/ 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?

James says:
13 January 2012

Does your computer connect to the internet via a WiFi router? If so then the maximum throughput for the fastest WiFi (n) is about 13 Mbps. Worth thinking about before you get too excited by higher speeds. I have found it worthwhile installing a wired network at home to get the most out of my relatively modest 20 Mbps Virgin service. Even so the most important thing to me is the reliability of that service. Until last year their service was excellent. Recently however it has become more patchy, and at certain times in the evening, it can slow to a crawl. So I personally would prefer that they concentrate on providing a consistent and reliable service

Majikthise says:
13 January 2012

I have to disagree with you there James. As a *maximum* throughput for a fast WiFi (n) connection you should be getting way more than 13mbps. These WiFi routers are designed to work at up to 300mbps – of course, you need a very good signal to achieve that kind of speed and the 300mbps has to be divided up between everyone who’s using bandwidth on the router, not to mention an overhead for maintaining connections etc, but you should still be able to match the throughput of a fast broadband connection in practice.

I use WiFi (n) to do speed tests on my 30mbps broadband connection without any problems at all.

There are a few things that might be slowing you down. These include:
1) Poor signal – including interference from other radio sources.
2) The encryption type you are using may not be compatible with the highest speeds.
3) Other devices on the WiFi network that use old protocols – the router will have to slow down to cater for these as well as your nice fast wireless N connection.
4) The quality of your router. A lot of people don’t realise this but some routers – especially older ones – simply don’t have the processing power to handle high throughput.

Marius says:
13 January 2012

My MacBook has show Speed Tests of 50Mbps as do the iMac’s.

Tavistock Superfast says:
15 January 2012

This current government may not have minced its words on its plan for superfast broadband delivery. But in January 2012 approaching 2 years of inaction and paper shuffling, have these words any actual meaning? For millions of people and millions of premises, probably not.

Phillip says:
24 January 2012

From experience, fibre is the only way to get reliable & fast broadband, but it does cost. Hopefully the prices of fibre broadband will drop as BT’s Infinity starts to compete with Virgin’s. What really annoys me is the fact that I can’t just have broadband with Virgin. I don’t what a ‘home’ telephone, I’ve got a mobile and I can Skype people, so I’m paying for something I don’t need. It just seems like an excuse to extract more money from the customer. Oh yes, and while I’m on this subject, why don’t the banner headlines in the adverts include the cost of the phone line. To my mind it’s as bad as the airlines sneaking in extra charges when you come to book. I would be interested to hear Which’s view on this.

“Hopefully the prices of fibre broadband will drop as BT’s Infinity”.
Not all fibre is “BT Infinity”! That is just BT’s trade name for it; other firms, like IDNET, do FTTC.

You don’t pay for a ‘home’ telephone; you pay for a landline. How else is the broadband signal to reach your house? Carrier pigeon?

Phillip says:
24 January 2012

xrayspex – I was talking about Virgin Media where you don’t need a copper wire connection when you have a fibre broadband! They are totally separate networks.

NICK says:
14 April 2016

You are completely right you do not need a phone line on Virgin Media

hWat a Con. Superfast broadband and we will end up paying twice! How you ask? Well we have been paying extra (on the licence fee) to go digital on TV. Now that space left over that we have made from the analogue spectrum is going to be auctioned off to commercial operators, the Government will pocket that money and that will ensure we pay through the nose for ou super fast broadband! Taxation via the back door???

Partviking says:
27 January 2012

We have BT Option 1 and although we’re happy with the level of service over the last 4 years I’m not sure if my speed problems are BT’s fault or mine. I usually get between 6 and 8 meg on the speed checkers yet struggle to watch anything on I player without it locking and freezing. The same happens on web pages i go to and this can involve my green loading circle sitting there for 3-4 mins! I have windows XP on a 5 year old Dell is it time for new PC ? We want to upgrade our TV to a new fangled internet one but am worried about wether it’s worth it. Is it also the case that switching providers is pretty pointless as they will use exactly the same wires as BT so speeds will be the same whatever they promise. We’re only about 500 metres from the exchange but are not even on the Infinity chart yet (Lingfield, Surrey so not a huge village). To me it really is a minefield, happy to ‘pay’ (within reason) but its the lack of certainty that really annoys me.

@Partviking – BT Option 1 has a 10GB limit per month, there will also be a fair usage policy as well. It is just possible that they are limiting you so that you don’t go over the 10GB.

Although iPlayer doesn’t necessarily have a large download per viewing it really depends on how often you are using it.

As for XP, how much memory have you got installed? How much free disc space have you got? Both of those will affect the performance of iPlayer, also it uses Flash 10.1 which is quite compute intensive, what processor and speed is it?

Also what browser is installed/used? BBC iPlayer currently only fully supports;
Google Chrome 16.x
Microsoft Internet Explorer 8.x
Microsoft Internet Explorer 9.x
Mozilla Firefox 8.x
Safari 5.x

Do you have anti-virus software installed? Is it perhaps kicking in as the data is being downloaded and the file cache being checked? If it is then you will need memory for this as well. I would run Task Manager and have a look at the memory footprint as you are playing something and also look at the individual processes and which ones are taking most of the processor (CPU) %age.

I would suggest that you go to Unlimited == Option 3 with free calls, its about £47 a month with only additional charges for 07 and 08 numbers. You will need that for internet TV anyway.

@Partviking – PS is the graphics card up to the task?

While the maximum speed to the exchange will be the same for all BTw broadband providers, the actual download speeds achieved especially at peak times may vary enormously . This is due to how much bandwidth any ISP buys and so how congested the connection back to the provider gets.

Partviking says:
27 January 2012

Thank you for your help David, i will have a look on my PC tonight and see what i can discover re memory and disc space.
We don’t watch much I player (maybe 2-3 hours a month) so doubt we’re up to the 10GB limit, in fact i think we’ve only got close once in the last 18 months. I am on Firefox 8 with Kaspersky 2011 which i must admit does drive me nuts at the frequency and size of its updates and i’m aware when this slows things down but isn’t always responsible. CPU is sometimes up to nearly 100% when its in it’s stall/i’m doing nothing phase and you can hear it whirring away clearly struggling to cope with whatever is going on. Not to worried about whether my PC can cope as the plan is to use a new TV to do all the watching/surfing for videos etc my concern is I might upgrade bothe the Broadband and the TV and be no better off. If I go for Option 3 is it true they prioritise my speed over other Option 1/2 users at peak times?



Option 3 priority – nope you are in the same bundle as everyone else, its only if you go for a business line with guaranteed levels of service that priority would be given.

I have to admit that IMHO its most likely to be your PC, I have a 7.5Mb/s download line (sync speed) but I get 4-6Mb/s in the evenings.

I don’t do much on iPlayer but its fine for me, there again I use a Mac Laptop with 8GB RAM and a 7200RPM 500GB drive.

partviking says:
27 January 2012

Thanks again for your advice. for the record I have 500 MB RAM and 80GB hard disk of which 50gb is still free. We got the PC in July 2006 so probably ancient by todays terms. I am more confident my PC is struggling with the demands and will feel more reasurred and confident of getting an internet TV and sticking with BT. Thanks for all your help.


I was having trouble watching news clips the other day constant freeze ups so i ran a speed test and it seems that at the time i ran the test around midday that i was only getting between 756kbps and 1.2 mb/s despite being advertised at up to 8mb/s i think that the catch that needs to be removed is the up to.
Have had very little trouble with the BBC i player most programmes that i watch are free from hang ups i run an IMac with 4GB Ram and an Intel i5 quad core processor could this be the answer.

Nicholas says:
19 February 2012

I get really frustrated by talk of super fast broadband network speed targets. It does little to help those who have no or very limited Internet access. There should be much more ambitious targets for universal coverge at a reasonable speed of say 5 to 10mbs (2mbs just doesn’t cut it for today’s internet use). Telecoms providers are just going to cherry pick those areas where limited investment brings headline speeds. Currently, I have a service of 3mbs which is the max available and I feel left behind, so I feel very sorry for those who can’t get access or it’s just very slow.

I agree with you entirely. The fastest speed available to my property is 0.5 mbs. I constantly receive mail shots offering me superfast broadband at fantastic prices should I switch to them. When I enquire, I am told that those speeds are not available in my area but they can offer me a much slower speed. To rub salt in the wound, this inferior service actually costs more than the superfast offers available to everybody else.
The government needs to spend the allocation bringing the “have-nots” to a reasonable speed before it continues improving services to the “already-haves”. I pay just as much tax as those living in cities, so why are rural communities being short-changed when it comes to investment?

partviking says:
19 February 2012

I finally got so fed up i called the BT fault line and got them to do a line check. they say they think my modem may be at fault so another one on its way. I can only get between 0.7 and 0.9 M/B so vitually useless, well see what diference the mew modem makes!


Hi partviking, what was the outcome of the new modem?

Also I realised I hadn’t responded when you said you had 500Mb of RAM in your machine, if you still have that machine then part of the issue is that it will be ‘paging’, that is swapping data from memory to disk and vice versa.

If several processes require large amounts of RAM then they will be fighting each other and that is what will cause the hangs for a few seconds, only solution is more RAM or a new machine.

Ps partviking, which version of XP do you have? If it is starter edition then you are stuffed as the maximum for that is 512Mb, otherwise 4Gb unless you have professional 64 bit (which is unlikely) but it supports up to 128Gb.

However even if you can use 4Gb, dependent on the machine and graphics you will only be able to use 3Gb.

Robert says:
21 February 2012

The Which report on Broadband speed March 2002 issue is misleading consumers into thinking that changing their supplier will speed up their internet connection. I am located in the rural county of Kent where I can only get 1 mb speed. The BT line between our premises and the BT Exchange is the limiting factor and no ISP operator can change this fact. This point is not at all explained to consumers in the which article. “Boost your broadband!” title is not relevant to users who do not have the correct High Speed Fibre cabling.

Although the line between the house and BT exchange sets the limit for the maximum download speed obtainable, the choice of ISP can make a huge difference to what speed is actually obtained especially at peak times.
However you are spot on that with a connection speed of only 1 Mbps the ISP choice will probably make no difference.

Robert says:
9 May 2013

Since superfast broadband is only available to 58% of the population, I wonder why is BT allowed to charge 42% of the population who has slow/limited access to the internet (in my case 1 meg download speed !) the same charge for a substandard service.

This idea that one is allowed to state that speeds are UP TO a certain speed and it DEPENDS on “this and that” is absolutely misleading consumers. My suggestio would be as follows, NO FIBRE OPTICS cabling = no big claims should be allowed for that area. This topic needs mostly CLARITY not complex explanations since it all depends on the cabling available to your premises, the rest is “babble”!

I think speed is only part of the problem for rural areas. The more important issue is the much higher cost the customers in rural areas have to pay for a slower speed than those in the urban areas. This is a double hit and very unfair.

Mal says:
3 March 2012

All this stuff is sooooo baffling to most of us and contacting you ISP is just asking to be bamboozled with tech speak and the cost of a long fruitless call! They blame BT and everything else, like walls and wiring and well anything but them and BT blame them. and try to sell you their package.

Just got a new Wi-Fi connected ‘smart TV and the speed issue comes in yet, never a mention at the shop where you buy your set (or in Which? reports)

ISP offered (slightly reluctantly) to replace old livebox with new (Which? best buy 84% score) but then I find out (accidently) that the new one does not support a second line , so I would lose that and I use it a lot for ‘free’ Uk calls and calls to Orange mobiles.

As we are all paying good money for our ISP/Broadband connection, why don’t they provide a proper installation and fault checking/resolving/fixing service, after all it is THEIR responsibility to ensure that what we pay for is fit for purpose.

I would love to just get an expert round who I could trust to sort it all out and not rip me off.
What is needed is a trusworthy service

I suggest that you determine the expected speed you can receive based on distance from exchange etc. you can also get details of what your exchange supports from – http://www.samknows.com/broadband/exchange_search

You can then determine whether the speed you receive is within the bounds expected for your area.

The question is “Is speed your priority?” To me the answer is NO – but it needs to be able to video stream without hang ups as I often view BBC progs. My virgin connection is 10 Mg – this is actually 9.7 Mg every time I test it and video streams faultlessly. So if I had a “20 Mg” system that actually delivered 5 Mgs it would not be satisfactory. Luckily Virgin is increasing my Broadband speed 20Mg FREE soon.

@Richard, When you say soon have you actually checked it ? In my area I need to wait until Jul-Oct 2013 to get my speed doubled and yes thats the right year 🙁


I checked some time ago and will be upgraded around Oct 2012 not 2013. But in any case my 10 Mgs speed now is sufficient for video streaming (though they did send me an email to say they were going to upgrade my speed to 100 Mgs!!)

Robert says:
26 May 2012

We are a business operating from our premises in rural Kent with a broadband speed of 1Meg!!! I cannot see how the 2015 government target can be met since I have not heard of any plans to start implementing this pledge in our area. Is this more “hot air” then substance?

PS We pay BT the same monthly rate as any other user who has a decent speed – maybe if BT was compeled to charge according to the speed they actually supply, may help push them in investing more in this project!

Partviking says:
27 May 2012

Well things have moved on a bit. Seems my old modem was not compatible with the new equipment they installed in the exchange but the new one has made little or no difference to my PC.
However I have sine bought an I pad which is not only brilliant but very very fast via the new wireless modem BT gave me.
No idea what version of XP I have but the Dell PC was new in 2006 so clearly getting a bit long in the tooth now and a new PC or a Smart TV will be the way forward.


ADSL Broadband speed says:
21 July 2012

The WHICH article did not make clear one very important point on broadband speeds for the millions of consumers with ADSL copper wire broadband delivered from their local exchange. All provider merely hire the wires and exchange kit from BT and BT is solely responsible for it’s maintenance. So if you have a slow broadband it is often due to the BT kit in the exchange or the copper telephone wire taking the broadband to your house. All ISP’s in these circumstances are in the hands of BT to get the fault rectified.

However – they normally do not make this crystal clear in their marketing.

Often the ISP will not know that the fault lies with the BT network, because the chinese walls that BT have erected between the various parts of their organisation means that often the BT engineers are not aware.

> ” All provider merely hire the wires and exchange kit from BT and BT is solely responsible for its maintenance”

Not entirely! Not all ISPs use BT kit at the exchange. There are a set of major ISPs who put their own kit in the exchange for the broadband. This is called LLU (Local Loop Unbundling). Major ISPs who do this are O2, Zen, AOL, TalkTalk anf Sky. Though TalkTalk and Sky also take over you phone line.

Even those who use BT kit at the exchange still have their own separate networks behind it.

There is often no reason to make this clear in their marketing as they are providing a service not an infrastructure.