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Real Broadband Speeds Half Of That Advertised

David Gilbert


Real Broadband Speeds Half Of That Advertised

A survey published this morning by Ofcom looking at typical broadband speeds proves conclusively the speeds users get are less than half that of the advertised speed.

While the average speed increased from 5.2Mbps to 6.2Mbps between May 2010 and December 2010, it still represented only 45 percent of the average advertised broadband speed, which was 13.8Mbps. Indeed the report goes on to say that the increase was actually due to a change in methodology designed to be more representative of the way in which data is downloaded by consumers rather than an actual increase in speeds.

In its report to the Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP) and Broadcast Committee for Advertising Practice (BCAP), Ofcom is recommending that if speeds are used in broadband advertising they should be based on a Typical Speeds Range (TSR), so consumers have a clearer idea of what speeds to expect. Ofcom also recommends that the TSR must have at least equal prominence to any maximum ‘up to’ speed, and that a maximum speed must be used only if it is actually achievable in practice by a material number of consumers.

The research looked at 11 packages provided by the seven largest ISPs in the market, representing over 90 per cent of residential broadband subscribers in the UK. Over 18 million separate service performance tests were carried out in over 1,700 homes during November and December 2010. Looking at the different technologies, Ofcom concluded that next-generation superfast broadband services were significantly faster than current generation services. Broadband services delivered by fibre-to-the-cabinet were measured for the first time and, along with cable services, delivered faster average speeds much closer to advertised speeds than was the case for current-generation broadband technologies.

One of the only good points to come out of the survey was the upload speed achieved by BT’s Infinity service which averaged at 8Mbps – significantly higher than any other service including Virgin’s ‘up to’ 50Mbps service which averaged uploads of just 2.5Mbps.

Virgin however were quick to get behind the survey's recommendations. Jon James, executive director of broadband at Virgin Media, said: "Ofcom's latest report is yet another damning indictment that consumers continue to be treated like mugs and misled by ISPs that simply cannot deliver on their advertised speed claims. “In a nascent market for next generation broadband, the sub-standard fibre optic services being sold are undermining people’s faith in fast broadband. Consumers shouldn't have to suffer from this speed lottery and have a right to get what they pay for.”

Ofcom made five main recommendations in its report:

- A 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;

- Advertisers should include a qualification alerting consumers that they can confirm the likely speed that they will receive when buying their service;

- 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 word unlimited should only be used when a service has no usage caps implemented through a fair usage policy.

Some ISPs have signed up for a more robust Code of Conduct which comes into force in July and those who have signed up have committed to explain to new customers the access line speed they are likely to achieve at home. While this won’t solve the problem, it may help and with Ofcom’s recommendations likely to be enforced sooner rather than later, we can hopefully look forward to more realistic advertising in the future.


March 2, 2011, 12:48 pm

There are some pretty sad figures lurking behind the averages. The graph of the distribution of actual speed for 'up to 20/24 Mbps' ADSL has 58% of the population below 6 Mbps.

20% achieve > 10 Mbps and a glorious 2% achieve > 16 Mbps (figure 4.12 in the pdf).

As these figures presumably are a reflection of line quality, though, there isn't much that can be done other than to clampdown on unrealistic advertising and push for FTTC.

Chris Beach

March 2, 2011, 2:32 pm

The tables are a quite hard to read, looks like some odd same colour shadowing going on.


March 2, 2011, 3:11 pm

@cjb110 - agreed, very hard to read

Virgin actually come out OK in the higher speed tests. I've been on Virgin for some time now and have to say that speeds are very good. Even the rubbish super hub hasn't slowed mine down (touch wood!)

Luan Bach

March 2, 2011, 3:40 pm

Half sounds about right. I'm on VM 50Mbs, which is around 5MBs in real term, and I'm averaging just over 2MBs on a good day.

David Gilbert

March 2, 2011, 3:55 pm

@cjb110 @Kempez Apologies for the quality of the tables but they were the only ones available last night but they have been replaced by better ones now which are easier to read.


March 2, 2011, 5:04 pm

I must be in the rarefied 3% - I get just over 16Mbps from my 'up to' 20Mbps line. Considering my house wiring dates back to the fifties, I'd call that a result.

Obviously having the local exchange about 100 yards down the road doesn't hurt. Who needs FTTC, I could probably have 40Mbs VDSL direct to my exchange if only BT were capable...


March 2, 2011, 6:10 pm

Thanks David. I get the full 30mb on VM! Not bad!



March 2, 2011, 8:24 pm

I get 600kb/s download speed on 8mb talktalk... satisfied customer I am, never complained.


March 2, 2011, 10:01 pm

@xbrumster I just found I am a 'satisfied' VM customer.

Time to kick them up their a'hole.

VM don't just short change Customers on BB speeds but ALSO on cutting tv channels without notification.

VM also charge premium for 0845 numbers!!!

Bloody Aussie CEOs.

Martin Daler

March 3, 2011, 1:45 am

I pay for 10Mb down and 1Mb up with Virgin and I have to say that is more or less what I get, consistently. Well, I think that is what I am paying for, their cryptic/covert billing structure makes it impossible to know what the actual prevailing price really is. So in a sense they have just inverted the problem. With other ISPs you pay the advertised price but the speed is a lottery; with Virgin it is the other way about.


March 3, 2011, 5:24 am

The recommendation to stop ludicrous uses of 'unlimited' is nice to see (if five years overdue) so that we'll (hopefully!) no longer see virgin claiming 'unlimited' on their packages with speed limits.

I disagree with the speed business though. As this report once again shows it's got nothing to do with the ISP but the technology used. What we should be getting is far more transparency in the way ADSL works so people can know they'll get similar speeds from similar packages on different ISPs and can get an accurate estimate when transitioning from ADSL to ADSL2/FTTC based on their existing speed.

If anything TSRs are likely to be bad for the cross section of speeds as they'll tempt ISPs to focus on the high density, high population areas where you can roll out a new service to one exchange and boost your TSR by five times more than doing the same in a rural area. Although they do that currently because those are the most profitable areas - we really want less incentive, not more, so everyone gets a decent minimum speed.


March 3, 2011, 1:49 pm

I am afraid Ofcom's latest proposals just go to prove what a shitty job this quango continues to do.

Just say the same rules or standards were applied to other utilities like water, gas, electricity. You wouldn't like your shower running at 30%!!!

Indeed, Ofcom is undermining the Government's policy of providing high speed broadband in the UK.

For starters, it should demand of the ISPs that they MUST deliver on average 90% of the contracted speed in each billing period. If it goes below that then the Customer will be given a refund by that amount, eg if the average is 80% then the Customer will get a 20% refund for that billing period.

Ofcom should also stipulate ISPs MUST provide to Customers an app that measures and records the BB speed within six months.

Martin Daler

March 3, 2011, 2:48 pm

I wonder for how much longer headline average speed will continue to be seen as the most important metric. If I am downloading a big file, say a movie, I don't want to wait ages so average speed over the download is important. But increasingly I will not be downloading movie files, I will be streaming them. Then I am not interested in any speed over and above that required to sustain the stream - I am far more interested in stability and quality of service over the duration of the stream. This is even more true for 'real time' services like VoIP, where the actual speed requirement may be paltry, but quality of service is everything.
More of the value I derive from the web is contingent on a stable, consistent bandwidth than on outright average speed. So although the regulators move is welcome, much depends on how they measure speed, over what period they average the figure, and whether they aslo target some kind of 'standard deviation' figure.


March 3, 2011, 3:14 pm

@Enigma: ISPs provide the contracted speed. Both technically and legally, you contract with the ISP for a maximum speed limit, not an average speed. If you sign up to an 8 Mbps package on an exchange that's ADSL2+ enabled, you're agreeing to the imposition of an artificial speed limit on the data transmitted to you. In technical terms, the network hardware and software are also set up to *cap* the speed at which the data packets zoom to and from your computer, not to regulate them at a constant speed. In legal terms, the agreement you sign make it clear that you're agreeing to a package capped at a maximum speed, not a package that will aim to deliver a particular average speed.

Ofcom's work makes it very clear that they get this. Their point, however, is that simply telling consumers what speed their package will be capped at isn't enough to let them make an informed choice - they also need information on the average speed they can typically expect to get. If advertising only contains information as to the speed cap and nothing as to the average speed, consumers can easily be misled to think the speed cap will be an approximate guide as to the sort of range in which you can expect your average speed to be. This is, of course, false, and that's Ofcom's point. But ISPs, too, have a point in that average figures are also entirely meaningless, because the actual speed a consumer can expect to see will have nothing whatsoever to do with the average speed that ISP's customers see. This, too, is a valid point, with which Ofcom does try to deal ableit only partially - essentially, their response seems to be that whilst not perfect, publishing average speeds will be a good bit better than the current situation (which I think is correct). Anyway, the point is that the situation is quite complex, and it's disappointing that the technical press isn't explaining any of this better.


March 3, 2011, 9:52 pm

@lensmann READ what I said.

That is we should stop this "UPTO" and other current cons.

Instead Ofcon (deliberate) "should demand of the ISPs that they MUST deliver on average 90% of the contracted speed in each billing period. If it goes below that then the Customer will be given a refund by that amount, eg if the average is 80% then the Customer will get a 20% refund for that billing period.

"Ofcom should also stipulate ISPs MUST provide to Customers an app that measures and records the BB speed within six months."

REST ASSURED my understanding is not affected by your perception of "disappointing that the technical press isn't explaining any of this better." as that is NOT true.

Indeed in todays world of www and almost ALL press allow readers to comment - Readers like me, Xiphias, Kempez et al - so we are well informed. That's why we are NOT prepared to be conned.


March 4, 2011, 2:47 pm

@Enigma: Read what *I* said. There is *no* contracted speed at present, not even in countries (e.g. Scandinavia, East Asia) which do not permit the "upto" scam.

Martin Daler

March 4, 2011, 4:08 pm

Gentlemens, please, you are both right. In fact it is only because you are both right that the problem exists.
A) The ISPs do avertise "up to" a figure you won't ever get.
B) There is no contracted speed.
And it is because of the latter that they can get away with the former, which they do for their own nefarious reasons.


March 5, 2011, 2:23 am

@Martin Daler how dare you suggest that I am not 100% right! ;-)

My point was that Ofcon (deliberate) should impose the suggested NEW regime instead of the PRESENT fuzzy arrangement of CONTRACTED UPTO nonsense.


March 8, 2011, 9:46 pm

I just spoke to the VM Customer Services Operative and I just a got a load of bullshit. He explained the reason I get such low speed is because I live in an area that has a lot of VM BB users. When I pointed out that that may be true at peak usage times and ALL the people in my area were VM BB Customers and not between 00:00-5:00!! he referred me to technical services (TS) and failed to connect.

However upon ringing up for TS and having gone through their "5-options -- because we want to provide the best possible service (Did Kenny Everett write that?)" I finally learnt from the recorded message that they provide software to optimise the connection at http://www.virginmedia.com/spe...

So think about trying that before you go wasting time with VM Customer Services. Good Luck.

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