/ Technology

When ‘Great Expectations’ are not met


News just in: the higher your expectations, the more likely you could be disappointed. This is not my analysis of the London dating scene, but rather a reflection on today’s new revelations about bad broadband in the UK.

This week we learned some pretty disheartening details about the UK’s broadband health. According to Cable.co.uk’s global ranking of broadband speeds, Britain came an underwhelming 31st (!). Today we’ve been dealt another blow with our analysis showing the faster the speed you expect, the less likely you are to actually get it.

Expectations form an interesting part of our lives. We expect our train to show up on time. We expect the person who shows up in the bar to look at least remotely like their Tinder picture. We expect to have an internet connection fit for modern life.

Expectation vs reality

We’ve been uncovering many problems around connectivity since we launched our Fix Bad Broadband campaign this year. And now, according to our research, there’s something else to add to the broadband customers’ list of woes. We’ve discovered that the faster you expect your broadband to be, the further away you’ll be from achieving that speed.

For example, consumers who reported they expected speeds in excess of 30Mbps (between 30Mbps and 500Mbps) were only getting 54% of the speed they were expecting.

Here’s a graph showing our findings:

Consumer tested broadband speeds compared to expected speeds

Speed dating

My dating life might be a lost cause, but I’d like to at least be able to rely on a decent broadband connection. If our connectivity expectations are nothing more than a pipe dream, then perhaps Dickens had his finger on the pulse when he wrote in his famous novel: ‘Ask no questions, and you’ll be told no lies.’

I’m keen to hear what our online community thinks.

Why does the gap between achieved and expected speeds widen in this way? Why are consumers treated differently for connectivity than for other products? What can consumers hope for to fix bad broadband?

Don’t forget, you can contribute to our growing picture of the UK’s broadband connectivity by using our speed test and submitting your results.

Take our speed test


Hi Colum

Please could you tell us why Which? uses a different speed test from speedtest.net, which I understand is the most commonly used test. Like others, I have found the Which? speed test significantly faster.

I don’t mind which speed test is used, but surely it would be best for all to agree on using the same one.

When carrying out the speed test we are advised to use a cable rather than a wireless connection, no doubt because wireless connections can be subject to interference and can sometimes be considerably slower. That’s fine but a growing number of laptops have no standard provision for connecting a cable to the router.

Anyway, with a wireless connection and well away from the router I am getting a significantly faster speed than what I pay for, assuming that the Which? speed checker is accurate. While I have sympathy for those paying for high speed and not achieving it, I have much more concern for those who have pathetic speed and no way of improving it.


Wavechange I have already gone into detail on why and how different speed tests give different results , I dont want to go through it all again but yes Which,s results are , shall we say “optimistic ” . Its basically down to the basis used and “optimists ones ” average out local noise etc , there is a lot more technical detail but some are complaining about it and ,as I have already posted on it I dont want to upset more people particularity regulars. as regards Public Expectation well we all know how hyped up the national media is on this and I have lost count of the number of posts I have spent explaining this in detail as to how its impossible to achieve total public satisfaction due to a multitude of different household equipment/cable etc etc etc set ups . But no the media who should and do know better are working to an agenda a dogma if you like -sell off BT let the Americans takeover our national network ( check out the US companies with $Billions to gain from this ) and NOT to the British public’s advantage, as all this— THEY will give 100 % FTTP is pure bull , knowing how they operate in the States. Do you know many US telecommunication companies refuse to renew old copper for fibre forcing many US citizens to accept microwave radio -why ? – financial cost , one area of New York operates that way.


I appreciate your efforts, Duncan, but I hope you agree that it would be useful if everyone was using the same test. The present situation is equivalent to us all weighing in pounds but some using British Pound and some the US Pound. I would like Which? to explain their reasoning and maybe they might know if there any plans for everyone to get their act together and agree on one test.


Hi @wavechange,

Thank you for your question. There are in reality, a lot of speed checkers out there, and there wouldn’t be any way of centralising one to be used.

I understand there are often some differences in results to speed checkers. Each speed checker uses different algorithms to run their tests, and as a result, you will see small variations in the speeds measured. You’ll also see differences in speed depending on the time of day you use the checker. Our speed checker is focused on measuring the performance of the Internet as perceived by the user, using HTTP protocol, which ensures that the results are what the user will experience in their actual browser. We provide regular feedback to the tool provider to help improve their services and the accuracy of the test.

The response time (latency) can be higher than other speed checkers due to the methodology of the measurement. Latency measurement is done using HTTP protocol instead of ICMP protocol. The advantage of this method means it provides latencies closer to the real world and is consistent with the method used for testing download speeds.

The tool provider uses a combination of lab tests, artificially limiting connection speeds and verifying that the speed checker measures up to the limit, complete crowdsourced surveys and A/B test new algorithms. The team work to continuously improve the algorithm, its accuracy and reliability across all platforms.

The real positive of us having this speed checker, aside from giving consumers assistance and understanding their speeds and getting help if they need it, is that we can measure and collect data from across the UK. This will help us create a map of real speeds across the UK, and also help us understand where we getting the best reach. We can use this information to target our campaign resources and bring information to relevant bodies.

You’re also absolutely right to comment on the fact there are people who have very poor speeds and little option to improve them. We’re hoping this campaign will bring to light the infrastructure issues around the UK.



Thanks very much, Colum, and thanks for coming back to us and providing feedback on our questions and posts. Best of luck with with the campaign.


In our broadband market, “unlimited” data packages have become the norm, so suppliers can only court prospective new customers with either concrete offers of low prices, or claims of high speeds.


The mobile phone industry has suspended at least some of the unlimited data tariffs. At my previous home I had a 4G service that from memory offered a download speed that was three or four times what I achieved via my copper broadband service. With unlimited mobile data I could have tethered my computer etc. as I do when I’m on holiday and cancelled my landline phone/broadband contract.

It would be fairer if we all paid for services according to use. Most of us are not on unlimited gas and electricity tariffs.


Interesting perspective, @DerekP. I agree unlimited data packages are certainly the norm, but by no means the entire market. In my last apartment I ended up on a contract with a data cap on it as I was advised by a friend that it would be sufficient for me and save me money. It worked very well until I had an absolute binge watch of a Netflix show and incurred charges for going over the gap! Definitely learnt a lesson there….

It’s interesting though that the speed claims are becoming a more central part to marketing campaigns in providers. It could ultimately be a driver in why people are more likely to end up disappointed.