Ofcom broadband speed figures show stark truth

Are 'Up to...' adverts UK's biggest con?

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Ofcom has finally released its long awaited research into UK broadband speeds, with the data showing the stark truth of just how misleading 'up to' can be.

Ofcom's data, which was compiled with specialists SamKnows, showed that although fast broadband is beginning to become more common, thousands of us are getting less than half of our advertised levels.

Interestingly, Ofcom's press release only deals with 'single thread' performance, basically downloading a single file and testing the speed rather than multi thread tests that download files simultaneously and probably more fairly represent household usage.

Ofcom's full report does contain the multithreaded comparison, but the watchdog chose to go with single thread – which is kinder on DSL.

Ofcom broadband figures

Larger version of the Ofcom broadband speed graph.

But, as the data shows, not much kinder – with the power of fibre optic obvious in Virgin Media's massively superior showing.

Taking the 'up to 20/24Mbps' data, for instance, the actual average over all ISPs is a paltry 6.5Mbps considerably less than half the upper rate.

Virgin Media's single thread results are an average of 15.2 to 16.5Mbps over 24 hours compared to 6.5 to 8.4Mbps for TalkTalk (up to 24Mbps) ,7.0 to 8.4Mbps for Sky (up to 20Mbps) and BT languishing at the bottom of the table with 6.1 to 7.6Mbps.

Virgin Media reaction

Virgin Media is understandably buoyed by the data, with executive director of broadband Jon James saying: "Ofcom's broadband speeds report again proves Virgin Media is consistently more than twice as fast as any of our DSL competitors.

"Because we use a next generation fibre optic cable network, our customers can be confident of receiving 90% of the headline speed they buy from us.

"And we're continuing to invest in our network so we can deliver more of what our customers are paying for - whether on 10Mb, 20Mb, 50Mb or our soon to launch 100Mb broadband service.

DSL criticism

"Whilst Ofcom's report is good news for our customers, it's clear that our DSL competitors just aren't keeping up with their promises of 20Mb broadband," James added

"No DSL customer receives 18Mb, only 2% are receiving more than 14Mb and, on average, DSL providers are delivering just 33% of their advertised 'up to 20Mb' speed.

"We need to ensure people are not being ripped off and the lack of transparency in broadband advertising risks damaging consumer confidence in superfast broadband.

"The Advertising Standards Authority has announced a review into the way broadband is advertised and the need for change is now urgent."

Ofcom needs to change code

Which? chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith believes that the Advertising Standards Association needs to change what ISPs are allowed to advertise in terms of speed

"Its great that Ofcom has taken action to improve the information provided by ISPs at the point of sale, and that customers are now able to end their contract without penalty if the service they receive is significantly different to that promised," he said

"However, some internet service providers continue to advertise ever-increasing speeds that bear little resemblance to what most people can achieve in reality.

"We want the Advertising Standards Authority to step up to the mark and put an end to these misleading claims once and for all."

BT Response

John Petter, managing director of BT's Consumer Division, said: "BT already gives customers the most consistently accurate prediction of the speed specific to their line.

"We support OFCOM's Code but want to go even further and are investing in systems to make our predictions even better - and to have them confirmed in writing.

"BT is investing £2.5 billion in superfast fibre broadband. This will bring speeds of up to 40Mbs/s to two-thirds of the country with a quarter of those premises getting speeds of up to 100Mb/s, the fastest in the UK.

"Our investment will deliver superior broadband to that offered by Virgin, at a much cheaper price and unlike Virgin's will be open for other companies to use, and so will be good news for the UK.

"We continue to invest heavily in our network, bringing speed improvements to customers nationwide. We give our customers comprehensive help and advice to get the best speed out of their line.

"For example, all BT Broadband customers can get the BT Broadband Accelerator, which can eliminate electrical interference, free of charge".