/ Technology

Update: bad broadband? You’re not alone…

Bad broadband

A good broadband connection is a modern day essential. Yet the service many of us get simply isn’t good enough. Do you struggle with bad broadband?

I’m addicted to the internet. When my broadband goes down it becomes apparent how much my life relies on a good connection – whether its watching on-demand TV in the evening, streaming music, paying my bills, sorting my banking, shopping or maybe trawling holiday booking sites for a dream break.

Bad broadband

The fact is that more people now bank online than in branch, online shopping is becoming the norm, and streaming our favourite TV shows and movies has become a big part of our popular culture.

There’s nothing that annoys me more than settling down to watch a film and the internet cutting out. For no apparent reason.

In fact, thanks to my shoddy broadband I may never know what happens in the final scenes of JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which I rented last weekend. Annoyingly, my broadband dropped and the rental period ended before I had a chance to finish the film.

In this digital age you would expect broadband to be better than it is.

Connection problems

In rural and urban communities alike, people are let down by poor connections, dropouts and slow speeds.

Our latest research has found that six in ten people have experienced a problem with their broadband in the last year, and the majority of them are frustrated as a result.

Over a third of people who have experienced problems with their broadband have been completely stopped from carrying out their online activities, and some have even said that it has cost them money.

Providers draw us in with all-singing, all-dancing connections, yet many people aren’t getting the speeds they need.

Fix bad broadband

We want to build up a picture of the actual speeds and problems people are experiencing across UK, so we’ve created a new free speed checker for you to test your connection and compare your broadband speeds with others living in your area.

We also have tips and advice on how to improve your connection, and a free tool to help you to complain to your provider if you’re not happy.

In this digital age we should all be getting the broadband connections we need to keep up with modern life. By using our speed checker you will be helping us build a better picture of the speeds and the problems that people are actually experiencing across the UK, so that we can help everyone get better connected.

Update: 3 June 2017

The government has announced a £400m Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund to improve broadband connectivity across the UK.

This investment in the UK’s digital infrastructure is being touted as a fast-track to full fibre – it will seek to make internet access more reliable for homes and businesses with an overhaul of the UK’s fibre network.

To aid the delivery of the full-fibre network, it’s expected that the £400m fund will be matched by private investment and bring the total investment sum to £1bn.

Alex Neill, our Managing Director of Home Products and Services, said:

‘Our research shows that too many consumers across the country still struggle with slow broadband speeds, finding it hard to carry out even the simplest of tasks, such as online banking and shopping. This investment will offer a much-needed boost to upgrade our national broadband network.

‘The industry must now press on with installing full fibre swiftly in communities across the country so that consumers get faster, more reliable broadband.’

Have you used our speed checker? What speed did you get?

Philip Baxter-Smith says:
11 April 2017

These are the speeds as we’ve just checked ..,

Response time (latency)
240 ms

Download speed
57.9 Mbps

Upload speed
6.9 Mbps

I don’t believe the Which? broadband test is working properly. I get, reproducibly, about 55 down and 95 up The latter is clearly nonsense.

If I use the BT Wholesale test, which I trust, I get about 50 down and 18 up. This tallies with third party apps like Ookla.

[Sorry, your comment has been edited to align with our Community Guidelines. Thanks, mods]

David says:
11 April 2017

I find BT have monopolised the area by not putting in fibre to our post code. We have been with the aid of our MP campaigning for 3 years now still no improvement and still no fibre. ‘The box is too far away’ BT staement. If the socket was too far away in my house i would install another one. Not rocket science. We had better and faster broadband in remote village in Bulgaria. We cant even move to decent supplier without fibre or we just get standard useless speed.

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Thanks for your message Duncan. I wanted to reply to you sooner but have been pulling together a reply for you. So basically the reason we use Amazon Web Services for hosting is because they are the leaders in this field. That being said, the data centre connected to our account is located in the EU. Hope that addresses some of your concerns.

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NGray says:
11 April 2017

The Which Broadband checker gave vastly different results on different devices around the home. My laptop (Mac – oldest) recorded around 35 Mbps whereas my husband’s newer laptop and my iPad both recorded speeds well over 200 Mbps! We ran this 3 times on all devices today and yesterday. It would appear slightly misleading – we get very similar results on all the devices if we use speed test.net, implying that the Which checker is much more device or otherwise dependent.

Agreed. I’m not at all confident of the Which? tester.

I live in Rotherhithe, a peninsula with a bad reputation that there are lots of long-distance Exchange Only Lines (EOLs) in the area. It has been so long that the residents here keep complaining about the low internet speed, particularly uploads. If you ever encountered in the similar situation, you will understand how frustrated this can be. Waiting forever for a 5MB email attachment to finish upload? The speed is not even possible for anyone who wants to upload and share video clips on the internet. The same difficulty will be even worse for people working at home relying on the internet. BT/Openreach has made their promises years ago to bring fibre broadband to the area, but this isn’t happening at the moment. Also, Virgin doesn’t cover the major area either. I’m just wondering, for how long we need to wait to access a broadband with decent speed? Openreach seems to be slow, if Virgin has their cable covered the area first, they might attract almost everyone.

Date of test: 11/04/2017 16:17:20
Response Time: 163ms
Download Speed: 4.4Mbps
Upload Speed: 0.9Mbps

Jan says:
11 April 2017

Currently upload is 0.9 mbps and download load is 6.0..which is brilliant…but will probably last about 3 minutes and then the signal drops altogether. So frustrating and dangerous if attempting online banking or paying for a holiday etc.!

In addition to my concerns that the Which? speed tester results are just wrong, and indeed wildly wrong (see above), it’s worrying that users aren’t advised to make sure all other devices in their premises are disconnected, and that the computer they run the test from is connected by patch lead (not possibly contended wifi) to the router. You’ve little chance of getting a usable result (or one that anyone will believe) otherwise. I think Which? needs to do more work on this.

Stephen says:
11 April 2017

BT told me my line had been fibre enabled. As i) I am an ex-telecoms technical developer and ii) I know they mean fibre to the cabinet not to my house I was not expecting much. However, the short version is that after four months they agreed the line was not capable of Infinity speeds and at my request put me back to ADSL. My speed went back up by 25% to 5Mbps after its drop when the fibre system was installed.
Part of the problem is that the cabinet to which I am connected is a relay not a distribution cabinet so in practice I have over 2 kms of overhead wire to contend with.

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The fast broadband roll-out is a government [taxpayers’] expense; BT [now Openreach] is just the facilitator. If Openreach does anything at its own expense it’s because, in their assessment, it will be commercially viable – that is, they will be able to recover a profitable income from the traffic the enhanced capacity will carry. The clear example of that is the way the telecom service providers [like BT and Virgin media] are capturing huge audiences for sport, other popular TV, and other media by virtue of having provided greater broadband capacity and higher speeds. They have invested in the asset and are now trying to make it sweat. Where there is no such commercial imperative then the government funding will come into play. With another three years to go on the government’s promise it is probably too early to say whether it will be achieved on time.

I would like to know just what “slow” broadband prevents people from accomplishing. Just some facts so I know why people complain about speed. If what have become everyday tasks such as banking, form filling, sourcing essentials like energy, are affected then as these have become more and more tailored to online I would support publicly funded extensions to the service. If it is so you can download films and music quickly, then no – hardly essential. If it is because business activity cannot be done quickly enough, well I would expect business to consider their office location to achieve adequate broadband speed and business should be expected to pay for the provision.

I used b/b privately regularly with less than 4 Mbps on copper without any problem.

I would simply like information, because there are other pressures on public finances such as social care, the NHS, education that are competing for limited financial resources (our taxes).

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I agree Malcolm. I feel that some of the dissatisfaction is being whipped up. However, I sympathise with those in rural areas who are still waiting for workable speeds, and with those paying for a certain level of speed but getting nothing like it. Some rural businesses [like agriculture] cannot choose their location but are dependent on effective broadband for basic administration and management purposes. Business requirements are a separate issue and the financial arrangements are different to those for the residential services. They will no doubt have a landline but upgrading it to support high-speed broadband will be an additional business expense. I have seen very few complaints from people in those situations in this Conversation.


When I had no landline b/b at all, I could still use email and do a limited amount of web browsing by using 3G mobile broadband. I could also download s/w updates, but had to be careful not to download too many, otherwise I risked going over my monthly 1GB data allowance.

My current PlusNet landline broadband tends to clock at about 10 Mbps. This allows me to easily and reasonably swiftly download lots of software updates and releases (e.g. loads of Linux distros – each of these is usually about 1-2Gb in size). I can also watch media streaming services such as YouTube (or Sky, Netflix etc.). I do sometime get stop/start problems with BBC iPlayer – but may be due to overloaded servers at their end. I could probably also indulge in state-of-the-art online multiplayer gaming (“World of Which?craft” ??) if I wanted to.

I think speed is not the only issue here. Discontinuity of service is probably a worse matter, if it means than large downloads will simply fail (as opposed to succeeding after a long wait) and if ecommerce transaction with fail due after timing out.

Duncan – I think what Malcolm and I are looking for is not a cost profile for providing high-speed broadband but a rational discussion of just what the public purse should be paying for. Most day-to-day functional requirements can be carried out at low speeds, although increasing use of the infrastructure does cause capacity constraints at busy times that were not there a few years ago. Any publicly-funded upgrade must address the potential for increased access and higher demand but only up to a point. In simple terms this does mean that every schoolchild should be able to do any computer-based homework before bedtime. The prevailing assessment is that 20 Mbps will be sufficient for that in low population density areas. The intention is not to provide 20 Mbps all the time or as a minimum speed but to enable everyone to function at around the 5 Mbps level as a basic standard. In practice I would expect the newly installed capacity to ensure much higher speeds, even exceeding 20 Mbps, for most of the time.

Malcolm, I get between 7&8 Mbps which is adequate to do most things. Video can start buffering so not great for watching films but general surfing is ok.

In the early 90’s dial-up at 56 Kbps (0.056 Mbps) worked just as well until more and more people came on-line, then forget it unless it was 3am and everybody else was asleep.

If my speed drops to 4 Mbps just general surfing takes forever to load a page. Filling in forms or being on a financial website could time out before you get to do whatever you want to do and forget about watching any video (even a short instruction film on YouTube).

So for people reporting 1-2 Mbps, it must be almost unusable.

And as DerekP says discontinuity of service means unless you can upgrade to the latest version of something you will be unable to use the service. Recently I tried to update Skype for someone on around 3 Mbps and it timed out before the download was complete. Skype will not work unless it is updated, so is now unusable.

To answer Malcolm’s initial question (“I would like to know just what “slow” broadband prevents people from accomplishing. Just some facts so I know why people complain about speed”) I would say that over the years there’s been a move towards an implicit assumption by providers of services, such as HMRC, Banks and other essential web-presences that everyone enjoys or soon will enjoy around 25 mbs minimum and this has seen a corresponding shift towards greater use of graphical interfaces, often with animations and many still using the worryingly unsound Flash. This trend, coupled to the increasing adoption by others of internet-associated equipment (IoTs) results in slower speeds overall which, for those already on a slow speed (5mb or less) will – over time – make it increasingly difficult to accomplish many of the things we now take for granted. A high speed line does not automatically translated into a fast line: how fast your home system works is dependent on quite a number of other factors, over which you will have little or no control.

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Yes, it’s a pity the service providers cannot inform customers better on the realities. Unfortunately, however, there are some who even regard an explanation as an insult. I think people are dejected because they see no prospect of improvement and are subjected to continuous unfulfilled [and unfulfillable] promises.

Controversial though it is to mention it, but many internet users’ educational level can only handle the things that eat up capacity thus dooming them to disappointment; this is a perverse consequence of a democratising and potentially life-enriching development.

Increasing the speed of broadband is all very well if consumers wish to send emails and watch films, but usually involves more radio masts. In developing countries it has been proved that the radiation emitted from these new masts disorientate bees and other wildlife resulting in massive bee die offs, re. China, west Indies et al, with crops dying out, because o f no pollination, honey, etc.
Bee farmers therefore have to play hopscotch round these masts in order to survive.
There must some places on earth where people, crops and bees may survive without extermination due to talk and blether.
John Martin

Luckily, John, in the UK, most faster broadband services can be provided by running fibre optic cable through existing ducts to street cabinets and upgrading the cable performance from the cabinet to the premises. In urban areas, fibre to the premises is possible in many locations because new fibre optic cables were installed in footways passing each property at the time of the cable TV roll-out [before satellite TV scooped the market]. It’s interesting that we are now going back to cable for delivery of a much wider range of media and services leaving the satellite industry with a gloomy future.

I’m struggling to find where it’s been proved that phone masts cause bee die-offs.

Since we are discussing broadband speeds provided by telecom service providers I assumed Mr Martin was referring to microwave dishes on towers which are used for long distance trunk traffic. I am not aware of any affect they have on bees – they have been in use in the UK for many decades. In most cases. broadband is carried to people’s homes using the existing underground and overhead telecoms infrastructure which is generally capable of being upgraded to fibre optic cabling [at a cost].

Mobile telecommunications via transmission masts and towers does not seem to be the primary cause of any widespread death of bees and other insects but they might have a temporary disorientating effect. A fall in the honey bee population seems to have a number of possible explanations, including airborne chemical dispersal, crop cultures, and other environmental changes. Broadcast radio transmissions have been prevalent for over a century and bees seem to have adjusted to their effects. I think radio interference is one of numerous theories where none of the evidence is conclusive. Nevertheless, the siting of masts and towers needs careful consideration especially if there are sensitive colonies in the vicinity.

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Absolutely agree, Duncan. That was what I was trying to convey to John Martin. I think the chemical dispersal and crop culture effects are far more plausible – but not undisputed, as you suggest.

Good to hear lots of angles on bee die offs, and nicotinoid based herbicides are responsible for many outbreaks, but try telling that to bee farmers in St Lucia, for instance, who have to up sticks and move their hives far away from new masts.
Bees simply lose their way when they fly into range and die when they can’t get home.
1,000’s of orchards in China are now pollinated by people with cotton buds in new suburbia infested with mobile phones. Allergic reactions to them have been often reported, head aches, hives etc, but not while so much money is involved.

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Dr Roger Brown says:
12 April 2017

I cannot get your broadband speed checker to work either! I use Plusnet and after complaining to them this week about my very slow connections they upgraded me within 4 hours to 5.5Mb from 3.5Mb, saying my Signal Noise Ratio was unacceptable because the length of telephone line too long. So now it appears to work quickly and with little hesitation buffering. Good, courteous service from Plusnet too. I didn’t know they are owned by BT. Well Plusnet do a far better customer service than BT, who I have hopeless in the past.

I’m 4 miles out side Launceston in Cornwall and I have a speed checker. Sometimes my speed is as 0.08
on average just over 1mgb.It is so frustrating trying to run a business on that.I’m using Quick books for
my accounts and it takes a whole morning just to do half a dozen invoices. What happened to Openreach
(BT by any other name!) promise of 2mgb by 2008. Why are they still the broadband provider? And the
government,what are they doing?

Hi the whole village gets 3.5 mb you can only get more if you pay for fibre connection,

I’m in Lincolnshire, outside a good sized village and not what I would call ‘rural’. BT is my provider but I have used PlusNet & Orange in the past. All of which tell you how brilliant they are…. all of which are quite rubbish to be honest. I have BT broadband, landline and mobile phone. Broadband is very expensive, drops out often and is very slow. The mobile is unusable at home and in most places around me; calls and texts drop out and do not send/receive respectively. When I complain they tell me to use their broadband calling service!!!! The landline is so crackly that its barely useable……………. We are well into the 21st century. I have family in rural Morocco; they have brilliant broadband/mobile phone coverage and to add insult to injury a fantastic train service too! Where does all this money BT make actually go…..paying for the sports channels!?

Many in a rural area like ours would envy a download speed of 7.2, but the service is erratic and sometimes drops out completely. Given that our copper wires cross a field nailed to the posts of a fence and are sometimes bitten by sheep or cut by the hedge flail it is perhaps remarkable that it is that good. Openreach say that the route is “agreed” and that they are not obliged to change it. Monopolies are never good for consumers and it makes no difference whether they are state-owned or private.

Dennis says:
12 April 2017

I am on fibre. If I change provider I will go to the bottom of their list as there is a queue for new fibre service.
So by changing to a better provider my speed goes down dramatically. Catch 22 or what?

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You are right, Duncan. The UK government will not fund FTTP, but in bringing faster broadband to the cabinet it will – hopefully – enable many subscribers to get a better service than they can now and reduce the cost of connecting to fibre if they wish to [subject to the distance from the cabinet to the premises].

Note that the government [as well as Ofcom and the telecom service providers] always use the term “providing access to faster [or superfast] broadband”. This only means a possible landline connection for which a higher payment has to be made if fibre optic cable is required. We have fibre access to BT infinity at our master socket but chose not to avail ourselves of it since the normal service is adequate [and expensive enough].

Thanks for the information, John, Ian, duncan, alfa et al. Like alfa I could do most “household” tasks at less than 4 Mbps but recognise the problem in downloading software updates, and the more complex interfaces now used that demand adequate speed. My concern is those who expect the taxpayer to fund high speeds to improve their entertainment. Perhaps those who provide essential services online should be required to work within an upper speed limit?

My broadband does occasionally drop out, and usually is restored by switching my lap top wireless switch off and on. very rarely i have reset the router. So i usually blame my old computer. What normally causes dropouts and what can or should be done to minimise them? I appreciate how annoying and time consuming they can be when you are part way through a task.

I find with many public organisations like local authorities the problem lies with the inadequate power of their servers. This is true also of many commercial organisations which cannot support the customer base they are attracting. I can process an order with Sainsbury’s very quickly but then try to order something from M&S and it’s clunk, click, every trip while I drum my fingers on the desk as the pages populate and the filters fill.

Another thing with local authorities is that, whereas they once prided themselves on providing three-click navigation to virtually any part of their site, their menus have now been so simplified and reduced to meaningless categories [like ‘democracy’ or ‘environment’] that you have to hit, or stumble on, several sub-menus before getting close to the desired page. In our part of the country the Home pages have been dumbed down in line with the Ofsted rankings I think – on the basis that the lowest common denominator excludes no one, I suppose.

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Thanks, Duncan. I never look under the hood.

Indeed, Javascript is my second hate (after Flash), since it’s often implemented so poorly.

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I feel sorry for W10 users too. However, as has been pointed out before on here, W10 is not essential for home use. Opting for Windows “by default”, is a bit like sticking with standard variable tariffs for energy supply, if you aren’t interested in exploring the alternatives.

Mike Whittaker says:
12 April 2017

Speed checker drops out after the first part of the test…….