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Time for Crystal Clear Broadband in the UK?
Friday 21 September 2007 17:16:14 by Andrew Ferguson

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.

  • Guide to obtaining line stats such as attenuation and noise margins from your ADSL kit.
  • ADSL speed calculator, this gives you an estimate of the best speeds your line could achieve
  • ADSLNation.com a supplier of ADSL faceplates to help you get the best connection speeds.
  • Solwise another supplier of ADSL faceplates and other components to help in tidying up your phone wiring.
  • Clarity a third source for ADSL filtering kit
  • Run a thinkbroadband.com speed test

More details on the campaign website.

Comments

Posted by herdwick over 9 years ago
How do we clearly convey the data throughputs experienced by people on lines of different length with different RWIN values, different house wiring, different modems etc in a way that will be useful to a relatively ignorant consumer ? Will this result in ISPs declining to serve longer lines in order to report a better average speedtest ?
Posted by g-bhxu over 9 years ago
There are a number of factore that affect connection speeds, but I suggest that this is not the main concern for most users.

The main concern for most users are are Fair Usage Policies on "Unlimited broadband" that can be changed at the whim of the ISP if they think you are downloading too much
Posted by grahammm over 9 years ago
Would it be better, as a comparison of ISP performance, to ignore 'external' factors (such as line length, wiring quality etc) and publish the ratio of actual available download speed to BRAS rate?

ISPs have no control over line lengths etc, and the effects of the phone line and internal wiring are going to manifest irrespective of which provider the (potential) customer chooses. Where ISPs differ is in how much advantage the customer can make of the data rate with the DSLAM.
Posted by chrysalis over 9 years ago
herdwick either that or might make them put pressure on BT to fix the local loop situation, currently I feel isps are too soft and find it easier to fob off customers with bad lines perhaps hoping they leave rather then pressuring BT. Misinterpreted speed and misleading unlimited are both very bad, I think right now misleading unlimited advertising is probably something that should be fixed first as its an easier thing to fix it just requires tougher regulation to ban invisible limits.
to grahammmm line lengths have to be factored in the ones who are most vulnerable are those with bad lines.
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