It's a sad state of affairs that virtually everyone I know complains about their broadband connection. Sometimes it's because of the customer service, sometimes it's the reliability, but most of the time it's about performance. You know what? It's not in your head...
According to the results of more than 18,500 tests carried out in January on broadband comparison site Broadband-Expert.co.uk, the average speed of a connection in the UK is a woeful 2.95Mbit. Putting this into some context, the majority of so-called starter packages these days claim to run at 8Mbit.
"Despite ongoing pressure from Ofcom and various consumer groups broadband providers are still misleading the public over broadband speeds," said William Harvey, Broadband-Expert.co.uk Technical Director. "Current advertising campaigns like the one for Tiscali broadband promise superfast broadband (download) speeds of up to 8Mb. Yet Tiscali came bottom of our test results with an average actual download speed of just 1.72Mb. Now that is not superfast by any stretch of the imagination and is over 1Mb lower than the UK average."
Harvey went on speaking great sense explaining, "Broadband providers can confuse consumers by stating maximum broadband speeds that are often only achieved by a very small percentage of subscribers. Providers should state the average download and upload speeds achieved by their broadband subscribers, this would give consumers a better idea of the sort of speeds they are likely to receive and would encourage providers to deliver better broadband products."
Interestingly, even Be - which comes first in both download and upload tables - doesn't escape entirely unharmed. As the country's first ADSL2+ provider, it boasts 24Mbit connections (only it's Value package is lower at 8Mbit) with upload speeds of 1.3Mbit all-round so achieving 6.07Mbit and 850kbit is still far from adequate.
Expect Ofcom to demand new advertising laws for ISPs before the end of the year, but until then you'd be advised to gather parents, aunties, uncles and grandparents into the room and make them read this. Trust me, it'll save your nerves in the long term...
Update: Be has approached us with interesting data following this article, providing a breakdown of the ADSL2+ speeds provided by its 'up to 24Mbit' products and excluding those of its value pack which is capped at 8Mbit.
They read as follows:
*24.5% of Members on the unrestricted up to 24 Mbps products receive over 16 Mbps.
*38% of Members on the unrestricted up to 24 Mbps products receive between 8 and 16 Mbps.
*37.5% of Members that subscribe to the unrestricted up to 24 Mbps members receive under 8 Mbps.
Now once again, the number of customers still struggling to get up to 8Mbit - even from a supposed 24Mbit service - is high (almost 40 per cent). That said, with 62.5 per cent of its customers achieving speeds above this and virtually a quarter hitting a breakneck 16Mbit+ it is clear ADSL2+ is the way forward for DSL lines.
It's going to be an interesting fight with cable (Virgin has a 50Mbit service prepped) over the next few years...
Update 2: Tiscali has now been in contact too having been (understandably) miffed at coming last. Its response was:
The Broadband Expert findings are far from consistent with the recognised industry official and sustained findings From Epitiro. Epitiro has placed Tiscali in the Top 5 for performance for the last thee quarters of 2007. http://www.epitiro.com/news/ipi-q1-2008.html
We contacted ‘Broadband Expert' with regard to their data and found two issues which would make their finding and in particular their statement inaccurate. The data was based on adhoc speed test that did not distinguish between the 1Mb, 2Mb, 4Mb, 8Mb and above products that people are buying, just giving aggregate figures for all speeds. This means that you are not comparing providers like for like. An operator providing a choice of broadband products with a blended customer base including 512k, 1Mb and 2Mb would give a lower average than an operator who provides ADSL2+. Therefore the results will be skewed in favour of any operator only offering ADSL2+ up to 24Mb products to a small footprint, which will obviously come higher even though an average of 6Mb on a 24Mb service is hardly something to shout about.
In addition the speed test allows you to nominate any ISP for the test, no matter who you are with without any verification or registration and therefore the data is not validated against any broadband operator.
Two points here: as far as I can see, despite Tiscali's protestations, it doesn't sell a broadband package below 8Mbit (and if it is keeping older customers on lower speed packages than that then this cannot be condoned). I have asked Tiscali to clarify this, but am awaiting a response.
Secondly, there appears no reason why members of the public would deliberately change their ISP when obtaining their results, let alone randomly target Tiscali - so this seems a frivolous comment at best.
That said, I accept Tiscali's point (and in fact highlighted it in my original article) that Broadband Expert does not break down its results based on the specific speed of package a customer has.
Update 3: Yep it's Tiscali again:
*1. we regularly communicate with customers offering them an upgrade
*2. some customers are not suitable for higher speed products because of their line quality
*3. we have recently upgraded in the region of 200,000 customers for free
Point 2 we believe is the entire crux of why this story exists in the first place and why the advertising system needs to be changed so we're glad it is on-board.
Broadband Expert Speed Test (results in ‘Speed Test Results' tab towards the bottom of the page)