/ Technology

London’s broadband lottery makes mockery of ‘up to’ speeds

Map of London with pin in Canary Wharf

It’s a lottery out there when it comes to broadband speed – even if you live in a highly populated place like London. I happen to live in the postcode with the capital’s slowest connection, and I’m not happy.

I pay for 20 megabits per second broadband from one of the big internet providers. Yet, what speed do I get in reality? According to research by Top10.com, I’d be lucky to enjoy 3.7Mbps.

Sure, it’s not as slow as dial-up, and I can still watch BBC iPlayer, but I pay for much more and I live in London!

Broadband speed discrepancies in London

It’s all part of the broadband lottery, and despite what you might think, it’s not just a battle between the rural and the urban. Londoners face a big discrepancy in broadband speed depending on their postcode.

The postcode worst affected in the city is good old E14, better known as the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf. The area’s average speed, compiled by tests submitted by residents, was 3.7Mbps – a speed that would take four hours to download a film. Let’s just say, I don’t try to do that too often.

East London is badly affected elsewhere, with Shoreditch and Bethnal Green also struggling to get above 5Mbps. This is compared to the city’s fastest areas – Upper Edmonton and Hamstead, where both enjoy on average over 16Mbps.

Now, I’m ‘lucky’ that my ISP provides ‘up to’ 20Mbps broadband no matter what package I pay for, but I happen to be on their most expensive deal for ‘unlimited’ browsing and downloads.

Nevertheless, I’m still only getting a quarter of the speed I pay for. So shouldn’t I get a tasty discount? Why should people in Canary Wharf have to pay as much as those in Edmonton?

The ‘up to’ in broadband advertising

I know most of us realise that the term ‘up to’ is meant to suggest the speed is a guide rather than a guarantee. But when there’s a massive gap between what’s advertised and what people actually get it really does make a mockery of current broadband advertising.

I wonder if ISPs would like it if I changed my payments to ‘up to’ £15 depending on what mood I’m in, or what state my bank balance is in? Ceri Stanaway, our broadband expert at Which? had this to say on the matter:

‘Broadband advertising should reflect the speeds that most of us can get in practice, not the speeds that a handful of fortunate broadband users get some of the time. Which? will continue to represent consumers to the ASA, Ofcom and industry to help them develop a meaningful and honest way of advertising broadband speeds.’

And yes, I know, rural dwellers have got it even worse, with Which? Convo commenter Keith asking why rural areas are ‘charged the same fees as town dwellers’. But maybe, if you don’t get the speed that’s advertised you should pay less, no matter where you live? Or better, broadband providers’ misleading use of ‘up to’ speeds should be done away with altogether.


Terrible news Patrick. Are upgrades still planned? Taking place currently or just no hope in sight?

Simon says:
30 August 2012

Quite amazing that the big banks are based in Canary Wharf and have got ultra fast links to the markets, but the residents have to put up with a prehistoric service.

I am on BT in E14 and suffer from terrible speeds; maximum 3.5Mbps. The last two days have been appalling with speeds around 10kb/s with no resolution from BT.

I have contacted local council to find out about infinity who said they have been in contact with BT for two years over this.

I have also tried Virgin who said the area is a no go. I have tried Hyperoptic who were the most optimistic but it was up to the property developer to allow them to install and presumably share costs.

Leon Greenwell says:
15 September 2013

It is long overdue that internet connection is made a national priority, and a department of government organised to the purpose

Paul says:
12 August 2015

Hey – E14 is still appallingly slow.

I guess when you have a monopoly you can get away with doing naff all – hey BT.

If ANY cable company put in fibre optic in E14, you would get 90% plus take up from BT customers looking to leave in drones.

I don’t know how much cabling costs – but do a pre-test poll. I’d gladly chip in £100 to get the ball rolling and get BT kicked off the Island.

Paul says:
12 August 2015

I reckon at least 50,000 customers MINIMUM ripe for the taking from BT. So there’s £5 million if we all pledge £100.

How much would it cost to dig a hole and lay some cable?