UK Broadband tests bring surprises

Virgin Media: Cable is hot, ADSL is not
Virgin Media: Cable is hot, ADSL is not

A lengthy survey by a broadband specialist has produced some interesting statistics, with demonstrations of traffic shaping by the likes of BT, and Virgin's two different offerings giving widely disparate results.

A brilliant bit of ISP investigation by run by Sam Crawford monitored 20 people per ISP around the UK to get the results – not the biggest core sample, but enough to bring some meaningful stats.

Virgin Media's cable service performed admirably in many of the tests, but its ADSL service, which is run through BT lines and not local loop unbundled, was a poor performer, something the company has admitted is down to 'network congestion'.

Virgin media response

"We welcome a new approach to evaluate broadband performance, and believe the SamKnows research takes the industry a step towards a clearer understanding of the differences between providers," said a Virgin Media spokesperson.

"The preliminary report, whilst only conducted with a small sample size, demonstrates a clear difference between fibre optic broadband and broadband provided over copper telephone wires, and reinforces our position as the leading broadband provider in the UK.

"Virgin Media believes in open and transparent marketing of its products and we look forward to working with SamKnows to help develop testing methodology further.

"Our Virgin Media DSL service is unique in offering a truly unlimited broadband service through all tiers.

"The appeal of this unlimited service combined with great value packages has resulted in a growing demand for our products, which has meant an increase in network congestion.

"We're working hard to address this as a priority and are looking to make significant changes to our non-cable broadband service in the near future."

BT Shape up?

One of the conclusions drawn over traffic shaping in the report says: "BT and PlusNet were both demonstrated to use traffic shaping at peak times on non port 80 traffic, although, and perhaps surprisingly, no other ISPs demonstrated such usage. Future work will be conducted in this area to see how this affects other applications."

Sam Crawford, who wrote the report, told TechRadar: "The thing that surprised me the most is how similarly everyone performed (for the most part anyway). Given all the negative press being banded around, I think a lot of people might be surprised by some of the results."

"Also, whilst raw speed is important, there are other aspects that some providers should be looking at even more closely – such as DNS servers, latency and core bandwidth.

"I think we're going to see significant speed/congestion issues next time, unless upgrades of core network bandwidth is carried out to account for increasingly faster access speeds."

If you're interested in everything from dropped packets to traffic shaping it's well worth checking out the survey at

Patrick Goss

Patrick Goss is the ex-Editor in Chief of TechRadar. Patrick was a passionate and experienced journalist, and he has been lucky enough to work on some of the finest online properties on the planet, building audiences everywhere and establishing himself at the forefront of digital content.  After a long stint as the boss at TechRadar, Patrick has now moved on to a role with Apple, where he is the Managing Editor for the App Store in the UK.