UK broadband showdown 2014: The country’s fastest ISPs revealed

So which companies are the fastest ISPs in the UK? We’re not talking mobile speeds – this is all about those providers bringing broadband right to customer residences, whether it's fibre optic, cable modem, DSL, satellite, or wireless direct connections. We’ll tell you who the quickest pipes in the UK belong to…

To measure Internet speeds for this feature, we closely partnered with Ookla, the creator of Speedtest.net, the globe's most popular broadband testing service. The throughput ratings are based on tests run at Speedtest.net by millions of unique users who provided their upload and download speeds.

We then generated an Internet Speed Index rating for each ISP, which is a weighted score calculated by taking 80 per cent of the ISP's download speed and 20 per cent of its upload speed. Using that Speed Index number, we then rated the fastest ISPs.

Read on for the results…

The fastest ISPs in the UK

Gimme some of that fibre! The UK’s fastest ISP, Hyperoptic, delivers fibre to the premises for large residential complexes, mainly in the western area of London, but has recently expanded to Bristol, Cardiff, and Reading – it's even in the former Olympic Athlete's Village in Stratford, which is now private residences. Hyperoptic's service earns an Internet Speed Index rating of 98.2.

Just how good is 98.2? Hyperoptic sells connectivity of up to 1 Gigabit per second (that's 1,000Mbps) via its "Hyper-Sonic" package, at a cost of £50 per month with a year-long contract. Typically in a test like this, users have some overhead so the speed is far from the top tier, and that's the case here, where the tests average about 10 times less than gigabit Internet. What it probably indicates is that most Hyperoptic customers have the "Hyper-Active" package for 100Mbps costing £25 per month.

But bear in mind – that Speed Index rating of 98.2 is still nearly three times faster than Hyperoptic's closest competitor – and that's not even its fastest tier of service. Better yet, that number is only possible because of Hyperoptic's astounding download speed of 98.5Mbps and almost symmetrical upload speed of 96.8Mbps. Few ISPs can provide uploads that rival the download speed so closely. Hyperoptic plans to bring its astoundingly low-cost and high-speed service to half a million residences by 2018.

The second fastest ISP in the list has a much wider reach. Virgin Media scored a 34.0 thanks to its very nice download speed (41.3Mbps). It could have been much higher, but Virgin's upload speed of 4.9Mbps – the third lowest in the top 10 here – dragged the index number way down.

Virgin sells three tiers of service, starting at 50Mbps downloads for £25 per month, up to 152Mbps for £37.50 a month, all with a 12-month contract (and a few pounds off for the beginning months). Owning all that fibre pays when it comes to speed – no other ISP even averaged 30Mbps downloads.

As for the rest of the top 10 fastest ISPs in Great Britain, most of them stay close to each other on average, with a couple of exceptions in upload speed by North Somerset-based Cablecom Networking (a 20.6Mbps upload, which was symmetrical with its 20.6Mbps download) and a nice 10Mbps upload from Kcom's KC broadband business.

You'll doubtless have noticed that Sky doesn't make the top 10 list.

UK cities with the fastest broadband

There are a couple of ways to slice up municipalities when it comes to Internet speed: One is to look at the cities that have the fastest broadband speed on average; the second is to look at the fastest speeds in the major metropolitan areas with the most people. Let's do both.

If you want to find a place in the UK that all but guarantees residents will have speedy Internet access, move to Lancaster. It earned an Internet Speed Index rating of 41.3, trouncing the next fastest city, which was Mansfield with a 33.9. Lancaster's index comes from coupling an astoundingly high average upload speed of 23.7Mbps with a very respectable 45.7Mbps average download.

Lancaster manages this feat by having many customers in its environs using B4RN (or Broadband for the Rural North) as their ISP – that's right, rural users getting fibre optic service. B4RN users in Lancaster alone get an index number of 160. Other high speed providers in the area include SystemHOST (95.9 index) and Virgin's Smallworld (47.3 index). The real trick is, the majority of providers in the area have steadily tested high speeds.

The other cities in the top 10 for broadband are all hovering in the low 30s for Index numbers, from Mansfield's 33.9 down to 31.4 index in Epsom.

What's happening broadband-wise in the biggest UK cities? Going not so much by population as by the number of tests Speedtest.net receives, London is naturally on top. It certainly has the highest number of tests – but not even close to the highest average speed of its broadband, landing at only 20.5.

Of the major population centres, the cities with the fastest ISPs on average are Bristol (23.2) and Nottingham (23.1); the slowest index number goes to Sheffield with a 17.7.

What about the big cities outside of England? Glasgow did make the chart above based on the sheer number of usage tests, but with an index speed of 19.2. Cardiff has a more respectable index of 22, and Belfast isn't far behind at 21.5.

While you're here, you might also want to read our story from earlier today on how the UK is accelerating up the EU superfast broadband rankings, according to Ofcom.