Ofcom today published the results of its research into fixed line broadband speeds in the UK, which shows that consumers are far from receiving the speeds they are sold on advertising by ISPs.
Speed has become more significant as people increasingly use the internet for bandwidth-hungry applications such as downloading video and audio, but there has been a lack of reliable information on the actual speeds delivered by ISPs.
A consumer perceptions survey conducted alongside the research found that speeds were a key issue for broadband consumers. The majority of consumers were happy with the speeds they received although over a quarter of consumers (26%) said that the speed they received was not what they expected when they signed up to the service.
The research found that there were significant 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.
In April 2009, the latest month for which data was gathered, Ofcom’s research showed the following: The average broadband speed in the UK in April 2009 was 4.1 Mbps. This compares to an average ‘up to’ headline speed of 7.1 Mbps.
The actual speeds received varied widely. Fewer than one in ten (9%) of our sample on 8 Mbps headline packages received actual average speeds of over 6 Mbps and around one in five (19%) received, on average, less than 2 Mbps.
The research, carried out in conjunction with technical partner SamKnows and market research agency GfK, provides independent, robust data on the actual speeds that UK consumers are getting from their broadband providers. Over 60 million separate service performance tests were carried out in over 1600 homes between November 2008 and April 2009. The research sample allowed Ofcom to compare the performance of the UK’s nine largest ISPs by market share over this period.
On average speeds received by the sample (including margin of error) for each ISP: AOL (‘up to’ 8 Mbps) 3.3 to 3.9 Mbps; BT (‘up to’ 8 Mbps) 3.8 to 4.2 Mbps; O2 (‘up to’ 8 Mbps) 4.1 to 5.1 Mbps; Orange (‘up to’ 8 Mbps) 3.8 to 4.5 Mbps; Plusnet (‘up to’ 8 Mbps) 3.8 to 4.9 Mbps; Sky (‘up to’ 8 Mbps) 4.0 to 4.7 Mbps; Talk Talk (‘up to’ 8 Mbps) 3.8 to 4.6 Mbps; Tiscali (‘up to’ 8 Mbps) 3.2 to 3.7 Mbps; Virgin Media(‘up to’ 10 Mbps) 8.1 to 8.7 Mbps. Sourced by SamKnows, measurement data for all panel members with ‘up to’ 8Mbit/s or ‘up to’ 10Mbit/s connections in April 2009. (Data for O2 and Plusnet should be treated with caution as sampled sizes were smaller than for other ISPs.)
Consumer Focus welcomed Ofcom’s report on UK’s real broadband speeds. Audrey Gallacher, head of customer experience at Consumer Focus, said: “Ofcom’s research should stop companies exaggerating their claims about broadband speeds. It is really welcome that consumers will, for the first time, have a way of comparing internet providers. Consumers have long suspected that they don’t get the speeds they’re led to expect, and are paying over the odds for their broadband services. With this clear information and Ofcom’s advice, people will be able to make better choices.”
Those living in urban areas received significantly faster speeds than those living in rural areas. The average speed delivered to urban consumers was 4.6 Mbps, compared to an average of 3.3 Mbps delivered to rural consumers.
Consumers with all ISPs experienced a slowdown in actual speeds during peak evening hours (8pm to 10pm), with speeds in this period around 20% slower than over a 24-hour period.
Overall, consumers on ‘up to’ 8 Mbps packages whose broadband service is delivered through second generation DSL technology (ADSL2+) received faster speeds than those who use the more common first generation ADSL1.
But the results also showed that ISPs using ADSL1 who invest in network capacity are able to deliver speeds as good as ADSL2+ operators. Cable customers received significantly faster speeds than both ADSL technologies.
As well as speeds, a range of factors such as price, availability and quality of customer service need to be considered when making any individual choice. A new Ofcom guide for consumers on what to consider when choosing a broadband service can be found here: http://www.ofcom.org.uk/advice/guides/bbchoice.pdf.