Watchdog snaps at broadband suppliers' inaccurate speed claims
Providers have been told users need a clearer picture of downloading times, but there are other ways to improve your service
Sunday 06 March 2011
Advertised "up-to" broadband speeds can be taken with a pinch of salt, but if Ofcom has its way, providers will soon have to play fair and tell customers how fast, or slow, their services really are.
The latest report from the telecoms watchdog found that broadband packages delivered average speeds of only 6.2Mbps (millions of bits per second) last November and December, despite promises of more than double this at 13.8Mbps. Ofcom is now pushing for a typical speeds range (TSR) to force providers to advertise the actual speeds achieved by at least half of the customers, as well as headline speeds.
"Broadband speeds have actually improved over the past few years, however, providers continue to overpromise on what they can deliver, which is leading to huge dissatisfaction," says Michael Phillips, a product director at Broadband choices.co.uk.
In the wake of Ofcom's findings, Plusnet has announced it will double its headline broadband speeds to up to 20Mbps for existing customers with immediate effect. But BT has criticised the TSR plans, arguing they could mislead customers as average performances will still depend on where people live, and could even lead to internet service providers (ISPs) ignoring less favourable customers. "Enforcing typical speed ranges is dangerous as it could encourage more ISPs to cherry-pick customers to increase their average, leaving customers in rural and suburban areas under-served.
"That would encourage digital exclusion rather than tackle it," says John Petter, the managing director of BT Retail's consumer business.
However, with Ofcom's research revealing that packages using BT's old copper-based ADSL network were only able to deliver speeds of 3Mbps, despite claims of up to 8Mbps, there is clearly a need for more accurate information. For packages flaunting up to 20 or 24Mbps, the disparity was greater with average download speeds of just 6.2Mbps, and only 3 per cent of customers enjoying speeds of more than 16Mbps.
But, it wasn't all bad news for consumers, as Virgin Media's fibre optic cable services managed to deliver between 90 and 96 per cent of the advertised speeds. The study also gave Ofcom the chance to test the new BT Infinity "fibre-to-the-cabinet" service for the first time, which performed much better than its ADSL services.
This new super-fast broadband, which uses fibre optic cables to street-side cabinets and then standard copper telephone line to customers' homes, is currently available to only 15 per cent of the population.
Average download speeds were 31.1Mbps, equating to only 78 per cent of the advertised speeds, but Ofcom did find that average upload speeds were significantly higher than any other service at around 8Mbps.
"It is encouraging that new technologies are being rolled out across the UK and faster speeds are being achieved," says Ofcom's chief executive, Ed Richards. "However, the research shows that ISPs need to do more to ensure they are giving customers clear and accurate information about their services and the factors that may affect the actual speeds customers will receive,"
As well as helping customers compare speeds more accurately, Ofcom has also recommended that the term "unlimited" in advertising should be restricted to services with no usage caps at all.
Many ISPs offer so-called unlimited packages but cap excessive downloading through a fair usage policy. This means that although providers usually let the occasional slip-up go, users who exceed this limit regularly may have restricted usage at peak time and limited access to peer-to-peer sites such as Channel 4's OD. At present, the only truly unlimited options are Virgin Media's XXL package and Sky's Unlimited package.
A new Code of Practice comes into effect in July 2011 compelling providers to allow customers with a proven history of poor speeds to cancel their contract without penalty within three months of signing up. At the moment, many providers levy an exit fee so those lumbered with a poor service can be locked into a contract for up to two years.
In the mean time, there are various ways to get more out of your current package at home and the first step is to test your speed using an online checker such as www.broadbandchoices.co.uk/speed-test.asp.
"Take a few readings on different days at different times and if you find you are consistently receiving an inferior service, take the results to your broadband provider and ask what they can do to improve the situation. They may be able to boost your service, or you may prefer to be put on to a cheaper package that reflects the speeds you are experiencing," says Mr Phillips.
Remember that some factors may be out of your control, for example, if your broadband is via a telephone line, as opposed to a Virgin cable, your download speed will ulti-mately depend on how far you live from the local exchange. However, you may also be able to make simple changes at home to improve your broadband speeds.
If you have a wireless connection, always secure the network with a password to prevent hackers using up bandwidth and slowing it down. Experts recommend using at least a WEP (wired equivalency privacy) password and if possible, a WPA (WiFi protected access) encryption.
Keeping your router clear of obstructions and away from other appliances which emit signals, such as a cordless phone, can also help. Microfilters should also be fitted on to all telephone sockets to prevent signals interfering with one another, while moving the modem closer to the faceplate (the socket the modem connects to) should improve quality and speed.
It may also be worthwhile upgrading your router to get a stronger signal, particularly if yours came free with your package.
You can also consider making improvements to your computer. Upgrading your internet browser and clearing its cache should boost your speed. As would turning off automatic applications such as Windows Update or Live Messenger so that they do not run unnoticed and slow things down. Even the time of day will affect broadband speeds so for heavy downloading stick to off-peak periods either late at night, or during the day, when fewer people are online.
Michael Phillips, Broadbandchoices.co.uk
"If you are still unhappy with your service and simply wish to switch to a different provider altogether, you may find you have to pay an exit fee. This can be pretty pricey but new Ofcom guidelines are coming into force from July 2011 which will lower the costs."
Bargain Hunter: Now's your chance to watch the best movies free of charge at home
The FTSE 100 is inching closer to its record high but can it maintain these levels?
MPs call for Equitable Life policyholders to be paid £2.8bn owed by government
You'll need £220,000 for a minimum wage in your retirement
Fuel poverty could claim 100,000 lives over next 15 years, warns energy charity
- 1 Isis burns thousands of books and rare manuscripts from Mosul's libraries
- 2 Scarlett Johansson new band 'already hit with legal complaint' from another The Singles
- 3 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 5 'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News after accusing Kay Burley of Islamaphobia
Oscars 2015: Birdman beats Boyhood as Eddie Redmayne and Patricia Arquette win big - as it happened
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
Aqsa Mahmood branded a 'disgrace' by her parents after claims she recruited three UK girls flying to Middle East
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
iJobs Money & Business
£17000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity to join this new...
£18000 - £21000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...
£36000 - £44000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Encouraging more businesses to ...
Day In a Page
High Crest House covers an impressive 9384sq ft, with almost three acres of grounds including a tennis court and summer house enclosed by electric gates
A six-bedroom farmhouse with separate accommodation in converted stables. Situated in the village of Church Aston, within walking distance to the market town
A two-bedroom flat with under-heated walnut floors and bespoke built-in storage. The Tube and Clapham Common are a short stroll away
A refurbished seven-bedroom townhouse with staff quarters, cinema room, superb gym, steam room and plunge pool
A minimnalist four-bedroom home designed to the highest spec, featuring glass walls and a kitchen space lit by a glass roof
Hibernate during winter and make your living during the summer at this busy guesthouse with panoramic sea views, in the village of Lynton
A four-bedroom penthouse next to the Tate with direct views of St Paul's from two floors of luxurious living space
A four-bedroom detached home surrounded by spacious gardens and woodland, close to New Pudsey
An 18th-century, three-bedroom home near Langstone Harbour built from ships beams with vaulted ceilings and wood burning stoves
A five-bedroom semi-detached home with a mix of period and modern features in a popular and convenient location
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A deceptively spacious, beautifully presented Georgian home with 3000sq ft of living space and five reception rooms
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
A three-bedroom, 15th-century cottage with original features in the picturesque village of Sissinghurst
A six-bedroom terraced house with large south-facing roof terrace, cinema room and wine cellar
A new seven-bedroom home built in Queen Anne-style with swimming pool and parkland views in Mortimer
A listed, four-bedroom farmhouse in the rural hamlet of Rushall with detached barn, four acres of gardens and paddocks
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley