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Ofcom: Average UK broadband speeds rise to 6.8Mbps
Wednesday 27 July 2011 08:21:00 by Andrew Ferguson

Ofcom has published the results for its monitoring of UK broadband speeds over the last six months, the main headline being that while speeds have increased by 10% from 6.2Mbps to 6.8Mbps the gap between the advertised speed and what consumers actually get has increased.

This widening gap is because of the packages that people are subscribed to, either through their own choice, or provider wide upgrades as new technologies like ADSL2+ are adopted. Some 47% of residential users were on a product with advertised speeds above 10Mbps in May 2011, compared to 42% in November 2010. The rise of the faster product options can be seen dramatically when you see that only 8% of users were on a product advertised over the 10Mbps mark. In terms of advertising, Ofcom calculate that the average speed was 15Mbps, though there is no data on what the average speed (or range of speeds) that was communicated to customers during the sign-up process was, which is the current mechanism for ensuring the consumer gets a reasonable idea of what is possible with the connection.

The table below shows the average download throughput speed compared through providers at different times of the day, and with comparison to November / December 2010.

  Nov/Dec 2010 Nov/Dec 2010 May 2011 May 2011
Package 24-hour 8-10pm weekdays 24-hour 8-10pm weekdays
'up to' 8Mbps
4.1 - 4.8Mbps 3.8 - 4.4Mbps 4.0 - 4.3Mbps 3.4 - 4.0Mbps
'up to' 8Mbps *
3.4 - 4.4Mbps* 3.3 - 4.2Mbps 3.7 - 4.3Mbps 3.2 - 4.0Mbps
Virgin Media
'up to' 10Mbps
9.5 - 9.7Mbps 8.9 - 9.4Mbps 9.3 - 9.6Mbps 9.0 - 9.5Mbps
'up to' 20Mbps
5.9 - 8.7Mbps 6.8 - 8.5Mbps 7.3 - 8.9Mbps 7.3 - 9.1Mbps
'up to' 24Mbps *
- - 5.6 - 7.9Mbps 5.5 - 7.3Mbps
'up to' 20/24Mbps
9.9 - 11.6Mbps* 9.5 - 11.0Mbps* 9.6 - 11.7Mbps 10.0 - 11.5Mbps
'up to' 20
- - 6.0 - 8.2Mbps 6.6 - 7.6Mbps
'up to' 20Mbps
- - 6.7 - 8.9Mbps 6.6 - 8.4Mbps
'up to' 20Mbps
7.4 - 8.8Mbps 7.3 - 8.7Mbps 7.1 - 8.0Mbps 7.2 - 8.1Mbps
'up to' 24Mbps
7.7 - 9.3Mbps 7.5 - 9.0Mbps 7.7 - 8.6Mbps 7.0 - 8.5Mbps
Virgin Media
'up to' 20Mbps *
17.4 - 18.6Mbps 16.5 - 18.0Mbps 17.6 - 18.7Mbps 16.4 - 18.1Mbps
'up to' 40Mbps
30.5 - 33.1Mbps 27.4 - 30.3Mbps 33.1 - 34.9Mbps 32.3 - 34.1Mbps
Virgin Media
'up to' 30Mbps
- - 30.7 - 31.3Mbps 30.1 - 30.9Mbps
Virgin Media
'up to' 50Mbps
43.9 - 47.2Mbps 43.1 - 46.6Mbps 47.7 - 49.0Mbps 46.3 - 48.4Mbps

* These figures may be based on smaller sample sizes or normalisation could not be as effective, so caution is advised.

The figures for the Virgin Media 30Mbps product, are not wrong, these are what the report states, and reflect the common practice with Virgin Media to over connect the product, e.g. their 50Meg service actually connects at 53Mbps. Though why the 30Meg product should perform so well relatively in comparison to the other Virgin Media products is unknown.

The various ADSL and ADSL2+ products actually stand up pretty well, when you consider that only around 15 to 25% of users will get above 11Mbps with ADSL2+ (up to 24Mbps) and above 6Mbps with ADSL (up to 8Mbps).

In terms of this gap between advertised and actual speeds, Ofcom is still backing its Typical Speeds Range (TSR) which is meant to show the range of speeds that at least half of a provider's customers receive. Whether CAP and BCAP (the committees that are due to announce results of an investigation into the use of 'up to' in broadband speeds advertising) will agree is unknown, but we are likely to find out in early Autumn when their report is due. Given the regional variations in speed recently announced by Ofcom, we might end up having to see different figures used for different parts of the UK. One big area of concern will be how the new speed range is measured, and how other providers can verify another provider's claims. One danger is that a change to the advertising regime after ten years of broadband advertising may actually further confuse people, e.g. that the 10 to 20% getting the better speeds currently, may be wary of switching to a provider that is now only able to show speeds below what the user can get.

For those people living in an area where the Openreach FTTC services are available, if they order from BT Infinity, some are confusingly offered a product that is not Infinity, but a differently named product because the speed estimates suggest 15Mbps or slower is all they will get. This appears to be part of an expectation management plan, but also allows BT Retail to ensure its speed claims in advertising for BT Infinity stand up to scrutiny. Invariably though people with FTTC estimates of under 15Mbps do connect at a lot faster speed.

Another change that is quietly coming into play on July 27th is a change to the Ofcom Broadband Speeds Code of Practice:

  • Instead of being given a single speed estimate for a broadband line at sign-up, a range of speeds based on lines of similar length should be given.
  • The option for customers to leave their provider without penalty if they receive a maximum line speed which is significantly lower than the bottom of the range of the estimated range, and ISPs are not able to fix this. This would apply for the first three months of the contract.

While a get out clause from a contract is a good option, with bundles and the use of fully unbundled lines by providers like TalkTalk and Sky the problems of moving, and trying to retain some elements of the bundle may mean people stay put. Another issue is what are the ISPs expected to do to fix a slow line speed and who should bear the cost of doing this? All too often the reason why one line is connecting at a slower than expected speed is the state of the telephone wiring in a property, and as this is the consumers responsibility, there is lots of scope for buck passing. We should emphasise that Ofcom appears to be talking about line speed, i.e. the connection speed reported by the modem on the end of the phone line, fibre connection or cable.

While this Ofcom report builds on the picture from the last report, it neglects once more anyone but the major providers and ignores the fact that there are other providers of the BT Openreach FTTC products. We understand that their numbers may be smaller than those on BT Infinity, but some indication of how they perform would be welcome.

A bigger issue with the report is the fact it is does not address traffic management issues. This is particularly important at peak times, which generally starts at around 4pm each day with performance worsening until late in the evening. Traffic management is used by the majority of the providers in the Ofcom results, but one could get the impression that its effect is almost nil, without a slight decrease in speeds at peak time. There may be several reasons for this:

  • Selection of candidates for testing, may preclude the heavier bandwidth users (those most likely to be traffic managed).
  • Protocols used by the testing hardware are rarely traffic managed.
  • Providers may be able to detect or already know which lines are running the test hardware, and ensure priority in their network.

The issue of the heavier users not being included in the testing, is particularly relevant for Virgin Media who apply restrictions on their S,M,L and XL products based on what you have done previously that day. Users on the 30Mbps product will lose 75% of their download speed if they exceed 10GB between 10am and 3pm, or 5GB between 4pm and 9pm with the restriction lasting for five hours. Given a HD video on XBox 360 or the PS3 can be 8GB in size, it is easy to see people breaking this figure.

Of course Virgin Media is not the only one to use traffic management, BT Retail, Plusnet, O2, Sky and TalkTalk all use management either applied equally to all customers, or based on some rule set. For the average consumer who does not understand the difference between the various protocols used to transfer data it can be confusing. Of course the reply from providers is invariably that traffic management or fair use policies only affect 1 to 5% of customers, but how does anyone know this is the case?


Posted by mike4ql over 6 years ago
How does this show a 10% increase when both the 24hr and 8 - 10pm rates have dropped for the 'up to 8MB' service? As uaual the rural areas (which is where most of the 'up to 8MB' services will be) are sidelined.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 6 years ago
The 10% is what Ofcom have said for the UK.

The 10-15% of properties with only access to ADSL, rather than ADSL2+ is a shrinking figure every week.

ADSL2+ coverage from LLU providers is more widespread than BT ADSL2+
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
Two issues with this speed thing:
1.'Average speed' is meaningless. Suppose I said that the average speed of a motor vehicle is 24.6mph. What good is that when you want to work out how long it will take you to drive from Edinburgh to Chipping Sodbury? I suppose that average for lines of your length is a bit better but I don't think that's what they are suggesting.
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
2.Premature contract termination..and other such punishments.
What's the point of that? Only two ISPs in the country (of any size) can control the connection speed. If you're in Hull or on cable then whining to your ISP might be worthwhile because they can - if they choose - send an engineer out to improve it.

But no other ISP can. Even the LLUOs are stuffed there. Switching ISPs when your limiting factor is Openreach cabling is not going to do anything for connection speed.

It might for throughput but again last I heard Ofcom weren't measuring that.
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
Hmmm. Looks like our amazing office connection glitched there (yet more Openreach goodness, lol). I only got half that article. Now I could choose to have a go at Openreach but instead I'd rather have a go at the multi-million dollar international corporation that owns the office. They could install their own fibre if they wanted to :-/
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
So yeah - it seems the rest of the article is saying what I just did. Ofcom are measuring and reporting the wrong thing. What they should report on is throughput - or at least report on both.
Posted by herdwick over 6 years ago
75% of broadband is DSL, yet ~50% have cable available. Wouldn't we expect 65:35 or similar ?

Is cable in all the low takeup / economically grim areas or did NTL become such a toxic brand that they struggle to get customers onto VM still ?
Posted by undecidedadrian over 6 years ago
Throughput should be the thing measured.

Given that Sky Connect has users in the sub 1kb/sec club in peak time yet Sky happily continue to cram users onto the product.

If the peak time speeds were to be published though they may be embarressed into buying more capacity.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 6 years ago
The SamKnows testing is measuring throughput NOT line speed.

Sky Connect - probably aren't tested, as no Sky up to 8Meg is shown.
Posted by fibrebunny over 6 years ago
I agree average speeds are useless and irrelevant. Why confuse people further and overcomplicate. Speed is line dependant and people should become familiar with the capability of their own line.

Throughput, limits and contractual catches are the real variables. I need to know how an ISP will handle my connection, not the average line speed of multiple services.
Posted by NilSatisOptimum over 6 years ago
Try as I do, to become familiar with the capability of my line, When I finally, do I'm stuck with a 12month to 18month sentence.
Posted by DellBoi over 6 years ago
Can anyone tell me why I'm in the middle of a major city (Newcastle Upon Tyne) on an exchange that serves over 15,000 premises, and we don't even have ADSL2+ access yet?

We're all struggling with abysmal speeds due to so many people using the standard 8mb lines, why won't BT upgrade us to 20mb? let alone FTTC!
Posted by themanstan over 6 years ago
Are you sure DellBoi? Samknows shows all three exchanges (NENT, NENTE and NENTW) as ADSL2+ capable.
Posted by nredwood over 6 years ago
[quote]You are not a heavy downloader. We'd classify anything above 30GB per month as being too heavy for us to gather useful results.[/quote}

From the SamKnows requirements
Posted by DellBoi over 6 years ago

Yes mate, perhaps it is not considered the main exchanges, but it's code is (NEK) Kenton, I contacted open reach directly and they confirmed to me that it was amazing how it hadn't been upgraded yet, they also told me it was a "parent" exchange and that it's "child" exchanges have all received FTTC dates for later this year, but so far no word on NEK.

Any advice? I could fully understanding having bad speeds in a rural areas but this is nothing close to rural.
Posted by m0aur over 6 years ago
Everything seems congested and slowing, especially copper delivered broadband, which is what still supplies 75% of users. Increasing demand and no hurry for change reminds me of the NHS.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 6 years ago

Openreach got it wrong, they were correct with respect to BT Wholesale ADSL2+ BUT

O2, Be, Sky, TalkTalk all offer ADSL2+ on your exchange
Posted by DellBoi over 6 years ago

Is there any way to check if I'm on ADSL or ADSL2+? I get 2mb download speeds, and I'm through a business provider, so am unaware how I can check if they are using one or the other?
Posted by Fellwalker over 6 years ago
That is very different from when I was with BT,only 2 years ago, when I got 6+ during the day, and under 1 every evening. IF IT HAD BEEN ANYWHERE NEAR THAT 3.8 lower range in the evening, I would still be with them.
Posted by Fellwalker over 6 years ago
That is very different from when I was with BT,only 2 years ago, when I got 6+ during the day, and under 1 every evening. IF IT HAD BEEN ANYWHERE NEAR THAT 3.8 lower range in the evening, I would still be with them.
Posted by Fellwalker over 6 years ago
That is very different from when I was with BT,only 2 years ago, when I got 6+ during the day, and under 1 every evening. IF IT HAD BEEN ANYWHERE NEAR THAT 3.8 lower range in the evening, I would still be with them.
Posted by Fellwalker over 6 years ago
That is very different from when I was with BT,only 2 years ago, when I got 6+ during the day, and under 1 every evening. IF IT HAD BEEN ANYWHERE NEAR THAT 3.8 lower range in the evening, I would still be with them.
Posted by Fellwalker over 6 years ago
That is very different from when I was with BT,only 2 years ago, when I got 6+ during the day, and under 1 every evening. IF IT HAD BEEN ANYWHERE NEAR THAT 3.8 lower range in the evening, I would still be with them.
Posted by chrisjwilkinson over 6 years ago
I find it interesting that my speed - with Plusnet - went up from 2MB (just about) to 6MB during May, but then dropped back again during June and is still stubbornly just below 2MB.
I am part of the SamKnows monitoring group, so I get their nice 'report card' emailed to me each month.
Posted by BBSlowcoach over 6 years ago
Reading these comments there mut be lots of people with consistently excellent connection speeds. I am connected via a BT 'monopoly' exchange and my speed, via the TBB Speedtester varies between 2.1mbps during the day if I am very lucky, to 0.2mbps in the evenings especially at peak school holiday times. Getting over 1.0mbps in the evenings is a bonus. I see this as the equivalent of using loud hailers or jungle drums as the alternative in the era when telephones were first installed when the service failed or 'party lines' were the norm for many.
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