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The Top Reasons Why UK ADSL Broadband Users Haven’t Upgraded

Wednesday, August 7th, 2019 (10:41 am) - Score 4,908
switching man broadband isp uk

At present around 96% of UK premises are estimated to be within reach of a so-called “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) ISP network, yet Ofcom found that superfast connections only accounted for 59% of all fixed broadband lines at the end of 2018. Now a new Which? survey has helped to explain why so many are still on slow copper ADSL lines.

A number of factors are known to impact take-up of faster broadband services, such as a lack of availability, the higher prices for related connections, as well as customers being locked into long contracts with their existing ISP (can’t upgrade immediately) and a lack of general awareness (locals don’t always know that the faster service exists).

Some consumers also have no interest in faster connectivity (if you have a decent ADSL2+ speed and only basic needs then you might feel less inclined to upgrade) and the fear of switching to a different ISP may also obstruct upgrades. In a few cases the new service may also run out of capacity (i.e. demand is higher than expected), which means that people who want to upgrade are prevented from doing so until the problem is resolved.

Which? have now been able to identify 3,000 UK adults who could upgrade but have chosen to stick with a standard broadband connection instead. The survey of this group has helped to give the challenge a bit more context.

General Survey Findings

41% said they’re happy with the speed of their current service.

20% said they don’t use the internet enough to warrant upgrading to fibre.

20% said they didn’t think it would make much difference to the quality of their service (subjective).

8% also said they didn’t think their current provider offers fibre.

8% told us they can’t be bothered to switch.

6% said they didn’t want to risk any downtime in their service.

In terms of awareness and availability, more than a quarter of those who responded to the survey said they weren’t sure whether faster connections were even available where they live and 1 in 5 believed fibre-based broadband to be too expensive. The latter is despite a number of providers now offering superfast packages that are cheaper than some ADSL bundles on other ISPs (Vodafone, Direct Save Telecom, TalkTalk etc.).

Clearly the top issues here stem from a lack of consumer need or desire to upgrade, as well as a lack of awareness about local availability. Tackling the first two could be difficult as you’re dealing with a conscious consumer choice, although we’ve already seen quite a bit of effort being put into improving the third issue – lack of awareness.

One industry change that might help is if Ofcom mandated networks to release more of their coverage data so that sites like ours could more easily build multi-network coverage checkers. As it stands getting even basic availability information out of Virgin Media or Openreach, the two biggest operators, has proven to be a dead end. We’ve found smaller altnet ISPs to be considerably more helpful.

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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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32 Responses
  1. Avatar Andrew Ferguson

    Anyone needing a multi service coverage checker only needs to ask, alas we have to charge to account for the work involved in running the API system behind the checker and handling the queries that it generates.

  2. Avatar Joe

    “customers being locked into long contracts with their existing ISP (can’t upgrade immediately)”

    Not sure this point stands. Most, but not all, suppliers will allow you to upgrade on their own network in contract.

    • It’s just one of several reasons and it is very valid. For example, somebody on a TalkTalk ADSL line could not get FTTP on Gigaclear without switching ISP and to avoid costs they’d need to do that when out of contract.

    • Avatar Joe

      Obviously it can be the case but most ppl who are on adsl have an upgrade route from their own supplier. The number of cases of ppl who have adsl (no upgrade to fttc) but can get fttp from a non OR network supplier are very small beer.

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      “The number of cases of ppl who have adsl (no upgrade to fttc) but can get fttp from a non OR network supplier are very small beer.”
      For most people with no upgrade path to FTTC a non-OR supplier is their most likely upgrade path – whether it be to a altnet FTTP supplier like Gigaclear, or to 4G. Unfortunately there are a lot of people waiting for Gigaclear as their only hope of FTTP…

    • Avatar Joe

      I did say ‘can’ Tim. There are a lot of ‘perhaps’ and ‘maybe’ with GC!

      Obviously with the crazy money being thrown at Fib now this is changing fast but its not here yet. The best chance of fib for most is still OR atm.

    • Avatar John

      “Not sure this point stands. Most, but not all, suppliers will allow you to upgrade on their own network in contract.”

      Out of this article not sure why you picked this snippet to criticize.
      You even point out not all suppliers allow you to upgrade mid contract.

      There’s plenty suppliers who sell ADSL but not FTTC.

      There’s also hundreds (if not thousands) of FTTC cabinets that are at full capacity leaving no upgrade route from ADSL.

      Some ISP’s only sell ADSL on specific exchanges, and only sell FTTC on specific exchanges. Not necessarily both on a given exchange.

      Some ISP’s use different backhaul providers between ADSL & FTTC and can be locked in to a contract with the backhaul provider, preventing an upgrade.

      I could add more reasons that prevent an upgrade from ADSL.
      The point is very valid.

    • Avatar Joe

      Because we are talking of subsets of subsets ie absolutely tiny numbers. Many on adsl have no upgrade path at all. Of those that do most are to fttc. Of which the vast majority are with providers who also offer fttc and who will upgrade in contract (all the big providers do). The number of full cabs varies but its around 3% +/-. So its such a tiny number its not a significant reason for non upgrades.

      The ADSL is more about who is on adsl. Mostly older less tech minded users. Which is why near 80% in the above survey just didn’t care much about upgrades

  3. Avatar StillWaitingForSuperFast

    One more reason: Technically I could order ‘fibre’ (FTTC) but my house is so far from the cabinet that the estimated speed would be less than my ADSL (7 MB/S). Why pay more for less? I am surprised that this reason does not appear on the list.

    • Avatar boggits

      Several providers are doing FTTC at below ADSL costs now… (because they want people to move off ADSL)

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      @StillWaitingForSuperFast
      Your reason probably isn’t on the list because it would only apply to a tiny minority of people.

  4. Avatar CarlT

    Other nations within the EU are part-way through copper switch-off. There is absolutely no reason for ADSL to still be a product where FTTC/P is available. It should’ve been on a stop-sell for a while and should be in the process of being replaced right now. FTTC capacity is being beefed up to accomplish this: should be already there.

    Ofcom can, I’m sure, just about cope with the concept of broadband not being free and will hopefully manage without taking credit for all the good while tefloning all the downsides.

    • Avatar Joe

      “Ofcom can, I’m sure, just about cope with the concept of broadband not being free ”

      (Chuckles) And that’s only just a joke 🙂

    • Avatar gerarda

      The post above gives one reason. The capacilty is not yet there to give everyone a better service with FTTC than with DSL

    • Avatar CarlT

      It’s a work in progress, Gerarda. Strangely enough I wasn’t advocating magically flicking a switch on the entire country. Doesn’t change that Openreach either have sufficient capacity to cover every home and business on a cabinet or can upgrade existing chassis to it without need of another cabinet in most cases.

    • Avatar Rahul

      @CarlT: You can’t remove ADSL packages yet because then I will be left without any internet!

      While 96% of the UK may have FTTC only 59% of City of London have FTTC partly due to exchange only lines. While many of these areas are planned for FTTP, ADSL will need to remain until either FTTC becomes available 100% or if the remaining 4% of the UK get upgraded to FTTP.

      As for being informed of whether we have anything faster available than ADSL. Adding your own telephone or postcode in the package availability or in uSwitch will reveal what services are available, plus we will receive letters from ISPs with advertisements for Superfast.

      I personally don’t think ADSL packages will be removed any time soon (at least not for another decade), simply because for many it may take years for people on EO Lines/ full cabinets to be upgraded to FTTC nevermind FTTP.

    • Avatar 125us

      Companies like Sky and TalkTalk have a lot of their own ADSL kit installed in BT exchanges. If Ofcom stopped them from selling any more services in favour of Openreach’s VDSL they would be picking winners.

  5. Avatar AnotherTim

    Does the survey results suggest that a FTTC offering that was the same price or less than ADSL (even if it were capped at say 24Mbps) could be used to help migrate people off ADSL/ADSL2+ (where FTTC is available).

    • Avatar CarlT

      If their kit supports it they don’t even need to know. They get a blip and are then connected via street-side DSLAM rather than exchange.

      If their kit doesn’t they’re overdue a replacement.

  6. Avatar Roger_Gooner

    With so many people not feeling the need for faster speeds, how can operators make money by investing large sums in order to provide superfast broadband?

    • It’s probably worth not overlooking that 60% or so who have upgraded, which continues to rise. The model can however become more strained when looking at a move from superfast to gigabit speeds etc. But goal posts are always shifting upwards, so eventually even that will become like moving away from ADSL today.

  7. Avatar Carl

    Of course there is the most basic reason that seems to be brushed under the carpet which I fall into. ADSL for me is faster than FTTC due to distance from my cabinet and ali cabling.

    I get 0.46 mbps upload from FTTC. Totally unusable as the upload is so saturated. However because my download is 14 meg BT refuse to do anything about it.

  8. Avatar Gary

    Multiple answers clouds the issues a bit mind you, shame.

  9. Avatar hv42

    Not sure why people need to criticise the study outcome and consider possible niche cases within these numbers. A study like this is not an answer to every question or something everyone can wield to prove the case for their specific problem.

    This can be split into two categories: 69% of respondents are in “don’t care, don’t need” – group. 30% or so are under “this could be complicated” -umbrella.

    If we want to change these numbers, the first group requires the need. I would assume the most significant “need” for anything faster than a fast ADSL would be video streaming or gaming. This is something done by content providers from BBC to Netflix. If their online services advance, more people will develop the need for a faster connection.

    The second group is an ISP problem. They seem to be ignoring marketing to existing customers if people think switching is more expensive, very complicated or not available at all. They are probably spending their marketing budgets to poaching customers from their competitors instead of marketing better services to existing customers. It probably makes sense to them financially as they are all doing it the same way.

    This seems to be widely two very different problems but not more than that – if we ignore our favourite niche issues.

    One possibility is of course just switching people automatically. This is what happened to my dad’s connection in Northern Europe. He was happy with his ADSL connection but his ISP just sent a new VDSL router and told him to plug it in on a certain day to get a faster connection for the same price. But this probably would not work here due to network and ISP separation, which has not happened there and the situation resembles more KCOM than OR served area.

    Nevertheless, this tells us that ADSL is not going away soon without a forced migration. Marketing would motivate some to upgrade and increase in streaming will create more need but it is a slow process.

  10. Avatar Guy Cashmore

    The most common ‘upgrade’ from ADSL here in rural West Devon is complete disconnection of the BT/OR copper line with 4G or fixed wireless taking over.

    I does beg the question, with fewer and fewer customers, for how much longer will BT/OR maintain the rural copper system, it must be losing them millions.

    • Avatar Fred

      I don’t know what their obligations are to ongoing copper support but I bet there are quite a few – certainly where I live there are quite a few folks who don’t have Internet at all. I do hope I never have the need to go back to BT/OR though.

      There is one particular couple, who rather fancy themselves as elite aristocracy, who have been trying to block TrueSpeed coming to the village by encouraging people not to sign up. They are getting 4Mbps ADSL and are quite happy with that. The village doesn’t want all the disruption of digging up roads (not that Truespeed do much digging, they tend to use poles and existing ducts). The village doesn’t want the sort of people who want fast Internet. The same thing happened when Voneus came to town. There were other people were against it because it would end up costing the village money – quite how they came to that concussion I don’t know, indeed Voneus are supplying free broadband to the village hall and possibly the school as well?

      Anyway, I understand that enough people have signed up for Truespeed here now 🙂

      My mother is on very slow ADSL and I am sure she has VDSL upgrade options where she is but they won’t upgrade. I did try working from there once and it was so slow I could not even do basic VOIP calls and so on.

    • Avatar Mark

      And the hundreds or thousands still on copper and can’t receive 4G or no wireless system present?

  11. Avatar Dee

    For the vast majority of the nation there is no need for them to upgrade to fibre if they are getting a decent ADSL Download Speed. I only upgrade to fibre when I got a job that required me to send 2GB worth of photos and on ADSL it took 7 hours – on Fibre it was much quicker to upload.

    • Avatar Rahul

      Not true because it is also about noise margins and stability!
      On ADSL I did manage to get 18Mbps in speed test at one point. But guess what?! This only lasted for a few hours because the noise margins cannot handle those speeds at less than 3dB.

      Any noise margin that stays at 3dB and fluctuates is bound to drop out. I’ve seen my noise margins drop to as low as 0.1dB!

      This means that my actual noise margin set-point is more like between 12-14Mbps at 9-12dB noise margins. That’s when my connection is stable and Uptime can remain between 20-56 days before the next drop-out. With 3dB noise margin my connection is only stable for a maximum of 48 hours.

      As we know on ADSL Dynamic Line Management known as DLM adjusts speed of the connection low or high depending on the stability of the line. So me receiving 18 Mbps at 2dB noise margin is useless because it will not remain that way for more than 5-10 hours before my line disconnects and re-syncs back to something like 12-13Mbps.

      This is a big problem for me especially when playing online multiplayer games. With both Sky and PlusNet I had to call them manually to cap my noise margin at 9dB by default. Because when noise margin profile was set to 3dB by default my connection would constantly drop out as much as 2-5 times a day. This wasn’t the case before when 6dB was the default. Openreach changed it to 3dB without taking any consideration that my EO Line cannot cope with it.

      Back in 2005 when I had Tiscali 1Mbps my connection was more stable and wouldn’t drop out. But as speeds increased for ADSL stability has dropped. Maybe FTTC is my solution as it will carry shorter copper wires, but I haven’t got it yet to confirm if it will solve the stability of the connection. My best bet will be Fibre to the Premises but that requires wayleave being passed and my building management team simply doesn’t care to give permission yet.

    • Avatar Fred

      @Dee, I think for a reasonable number of people maybe, the vast majority though, I question that?

      I think a lot of people would question the idea that ADSL is capable of delivering a decent download speed at all, even under the best conditions?

      Take a family where a couple of people want to stream TV at the same time. Add little Tommy who wants to play online games, God help mum or dad who wants to work from home at the same time. ADSL really can’t cut it in this scenario – 24+ Mbps really is the bottom of what OK for a typically family I would think. Many people expect 4k streaming and supporting a single 4k stream is right on the edge of ADSL2 capability.

      We are currently getting about 45Mbps and with just 2 of us in the house that is OK but I would not want any slower (and would not buy a house that could not achieve these speeds with unlimited data). I know we are not typical (and consumer over 1TB of bandwidth a month) but we are certainly not that unusual either, at least in our broadband needs 🙂

      Luckily although I live in the sticks I do get fixed wireless access and 4G (only with external) antenna both at 40+ Mbps. FTTP soon as well – so I am rather spoilt for choice.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      @Fred – many people also expect a Waitrose within 5 miles.

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