UK Broadband consumers are often met with difficult choices. If given a choice of three services offering speeds of up to 8Mbps, 16Mbps or 24Mbps, how much faster will each one be? The short answer is that this depends on the length of your telephone line, but the long answer is more complex than this with many variables. Unfortunately broadband providers at the moment do not offer much help to consumers in making such choices.
The issue is even more complex than factors like line length and state of extension wiring in a property. Two providers offering what looks to be the same advertised 16Mbps service may actually offer a very different user experience. One provider may run their network in a less congested manner which can result in better online gaming and more consistent loading of web pages.
Computeractive magazine in conjunction with ourselves and BroadbandChoices.co.uk has launched a campaign to try and improve the information provided to broadband consumers. The purpose of the campaign is to get ISPs to published clear information about the actual speeds customers are likely to receive typically, a bit like those published by credit card companies and banks offering loans, before the customers commit to the contract.
Over 3,000 people completed 180,000 speed tests as part of research for the campaign showing that many were consistently receiving less than 50% of the advertised speed. This can be compared to our own speed test round-up we published at the start of 2007. Although this includes customers on a full range of products, there is a huge variation in speed. We'll be publishing an update on our speed test results in the next few weeks.
So what can be done to improve things? In the first instance better use could be made available of the line length data published by Openreach which is accessible via www.btwholesale.com/getbroadband. This needs to be used carefully, as it is not one hundred percent accurate and it would be far better to use the data from your ADSL modem/router if you already have broadband to estimate what you might get on a higher service. Some providers do however give their users false expectations or refuse upgrades to products based on this data. Where the checker is wrong it can often be corrected, but this is a difficult path to follow. If you think you have a problem with your provider suggesting your line can't support a faster speed and you have reason to believe otherwise based on your modem statistics, please let us know.
Publishing typical download speeds for a service will not necessarily solve the problem of slow speeds, but some kind of standard measurement of speed should help compare providers.
So what can you the reader of this article do to change things? If you think you are getting a raw deal on speed but the technicalities are over your head, then asking for help in our General Chatter forum section should see you getting free help, and very often there will have been others posting with similar issues. For those happy to delve into the web interface of their ADSL hardware and perhaps change a phone socket or two the following links may prove useful.
More details on the campaign website.