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By: MarkJ - 2 March, 2011 (7:30 AM)
uk mapofcom uk average broadband ISP speeds March 2011The communications regulator, Ofcom UK, has today published its latest research into the country's national average broadband ISP speeds. The study revealed that the average fixed-line internet download speed in December 2010 was 6.2Mbps (Megabits per second), which is up from 5.2Mbps in May 2010 and 4.1Mb in April 2009.

It's no exaggeration to say that, despite the obvious improvement over previous results, a huge gap still exists between what most ISPs are advertising to consumers and what is then being delivered. As a result the average advertised speed stood at 13.8Mbps, which is more than half of what ISPs actually deliver.

uk average versus headline broadband speeds december 2010

A big cause of this comes from the prevalence of 'up to' 24Mbps capable ADSL2+ broadband services, which dominate much of the existing BT and LLU copper line market. ADSL2+ can only really improve your speed (above that of older 8Mbps ADSL tech) when you live very close to your local telephone exchange and on a good line. Those on longer lines (i.e. several kilometres away), or customers with poor home wiring, often only see a small improvement.
Advertised Package Type - (Average actual speed)
'Up to' 8/10Mbit/s DSL packages* (3.4Mbit/s)
'Up to' 20/24Mbit/s DSL packages (6.2Mbit/s)
'Up to' 10Mbit/s Cable Modem services (9.6Mbit/s)
'Up to' 20Mbit/s Cable Modem services (18.0Mbit/s)
'Up to' 50Mbit/s Cable Modem services (45.8Mbit/s)
'Up to' 40Mbit/s FTTC services (31.8Mbit/s)
The contrast between variable ADSL solutions and more reliable cable ( Virgin Media ) or new superfast FTTC services is significant. Virgin's cable links deliver speeds that are much closer to what the operator actually promotes and the same goes for FTTC, which replaces the old copper line between telephone exchanges and street cabinets with a fibre optic cable.

It's also worth looking at upload speeds, which aren't covered that extensively in the report. BT's up to 40Mbit/s FTTC product delivered considerably faster average upload speeds than any other ISP package within the study. Its average upload speeds were around 7.8Mbps (advertised rate of 10Mbps). Virgin Media's up to 50Mbps service delivered average upload speeds of around 2.8Mbps, although they recently began a project to boost these up to 5Mbps.

Ofcom Chief Executive, Ed Richards, said:

"It is encouraging that new technologies are being rolled out across the UK and faster speeds are being achieved. However, the research shows that ISPs need to do more to ensure they are giving customers clear and accurate information about the services they provide and the factors that may affect the actual speeds customers will receive.

It is important that the rules around broadband advertising change so that consumers are able to make more informed decisions based on the adverts they see, and that advertisers are able to communicate more clearly how their products compare to others in the market."

The results, which were produced with the assistance of broadband monitoring specialist Samknows, looked at 11 packages provided by the seven largest ISPs in the market, representing over 90% of residential broadband subscribers in the UK. The performance data itself is taken from a base of just 1,710 panellists who had a broadband monitoring unit connected to their router in November/December 2010.

2011 isp broadband speeds uk

Clearly the situation for future/faster broadband services is looking a lot better, although in the meantime most consumers can still expect to be using less reliable DSL solutions for several more years. Therefore Ofcom's submission to the current Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) review of how ISPs advertise broadband speeds will recommend the following changes.
Ofcom's ASA Submission Recommends that..

* a Typical Speeds Range (TSR) representing the range of speeds actually achieved by at least half of customers (around the median) should be used when using speeds in broadband advertising;

* if a maximum ‘up to’ speed is used in an advert, then the TSR must have at least equal prominence. The theoretical maximum ‘up to’ speed stated must also be a speed actually achievable by a material number of customers;

* advertisers should include a qualification alerting consumers that they can confirm the likely speed that they will receive when buying their service, and, where it is the case, must also explain in the body of the advert that actual speeds depend on line quality and distance from the exchange; and

* any reference to broadband speed in advertising (for example, words such as “fast”, “super-fast” or “lightning”) must be accompanied by a TSR, which should have at least equal prominence to these words.
The move would effectively ban 'up to' 20/24Mbps DSL promotions because only a tiny fraction of customers ever achieve anything even close to that (i.e. about 3% get 16-20Mbps). Apparently Ofcom believes that at least 5% of customers must be able to achieve the headline speed for it to be valid in any form of advertising.

Ofcom has also responded to the ASA consultation on use of the term "unlimited" in broadband advertising. Ofcom recommends that this term only be used when a service has no usage caps implemented through a Fair Usage Policy (FUP). We hope that this will also include other words or phrases, such as "unrestricted downloads" or "use as much as you like", otherwise any change is pointless.

Finally, Ofcom's Voluntary Broadband Speeds Code of Practice (Version 2), which was announced last year (here), will finally come into full force during July 2011. ISPs who have signed up to the Code have committed to explain to new customers the access line speed they are likely to achieve at home, and to try to resolve problems for those customers whose speed is significantly below the estimate. If the problem cannot be resolved, then customers will be able to leave their provider within the first three months of their contract without penalty.
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