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UK ISPs Continue the War of Fictional Headline ADSL Broadband Speeds

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

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.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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