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UK ISPs Continue the War of Fictional Headline ADSL Broadband Speeds

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 (8:32 am) - Score 741
incorrect_and_confusing

Customers aren’t likely to notice much of a difference but the headline (advertised) download speed of Sky Broadband’s standard unlimited Internet access product has just been raised again from “up to” 16Mbps to 17Mbps, even though it’s still the same old ADSL2+ based connection underneath. No doubt more ISPs will soon follow.

Most ISPs began advertising so-called “typical” download speeds on their copper ADSL2+ lines last year and this requires them to reflect the Advertising Standards Authority’s 10% rule (here). In short, the ASA requires providers to demonstrate that their advertised speeds are achievable by at least 10% of users and the ADSL2+ technology has a theoretical maximum of 24Mbps (in reality you’d be very lucky to get much above 20Mbps).

As a result many ISPs initially started out by promoting speeds of around “up to” 14Mbps (i.e. the best speed experienced by 10% of an ISPs customers) and have since been slowly increasing the upper limit. For example, EE began with “up to” 14Mbps but then jumped to 16Mbps (here) and it’s a similar story elsewhere. In theory the ISPs must all be able to demonstrate their chosen setting but so far this appears to be little more than a soft warning.

In the meantime Ofcom’s latest study of fixed line broadband speeds (here) suggests that ADSL / ADSL2+ based products haven’t really seen any major performance improvements (they’re still the same old technology as they were before) and indeed the average download speed for all related connections is now just 6.7Mbps.

However this is an increase from 5.9Mbps recorded six months earlier, with individual ISPs showing a similar rise, but that’s arguably more as a result of the expanded ADSL2+ reach. BT, Sky and TalkTalk have improved their ADSL2+ coverage and this means more users can get ADSL2+ to replace slower 8Mbps capable ADSL lines, not to mention some small benefits from ISP-side capacity boosts. But if you already have an ADSL2+ line then your speed won’t have changed much, if at all.

On the other hand Sky might be more justified than some with their latest headline speed rise, which is partly down to the recent introduction of G.INP and Nitro technology to help “boost line stability and speeds” on their copper line services (here); although it’s not known how much of an impact they’ve had.

In an ideal world we’d like to see ISPs justifying, with evidence and in public, the numbers for what they’ve chosen to advertise. Meanwhile other ISPs have argued that it might have been better to keep the old “up to” 20Mbps promotions because they still have to give a more realistic estimate of individual line speed before you sign-up anyway.

The alternative is to advertise no speed, although consumers can find this to be even more confusing because the term “broadband” then becomes a vague reflection, which could mean anything from around 0.5Mbps to infinity; depending entirely upon how you choose to define it. Similarly many consumers will not run line tests or understand the different technologies involved and some ISPs, such wireless or mobile providers, can’t technically offer line checks (i.e. there’s no fixed position line to check with in the first place).

In the meantime one thing we can be fairly sure of is that headline “up to” speeds for ADSL2+ services can theoretically only rise so far due to the physical limitations of the technology under a best case scenario (i.e. how many related customers are on x length of copper line) and we’re arguably already at that point.

Leave a Comment
3 Responses
  1. Avatar Kev says:

    I’m with Sky and my router connection speed has gone up from +/- 14.5Mbps to +/- 17Mbps.

    I called them to ask why the speed jump because in the past they’ve tried to push my speed up further manually and it’s not managed much higher than 15Mbps. The call centre didn’t know and passed me to their next level support and the guy said they had introduced G.INP – I thought at the time that he made it up as I couldn’t find much online, however take that back now as clearly this is why.

    Well done Sky 🙂

  2. Avatar Dave says:

    First, I must declare an interest in sofar as I own a stake in a very small ISP. I have commented before (some years back) re headline speeds. I have an email copy of a chat with a very large national ISP (not TalkTalk) where they told me that I could get speeds up to 20mb even though they had been given my number and the exchanged was still not WBC enabled, and the fastest speeds in my village were 1.5mb. And they did the same a few months later. They were reading from a script. I have also commented on my frustration at losing customers to big providers quoting headline speeds (who then call me asking what they can do) Some even call for support because we are quicker than the call centre of their new ISP!!!. BUT, all the customer has to do is say “here is my number, what speed can I get, and will you put that in in email so I have it in writing”. If the salesguy promises something that is manifestly untrue you can probably get out of the contract. But, don’t forget, the public like cheap, cheap, cheap. Cheap broadband, cheap air tickets, cheap banking, etc. Sometimes you get don’t get what you don’t pay for.

  3. Avatar DTMark says:

    I wonder what the impact on VDSL take up is.

    “Up to 80 Meg”

    “Ah, but I don’t need 80 Meg. I have up to 20 Meg already, 20 Meg is enough for me”

    In the same manner, I reckon I’ll earn up to 80 million pounds this year.

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