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Advertised ‘up to’ broadband speeds are still pie in the sky

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Ofcom revealed the results of its latest broadband speed test this week and although average broadband speeds have increased, advertised ‘up to’ speeds are more misleading than ever before.

But let’s start with the positive stuff first – average broadband speeds in the UK have gone up by 10% over the last six months. The average speed in May 2011 was 6.8Mpbs, up from 6.2Mbps at the end of last year. Now that is encouraging news.

It might have something to do with the fact that nearly half of residential customers are now on a broadband package advertised as ‘up to’ 10Mbps. In April 2009, only 8% of customers were on such broadband deals. So speed is clearly a priority.

However, this is where one of the problems in the broadband industry lies.

Advertised speeds still a fantasy

Ofcom’s not so good news is that the gap between actual speeds and advertised ‘up to’ speeds has grown.

It found that the average advertised speed in May 2011 was 15Mbps. If you compare this to the average actual speed (6.8Mbps), you’ll see that something is amiss. Even more worrying is that the gap has increased since the research was last carried out six months ago.

The advertising of ‘up to’ speeds by broadband providers is something we’ve been keeping an eye on for some time. Back in February we responded to an ASA review of broadband advertising claims.

Ultimately, the words ‘up to’ can be helpful, but only if a certain proportion of customers can actually achieve it. Nevertheless, headline speeds should be accompanied by a typical speed range which reflects the range of realistically available speeds.

News on a decision this review is expected in the early autumn, but in the meantime it looks like we’ll have to put up with misleading ‘up to’ broadband speeds for some time to come. Are you also fed up with fantastical ‘up to’ broadband ads?

tony says:
4 February 2012

When are people going to realise that b/band through very old phone lines is going to be slow (unless very lucky). The only way to go is fibre optic. The sooner the government sort out some legislation about companies telling customers they’ll get 20mb when in reality it’s going to be about 4-5mb if lucky the better. I’m with sky and normaly get about 3.5-4mb but sometimes it’s as low as 600kb. Come one suppliers sort it out. NOT happy.

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Tony’s comments regarding the problem with old copper wires is quite correct cf my post on 4 Aug 2011. The ultimate answer is optical fibre to the premises (FTTP) The cost of universally installing this is immense (Many £billions) hence BT’s push to put in Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) which is used by BT’s Infinity product. The technology involves taking optical fibre to a new street side cabinet adjacent to the existing copper wire cabinet. The two are then interlinked so that in effect the technology currently in the exchange is moved much closer to the end user. This is much cheaper than FTTP. The broad band still uses the copper wire from the cabinet to the premises but clearly the distance is greatly reduced. Unfortunately if your cabinet is more than about 1Km away you will still have a problem (rural areas note).
Once the street side cabinet is enabled then the problem becomes one of getting ISPs agree to buy the wholesale product from BT. Unfortunately most seem to be very slow in doing this. PlusNet has had a product since last March and I see TalkTalk is now offering FTTC. Naturally they all want more ££ for this. Of course you could ask why ISPs don’t install their own fibre, the answer is prohibitive costs. (Virgin has its own fibre but only in urban areas)

For those in rural areas wireless broadband using the defunct analogue TV frequencies will soon be an option but again at what cost?

I’m lucky I have had FTTC for 10 months now. 37Mbs download and 7Mbs upload. BBC iplayer is almost like a standard broadcast. If you are very lucky and have FTTP you can expect speeds of 100Mbs and rising.

Just another pedantic point, I see many folk using the term Mega Bytes (MB) to express speed the correct units are Mega Bits per second (Mbs) or KiloBits/sec (Kbs) if it all goes slowly. The old modems ran at about 40Kbs at best.

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Three years ago I switched ISP to greenbee (John Lewis). Intermittent speed problems, so I began running speed tests and recording them. These data prove that I received a very acceptable 3mb service for weeks at a time.

A year later, and more serious line speed problems, sometimes as low as 300kb. I was then informed that the max my line could ever support was 1mb. On confronting greenbee, also a BT engineer, I received no explanation.

A case of a greedy ISP squeezing too many punters onto a link?