Mar 142013
 

Streaming media company Netflix have launched a new Speed Index, designed to show consumers which ISPs provide the best streaming experience.

Their Speed Index website provides a simple comparison of ISPs within a country, and across the world – it currently includes data for the US, Mexico, Ireland, UK, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. Figures are derived from over 33 million Netflix members who view over 1 billion hours of TV shows and movies per month.

Top spot goes to Google Fiber in the US with the highest streaming bitrate of 3.35Mbps whilst the fastest ISPs in other countries range from 2 to 3Mbps. Average speeds in all countries are in a very narrow range – Ireland and Mexico slip below 2Mbps but the others are clustered in a tight group between 2.07 and 2.57Mbps.

As a guide to choosing a quick ISP then, the index leaves a lot to be desired. For example, in the US there is only 0.33Mbps difference between 2nd and 10th spot – hardly enough to slide a sheet of paper between them and therefore not enough to warrant switching ISPs to ‘benefit’ from any significant improvement. The story in the UK is similar with only 0.33Mbps separating all of the top 5 ISPs.

snail

A slow ISP, yesterday…

It must also be noted that the Netflix stats are only of valid comparison for their own media streams – they provide no reliable indication of download speeds outside of the Netflix network.

The UK provides a good example of this – Netflix report an average streaming bitrate speed of just 2.07 Mbps. However, new research today from Ofcom (the UK’s telecomms regulator so they should know) reports that the average speed of home broadband in the UK is actually 12Mbps – six times the Netflix rate.

So why are Netflix figures so low? The reason is most likely due to throttling (traffic management or ‘shaping’) by ISPs or a lack of bandwidth or encoding issues at Netflix’ end of the pipe…

However, traffic management is often subject to ongoing change as ISPs develop and reconfigure their networks to handle the load so, like share prices, historical figures may not be a good indicator of future performance.

For those reasons I would view the Speed Index site as an interesting comparison but, unless your ISP is right at the bottom of the pile and you use Netflix a lot, it isn’t of much help – see our guide on finding the best ISP for you.