone will be eligible for Infinity by December of 2013.

    I can tell you right now that that is a massive lie. I live 0.1 miles away from my exchange – literally a 5 minute walk or 1 minute drive – and according to BT’s website, that exchange is NOT on the list AT ALL to be upgraded to BT Infinity – even by December 2013. It’s not like this is a quiet little town that no-one cares about – we have a regional airport, power station nearby, good local businesses and about 50 miles away from Dover, but at the same time it’s not a huge town. That exchange does cover the area of a few towns around it too though.

    It really irritates me when companies like BT do this. They advertise great deals to everyone, but only a portion of them are actually available. BT are a good company – they are probably the best to go with. You get a free £100 router (very decent – it’s their own one, not NETGEAR or something) (with 4 1GB/sec Ethernets, 802.11n Wireless, good admin system). You also get unlimited broadband for an average price (not cheap, not expensive) and you get unlimited calls anytime to landlines, mobiles and non-geographical numbers thrown in for an extra £14 per month.

    However, BT do NOT fully treat their customers well and it’s a shame. They are a good company except for:
    1) Indian Call Centres. YOU ARE NOT USEFUL! Stop saving money with Indian call centres! I’m not being racist, but they are VERY difficult to understand and often are not helpful.
    2) Upload speed. It SUCKS! It’s almost unbearable! The download speed is alright. I get 7mb/sec download with about 40-80ms ping to anywhere in Europe. However, the upload speed is a PATHETIC 0.3MB/SEC. Skype recommends a 0.5MB/sec connection AT LEAST for video calling. This particularly sucks when uploading large images such as high res JPGs or animated GIFs. It is horrible when it comes to uploading a video to YouTube. I actually choose to use 3G MOBILE BROADBAND to upload YouTube videos, because it runs at 1.5MB/sec upload (Network: Three) To be fair – it is unlimited* downloads/uploads though.
    3) *Fair Use. I have only ever been pulled on this one once, but it does take the ****. Unlimited should mean unlimited. I apologise if for a month or two I decide to download massive volumes of data (e.g. Installing huge games from Steam or World of Warcraft, Downloading Films). If your network cannot handle it, perhaps you should upgrade it before telling us it’s unlimited.

    However, BT hold the monopoly in my opinion – especially when it comes to phones. For example: companies such as Plusnet and TalkTalk must rent phone lines from BT – because BT are the company that provide the phone lines across all of the UK. Whatever phone company you use, you pretty much must rent the line from BT, which often makes it cheaper to buy calls through BT than a third party.
    The problem this causes is – these companies are only allocated a certain number of “lines”, where BT has unlimited “lines”. This is important particularly when trying to call other countries. Most of the time, you don’t get a line unless its a ‘popular calling destination’ such as USA & EU countries. And if you do, it tends to drop and you are back to square one.
    This also affects the internet. Since the internet is provided through BT too, any third party may charge you less, but you are at the mercy of BT’s speeds (with the exception of TalkTalk who seem to somehow pull amazing speeds in the same area).
    *this knowledge comes from my brother who is a telephone engineer.

    I really hope someone who actually cares from BT sees this, because you do hold all of the UK when it comes to phones and internet. Areas like mine are often deprived of your ‘mega speeds’ and we still have to pay the same amount as Infinity customers do. Even if you do not install infinity by December 2013, PLEASE increase your upload speed to more than 0.3mb/sec for non-infinity customers!

    Holy crap this is a long comment. Please feel free to make an article/extend this one with this information if you like 😉

  • Mathew Hanley

     I hate out Broadband speeds I get less than 5mb p/s D: but out of interest have you tried line bonding?

  • Edmitre

    i was paying over 100 pound a month for crappy 5mbdown 1/5mb up bb from BT whhich always used to cut out, then we got 50mb from them for a year free as they were overcharging us but i will carry on that upgr ade :)

  • zitiboat

    Just a thought; the “so called developing nations” might not have anywhere near as many subscribers chewing up bandwidth for stealing files (I mean sharing using programs that constantly ping and search for closer sources or the best connection). A couple of packets upstream for requests versus a steady barrage of file fragments flooding the network being shuffled around against traffic flow.
    Once again the USofA probably holds a record for the most abuse of a system to get something without responsibility for actions or consequences.

    • Matthew S

      “Once again the USofA probably holds a record for the most abuse of a system to get something without responsibility for actions or consequences. ”

      Please clarify your thought.  Are you talking about Piracy, limited Upload, or just throwing something disjointed out against the US?

      • Zitiboat

         I mostly was referring to piracy but not in whole. Some of my issue is with posters like Ryan Haz with the doggy avatar several posts up. This has nothing to do with the content he wishes to upload but rather his need to upload it in the first place. YouTube is a fantastic public forum. It allows everybody a chance to show what is on their minds and video recorders. It is not however an unalienable right to stuff as much personal web content on to the internet as the infrastructure can process.
        That is what personal domains are for with self publishing fees and server access limits per money spent. Demanding better performance from a publicly offered convenience service is a little like demanding the weather be more pleasant. Lots of people talking about it but nobody changing it (actually incorrect if you follow HAARP monitoring).
        Not being able to push content at blazing speeds to a forum that perhaps nobody is interested in watching in the first place may not be fair but neither is life. You sometimes get what you pay for and sometimes not. Make choices and respond to disappointment as it happens.
        I am a US citizen that is greatly ashamed most of the time by our nation’s leaders imperialistic stance globally.
        I do not want to take anybody to task or put them down; rather I would like everyone that shares the World Wide Web to be respectful of their data exchange usage.

  • ryan haz

    dont care about download, as long as the dl speed matches the upload i will get it. Im not gonna wait hours to upload my 1080p youtube videos.

  • kjh

    Being a Brit living in the States, I was under the impression that the reverse case was true and that broadband speeds and the price for those speeds were a lot better in the UK than in the US. I guess this article is saying what I thought was true is wrong. I guess in both cases, in the UK or in the US, it really depends where you live, city vs rural area, as that seems to be the major factor determining what service you can get. We live in a small city in the US and for years haven’t had much choice up until recently and have paid $45 for 6MB DSL. This to me seemed way over priced compared to some services (in some areas) in the UK where for the same price you can get 20-30MB speeds. I guess would be the same here as well though… if we were in a larger city we’d have more choice with services and could probably get a much better deal.

  • Sam Fain

    Verizon is the best isp in the U.S. hands down.
    79.99/mo for this. Unbeatable

  • Vincenzo Rodriguez

    Been getting around 18mbps in the UK for about 4 years now. Thats before BT started offering their ‘up to’ 20mb BB. Lovely little ISP that runs off BT called Be, and its costing me just over a tenner per month. even offers line bonding for around 40mbps, but its a little pricy!! Just got to pick the right ISP in this country!

  • Lee Grace

    I feel this article is a little “off the ball”.  Firstly I live in the UK and have personally been a paying internet user since 97, Firstly i had compuserve 56k which generally run around 70% of advertised speed.  When i moved in 2000 i went to Bt 128k ISDN.  I had to goto the ISDN as my village wasn’t going to be get broadband anytime soon at the time. Regardless of paying over the odds such a connection, at least again it was roughly a constant 70%+ of advertised bandwidth    After i moved again back 2002 i was then able to signup too Blueyonder for their 0.5mbps broadband which was way more reliable and closer to the advertised speeds, with me getting around 90% of the advertised speeds.  

    I’ve been with cable (blueyonder / now Virgin media) ever since as they constantly seem to produce closer too advertised speeds compared to any other ISP.  I’m nowadays on 100mbps and getting 104mbps! with 9.6mbps upload.  All this for £25 a month after bundle discounts with other services.  So this works out at close to 4x cheaper than the article states and considerably more reliable.  Admittedly I do live on the outskirts of Birmingham now and not a village in Kent however of course nowadays most people have an internet connection compared too 97 or 2000 so i feel i can give a more rounded view of ISP’s and customer experiences.   

    I find people that use the BT network but use a 3rd party isp have the worse experience due to grossly over subscribed nodes and as a result people almost get what they pay for tbh.  We all know they are crap in all areas (speed, reliability and customer experience).  If the desire to save a quick penny is the most important thing (which it generally is when picking any of these isp’s) then surely the user got exactly what they expected/payed for, If not then perhaps a bit better understanding of the market was in order.

    Users that choose BT direct have a very hit and miss kind of experience.  BT advertise their “fiber optic network” with this infinity and now infinity 2 networks.  However if you believe that your getting fibre optic direct to your outlet then your a fool.  In actual fact BT uses less fibre optic cables than Virgin media across their network,   This fact combined with the longer cable runs to exchanges per user result in further signal degradation.  BT use a hight copper contented cable compared to Virgin media which results in a line much more susceptible to environmental degradation or noise.  The final nail in the coffin IMO is BT’s locations for many of it’s exchanges.  Think about it, originally the exchanges were massive buildings with lots of women all manually routing calls.   When all that became digital and vastly scaled down the required space was vastly less.  to save money BT sold many of the buildings only keeping ownership of cupboard sized spaces inside these buildings to house their exchanges.  These limitations in space were fine originally, when considering simple usage via phone calls.  But with modern demand ever increasing the further expansions have little too no room to fit inside te original infrastructure.  This results in area’s being completely ignored intill all the easy jobs (ones with capacity) have been completed.  This also becomes apparent if retention increases in an area due to an influx of new users and BT’s speeds fall, again as they can’t just add another rack or two to alleviate the bottlenecked demand.  BT want the business customers more so, rather than the average man in the street this is evident with their poor customer training and experience. 

    Virgin Media have built their network different.  Yes they still struggle with retention and over subscribing of users but at least 
         A).  Your cable run too/from you outlet is considerably shorter and in most cases newer
         B).  VM”s UBR’s (exchanges) are generally not located inside a building resulting in much           easy access and expansion 
         C).  The company is primarily a consumer based outfit
         D).  They do most repairs/upgrades needed within 1 month in my experiences after complaining 

  • Benny Har-Even

    Virgin actually offers up to 120Mbps in some areas, and 100Mbps is now available in most of its network. 

    That said, I’m on 50Mbps and I still get occasional buffering at peak times in the evening, on YouTube/NetFlix.  

  • Cornelia Cornflake

    Wow. As inaccurate and heavily biased rants go this is right up there! I hope that our American colleagues will treat it with the skepticism it so richly deserves!

    Suffice it to say that I have been more than content with the balance between cost and speed that Sky has offered me over several years and 5 different addresses, all off the beaten track with outdated exchanges and nothing but good old copper wire between me and them. BT’s Infinity service is frankly nothing but a con job, charging you extra for an improvement in service which is almost entirely consequent upon the updating of the wiring and the exchanges and very little to do with anything clever the company has done on the server side. Paying £45 a month for it, given that true speeds are as much dependent upon how busy the entire global network happens to be as anything that your ISP can do for you, is frankly barking!

  • Darren Robertson

    From what i’ve heard it seems most people using BT lines don’t get anywhere near what there advertised speed is. I’m lucky in that i’ve had cable for a long time (late 90’s) so i’ve been using there broadband ever since it came out (used to be cabletel, then bought out by NTL which was bought by virgin). Throughout that time the connection has always normally been right at what the advertised speeds say and without monthly caps. Yes there is slow downs during peak times if you use too much bandwidth but those limits are very generous so don’t really affect most people anyway.

    Virgin also tends to sort out problems very quickly, over the time we have had cable, only 4 times have we had any major problems and the engineers have come out to check the problem within 2 -3 days. Only once were they not able to fix the problem (road works out side melted the cable fibre) and although it took nearly 3 weeks for them to fix we were conpensated for that loss.

    The problem in the uk is that there really is only 2 networks, Virgin media cable and BT. All other ISP’s go through the BT network. Now BT has been around for a long time and cover the whole of the UK but most of there network is all legacy stuff and BT seems slow to upgrade the network if you outside of london. Virgin however was build on cable fibre, allowing them to offer better services than BT but have one major problem, reach. It’s expensive to lay down fibre to every house so if they expand they have to do it slowly which means only a limited amount of people in the UK can access there network.

    It’s the same for these third world countries which have higher broadband speeds, they never had the legacy network that we do, it’s all new fibre giving better performance but only to a limited number of people with no option for those not in the fibre network

  • James Smith

    There is nothing wrong with what is written here. Everyone, in my opinion, is correct to a degree. All providers in the UK perform well and poorly depending on many things, mainly where your live and how far away from the exchange you are. But also on your line quality, your router, your PC, even your software can all have an effect on what speeds you experience.
    I live in Bromley and am on Orange I get 3-6mb down and 0.9-1mb up which is….acceptable. My sister in Sheffield couldn’t even get 1mb on Orange and my flat mate has Sky and can rarely even connect to the service, the problem has been “fixed” a number of times but never lasts.I wish I was on Virgin, the service seems amazing from what I’ve heard/read. Orange’s service is stable, I’ve had one problem about 6 months ago and they sent me out a new router via courier the next day which sorted the issue. I get a reasonable connection speed (for the UK), a stable service and great customer support so I’m happy for now.Speeds are set to more than double towards the end of this year or beginning of next as the 4g network starts getting up and running so we’ll all be happier then.James (PCAdminsupport)

  • Zitiboat

    So true Cornelia Cornflake. We often purchase an item or a service and expect the champagne and caviar to be delivered as a thank you for buying. Business offers what they think we will buy and we have the choices to not buy. (Its true; ask a solicitor. You do not have to buy if you do not want to as crazy as that seems). Off the beaten track things get appreciated for what they are. In the big city things get tossed out if they are not better than your neighbors. 

  • Baljit Singh

     I believe am I viable on discussion for this as I live in Scotland. I first had the internet when 56K was around. Yes NTL or now known as Virgin. Cable was awesome back then, you’d here a beep and all that other cool stuff, but prices were so dear.

    I’ve been with all of the UK ISPs, Metrotek, BE, BT, Talktalk, Sky, SmallWorld Media, Virgin, Orange, o2, etc.

    All of them suck. All of them and I blame BT. You see what BT done was the routed your telephones the most stupid way possible. I live only 2.2 kilometers away from my exchange, as the crow flies, however, my telephone line is routed 4.3 kilometers, so I don’t get the service I pay for and that’s the problem. Telephone lines need to be ripped up, replaced with fibre optic or make the exchanges wireless.

    4G is right around the corner and that’s picking speed up as close to Virgin’s 100MB Fibre and I’m not kidding. Watch the Gadget Show if you don’t believe me!

    If I were to recommend an ISP, I’d say Metrotek or Virgin. These are two of the fastest ISP’s in Britian. With Metrotek you get a 300Mbps upload speed which is just insanely fast.

    Virgin is not as good as people make out. Within the first month of me getting their 120Mbps broadband, I had to have the engineer out to sort the power levels, and I then had Virgin send me out a new router because the one they gave me was duff. The “Superhub’s” are really not super at all, infact Virgin just want control over you.

    I managed to SSH into their router and the amount of stuff which isn’t listed in the router interface is just incredible. For instance bridge mode. A LOT of people have been wanting this to use their own router because the Superhub is so crap. Yet Virgin waited about 10 months before they released a “version” of bridge mode called “Modem mode” and it sucks.

    They over-charged me by 200 pounds as well. My bill was around £70 per month, and it was consistant for around 2 months and then one month they charged me 200 pounds the next was like 130 pounds and it just got too much and so I left them for Sky because I got 6 months free boradband, Sky+ HD downstairs and SkyHD multi-room for the rest of the house for £20 pounds a month. That is until you add the one month in advanced fee, the 12.50 line rental fee, subscription charges, engineer charges, installation charges.. it all mounts up.

    It’s a rip off. Really is, once you’ve been sucked in they just don’t care. They’ve acquired you from the target demographic and now your just another lousy person who signed their contract in their eyes.

    I’ve been with Sky for 4 months now, and the service is better than when I had them last time. The last time I had them I was only getting 0.5Mbps download and 0.2Mbps upload which is just ridiculous for what they were charging. I ended up taking them to court in order for them to compensate me, I made a strong case and managed to get 300 pounds out of them which ain’t bad.

    I’ve yet to try BT Infinity, or Sky’s new Fibre Optic network which is being rolled out this week.

  • Mike Coulter

    I’m in South Wales and a customer of Sky. I get about 4.5Mbps and it really isn’t great. Odd thing is, it’s a reasonably new area too, I thought we’d be able to get higher than that.

  • Harry Monmouth

    There’s been some really good discussion going on here.  I saw Chris tweet and came here thinking it was about US ISPs so almost didn’t bother.  I am glad I did though.  I think that what we have in the UK is in general not too bad at the moment.  Mind you I insist on Virgin because I know that the others can have problems with speed but quite a few years have passed by since I have tried them so I imagine they are a lot better than they were.  I am really pleased with Virgin though; I have been using them for about 7 years and while I occasionally ring up for assistance and get the help of a moron I have in general had an excellent service and really good phoneline assistance.

    A lot does tend to be affected by the computer itself though.  I have a computer that I use for media and suchlike running Vista, a computer on Lion that I use for general use, a little vaio p on Windows 7 for travelling around that I tend to use with 3, and a Windows 7 for work as well.  On the whole they are all ok but the Mac possibly has an edge when it comes to loading webpages.  The Vista machine is the worst though and if I were stuck only with that I would be convinced that the internet regularly slowed to a snail’s pace.  The ironic thing is that it is probably the most powerful hardware of all the computers.  An OS can make a big difference.

  • IanSingleton

    I have had a pretty good experience with Virgin Media they upgraded my broadband speed from 10  mps to 20 mps for an extra 50p at he start of the month not too shabby. I certainly notice when I’m using an office broadband or someone who isn’t on Virgin it seems to take ages to do things, like downloading Linux distros in about 10 to 15 mins that’s always nice.

  • Ashley Martin

    Has anyone got any experience of Sky’s new fibre service?

  • Pingback: Online Activities to be Recorded by UK ISPs, Draft Reveals « Ye Olde Soapbox()