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Get Ready for Average Speeds in UK Broadband ISP Advertising

Monday, April 30th, 2018 (8:09 am) - Score 6,968
broadband speed rocket and snail uk isp

Tomorrow marks the first day of May and it will be an important month for broadband providers in the United Kingdom, not least because a new rule will be enforced, which requires them to start promoting “average speeds” (a median measured at peak time – 8pm to 10pm) for their public packages.

At present most of us have become familiar with seeing public packages being promoted with headline speeds of “up to 17Mbps” (c.20Mbps ADSL2+ lines), “up to 38Mbps” (40Mbps FTTC lines) or similar and this reflects the 10% guidance adopted by the Advertising Standards Authority all the way back in 2012 (here).

Essentially the 10% measure requires that headline speeds should be achievable by at least 10% of an ISPs customers (i.e. the fastest 10% on a specific package / connection) and these figures must be preceded by an “up to” qualifier. On top of that the ISP must also explain any limitations that may affect the user’s speed.

All of this is separate from the personal speed estimates that signatory ISPs to Ofcom’s Code of Practice for Broadband Speeds are supposed to provide when you sign-up. The regulator’s estimate should be based on the conditions of your specific line and so must considered to be a more reliable prediction of your performance, while headline rates are displayed to everybody and so should be taken with a big pinch of salt.

The New Rule

Back in 2016 the ASA came under some intense political pressure to change their approach (here, here and here), not least because many regarded the current 10% rule as being more likely to mislead. Fast forward to the end of 2017 and a way forward was finally agreed (here), which will sees ISPs switching from the 10% rule to instead promote average speeds from 23rd May 2018.

The ASA believes that consumers will gain a “better indication of the actual speeds [they] are likely to experience” from the new guidance and that this change will thus help to “better manage [their] expectations.” In a snap poll conducted last year we found that 45% supported the ASA’s change, while 39% opposed it and 16% were undecided.

The new guidance is once again focused on download speeds and doesn’t explicitly apply to the display of upload speeds, although the ASA will consider such things on a case-by-case basis. Another issue is that business ISPs have a different peak time period (peaks during working hours) from residential providers, although the ASA has hinted that they may be flexible if the ads and evidence are made sufficiently clear.

We had hoped that other ISPs might have adopted the new approach before May 2018 but so far only Sky Broadband is promoting an average speed and this is done alongside their old “up to” figures. For example, Sky’s basic service promotes an average download of 11Mbps (usually up to 17Mbps), while their FTTC based Sky Fibre offers 34Mbps (up to 38Mbps) and Sky Fibre Max sells 57Mbps (up to 76Mbps).

Admittedly Virgin Media do also offer some details on their average speeds, although this is relegated to a separate broadband performance page and in any case the nature of their cable network means that they, much like good “full fibre” (FTTP/H/B) providers, should be largely unaffected by the rule change.

Virgin’s Typical Broadband Speeds for March 2018

Product Advertised Download Average download
Peak (8pm-10pm)
Average download
Over 24 Hr
Average upload
Peak (8pm-10pm)
Average upload
Over 24 Hr
VIVID 50 Up to 50 Mbps 52.38 Mbps 53.64 Mbps 3.02 Mbps 3.03 Mbps
VIVID 100 Up to 100 Mbps 103.02 Mbps 105.76 Mbps 5.96 Mbps 5.99 Mbps
VIVID 200 Up to 200 Mbps 197.9 Mbps 207.57 Mbps 11.83 Mbps 11.94 Mbps
VIVID 200 Gamer Up to 200 Mbps 202.71 Mbps 210.97 Mbps 20.01 Mbps 20.48 Mbps
VIVID 350 Up to 350 Mbps 335.06 Mbps 358.59 Mbps 20.2 Mbps 20.55 Mbps

The change is a much bigger issue for ISPs on Openreach’s copper, aluminium and part fibre network (ADSL, FTTC), which are known to suffer a lot more from variable performance due to issues of line distance and interference etc. It may similarly hit the new ultrafast G.fast technology, although at present that is still in pilot and many ISPs have yet to launch a related package.

Meanwhile we’ve long since added the display of average speeds to our UK ISP Listings and Comparison system but obviously the output field for almost all providers is currently blank while we await wider adoption. The biggest challenge will perhaps stem from getting all of the smallest ISPs, as well as non-traditional Satellite or fixed wireless providers, to adapt (a fair few of those haven’t even adopted the existing 10% rule).

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Mark Jackson
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.
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37 Responses
  1. Avatar Salek

    Openreach providers must be at least having some sleepless nights on how to counter the average speed issues, up until now they have managed hide behind the “Up to figure” knowing full well that most of the lines will never ever achieve anywhere near half the advertised figures, all this has been a fantastic con,

    Virgin media are now sitting pretty, largely, – even the new GFAST service will be an elaborate con,

    Openreach really need to accelerate the fibre roll outs and close the gap of this variable
    performance issue,

    • Avatar HV42

      Sky stopped selling their ADSL connections already about a year ago to those lines with slow expected speeds. Just did a couple of checks in Rotherhithe (SE16) and their checker just falls through “we are unable to check if you are able to order sky broadband”.

      By refusing to sell (or at least making it overly complicated by disabling online subscriptions), they can “improve” their average by letting others deal with the slowest connections.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Why do they need to Salek?

      Due to this new way of advertising will people stop using Openreach based products over night?

      Do people really think this will have an impact on who people choose?

      Bearing in mind, when people sign up they can get an indication of expected speed from checkers.

      You don’t get the average speeds deliver to your door. You could get more, you could get less.

  2. What if my Internet connection hasn’t come close to touching the average speed in nearly a year?

    • Avatar Spiderpig

      Depends on whether it’s your Internet connection or your WiFi performance. If it’s your Internet connection, you should be able to cancel without penalty – depends on the T’s and C’s of your provider until Ofcom enforce their minimum speeds policy.

      If it’s WiFi performance, that’s not your ISPs responsibility unless it’s down to a fault with the router they gave you.

    • The ASA only regulates advertising, so all they can do is ban an advert and perhaps require a few changes by the ISP if they aren’t promoting something correctly. Displaying an average speed still means that one side of that average will receive less and there’s no avoiding that.

      So what you want to look at is Ofcom’s speed code (linked in the article above) and consider whether or not your chosen ISP is a member. If they are a member of the speed code then there are certain rules that will apply in respect to getting the problem resolve or even leaving your provider.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      Everone should get more than the average speed.

  3. Avatar gerarda

    Before saying this is a good move let’s see how many ISPs follow Sky’s example and refuse to accept orders from slow lines to prevent their average being lowered.

    • Avatar James Johnson

      That would be awesome… as the line would then be considered not fit for service and the USO would be in play… FTTP anyone ?
      However what’s more likely is that the slow lines would just have a new package developed for them… thus removing them from the other packages statistics.

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      If all ISPs refused to provision a line because it was slow, then all the USO is likely to provide is a slow BT line – as long as it meets the USO speed of 10Mbps, that is all you’ll get.

    • Or just creating a range of products that match you line speed “Sorry 58mbps broadband isn’t available on your line but you can have 27mbps broadband instead”

    • Avatar gerarda

      @James Bleesing.

      In my case Sky refused to supply me with the full 76Mbps service because my line speed was expected to be only 48Mbps and said I could only have the up to 38Mbps one.

      As it turned out my line speed was 73Mbps so Sky lost out ot Plusnet’s benefit.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      @gerarda

      If thats the case you must be reasonably close to the cabinet and Sky were working off an incorrect database. That’s the problem with Post Code lookups which are meant for mail delivery. Even if houses 1 and 3 get good broadband number 2 may not. If the post code spreads up country lanes its meaningless.

      Sky may simply be taking a pragmatic view that people seeking Sky broadband will be Sky TV customers and that they need a decent line to sell all those Sky Q boxes and wish to protect their brand.

      But it will create unrepresentative ISP comparisons.

  4. Avatar Meadmodj

    Agree. Perhaps this will be the inertia for pricing based on what speed your line pair can support rather than generic products i.e 0-5, 5-10, 10-20, 20-30, 40-50.. Currently the Openreach prices do not appear to support that.

    BT appear to have taken this into account for Gfast where the guarantee is 100Mbps. So I don’t expect Gfast offered unless you can see the cabinet from your house. It may be that OR offer additional Gfast products in future with lower guaranteed speeds after the initial sales to the speed obsessed.

    However as raised before, max speed, averages are still not a comprehensive measure including peak times or the ISP back haul. The consumer will remain confused and as you say will not understand why some products are not universally available.

    • What people buy from OR and what they sell to the public is completely different. If I was to buy the fastest OR product I could sell it as whatever product I wish (thereby increasing the potential average) in the same way VM seem to do…

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      @James Blessing

      Yes I appreciate the parasite ISPs can sell the products as they wish bundling in other things. However if they purchased an OR product such as FTTC up to 78Mbps they are unlikely to offer it at say 50-60 (which the line can support) at a cheaper price. OR know what the lines can feasibly support so in my view they should charge accordingly. It may be the encouragement they need to revisit bad plant.

  5. Avatar Graham Long

    Looking forward to seeing the adverts from the likes of B4RN, Gigaclear and Hyperoptic under the new ASA rules. Doing a few regular speed checks on my 100Mbps Gigaclear fibre connection shows they can legitimately advertise their download speed as 100.9Mbps +/-2.5Mbps and upload speed as 101.3Mbps +/-2.0Mbps.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      If you are in their minute footprint I fail to see what difference it will make. Surely if it’s available to you you’d have already bought it.

  6. Avatar Avaya

    “Openreach’s copper, aluminium and part fibre network” – This piqued my interest. Copper and fibre – sure, but aluminium, where is that in the network?

    • Sadly there is still a little bit of aluminium wire used in some areas for some parts of the network, albeit not much but sometimes it can cause the odd issue.

    • Avatar Graham Long

      Avaya: If you are unfortunate enough to live in a rural area where telephone lines were first strung on poles to properties in the years after WW2, it is likely that alluminimum wires may still be carrying signals to your property. Copper was so expensive in the years after WW2 that the Post Office as was, used alluminium cable rather than copper to save costs. Much has since been replaced because of corrosion, but I believe the Poast Office as was and BT Openreach as is now, do not know where all the alluminium cable is.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      Aluminium was used during the copper shortage during the 60s/70s when most houses shared telephone lines with next door due to the enormous rise in demand.
      The aluminium wires are usually slightly thicker but aluminium is less tolerant to handling. Therefore the issues manifest themselves at the cable joints and the various jelly filled crimp technologies that were trialled. Most are fine unless they experience a size ten boot. In addition bare aluminium corrodes quicker than copper so any termination such as the PCP can be problematic.
      The historic problems also occur on copper. The network was designed for telephony not broadband. Again due to copper shortages the thickness of some copper wires was reduced slightly and in addition some cables were manufactured with insufficient twist or the pairs were not laid correctly within the cable (both required to reduce crosstalk). So if you happen to be in an area of certain vintage its a bit of a lottery what your individual line will support for line pair based broadband products.
      I do not believe OR don’t know where the aluminium cables are, as such detail was always been present on the external plant drawings, unless in the constant reorgs some have been lost.

  7. Avatar ASH

    They should also be forced to stop calling it fibre broadband, when some of the line is copper,

    • Avatar GNewton

      This issue has been discussed before on ISPReview. ASA, instead of doing its job, let VM get away with its cable product being called “fibre broadband”. BT then followed, wrongly calling its VDSL product “fibre broadband”, too. What’s needed is a government-controlled agency which would do a proper monitoring job for the advertising industry, ASA has certainly be a failure in this.

    • Avatar Phil

      Hi

      I think the term fibre needs to be dropped anyway, it’s just become a silly marketing term that means nothing and is very misleading. Also we don’t need fibre to get decent speeds, copper can go fast if it’s cable designed for data. The problem is running data over cable only ever designed for low quality telephone calls. Virgin uses cable designed for data.

      Perhaps all that is needed is the speed advertised and then if it’s delivered by corroded unreliable distant-dependant telephone wire it states that.

      E.g Upto 70Mbps (delivered over your telephone land line and is distant dependant)

      The likes of Virgin could then advertise:

      Upto 350Mbps (delivered over our data grade network)

      If it’s fibre all the way to the premises only then should it allowed to be advertised as such, e.g. Upto 1Gbps (delivered over our fibre network).

      Regards

      Phil

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      VM have new network but they also have legagy.
      I had VIVID 200 in 2017 and it was delivered over the old Telewest coax.

    • Avatar Chris P

      @Phil,

      V M’s network is designed & optimised to deliver TV channels, not data. Data is an overlay and uses spare TV channel frequency space. As cable is designed for TV, it has problems with over subscription in parts of the network & until the latest DOCSIS has issues with uploads capacity.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      The ASA will only deal with complaints on specific adverts not an industry wide misuse of terminology. I have an email reply from them stating that.

  8. Avatar Bob Russell

    20 miles west of Aberdeen, speeds of 1 to 4 mbs are common even on so called fibre contracts!! So much for Scottish super fast broadband!

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      There is something wrong if FTTC has been sold on lines that cannot support speeds better than ADSL/ADSL+. On lines of this speed it is also essential to get the wiring correct into the house.

      Hopefully the Scottish initiative will help and the proposed USO of 10Mbps will provide the required encouragement to lay infrastructure closer so better products are available.

    • Avatar occasionally factual

      Bob
      Even in UK towns/cities those speeds exist. My ADSL would be a whopping 2.8Mbps maximum and I live in an urban area some 4 miles from the centre.
      Thankfully BT used my area (a small part of the substandard area) as a FTTP trial so I no longer suffer those speeds but living in a urban conurbation doesn’t necessarily improve your speeds. It isn’t just rural areas where services are bad.

  9. Avatar BAHO

    I !ive in the hills near Denbigh, North Wales. Supanet promised 16mbs, on a good day it can reach 1.5 – 2mbs! Evidently down to Openreach.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      Basic physics I think. BT made a lot of fuss regarding Denbigh, Prestatyn and Ruthin in 2012. Check with your neighbours. If there speed is higher you may have issues your end. The Welsh Government offer a subsidy to communities to get Superfast (snails pace) but failing that you will have to await the promised USO too.

  10. Avatar Chris

    TalkTalk internet download speed when working 0.03. 18 month contract with 13 months of no broadband at all. Repeated requests to improve the connection were ignored by Indian call center. Fault identified at exchange. Repeated letters to Head Office. Small claims court next month with maximum publicity.

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