ASA points out to Virgin Media that latency is not download speed
While the new rules for broadband advertising do not come into effect until April 2012, we today see the ASA appearing to be more knowledgeable about the issues around broadband speeds and latency.
Someone complained about the amount of jitter (variation in latency away from the standard value) on their 50 Meg service, due to an advert in a PC Gaming magazine which said "So what would it be like to have the UK's best gaming broadband? A magical connection that solved all those problems of lag, unfair deaths and connections slowed by family members using the same line?".
We noted that Virgin referred the ASA to the Ofcom report "UK Fixed Broadband Speeds" and stated that the claims made in the ad were substantiated within that report. However, they did not provide an explanation of how the report substantiated the lower lag time claim. Furthermore, we noted that, as stated above, the Ofcom report identified that Virgin's 50 Mbit/s service had higher upstream jitter than all other services, aside from their own 20 Mbit/s service.
Since we understood that Virgin's 50 Mbit/s service suffered from high upstream jitter, and because we understood that jitter was a significant factor which affected gaming performance, we concluded that the overall impression given by the ads was misleading.Extract from ASA Assesment
It seems that Virgin Media in its original response to the ASA had used the Ofcom report to highlight the download performance of its 50 Mbps service, while forgetting that for gaming it is not the raw download speed that matters but the latency for individual packets of game data to arrive and be delivered over the connection. Generally bad jitter is exhibited as a gaming character jumping around and is caused by a variance in latency from one packet to another. In fact a low latency but slow 256 Kbps symmetric product would be more than adequate for playing almost all online games, it would be just very slow at getting large game updates.
What is a surprising admission is that the advert was not written by Virgin Media but by the magazines own editorial team, thus avoided the usual Virgin Media review procedures.
We should also point out that while various Superfast Broadband services (cable, fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC), fibre-to-the-building (FTTB), fibre-to-the-home (FTTH)) have sufficient speed to allow multiple people to use a connection at the same time without impacting on areas like gaming, if any one person's activity saturates the upstream or downstream this will increase the latency and jitter significantly. The only solution is to use Quality of Service (QoS) settings to do things like prioritise gaming UDP traffic and TCP ACKs.