Don't get left in the broadband slow lane

Speeds are finally on their way up, say Alessia Horwich and Julian Knight

As far as home broadband is concerned, the UK is racing to catch up with other leading economies in Europe and the Far East. For years, Briton has lagged behind, offering users speeds which would not pass muster in other developed countries. But the Government has made increasing speeds a central target and providers have cottoned on to the fact that supplying noticeable faster broadband to the public could turn into a money spinner.

BT's new Infinity fibre-optic network is rolling out across the country, and Virgin Media announced the debut of its 100 megabits per second (Mbps) service just last week. TalkTalk said on Tuesday it would raise the broadband speed of its customers to a minimum 24Mbps; previously some had had to make do with just Mbps using an old-fashioned ADSL connection.

But behind these positive headlines lies a darker tale: while many providers promise to make supersonic broadband users of us all, the actual speeds consumers are getting in their homes are still failing to take off.

According to the regulator, Ofcom, the average real broadband speed in Britain in April 2009 was 4.1Mbps compared with an average "up to" headline speed of 7.1Mbps. Since last year, new providers have boosted headline rates even further, but in a recent survey, online utility comparison service Uswitch.com found that 25 per cent of broadband subscribers were enduring speeds of Mbps or less; 31 per cent of customers at comparison website broadbandchoices.co.uk said they were unhappy with their service, up from 27 per cent the previous year.

Most complaints relate to networks relying on BTs rather rickety copper wire network, which suffers over long distances and from the number of people using it. These networks advertise speeds of up to 20Mbps, but the further you are from the telephone exchange and the more people on the service, the slower your download speeds.

What this means for the consumer, says Lawrence Bleach, the founder of digital comparison website simplifydigital.co.uk, which is accredited by Ofcom, is that download speed is not about your package, but about where your connection is situated. "Most packages on the market are now one size fits all, usually with a standard up to 20Mbps service. But this means that you will only get as fast as the network can handle where you live."

Residents of urban areas are much more likely to get a faster service. According to Ofcom, average speed delivered to those in towns was 4.6Mbps compared with 3.3Mbps for rural surfers last year. However, city residents will also suffer from the number of users on the same connection, as peak-time speeds were 20 per cent lower than at other times. "Try watching television online with a slower download speed and you will find the images halt and become jerky and you have to endure video pauses," Mr Bleach said.

Those on Virgin Media's fibre-optic network shouldn't have the same problems. "Cable services like Virgin Media's do tend to fare better in terms of delivering closer to the headline speeds," says Michael Phillips, a product manager at broadband choices.- co.uk. Distance with this new generation network does not affect speed in the same way as ADSL, and Virgin carries out traffic shaping, which targets users that are downloading considerably more than others in periods of high traffic, pulling their service to even out the speed for all other users.

The same will apply for BT's new Infinity network, which advertises speeds of up to 40Mbps to rival Virgin's service of between 20Mbps and 100Mbps. Whereas Virgin's network is largely concentrated in urban areas, BT Infinity will bring super speeds to the areas that are suffering the most snail-like browsing, says Alex Buttle, a director of broadband comparison site top10- broadband.co.uk. "BT Infinity will change the lives of broadband users in many 'slow' areas and bridge the digital divide by bringing superfast broadband outside urban areas for the first time," he said.

But more reliable services can be more expensive too. Where PlusNet, one of the cheapest ADSL providers on the market, charges £11.99 per month for speeds up to 20Mbps, Virgin's prices start at £12.50 per month for 10Mbps and rise to £28 per month for 50Mbps. BT Infinity starts at £19.99 for 40Mbps with a download limit of 20Mbps, and rises to £24.99 per month for up to 40Mbps with unlimited downloads.

If you don't want to pay more for fibre optic you can still improve speeds with a few simple tweaks. Make sure your router is positioned with the fewest obstructions, like walls and doors, between it and your computer, and away from other appliances that emit wireless signals. Clear your cache, all your saved browsing history, to allow your machine to function faster and upgrade your browser to the latest and most efficient version.

Shut down any applications that you aren't using; programs such as MSN Messenger running in the background can slow things down significantly. Disable PP software (such as internet file sharing) as it continually uploads and slows things down, potentially using up your download limits. Security is also a factor and putting a password on your wireless network will stop unauthorised users from hogging your bandwidth. More information on improving broadband speeds at home can be found at ofcom.org.uk/ media/- features/ broadbandspeedsjy.

If you don't experience any improvement, talk to your provider and see what speed you should be able to reach. Ninety per cent of providers now adhere to Ofcom regulations and must be frank about realistic top speeds.

If your provider isn't delivering, you can switch, choosing either another ADSL provider or fibre optic. However, if the fibre optic coverage does not extend to your location, you may have to explore other options. "Beyond ADSL/ fixed line broadband, mobile broadband can be as fast as 7.Mbps," says Mr Buttle, "so it may well be a better option in areas of strong mobile signal but poor ADSL coverage."

Users should also consider cutting the cost of broadband by buying it as part of a TV and home phone bundle, rather than separately.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    SThree: Experienced Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £40000 per annum + OTE + Incentives + Benefits: SThree: Established f...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40/45k + INCENTIVES + BENEFITS: SThree: The su...

    Recruitment Genius: Collections Agent

    £14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company was established in...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40k: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 busi...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent