We seem to enjoy being second or lower in the UK. It acts as a chance for people to vent their anger about the state of UK broadband and how we get measly speeds compared to the rest of the world. The question is are we comparing the same two things?
When you look at data from places like The Information and Technology Innovation Foundation (published in April 2007), we do badly coming 17th out of 30. People wish for the 100Mbps connections or sometimes 1Gbps connections of Japan and Korea, but what we forget is that the average speeds quoted are usually the advertised speeds. So it is likely that most UK consumers are reading data like this and comparing the actual download speeds they get versus what is the headline advertised rate in the other country. One example is a writer for The Times who moans of only 5Mbps from a 20Mbps connection in Italy.
If lengthy studies were to be done to look at actual experienced download speeds, would the UK be a lot further up the table? Probably not, but the reality that 100Mbps connections probably rarely meet those speeds when downloading from web sites would be more apparent. Consider this- if a country has one million people connected at 100Mbps, how many web sites have the connectivity to support even 10% of these people downloading at the same time?
UK xDSL providers already have the systems in place that allow them to provide a reasonable estimate of possible speeds by accessing line data provided by Openreach. The public can access a version of this at www.btwholesale.com/getbroadband, but this tells you nothing about how a provider will perform on Friday nights when you probably use your connection.
Sites like ourselves go some way to helping people share their experiences and discuss actual speeds for different internet applications, but how can this be expressed in advertising in a way that is consistent across all providers? Perhaps you can't and what is needed is education to make more people aware that the advertised speed is a theoretical maximum with many factors affecting your actual experience. Companies like Epitiro try to make thousands of measurements to compare providers and has recently won a contract to do this for the regulator in New Zealand, but again the data, while useful, often does not directly translate to the experience of the individual broadband user.
With the increasing roll-out of ADSL2+ and potentially other xDSL variants in the future, consumers will need more help to figure out whether what looks like a three times faster package would be better for them or not. To this end, one example would be to publish the connection speed profile for a provider. Entanet does something like this already by publishing a chart showing the IP Profiles its customers currently have. From this you can deduce that 50% of people connect at speeds of 4544Kbps or higher with 21.5% hitting the absolute maximum connection speed of 8128Kbps.
At the end of the day, the UK broadband market is a competitive one with providers competing for our business. This competition can push advertisers to try and find data to prove their point. Regulating the advertising is difficult and as with any rules, companies will look for ways to exploit or bend the rules to meet their needs. The biggest force is us the consumer. If we are not happy, let friends know and at the first opportunity change provider to one that suits your needs better.