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New Study Claims 43 Million UK Adults are “blighted” by Unreliable Broadband

Thursday, August 24th, 2017 (12:01 am) - Score 1,603

The latest uSwitch.com survey of 2,004 “nationally representative UK adults” has claimed that over 43 million home broadband users (83%) suffer from poor reliability. But despite more reliable “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) being available to 93% of homes, just 57% of Brits believe they can access it.

Apparently the biggest broadband bugbear(s) for those who claim to suffer from poor reliability is slow loading web pages (71%), which is followed by internet disconnections (67%), buffering while trying to watch online videos / listening to music (63%) and crashing (54%). NOTE: The inclusion of “crashing” in the same option list as “disconnection” doesn’t make a lot of sense when talking about the broadband connection itself (i.e. uSwitch should have given more context in their questioning to help define the difference).

At this point we should say that the survey appears keen to equate all of these issues to the home broadband connection itself, although external issues with poor WiFi, bad software or hardware and other problems can also cause some of those same bugbears. In that sense simply swapping to a faster connection won’t always fix the issue. On top of that even so-called “superfast” lines can also cause similar problems.

Andrew Glover, Chair of the UK ISPA Council, said:

“uSwitch correctly highlights that superfast broadband is now available to the vast majority of users (93%) but their figures on customer satisfaction are misleading and based on a simplistic survey. More robust data from the industry regulator Ofcom clearly demonstrates that 86% of UK broadband users are happy with the reliability of their current service.

Our members are actively investing billions in their networks and provide help and support to their customers if they experience problems with their connection but it is worth noting that buffering and dropped connection can be caused by issues with in-home devices or indeed the online content provider.”

But of most interest is the finding concerning awareness, which is something we’ve touched on before. At present just under half of homes still connect via the slower and less reliable ADSL broadband lines of yesterday, although more reliable fixed line “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) connections are currently estimated to cover over 93% of UK premises.

However the survey found that only 57% of users believe they can access superfast speeds in their area and 30% don’t know if they can access such services at all, which suggests that the take-up of faster connectivity may soon hit a big hurdle because many people simply won’t realise that it’s available. The study also found that 19% of broadband users would switch ISP for faster speeds and 38% would switch for a cheaper deal.

Ewan Taylor-Gibson of uSwitch.com said:

“While not a magic bullet, superfast broadband – sometimes referred to as fibre or by a branded name – can significantly reduce speed and reliability issues. As it stands though, only 57% of consumers believe they can access superfast services in their area when in reality, 90% of premises should be able to access these speeds.

Quite simply, most consumers aren’t bothered by the technical definitions of their broadband connection, they just want – and deserve – a reliable service that delivers value. However, consumer speed frustrations coupled with a lack of awareness around superfast availability shows more needs to be done to communicate what’s available to individual properties in a meaningful way.

Since customers can’t ‘try superfast before they buy’, the next best solution is for the industry to improve transparency around speeds, showing what’s available from providers side-by-side, in a personalised way. Consumers can currently do a postcode search to see if superfast is available to their property but actual speeds for the property need to be put in context. Industry needs to find ways to allow quick and easy comparison of the current and potential speeds available to the property, by provider, in order to evaluate and select the service that offers best value.”

Most ISPs will not automatically upgrade customers to a faster service, which is largely because such packages are more expensive, although there’s definitely scope for ISPs to promote those faster services to their existing customers in a much clearer way (e.g. show them their current speed and then their personal estimate for speeds under the faster package, alongside maybe a special upgrade offer).

However uSwitch is perhaps being unrealistic if they think that ISPs themselves will do anything to promote rival services (Virgin Media might do quite well out of that). Giving people a personal estimate across different network platforms would be technically very difficult, not to mention a few issues with the use of personal data.

We should point out that awareness is only one of the hindrances to the take-up of faster connectivity. The higher prices for related “fibre” services, as well as customers being locked into long contracts with their existing ISP (they can’t upgrade immediately) and a lack of interest in the new service (if you have a decent ADSL2+ speed then you might feel less inclined to upgrade) can also be a problem.

Confusion over terminology may be another problem area. Some 94% of respondents said they understood that “fibre” is “faster than standard” broadband but 26% admit they don’t know what types of service will deliver superfast speeds to their home.

This is partly why it’s still important to promote service speeds because simply promoting something as “fibre” often isn’t good enough, particularly with the on-going confusion over “fibreFTTC and “full fibreFTTP/H that we hope the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) will soon resolve.

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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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
15 Responses
  1. MikeHunt says:

    People choose cheap providers and wonder why the service is…cheap.

    1. Tim says:

      If the only measure of what you’ll get is download speed, and that is the same for all ISPs using the same technology (e.g. the many reselling BTW), then I’d expect most people to choose the cheapest deal they can get.

      If you are interested in latency, upload speed, contention ratios, then it is much harder to find the information to compare deals. Most people don’t know what they are, so download speed is all they have to go on.

    2. MikeHunt says:

      Contention ratios mean download speeds aren’t necessarily even between ISP’s.

  2. Cecil Ward says:

    ‘Disconnection’ means nothing at all, not without serious qualification. You would have to work out what a ‘connection’ might be, and in what sense. Dial-up connection, dsl-dsl modem connection, ppp or tcp protocol connection (a timeout or active termination). And users can’t answer such questions anyway. So these responses are just noise without individual analysis.

  3. Cecil Ward says:

    This simplistic ‘faster’ isn’t remotely good enough. Upstream? What about time-of-day wilt? Multi-user contention? Worst-case speeds or flattering but useless best-case ones? Latency? Packet loss? Protocols supported, filtering, traffic shaping ipv6 censorship, port-blocking. Not to mention reliability and ip addressing availability. Garbage where for example VM cable and wireless services report meaningless maximum figures that can wilt precipitously at any time. And we cannot duck the ‘where are the bottlenecks’ issue as some users’ complaints are about for example specific individual services such as one streaming video provider or one website. In this case the problems may be nothing at all to do with an isp, rather ‘out there’ on the wider internet, or partially to do with an isp who has poor inbound links or inadequate peering / transit arrangements with one content or service provider. Users who are really ignorant use rubbish wifi so their problems with that need to be sorted and ISP’s and internet connections are not relevant. Bad stats abound and oversimplification and lack of warnings about alternative causes of problems do not help.

    1. superfussed says:


  4. Cecil Ward says:

    Agree with the unfortunately named MikeHunt.

  5. Alex Bristol says:

    Ewan Taylor-Gibson of uSwitch.com, the last paragraph about improve transparency around speeds, Ofcom are already doing this with their mobile app “Ofcom Checker”, I’ve already ask Ofcom to add ISPs covering the area. The app still needs some improving but it is a good start.

  6. dragoneast says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If people can’t be bothered to make the effort to understand broadband and the internet they don’t deserve it.

    When I was a child and my toys broke, my parents confiscated them. Just because I now might now be 60 rather than 6 makes no difference. Crying made no difference. Grow up.

    1. Hull_lad says:

      So by your definition, if you’re unable to understand electricity, you don’t deserve that, either.

      Broadband is virtually a utility now. It’s no longer a luxury, and it’s moved way beyond a single hard wired device plugged in to a router. With multi-device households, wireless being the default connection, and myriad applications for Internet use, comes equally as many potential issues. Internal wiring within the home, distance from router, ropey old devices with chipsets that can’t handle the speeds that their new service can deliver, and electrical interference to name a few.

      ISPs need to do more to help users understand this, and help ensure they’re set up correctly. The technology behind the delivery of data from the Internet to your device is horrendously complex, so it’s rather arrogant to suggest that you shouldn’t have it if you can’t understand it.

  7. Alex Bristol says:

    While most of us agree poor internet performance can be down to factors within the householders network and not down to the ISP however there will be some households where the broadband needs to be upgraded so does anyone know are ISPs proactive in letting their customers know they should upgrade, from my experiences they don’t? After all the ISP gets to see how much data is downloaded and what type of data is like games, streaming, etc. and they know what the customers line speed is and whether it can be upgraded.

    Any ISPs reading this now might want to seriously consider this sales idea, probably cheaper than paying for glossy adverts, it has better returns, better service for their customers, better for the whole broadband industry, everyone wins.

    1. Chris P says:

      Well Alex, that connection problem you had (what ever it was) was due to the package your on, upgrade to the super duper package and all your issues will be gone. What’s that, your already on the super duper package, well then it’s your home wiring, just an additional £300 should sort that out along with your 18 month contract on a package you don’t need.

  8. Alex Bristol says:

    Chris you are right that is exactly how my ISPs support department responds today, comments based on speculation rather than the facts, if the support person had better tools they can give better support and warn/inform customers.

    The way we need to think of my suggestion is like a warning light in a car.

    1. RuralBroadbandSucks says:

      I have had an instance where both my phone & broadband lines went down. I managed to get a mobile phone signal by going outside outside and called BT, and they checked and ‘ran a test’ and said there was nothing wrong with the line, it must be my equipment. I then agreed to a callout that I would have to pay for if my equipment was faulty.
      I then went along the road towards the cabinet following the line to check if it was broken. There I found a BT engineer with two ends of the thick black overhead cable and what looked like hundreds of wires all split apart. He confirmed that he was the root cause and my line would not work until he joined the ends back together, which would take a few hours.
      When the line came back up, i called the BT helpdesk back, and they closed the case as resolved.
      I would have been nice to have had some form of prior notification as i work from home.
      I had another issue (for years) where my business broadband connection downspeed was 2x faster than my residential line. They told me (also in writing) that I would have to pay to have my residential line changed to a business line to fix the problem. Eventually it got escalated after I emailed the BT CEO, and a nice customer care person sent an engineer (again with the threat of having to pay if it was my equipment), and within 5 minutes the engineer swapped the master socket and my residential line speed doubled.
      Both lines added together are still below the 10Mbit USO.

  9. bob says:

    I find the report lacks credibility. Are we supposed to believe 83% of Uk adults suffer unreliable broadband when we already know around 30% of Uk adults don’t have an internet connection. Most likely there was a self selecting on line poll of around 2000 people and the results scaled up. Uswitch… Must try harder. Although dressing up a marketing push as a “survey” is a decent start. A bit too transparent that uswitch survey finds adults need to shop around for better internet.

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