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Netflix UK – 2017 vs 2016 Video Streaming Broadband ISP Speed Index

Internet Movie and TV video streaming giant Netflix UK has recently published the most recent edition of their broadband ISP speed index, which reveals that cable operator Virgin Media continues to be the fastest provider for their service in 2017. But being the fastest isn’t all that important.[1] Overall some readers may be surprised to note that the performance across all of the major broadband providers (measured during November 2017) has only increased a little bit since the last summary at the end of 2016 and the average speed (Megabits per second) continues to remain below the 4Mbps mark, but there’s a very good reason for that.

ISP 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013
Virgin Media[2] 3.94Mbps 3.77Mbps 3.98Mbps 3.49Mbps 2.99Mbps
BT 3.83Mbps 3.71Mbps 3.78Mbps 3.19Mbps 2.66Mbps
Plusnet[3] 3.64Mbps 3.44Mbps 3.48Mbps no data no data
EE 3.52Mbps 3.31Mbps 3.27Mbps 2.82Mbps 2.32Mbps
TalkTalk[4] 3.47Mbps 3.33Mbps 3.42Mbps 2.81Mbps 2.35Mbps
Sky Broadband[5] 3.47Mbps 3.31Mbps 3.33Mbps 2.87Mbps 2.44Mbps

Netflix’s speed index needs to be given the correct context because it’s essentially just a measure of the service’s own “prime time” video streaming performance.

Put another way, the index should never be taken as a table that reflects the actual capability of your own broadband connection. The reason the speeds are so low is because they’re being influenced by a number of key factors, not least the proportion of subscribers that are viewing content in either a low bit-rate SD (Standard Definition), higher quality HD (High Definition 720p+) or even 4K (Ultra HD) stream. NOTE: Netflix formally began rolling out 4K during 2014-2015.

Crucially Netflix offers three packages (Basic – GBP5.99, Standard – GBP7.99 and Premium – GBP9.99) and the most popular ones are the cheapest two. However, the ‘Basic’ plan only supports SD quality streaming on 1 device, while ‘Standard’ supports HD streaming on 2 devices and ‘Premium’ supports HD and 4K (UltraHD) streaming on 4 devices. This is crucial because the transfer speed requirements are influenced by content quality.

Netflix’s Recommended Internet Connection Speeds
* 0.5Mbps – Required broadband connection speed
* 1.5Mbps – Recommended broadband connection speed
* 3.0Mbps – Recommended for SD quality
* 5.0Mbps – Recommended for HD quality
* 25Mbps – Recommended for Ultra HD quality

In other words the results from each ISP suggest that the majority of Netflix users are streaming videos at HD and SD, which is reflected in why most of the scores hover within the 3-4Mbps range.

However the results can also be impacted by video codecs and compression (i.e. bit-rates vary as the video stream changes), slow home WiFi[6] and any ISP-side Traffic Management measures etc. Similarly ISPs that offer significantly faster speeds are perhaps likely to represent Netflix users with a greater proportion of HD or even 4K accounts, thus it’s no surprise that Virgin Media come top of the big boys because their entry-level package is a respectable 50-100Mbps. Over time the rising uptake of faster broadband connections and 4K screens should push the results upwards, although this could be countered by future price hikes that may cause users to downgrade on to a lower tier.

The results from other countries also tend to be very similar to the UK (e.g. the fastest ISP in the USA is Comcast on 3.96Mbps, while in Singapore the top speed of 3.95Mbps goes to StarHub Fibre).

As such the usefulness of Netflix’s data is questionable and the streaming giant might do better to display extra details, such as the difference in performance between SD, HD and 4K streaming, as well as at different times of the day (e.g. peak vs off-peak).

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References

  1. ^ Virgin Media (www.ispreview.co.uk)
  2. ^ Virgin Media (www.ispreview.co.uk)
  3. ^ Plusnet (www.ispreview.co.uk)
  4. ^ TalkTalk (www.ispreview.co.uk)
  5. ^ Sky Broadband (www.ispreview.co.uk)
  6. ^ WiFi (www.ispreview.co.uk)

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