UK consumers increased their broadband speeds by an average of 25% over the last 12 months, but new research conducted for the regulator Ofcom has revealed a widening gap between advertised and actual speeds. Virgin Media’s ‘up to’ 10 Mbps and ‘up to’ 20 Mbps cable services delivered average download speeds around twice as fast as DSL packages with the same or similar headline speed.
The regulator has strengthened its Voluntary Code of Practice on Broadband Speeds. ISPs that sign up have committed to give consumers a more accurate and consistent estimate of the maximum speed likely to be achievable on their line.
“Ofcom’s research shows that average speeds have increased which is good news, but there is scope for a further step change in the quality of the UK communications infrastructure,” said Ed Richards, Ofcom chief executive. “Actual speeds are often much lower than many of the advertised speeds which makes it essential that consumers are given information which is as accurate as possible at the point of sale; this is what the new code is designed to deliver.”
“Ofcom do have this code of practice, but as soon as you mention advertising, they say that’s something they don’t touch and it’s something for the Advertising Standards Authority,” David Mercer, VP, principal analyst – Digital Consumer Practice, Strategy Analytics told Broadband TV News. Mercer suggested that ISPs should instead present consumers with a range of speeds between which they should expect to receive. According to a recent Strategy Analytics report, the UK ranks 22nd in Broadband Development. South Korea took the top spot, followed by Hong Kong and the Netherlands.
The code came in for further criticism from Sebastien Lahtinen, co-founder of Thinkbroadband.com, who said Ofcom had missed an opportunity to redraft the code in a format that consumers could better understand. “Instead of providing additional guidance notes which would assist providers in interpreting the code, Ofcom have created an even more complex code, which is less accessible to the average user.”
Accurate or not, the greater speeds introduced by ISPs have been embraced by the consumer, leading the average actual fixed-line residential speed to increase by over 25% over the past year from 4.1 Mbps to 5.2 Mbps. Broadband monitoring specialists SamKnows reported for Ofcom that nearly a quarter (24%) of UK fixed-line residential broadband connections had a headline or advertised speed of above ‘up to’ 10 Mbps in May 2010, compared to just 8% in April 2009.
Headline (Advertised) speed Average actual speed
‘Up to’ 8/10Mbit/s DSL packages 3.3Mbit/s
‘Up to’ 20/24Mbit/s DSL packages 6.5Mbit/s
‘Up to’ 10Mbit/s cable services 8.7Mbit/s
‘Up to’ 20Mbit/s cable services 15.7Mbit/s
However, with the move to faster headline speeds has come a growing disparity between the actual speeds delivered and the speeds with which some ISPs advertise their services. Broadband speeds are being held back by their delivery over copper telephone lines, hence the advantage for Virgin and its much-touted fibre optic network.
In April 2009, average actual (or download) speeds were 4.1 Mbps, 58% of average advertised ‘up to’ speeds (7.1 Mbps). In May 2010, average download speeds were 5.2 Mbps, 45% of average advertised ‘up to’ speeds (11.5 Mbps).
Cable came out well from the survey; Virgin Media’s ‘up to’ 10 Mbps and ‘up to’ 20 Mbps services came out roughly twice as fast as DSL packages that had been given the same or a similar headline speed.
Virgin’s ‘up to’ 50 Mbps cable service – currently the fastest commercial residential broadband speed available in the UK – delivered average download speeds of around 36 Mbps with single thread tests and around 46 Mbps with multi-thread tests conducted between 4 and 6am. Arguably even the keenest of early adopters is unlikely to be awake to benefit!
Cable broadband is on average delivering higher download speeds than comparable DSL providers however it also showed the greatest slowdown in peak periods.