New speed test data shows that Brillband is the fastest broadband provider in the UK, but really this is a race between two bigger providers: Openreach and CityFibre. And the latter comes out on top.

Mary Lennighan

March 22, 2024

4 Min Read

UK price comparison site Broadband Genie on Thursday announced results of its annual awards, naming Glasgow-based ISP Brillband as the fastest, based on the fact that its users receive average download speeds of 523 Mbps.

The award is based on a series of speed tests carried out by Broadband Genie – 400,000 of them, covering 86 UK broadband providers – so the fact that Brillband is leading the pack is not really up for debate. However, it's important to realise that there is an element of comparing apples and oranges with this award...and indeed some of the others in the 2024 roll of honour.

For a start, Brillband uses the CityFibre network, so you could claim this is really an award for CityFibre. But more than that, the firm has a small coverage area and, presumably, a small customer base, as well as offering just one broadband package, a £35-per-month up to 900 Mbps plan. Taking nothing away from the company, which seems to be doing a good job with what it has, it's not really a fair comparison to put it up against nationwide players with legacy networks as well as fibre, and a broad range of price plans and speeds.

The fastest of the widely available providers, as Broadband Genie dubs them, was Virgin Media, which clocked up an average download speed of 201 Mbps, ranking it at 35th in the overall study. Zen Internet cane in second of the widely available companies and Vodafone third.

"UK favourites, TalkTalk, Plusnet, Sky, BT and Vodafone all finish in the bottom half of the study, suggesting that many customers are either facing unreliable speeds or choosing deals that don't offer the fastest speeds," Broadband Genie noted, essentially shining a light on both the weaknesses of the major players – and we can be under no illusions about those – as well as on some of the weaknesses in its own ranking.

"All of these providers use the Openreach broadband network, which covers 42% of the country with full fibre broadband," Broadband Genie said.

It's perfectly understandable that the firm would want to have a pop at Openreach; the incumbent had to be dragged kicking and screaming into fibre deployment a few years ago when the altnets started to look like they might win the landgrab. And if this is an Openreach versus CityFibre debate, the altnet can be declared the winner, in terms of speed, with Virgin Media coming out ahead of the incumbent too. But it's also worth pointing out that a couple of the service providers Broadband Genie lists as Openreach customers are also key CityFibre customers too, namely Vodafone and TalkTalk.

"Overall, the results show a positive outlook for broadband customers across the UK," said Alex Tofts, broadband expert at Broadband Genie. "The most popular broadband providers such as TalkTalk, Plusnet, Sky, and BT are still having a hard time when it comes to signing up people to their full fibre products, which suggests that price could be a big obstacle."

In a cost of living crisis it's highly likely that broadband customers are holding off on upgrading to fibre, even if they are not wholly happy with the speeds they receive. And those legacy services, which still have a place in the market, also drag down average speeds.

On a related note the Broadband Genie awards also included the Best Value for Money award, which went to Toob on the back of a £25-per-month 900 Mbps service, and was voted for by customers, and a Best Social Tariff award, given by the judges to Vodafone.

One other award that stands out is the Fastest Wireless Provider, which went to Starlink for the second year in a row. Taking nothing away from Elon Musk's LEO satellite service – although its average speed did drop by 7 Mbps compared with 2023 as customer numbers have increased – does it really make sense to compare it with terrestrial cellular networks?

Even considering how much satellite prices have fallen in recent years, the price point of Starlink makes it difficult to compare with the mobile operators. Starlink wins, with an 80 Mbps average download speed, coming in ahead of Three at 71 Mbps and EE with 46 Mbps. But users are paying £75 per month for the privilege, and that's without factoring in the cost of kit.

Maybe it's a little unfair to suggest we're comparing apples and oranges. Arguably it's more like pitting oranges against satsumas, when each has its own merits.

About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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