/ Technology

Superfast broadband – is speed your priority?

The current government hasn’t minced its words over its plans for broadband. It dove straight in with a goal for the UK to have ‘the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015’. So how close are we?

Superfast broadband can broadly be described as any service that’s advertised as offering a speed of over 24 Megabits per second (Mbps). It runs over fibre networks rather than the old-style copper ADSL ones that simply can’t cope with the same speeds.

The most widely known superfast services are probably BT’s Infinity, which boasts speeds of up to 40Mbps, and Virgin Media’s cable packages which claims to reach as high as 100Mbps.

Superfast broadband targets

According to Ofcom, superfast broadband networks can now be accessed by 58% of UK households. Sound like a lot? Well, the government wants 90% of UK homes and businesses to have access to a superfast service by the end of 2015.

It’s a grand aim, though I think it’s rather interesting that the target is around availability rather than people taking it up. But perhaps that’s a wise caveat – is the average Brit actually concerned enough about broadband speed to upgrade to a superfast service?

I’m lucky enough to live in an area where a superfast connection is already available, though there’s not a choice of services yet (I’m currently with Virgin, but BT’s service will arrive at my postcode in March this year according to its broadband checker).

And, I must say that I do notice the difference in response time when I go back to my parent’s house and their slower connection.

There’s only a small time lag, but it’s definitely a frustrating one, especially when websites I use regularly take noticeably longer to load. Perhaps if I’d never have experienced a superfast connection I wouldn’t even have noticed this, but now I don’t think I could go back to a ‘standard’ service.

Don’t forget rural areas

I haven’t forgotten about the remaining 10% of households that the government expects to be without superfast broadband by 2015. We’ve heard from many of you who currently struggle to get any sort of decent broadband speed, let alone a fast one.

The government does have targets in place for these people as well, with an aim to get everyone on a minimum 2Mbps broadband service by 2015. I certainly think it’s more important to get this right first, before concentrating on making already fast services even faster.

That’s not to say less populated rural areas won’t benefit from superfast speeds too – the government’s allocated over £530 million to ensure these areas get access to a superfast service. Time will tell if this actually happens, and I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on how this progresses.

There are more superfast options available to us than ever before, with TalkTalk, Plusnet and Zen Internet offering services on top of BT and Virgin. The question is – are you interested in upgrading to one? And if you already have, have you noticed a significant difference?

Marketing of broadba says:
22 July 2012

Hi xrayspex

You’re right that some ISPs use their own kit in exchanges where there is LLU, but are they allowed to enter the exchange to maintain it at will?

I do not agree that ISPs do not need to make clear in their marketing that they may not be able to maintain the infrastructure except through BT. The average consumer is not aware of this distinction, but should be made aware since it may affect their choice of service provider. This is the real problem with privatisation, it leads to fragmentation of the service – but more importantly fragmentation of the responsibility for providing the service. The consumer is often left both bewildered and lacking in the service for which they are paying. Not good.

The average consumer is not aware of this distinction between BT Retail (Sells Total Broadband & Infinity), BT Wholesale (Owns and runs the network), Openreach (Maintains the lines and cabs).

Hello, just a reminder – please use only one username when you are commenting on Which? Conversation. Thanks.

Partviking says:
22 July 2012

I couldn’t agree more. I only found out by chance Plusnet is in fact just another arm of BT and it is this duplicity which IMHO. Is wrong. In essence whoever you use as an ISP you are to a greater or lesser extent stil with BT. Even with LLU. What should have happened when it was privatised is the network arm should have been made a separate company like Network Rail or Transco and were all paying the price for Maggies incompetence though the cynical side of me thinks she new exactly what she was doing…..privatisation in name only cos BT still run the show whoever you’re with.

Barry says:
20 August 2012

I am fairly PC savvy but am slightly confused by all of this talk of line speeds.
I have a 2Mb connection with BT, my line speed (via lots of tests) averages 1.6Mb but I have never had a download at greater than 230Kb/sec. All of my downloads such as updates from Microsoft, Adobe, Java etc. average about 200Kb/sec. This is the speed given in the download box. A film would take all day.
If it was possible to upgrade to say a 10Mb connection (which it is not) how would this effect my 200Kb/sec speed? Also, logic dictates that my download speed is dependent upon someone elses upload speed so is Microsoft really uploading at 200Kb/sec? My upload speed is 30Kb/sec.

> “I have a 2Mb connection with BT”

Then you almost certainly have an obsolete fixed speed connection.

Put your phone no. in here http://www.dslchecker.bt.com/adsl/adslchecker.welcome and tell me what it says.

If you care to join http://forums.thinkbroadband.com/ we can advise you how to get a faster connection.

> “I have never had a download at greater than 230Kb/sec”
> “All of my downloads such as updates from Microsoft, Adobe, Java etc. average about 200Kb/sec”

You are confusing Bytes (capital “B”) with bits (small “b”)! 1 Byte = 8 bits (usually).

Computer data and their downloads are measured in Bytes, while communication between devices and their speeds are measured in bits.

So a file downloaded at 200K Bytes/sec is equivalent to transmission at 1.6M bits/sec, which exactly corresponds to the speedtests you are getting, which in turn is slightly lower than your raw connection (Sync) speed of 2 Meg, due to the transmission carrying protocol overheads over and above the actual data carried.

Barry says:
21 August 2012

The DSL checker says “Your exchange is ADSL enabled, and our initial test on your line indicates that your line should be able to have an ADSL broadband service that provides a fixed line speed up to 2Mbps.
Our test also indicates that your line currently supports an estimated ADSL Max broadband line speed of 2Mbps; typically the line speed would range between 1Mbps and 3Mbps”

Re your second comment, it looks then like my line is doing what it says on the tin. Would you say that no amount of upgrading is going to increase this speed, including changing to another provider?

Um, looks like you are a long way from exchange :(. What exchange?

I need to see your router stats to advice further.

This is due to a poor quality local loop on the BT network
ie The copper cable is too long and far from the BT exchange.

Nothing else will provide a higher speed over the same twisted pair cable – so do not be fooled by anyones claims elsewhere.

The only options are
1) BT improves the local loop – this isn’t likely to happen
2) Virgin use a different cabled system and much faster
3) Pay BT for a fibre-optic cable conversion – but will cost you an arm and a leg
4) Sky and others are also offering fibre-optic, but first BT have to put in the cable
5) Move house

Avoid mobile dongles, not faster and not cheaper.

IT tutor

Barry says:
22 August 2012

I’m fairly resigned to this by now so don’t do too much head scratching but for your information, I’m 3km by road from the exchange. Some of the stats of my Netgear DG834 with latest firmware and cable connection to PC are: Downstream 2176kbps, Line Attn. 45.0db, Noise Margin 11.8db.

Barry, Well done getting router stats.

> “Downstream 2176kbps, Line Attn. 45.0db, Noise Margin 11.8db”

You could be getting nearly 6 Meg Connection Speed @ the industry standard 6 dB Noise Margin on ADSL Max. Which makes me think you are on the 2 Meg Fixed ADSL.

The DSL checker you did is far too pessimistic. You are not drastically far from exchange; only 3.3 Km line length as shown by your attenuation.

If you are interested in taking this further, we can help you at ThinkBroadBand.

Tavistock Superfast says:
22 August 2012

Barry – all this seems to be about right. I am about the same distance as well. To think that we are over the UK Government target (by May 2015 General Election) of 2 Mbps for all who are not lucky enough to win a prize from the superfast lottery. We are so fortunate – aren’t we. Perhaps we should all send letters of appreciation to Jeremy Hunt and BDUK for achieving so much so early…

Virgin co-axial DSL line

I used to get 10mb/sec

Mr Bransom upgraded us all to 20mb/sec

Do we notice the difference?


I measured it and it is 20mb/sec – but the actual file download speed achieved is exactly the same.
(Power PC too)

I have a connection speed of between 5 – 7 mbps and that suits me just fine. I do however suffer from disconnection from time to time and would sacrifice some speed to a permanently secure connection. I would not pay extra for superfast speeds as I don’t need it for my computer use.

Andy says:
2 January 2015

I am with BT Infinity 1 on an up to 38Mbs line speed, I have looked at up grading and the BT website suggests that I could upgrade to BT Infinity 2 with line speed up to 76Mbs. However, when I talk to BT I am told I can only get up to 25Mbs? According to the line checker I am 1.1mile from the exchange.

I don’t understand why they say BT Infinity 2 is available (as an up to 76Mbs service) but can only deliver up to 25Mbs. How can they call it Superfast Broadband.

Rob Elmour says:
4 January 2015

I agree with the sentiment. This kind of thing drives me mad too.

The official definition of “superfast” is 24 mbps plus, so I suppose they’re technically correct, but to offer a premium service that delivers significantly slower speeds than they promise with their “budget” offering is outrageous!

By the way, I don’t think distance from the exchange is particularly relevant with BT Infinity as it’s based on Fibre To The Cabinet technology, which means the mega-fast fibre optic part of the network goes as far as the street cabinet and from then on it’s distributed by old fashioned telephone lines. So the important factor is the distance from your street cabinet.

I have a Virgin 152 mbps service and that actually delivers speeds a little bit higher than promised most of the time, though I’ve seen it drop down nearer to 130 mbps at times of peak demand. But again, they use Fibre To The Cabinet technology (with the last bit done via coaxial cable – like a TV aerial) so maybe I’m just lucky enough to be close to my street cabinet.