/ Technology

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

Flying laptop

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?


I’m on an ‘up to 24Mbps’ service from KCOM. I live 3 or 4 miles from the exchange and for my postcode “You could receive connection speeds of: 10Mbps’. The best I have ever managed is 7.5Mbps and a neighbour does no better.

Oh, and I live in an area where there are no alternatives apart from mobile broadband and cable services, and I pay over £30 per month for 100 GB monthly usage.

Ofcom claim: “We make sure that people in the UK get the best from their communications services and are protected from scams and sharp practices, while ensuring that competition can thrive.” I am not sure that Ofcom is better than the companies they seek to control. I would like to see ‘up to’ claims forbidden by law and not just for broadband speeds.

We live in the Scottish Highlands on the mainland and pay around £18 per month for a current speed that is 1.47Mbph (this however has frequently dropped to less than 0.24Mbph). On Skye many users suffer speeds of 0.24 and less (some reporting 0.02) – they still pay the same as me for an unlimited package. A recent con trick (in the Scottish Highlands) by BT is that when contracts are renewed they are giving a range of 0Mbps to 2Mbps (for us) and for some Skye users 0Mbps to 0Mbps (I kid you not). Clearly Ofcom has chosen to ignore this and so sadly has Which with whom I raised the issue some months ago (in a detailed phone conversation) but they have not broached in any of their online screeds.

Much of the ‘work’ done by both Ofcom and Which seems like so much ‘jobs for the boys’. Making it look like something is being done when in reality they are just playing about at the edges of the issue.

The one area both Ofcom and Which should be campaigning on is to force telecoms (BT etc) to only charge for the speed a customer actually gets – so a sliding scale. Simple eh? Which? Ofcom?

JR I have perhaps consumed too much Brandy this eve but I enjoyed your post and sympathise with you although our Broadband is not quite so bad as you quote
Maybe we rural people should all go back to dial up. . . .At times I remember it being slow also

This comment was removed at the request of the user

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I vote for Virgin – my broadband speed is around 9.8 Mbps on an “up to 10 Mbps” system (have had 10 Mbps once or twice) unlimited downloads so video streaming is the norm. Breakdowns twice (max off line three hours) since it was installed around 10 years ago. BT in contrast was rubbish. Virgin seems to be the only one that is actually close to advertised speeds.

robb192002 says:
31 July 2011

I’ve also been with both the providers you ve mentioned. Both though delivered close to advertised speeds.Virgin fell down on reliability of the connection, which is rather more important for some than actual speeds received. I currently get the average 6Mbps, which is fine for the price.

FC360 says:
30 July 2011

i get upto 8mbps with by and the actual speed tends to be around 6-7mbps which is pretty close to the advertised speed. The only time the speed is very slow is during peak times, usually between 6-9pm. My biggest problem is with the router which stops working almost everyday now.

Well, we have a couple of lucky folk on here. I use an ‘up to’ 20mbps service and get 4mbps… in London. Thankfully the service I’m with, Sky, no longer charges on speed, but upon the amount of data you use in a month.

Lynne Edwards says:
30 July 2011

My so-called “up to 8mbps” service had declined over about 18 months to a consistent 350kbps (yes, “k” is correct) and stuck there for months. It was always less than 1mbps.

I was going to look into Welsh Assembly Government support for people who got less than 512k but then BT did something and the speed has gone up to 1.something mbps. I see the WAG is increasing the speed limit below which you might get support to 2mbps so I shall look into it again but it will probably still be too expensive for me, since satellite is the only workable option.

The Ofcom maps show that Wales is particularly badly served when it comes to internet speed. 4mbps would be amazing for most of us.

Penny says:
5 August 2011

Oh, how I agree. 4 would be wonderful but unheard of. We too live in Wales and are about 2 miles from the exchange as the crow flies but rarely get over 1. There are absolutely no alternatives here – no cable, no nothing – so we are stuck with landline. We use Virgin, and don’t get many problems (except the speed) but have router issues. Oh for the speed others are complaining about!

Beside the discrepancies between “up-to speeds” and actual connection speeds is the just as important difference between off-peak and peak time download speeds.
Not much good getting a decent download speed at 7am if it plummets in the evening and you cant use BBC iPlayer.

This issue doesnt seem to get addressed in surveys and is almost solely down to cost savings by some ISPs in not buying enough bandwidth.

Charlotte says:
2 August 2011

I agree, at peak hours (BT infinity) I sometimes can’t get a page to load (I also live in London). The problem doesn’t last for very long usually but if you’re in a hurry to rush out the house and want to check train times, it’s annoying to get a faster response on the iphone. It really is like a motorway, fine if the traffic is not bad.

Having recently moved from BT normal broadband, to the faster infinity, I have to say I can’t see any difference. Perhaps uploading is slightly better (which I have to do a lot for work), so that’s useful to me but perhaps not that useful to everyone.

Opera Buff says:
31 July 2011

Virgin Media has always delivered to me a fast, reliable broadband connection via fibre opric cable (although it can be tardy upgrading existing customers’ speeds when faster ones are rolled out for new customers).

For those of you with slow connections (even dial-up) I suggest using the (free) Opera browser and its “Opera Turbo” tool which claims to accelerate page download speeds dramatically – see http://www.opera.com/browser/features/

On Nildram 8Mbps service in South Devon. BT rate my line as capable of between 7 and 8 meg, speed tests over the last few days result in between 2 and 4 meg, last one just now was 2.4. Will occasionally get 5 or 6 meg.
Service is usually much slower during the day and quicker late evenings. The connection itself is pretty reliable. I don’t do much streaming so these low speeds aren’t such a problem to me. So long as I can reliably get over 2 or 3 meg then I’m reasonably happy, a steady 5 or 6 meg would be nice.
What annoys me more is sites timing out, the national newspapers, BBC and sad to say Which are all big offenders here.

Mark says:
2 August 2011

I live in the sticks outside Guildford. I think the average d/l speed we get is around 3 meg, but I haven’t looked recently. We’ve been with o2 for at least two years and they are at least reliable, and we’ve also got unlimited broadband on a lower tariff because of when we signed up. Still 6 megs sounds like lightening in comparison.

Kijanawill says:
2 August 2011

I also am very pleased with my Virgin Cable broadband. I have been with Virgin for several years and I cannot recall when I last had any problems. My ‘up to 10Mbps’ is often at 9.8 Mbps.

Brian says:
2 August 2011

Suggest you try Plusnet – a good service and possibly the cheapest.In addition the support number is NOT one of the premium rate numbers

Colin says:
2 August 2011

I am on the much maligned TalkTalk LLU service, I live reasonably close to the exchange and get 18/19 Mbps. It is “up to 24Mbps” so I am happy with what I get and the connection is solid.

However,I should think that you would have to actually live next to the exchange to get the 24Mpbs!

Irving Wiseman says:
2 August 2011

Funnily enough I also have had no difficulties in the past 4 years with TalkTalk and being 150 m from the phone exchange always seem to get 12.5- 13Mbps.
I’m not even sure what they promise!

Mal says:
2 August 2011

If a car manufacture said up to 40 mpg and everyone only got 20 or less it would not be allowed and would be against the law, so how come I pay for ‘up to 8 meg and never get more than 1.5 0r 2 ?

Car manufacturers used to get away with quoting unrealistic economy figures. What we have now is much better. Broadband speed depends on distance from the exchange, so it is a little more difficult to predict figures.

I think you might be happier if your ISP advertised its service as 1 MB (instead of 8), and you got 1.5 or 2.

I believe that ADSL 2+ is the fastest technology available on a traditional twisted pair phone line. I also believe that the speed is proportional to the length of the line, so the closer to the exchange, the faster will be the speed. Some exchanges have ADSL 2+, others have the ‘old iron’ equipment.

I propose that suppliers should be forced to check the customers line and tell them what speed is possible before the contract is agreed. A max and min would be specified in the contract. If the speed is less than the quoted minimum, the supplier would be required to take action in a fixed period of time, and no rental would be charged until the minimum speed is achieved.

This would completely remove the continual customer complaints, and it would ensure a better service to all. I don’t believe the government has the courage to do this, otherwise it would have been done years ago.

A TalkTalk seller offered me, half price for 12 months, ‘up to 24Mbps’. I ‘poo pood’ this, telling them that they didn’t know what my line is capable of. The seller made a phone call to check my line and said that I would be charged £30 to connect to their equipment in the exchange, and would definitely get 11MBps. I leapt at this as I was only getting 2Mbps on an ‘up to 8Mbps’ service with Pipex (whom they were taking over). It’s been a few months now and I have never received more than 7Mbps, currently averaging 6. Reading some of these other comments, it seems that I am comparatively well off. However, I am just as much a victim of the marketing deceit practised by these companies. If there is a defficiency in there product, instead of remedying it, they conceal it. These companies so obviously employ confusion, illusion and deceit as marketing strategies, it amazes me that the authorities allow it.

David Bright says:
2 August 2011

I live in South Devon and have been with Virgin Media cable broadband for about 10 years. I uprated from their 10 MB service to 20 MB several years ago and was later invited to uprate to 30MB
which I did. I frequently check my upload and download speed via speedtest.com and have never ever dropped below the advertised speed. I generally show 31MB+. My upload speed is generally above 3MB which appears to be higher than many of your correspondents get on download. If you live in this area I recommend you give their service a try.

Yep, I’m in there with kilobytes people.
‘Upto 8 mgb’ is what I pay Greenbee (John Lewis) for, but can never get more than 1mgb. Usually hovers around 900kbs.
Well, I am all of 1point5 miles from the nearest exchange, and a whopping 3 miles from a tiny, isolated, rural outpost of the empire called Dover.

Mike Atkinson says:
2 August 2011

I was with Talk Talk and frequently lost connection. My speeds were down to 40kbps as a result I changed to BT. My speeds are now on average somewhere near the 6mbps and I do not lose my connection.I am about 3/4 mile from the local exchange and I was advised to expectsomewhere near 7mbps, so I cannot complain.

David L says:
2 August 2011

We live in Cheshire no distance from Manchester and have up to 8Mbps with Pipex (used to be excellent before Talk Talk got hold of them). The norm is about 1.8 down and 350Kbps up but drops below 1 Mbps when the kids come home. Just about ok for browsing but no good for videos. If I lived across the road (another exchange) it would be much better. The problem lies with BT and the ancient equipment in our local exchange and no amount of complaining to your ISP will change it. We were late getting broadband on the exchange and still lagging behind.

Walt at EK says:
2 August 2011

Looking out of my window to the houses on the other side of a narrow strip of a public park I sigh with envy at their 6-8Mbps service from Virgin. All we can get is BT – a stunning 1.4 Mbps. Why should there be such huge discrepancies?
I have contacted O2, Orange and 3 who offer home broadband from stores in the area – and to their credit they admit that they are unlikely to improve on the BT offering.
I live in a fairly new estate (8 yrs old) – you might have thought that communications would be something that house builders might have planned for? (but then, they couldn’t even get my floors level so perhaps that is a big ask!)