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Which? Finds Most UK People Not Getting the Broadband Speed they Expect

Thursday, August 10th, 2017 (8:14 am) by Mark Jackson (Score 440)
advertising broadband uk investigation

The problem of advertised vs real-world broadband performance expectations has been given new ammunition by consumer magazine Which? today. A study conducted by the group found that the overall speeds recorded in internet speedtests were only 58% of the speed that users were expecting to get.

The results, which are based on research that was conducted using data gathered via Speed Checker Ltd between January and March 2017 (i.e. analysis of 226,000 end-user speed tests), unsurprisingly revealed that the faster the expected speed, the bigger the expectation gap between what consumers thought they should receive and the actual speed recorded in the tests.

We note that Which?’s study also excluded mobile and exclusively business providers from their data.

expected vs advertised uk broadband isp speed

Overall Which? believes that “far too many households” are potentially getting slower speeds than they thought they had paid for. For example, consumers expecting speeds in excess of 30Mbps (30Mbps to 500Mbps) were on average only able to get 54% of the speed they were expecting. Similarly users expecting speeds of between 10 to 30Mbps received 89% of what they expected.

Apparently only those expecting to get 10Mbps or slower were able to exceed their expected speed by 38%.

Alex Neill, Which? Managing Director of Home Services, said:

“People who think they have signed up for faster broadband speeds are the most likely to be disappointed, with our research showing many are generally getting speeds that are much slower than they expected.

Consumers need to regularly test their broadband speed to check they are getting the service they are paying for. If they aren’t they should contact their provider so that any issues with their service can be resolved.”

None of this will come as much of a surprise because most people subscribe to ADSL or hybrid “fibreFTTC (VDSL2) broadband lines, which suffer from highly variable performance due to issues such as signal degradation over copper line distance and other forms of interference.

On top of that the current advertising rules only require ISPs to ensure that the headline speeds they promote are achievable by at least 10% of their customers (i.e. the fastest 10th percentile) and these figures should be preceded by an “up to” qualifier, as well as an explanation of any limitations that may hamper the connection.

However, we also have another layer of problems to consider when using data gathered from speedtests, such as the fact that the results can be impacted by issues like slow WiFi, poor home wiring, peak time testing and local network congestion (e.g. running a speedtest at the same time as somebody else is downloading a big file).

Furthermore all of the major ISPs should be giving new subscribers a more accurate personal estimate of their expected broadband line speed before they subscribe (this has been going on for a few years now), although Which?’s study doesn’t seem to consider that and only appears to factor the general advertised rate of a package (at least that’s how it appears from the above table).

Andrew Glover, Chair of the UK ISPA, said:

“ISPs are investing billions in upgrading infrastructure to deliver increased speeds and are committed to providing more accurate and personalised information to customers.

Recent Ofcom data shows that the average residential connection speeds has increased to 36Mbps in November 2016, up from 29Mbit/s in 2015. Continued investment from ISPs nationally, regionally and locally will continue to see speeds rise.

A number of factors can affect the actual speed received by an end user and this is why ISPs help manage broadband speeds expectations, including through a code of practice that provides a personalised speed estimate to new customers at point of sale and allows customers to exit a contract if they cannot achieve the speeds estimated.

In addition, upcoming changes to advertising rules from the ASA and CAP will improve how speeds are advertised. ISPA and its members are actively engaged in this process.”

As the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) hints above, the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is currently consulting upon a number of options that aim to improve how broadband speeds are advertised to consumers (details). The likely outcome of this is that some form of average (median) speed may be adopted.

However we suspect that there will always be a gap between expectation and reality, which is simply due to the fact that so many different factors can influence the speed you receive and not even blanketing the country in FTTH/P lines would overcome all of those ( although that would be lovely 🙂 ).

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12 Responses
  1. Slow internet

    The Whole industry needs to drop the “Up To Speed” mantra and just say what their line is actually capable of receiving, the information is there,

    • TheFacts

      Which does not take account of wiring and wifi.

    • Lee

      Folks on DSL products do get a personalised speed estimate however that does not take into account wifi, devices with older technology, utilisation issues, general internet traffic (try downloading an Apply update as soon as it’s live).

      It’ll get to the point where they’ll just sell “an internet connection”.

    • just say what their line is actually capable of receiving

      As the article says, the big ISPs already provide a personal estimate of line performance. However you can’t use that when generally advertising the speed of a particular package because that isn’t something that can be tailored to each individual on the front page of a website.

    • Kits

      So you want to do the return to set speeds like the old days where everyone was capped at the speed. I find that if the firmware on the router is kept upto date and you keep router on its own electricity supply at the master socket speeds are good. I am still getting over 70 Mbps four years after moving to FTTC. Speed range according to BT 40 to 70.7Mbps down I am still in sync at 73.667Mbps. Many use long extension leads to move routers to room they want it in, then complain they are not getting the speeds they signed up for.

    • dragoneast

      I really like the idea of capping all FTTC consumer services at say the speed of the lowest 10% of users, or say the proposed USO. If you need more speed you pay for a business connection outside the scope of the ASA (for consumers) and if you then have a contract dispute you pay for litigation not cheap arbitration. It’ll never happen of course, for we are never happy except when we are complaining. (And yes it would cut the speed of my connection by two-thirds. My punishment for living in a nation of idiots).

      Speed is just the national obsession (whipped up by the media, it’s cheaper than journalism), not a necessity – look how everyone else in the world manages without this obsession. Some of the best technical support I find in the world manages with sub-ADSL (as it would be in the UK) speeds, because the users have grown up and learned to make the best of things and use resources appropriately, not the spoilt children we are in the UK who are simply unable to cope with anything, and just scream like babies. All that the UK is good at is consuming unnecessary data, or any other resources for that matter, and making a huge hue and cry when we aren’t over-egging the pudding. We do have the largest egos though, I’ll grant. (Same as on the roads where no-one accepts any speed limit or drives according to the road conditions, since we just don’t understand what the word appropriate means – just drive or ride as fast as possible, and the result is congestion and accidents, which gives us something else to complain about!) As we all behave like children (encouraged by the media and sites like Which? and indeed this one) we need to be treated like them. We need to be taught the meaning of the word “no” something at which parents are miserable failures or themselves completely ignorant, it seems. Rant over!

  2. New_Londoner

    Another piece of dodgy research from Which? on internet-related matters. It is usually pretty good with general, hardware related reviews but seems hopeless when it comes to tech matters. It seems almost wilfully ignorant of basic matters such as personalised speed estimates.

    If it rated its own research, this would fall into the “don’t buy” category. If it were advertising, it’d be on a warning from the ASA. Don’t rely on Which? for tech advice.

    • gerarda

      For once I agree with New Londoner. Dont look Which? for tech advice, though its a bit better than their finance advice.

  3. Jim Gilroy

    Which? are saying my provider’s top advertised speed is 1000 mbps and the average in my area is 98 mbs. The actual maximum advertised speed with them is up to 76 mbs on an FTTC product. I get the max 40 down 10 up on their up to 38mbs product and Which? are saying i should complain about it and telling me what I should do to improve my speeds?

  4. GNewton

    The article says that “ASA is currently consulting upon a number of options that aim to improve how broadband speeds are advertised to consumers”.

    This is really bad, considering the fact that ASA doesn’t even understand what fibre broadband means, letting Virgin and BT getting away with false advertising for years.

  5. MikeW

    By that graph, Which? seem to say equate “Expected” with what everyone else calls the “headline” speed. Totally ignoring the existence of the industry standard use of personalised estimates.

    Looking back at previous Which? articles and campaigns shows this is a common failing of theirs – ignoring completely that personal estimate.

    With such understanding of the business, they’ll soon pick up a gig acting as advisers to Grant Shapps.

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