Ofcom study confirms big gap between advertised and “real” broadband speeds

Ofcom has now published the results of its research into fixed-line broadband speeds in the UK and the results make for very interesting reading.

In a nutshell, the report confirms what consumers have known for a long while – namely that the broadband speed consumers receive is inevitably quite a lot less than the advertised “up to” broadband speed. But the report provides statistically significant data for the first time as it is based on over 60 million service performance tests in over 1,600 broadband households between November 2008 and April 2009. It also allows a robust like-for-like comparison between broadband providers (ISPs).

Charlie Ponsonby, CEO of Ofcom approved broadband and digital TV comparison service Simplifydigital.co.uk comments:

“The Ofcom study is important as it quantifies accurately for the first time actual speeds received by consumers for all the top broadband providers. This is clearly important information for the consumer to know before selecting a particular provider.”

The research was supported by a consumer perceptions survey which showed that whilst the majority of consumers were happy with the broadband speeds they received, 26% said that the broadband speed they received was not what they expected when they signed up to the service.

The research found that there were big differences in the download speeds offered by providers, with speeds depending on the technology used to deliver broadband and the capacity of the provider’s network.

The key findings are:

• Fibre optic broadband (from Virgin Media) delivered the fastest actual broadband speeds relative to advertised speeds, reflecting the fact that fibre optic broadband services do not suffer from a degradation in broadband speed relative to the distance from the telephone phone exchange

• DSL broadband providers relying on older ADSL 1 technology tended to offer the worst broadband speeds relative to the advertised speeds, with providers using the more sophisticated ADSL 2+ faring better. However ISPs using ADSL1 who invest in network capacity are able to deliver speeds as good as ADSL2+ operators

• The resulting average broadband speed received by consumers in the UK in April 2009 was 4.1Mb/secs, which is just 57% of the average ‘up to’ headline speed of 7.1 Mb/sec.

• The average speed delivered to urban consumers was 4.6Mbit/s, compared to an average of 3.3Mbit/s delivered to rural consumers.

• Actual broadband speeds received varied widely by service provider. Only 9% of the sample on 8Mb/sec headline packages received actual average speeds of over 6Mbit/s and around one in five (19 per cent) received, on average, less than 2Mb/sec.

• All consumers experienced a slowdown in actual broadband speeds during peak evening hours (8-10pm), with speeds in this period around 20 per cent slower than over a 24-hour period as the effects of “contention” become most apparent.

The table below shows the average speeds received by for each ISP.

ISP and package Average speed

AOL (‘up to’ 8Mbit/s) 3.3 to 3.9Mbit/s

BT (‘up to’ 8Mbit/s) 3.8 to 4.2Mbit/s

O2 (‘up to’ 8Mbit/s)* 4.1 to 5.1Mbit/s

Orange (‘up to’ 8Mbit/s) 3.8 to 4.5Mbit/s

Plusnet (‘up to’ 8Mbit/s)* 3.8 to 4.9Mbit/s

Sky (‘up to’ 8Mbit/s) 4.0 to 4.7Mbit/s

Talk Talk (‘up to’ 8Mbit/s) 3.8 to 4.6Mbit/s

Tiscali (‘up to’ 8Mbit/s) 3.2 to 3.7Mbit/s

Virgin Media(‘up to’ 10Mbit/s) 8.1 to 8.7Mbit/s

As the table shows, Virgin Media’s fibre optic broadband service comes top of the table with speeds averaging about 84% of the advertised speed. Tiscali’s DSL broadband service on the other hand comes bottom and manages to deliver only just over 40% of their advertised speed.

It is very important therefore to understand what sort of technology the preferred broadband provider is able to provide at a specified location, before signing up to a long contract. As such it’s well worth talking to an impartial advisory service before taking the plunge.

Impartial advisers can undertake a detailed technology check on your local telephone exchange in order to confirm what speed you are likely to receive from each different broadband service provider and can then advise on what is the best broadband deal for you.

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