Netflix UK's 2016 vs 2015 Broadband ISP Video Streaming Speed Index - ISPreview UK
Netflix UK’s most recent ISP Speed Index update, which measures the popular Internet Movie and TV service’s video streaming performance on different broadband providers, has one again named Virgin Media as the fastest provider for their service in 2016; but it’s not that important to be top.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things to come out of this latest update, which is based on data from November 2016, is that the performance for every single ISP has actually declined slightly from 2015 and the average speed for each remains under 4Mbps (Megabits per second). However this might not be as surprising as some people think.

ISP 2016 2015 2014 2013
Virgin Media 3.77Mbps 3.98Mbps 3.49Mbps 2.99Mbps
BT 3.71Mbps 3.78Mbps 3.19Mbps 2.66Mbps
Plusnet 3.44Mbps 3.48Mbps no data no data
TalkTalk 3.33Mbps 3.42Mbps 2.81Mbps 2.35Mbps
Sky Broadband 3.31Mbps 3.33Mbps 2.87Mbps 2.44Mbps
EE 3.31Mbps 3.27Mbps 2.82Mbps 2.32Mbps

At this point the index needs to be given the correct context because it’s essentially just a measure of “prime time” video streaming performance, per ISP, on Netflix itself. Put another way, the index should NOT 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 very specific 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.

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

On top of that Netflix offers three packages (Basic – £5.99, Standard – £7.49 and Premium – £8.99) and the most popular ones are the cheapest two, with ‘Basic‘ only allowing you to stream to 1 device in SD and ‘Standard‘ allowing you to stream to 2 devices using HD quality. Finally, ‘Premium‘ supports Ultra HD and 4 devices, although UHD content and screens are still in the minority.

We can surmise from the result that a majority of people 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 and any ISP-side Traffic Management measures etc.

Internet providers that offer significantly faster speeds might also represent Netflix users with a greater proportion of HD or even 4K accounts. So it’s no surprise that Virgin Media come top of the big boys because their entry-level package is a respectable 50Mbps, even if the other factors keep their score somewhat grounded at under 4Mbps.

As the proportion of consumers with a “superfast” (30Mbps+) capable connection rises, and 4K displays become more common, then we should start to see more people using Netflix’s ‘Premium‘ package and this would push the results upwards. On the other hand price hikes may also cause some on the top ‘Premium’ plan to downgrade.

Finally, we also took a look at what other top ranked countries and operators scored in Netflix’s speed index and the results were interesting. Bright House in the USA reported 3.7Mbps, while D LIVE in South Korea delivered just 3.13Mbps, HiNet in Taiwan reported 3.06Mbps, TeleCable in Spain had 3.68Mbps and the fastest was Totalplay in Mexico on 3.8Mbps.

At this point we wish that Netflix would publish a more useful data set, which could show the difference in performance between SD, HD and 4K streams, preferably alongside one that also revealed the speeds during different periods of the day (e.g. peak and off-peak).