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By: MarkJ - 26 July, 2011 (11:01 PM)
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 average fixed-line internet download performance had increased by 10% over the past six months and now stood at 6.8Mbps (Megabits per second), which is up from 6.2Mbps at the start of this year (here).

Sadly a huge gap still exists between what most ISPs are advertising to consumers and what is actually being delivered. The average advertised rate is now 15Mbps, which is an increase from 13.8Mbps in December 2010 and thus more than double what ISPs delivered to their customers.

Ofcom Chief Executive, Ed Richards, said:

"The UK broadband market has transformed since Ofcom first published its research two and a half years ago. By publishing this research, Ofcom has encouraged ISPs to invest in faster broadband networks; we are now seeing consumers increasingly move to higher rated services and enjoying genuinely faster speeds.

Consumers also have access to better broadband information, allowing them to decide which provider to use based on actual speeds they can achieve at home.

However, the research is still telling us that some consumers are not receiving anywhere near the speeds that are being advertised by some ISPs. Ofcom continues to urge the CAP and BCAP committees to make changes to their advertising guidance so that consumers are able to make more informed decisions based on the adverts they see."

The primary reason for this gap between advertised and real-world performance is the prevalence of 'up to' 24Mbps capable ADSL2+ broadband services, which dominate much of the existing BT and LLU copper line market. Unfortunately this type of technology, which is used by 75% of UK homes, is extremely susceptible to interference through poor home wiring and longer telephone lines. As a result many DSL connections get significantly less than is advertised.
Advertised Package Type - (Average actual speed)
'Up to' 20/24Mbps ADSL2+ packages (6.6Mbps)
'Up to' 30Mbps Virgin Media Cable services (31Mbps)
'Up to' 50Mbps Virgin Media Cable services (48Mbps)
'Up to' 40Mbps BT-Infinity ( FTTC ) services (34Mbps)
Ofcom notes that more than a third of customers (37%) on ADSL2+ based packages received average speeds of 4Mbps or less. The picture would of course by very different if Virgin Media's Cable Modem based network or BT's newest FTTC service dominated the UK market, with both being able to deliver speeds that are much closer to what the operator actually promotes.

average download speed by uk isp package q2 2011

Separately the research also found that the superfast BT-Infinity service ('up to' 40Mbps downloads and 10Mbps uploads) continued to provide the highest average upload speeds, which at nearly 9Mbps were more than twice as fast as any other ISP tested. Only Virgin Media's newest 100Mbps service has comparable upload speeds, although too few use this service for a fair comparison.

Ofcom's Voluntary Broadband Speeds Code of Practice (Version 2), which was announced last year (here), looks set to tackle some of the current problems after it finally came into force today. Member ISPs are required to explain to new customers the access line speed that they are likely to achieve at home, and to try to resolve any problems when speeds fall significantly below the estimate. If the problem cannot be resolved then customers will be able to leave their provider, without penalty, within the first three months of a contract.

Ofcom has also published a List of Member ISPs who signed up to the new Code, which happily appears to include the vast majority of mainstream providers. The regulator now plans to undertake a mystery shopping exercise in the next few months to assess compliance with its Code, which we look forward to seeing.

Separately the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is still consulting upon new guidelines for how ISPs advertise broadband speeds and "unlimited" style usage allowances (here). The outcome from this is expected sometime in the early autumn.

Jon James, Executive Director of Broadband for Virgin Media, said:

"The gulf between what’s advertised and what speeds customers get continues to grow. Whilst Virgin Media delivers more then 90% of the speeds we advertise, ISPs promising speeds of ‘up to’ 20Mb or 24Mb are delivering an average of just 6.6Mb. We remain concerned that people paying for fast broadband are still being misled and believe it is absolutely essential that consumers have all the information they need to make an informed choice. We once again urge the ASA to bring about a rapid change in the way broadband services are being advertised."

It's important to note that Ofcom's research looked at 14 packages provided by the seven largest ISPs in the market, which represent over 75% of residential broadband subscribers in the UK. Some 455 million separate performance tests were carried out in 1,767 homes during May 2011.

UPDATE 8:50am

The full report (PDF) can be found here:

UPDATE 1:47pm

Here's a comment from UK ISP Eclipse Internet .

Simon Harper, Director of Eclipse Internet, said:

"As an ISP it's no longer good enough to rely entirely on the "up to" label for broadband marketing. ISPs must offer more accurate estimates of speed which provide a more specific quote to the customer, such as a geographical speed-checker tool.

When looking to purchase broadband, businesses and consumers should also look at the average speed their potential ISP is attaining and whether they have any service level agreements in place. Only then will they be able to guarantee a minimum level of service or response time to network issues. Having consistent speeds are vital for businesses as more enterprise applications move from the desktop onto the web.

During these times of sluggish economic growth, consumers and businesses alike need to know what they are paying for. It is imperative that ISPs are upfront and honest with their users around broadband speed levels in order to uphold a level of trust between them and their customers."

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