UK broadband speeds are way worse than advertised

Posted by Emma Woollacott

London, UK - Virtually no British broadband users are actually getting the speed they're paying for, according to industry regulator Oftel. But the Brits are a phlegmatic lot, and three quarters are apparently perfectly happy with this.

In conjunction with technical partner SamKnows and market research agency GfK, Ofcom carried out over 60 million separate service performance tests in over 1,600 homes between November 2008 and April 2009. It found that the average broadband speed in the UK in April 2009 was 4.1Mbps - rather lower than the average ‘up to’ headline speed of 7.1Mbps.

The actual speeds received varied widely. A pathetic nine per cent of customers for services advertised as up to 8Mbps even achieved 6Mbps, and around one in five averaged less than 2Mbps.

Virgin Media, which advertises up to 10Mbps, actually delivered an average of 8.1 to 8.7Mbps - the best of the lot.

Of those advertising speeds of up to 8Mbps, AOL achieved 3.3 to 3.9Mbps and BT 3.8 to 4.2Mbps. O2 managed 4.1 to 5.1Mbps and Orange 3.8 to 4.5Mbps. Plusnet scored 3.8 to 4.9Mbps, Sky 4.0 to 4.7Mbps and Talk Talk 3.8 to 4.6Mbps. Tiscali achieved a measly 3.2 to 3.7Mbps. But customers are either unaware of this or easily pleased, as only 26 percent said they were unhappy with their speed.

Those living in cities received significantly faster speeds than those living in rural areas. The average speed delivered to urban consumers was 4.6Mbps, compared to an average of 3.3Mbps for rural consumers. It's worst in the evening, with customers of all ISPs experiencing a slowdown of around 20 per cent.

Overall, consumers on ‘up to’ 8Mbps packages whose broadband service is delivered through second-generation DSL technology (ADSL2+) received faster speeds than those who use the more common ADSL1. But the results also showed that ISPs using ADSL1 who invest in network capacity are able to deliver speeds as good as ADSL2+ operators. Cable customers received significantly faster speeds than both ADSL technologies.

Thanks to a code of practice introduced last year, customers do have some comeback. Providers are obliged to reveal the likely actual speed of the connection at the time of sale. "If they're not getting that, they can be moved so they're paying for the package they're actually getting," said an Oftel spokeswoman.