Broadband speeds not as fast as ISPs claim – Ofcom survey

28 Jul 2009

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom yesterday proved itself to be no slouch and published research into fixed-line broadband speeds which compared actual speed results with what internet service providers (ISPs) are advertising.

The research, carried out by technical partner SamKnows and market research agency GfK, analysed more than 60 readings on 1,600 homes between November 2008 and April 2009.

The research sample allowed Ofcom to compare the performance of the UK’s nine largest ISPs by market share over this period.

A consumer perceptions survey conducted alongside the research found that speeds were a key issue for broadband consumers. The majority of consumers were happy with the speeds they received, although over a quarter of consumers (26pc) said that the speed they received was not what they expected when they signed up to the service.

The research found that there were significant differences in the download speeds offered by providers, with speeds depending on the technology used to deliver broadband and the capacity of the provider’s network.

The average broadband speed in the UK in April 2009 was 4.1Mbps. This compares to an average ‘up to’ headline speed of 7.1Mbps.

The actual speeds received varied widely. Fewer than one in 10 (9pc) of homes on 8Mbps headline packages received actual average speeds of over 6Mbps, and around one in five (19pc) received, on average, less than 2Mbps.

Those living in urban areas 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 delivered to rural consumers.

Consumers with all ISPs experienced a slowdown in actual speeds during peak evening hours (8-10pm), with speeds in this period around 20pc slower than over a 24-hour period.

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 first-generation 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, the survey found.

The table below shows the average speeds received by the sample (including margin of error) for each ISP.

ISP and package Average speed
AOL (‘up to’ 8Mbit/s) 3.3 to 3.9Mbit/s
BT (‘up to’ 8Mbit/s) 3.8 to 4.2Mbit/s
O2 (‘up to’ 8Mbit/s)  4.1 to 5.1Mbit/s
Orange (‘up to’ 8Mbit/s) 3.8 to 4.5Mbit/s
Plusnet (‘up to’ 8Mbit/s) 3.8 to 4.9Mbit/s
Sky (‘up to’ 8Mbit/s) 4.0 to 4.7Mbit/s
Talk Talk (‘up to’ 8Mbit/s) 3.8 to 4.6Mbit/s
Tiscali (‘up to’ 8Mbit/s) 3.2 to 3.7Mbit/s
Virgin Media (‘up to’ 10Mbit/s)  8.1 to 8.7Mbit/s

 The survey is an interesting eye-opener on the speeds promoted by ISPs versus those actually delivered. A similar survey into the broadband market Ireland would no doubt make similarly interesting reading.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years