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back to article ISP bosses told to get real on broadband speeds

Ofcom's independent consumer quango has called on ISP bosses to ensure people feel less cheated by the broadband packages they advertise. Dissent has been mounting over "up to" advertising of broadband speeds. For most consumers, an "up to 8Mbit/s" line will crawl to about half that speed because of contention, poor quality …

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Good move, but while you're at it - get rid of "unlimited".

That's the one that annoys me. ISPs advertising broadband as "unlimited" with a footnote to say that this is "subject to fair use policy". Unlimited subject to FUP just means "we're not going to tell you the limits".

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Turkeys voting for Christmas?

Yep, that'll clearly fly won't it?

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Paris Hilton

"Unlimited" - what he said

Absolutely agree with this.

un·lim·it·ed /ʌnˈlɪmɪtɪd/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[uhn-lim-i-tid] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation

–adjective

1. not limited; unrestricted; unconfined: unlimited trade.

2. boundless; infinite; vast: the unlimited skies.

3. without any qualification or exception; unconditional.

Doesn't say owt in the dictionary about a fair usage policy.

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Unlimited

The best 'unlimited' transfer I've heard was a couple of days ago when I phoned O2 and asked what they'd charge me to add data transfer to my mobile tariff. Apparently 200MB is a 'huge' amount of data and I'd never transfer that much in a month. They've obviously never heard of laptops.

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Bandwidth Throttling

Virgin Media have definitely started doing this now. I'll be downloading (legal) stuff from a newsgroup at 435KBs on my 4MB connection and after a certain amount of data it'll reduce to literally half that speed and stay there.

So not only am I getting nowhere near 4MB on a cable connection but after a certain amount of data transfer I get my download speed cut in half.

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Paris Hilton

Unrealistic expectations

.. and in other news, I've found that my 802.11g card doesn't actually deliver 54Mbps of throughput. Nor does my 100Mbps Ethernet.

Can I have my money back now, please?

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@Rik

I think you'll find that 02's t&c's exclude laptop use anyway.

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@Peter Redding

Your connection is 4Mbits/s, not Mbytes per second. Consequently downloading at 435KBytes per second is pretty close to 4Mbits/s - 4000bps/8 = 500KBytes/s.....

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re: Bandwidth Throttling

How much data are you talking about? My largest downloads are probably Exchange/Longhorn betas/rc from MSDN, (somewhere between 3 and 6 GB if I remember right) and they manage to stay at about 1.5MB/s if not slightly faster on Virgin 20Mb for the duration. Steam was running at just under 2MB/s for the last few things I reinstalled (Psychonauts and, um, something else) until the last few days, which I assume is a problem with people pre-loading the Orange Box. Can't say I've noticed any throttling...

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It's all down to BT's lazy arses really!

I have only just got broadband cos BT had to lay copper alongside a fibre line. instead of moving into the future BT decided to move backwards and lay copper when they could have established a connection with fibre!!! why?????

Nearly all ISP's offer upto 8MB these days and i reckon even if you lived right next to the telephone exchange you wouldn't get this speed! I don't think changing ISP will make any difference either as it's BT's ancient telephone network that is at fault.

Basically it's all BT! They suck majorly so they can make their shareholders richer.

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Jobs Horns

Although...

Makes me glad I don't live in the states or europe anymore. Living in Korea, I have a true multi-gigabit fiber connection to my house. I can't remember a month that I haven't up/downloaded well over 500gb and a few months over 1tb. And I've never heard a word from my ISP.

All this for roughly $40 a month. At least here 'unlimited' really does mean unlimited.

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Anonymous Coward

@ Peter Redding

...435KBs on my 4MB connection...

...not only am I getting nowhere near 4MB...

Virgin's top broadband speed is 20Mbps. 20 divided by 8 = 2.5MBps. So how you claim to have a 4MB connection is intriguing.

More likely, it's a 4Mbps connection, which translates to 512KBps. So 435KBps isn't far off really - stop moaning.

Get your units right!!!

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Last Mile cost.

Why doesn't the customer who wants fibre to the door pay for the upgrade?

I would happily if given the option, pay the extra to have fibre.

I live in a small village with no hope of LLU or cable so BT is our only option. The green box is only 100 metres away so the distance limits will be eradicated when 21CN comes into play.

Ofcom needs to let BT rake the costs back in and stop the greedy LLU companies cherry picking the most profitable areas - This is what stifles progress.

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@Joel

I think you've hit the nail on the head - most people don't realise there's a difference between Mb and MB, so when they get an 8Mb connection, they expect to get 8MB through their pipe in any given second.

I'm sure ISPs have a part to play in not bothering to enlighten the public...

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Gates Horns

@"It's all down to BT's lazy arses really!"

Your not wrong, a friend of mine lives 2 doors away from the telephone exchange he's connected to, He has a 16Mbit connection from sky and he just had his phone line put in, so its all brand new shinny copper cabling, he can't get more than 4Mbits equivilent speed.

Its all a load of scrotum contents!

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Gates Horns

Spam from Korea

"...Living in Korea, I have a true multi-gigabit fiber connection to my house. I can't remember a month that I haven't up/downloaded well over 500gb and a few months over 1tb. And I've never heard a word from my ISP..."

Hence Korea being one of the major sources of spam!

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@Me (Peter Redding)

Dear Me,

You (i.e. me) are a fool!!! The byte/bit difference has been explained to you/me before - please get it right and stop making a fool of your(my)self!!!

Thanks,

You

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Paris Hilton

@Peter Redding

This was put into the fair usage policy when the 20Mbit service was rolled out countrywide. What happens is that when a set transfer amount is reached between the hours of 4pm to Midnight (peak hours), your bandwidth is cut to a set level for 4 hours. So if you hit your peak daily limit (which is 3GB on the 20Mbit service) at 1701 today, your speed would be reduced (from 20Mbit to 5Mbit on the XL service) for 4 hours, which would mean that at 2102, your speed should then increase back to the usual. Obviously if you go over the peak daily amount again after your speed has been restored, it will then drop again until the 4 hours has passed. During the hours of Midnight to 4pm, there are no limits in place.

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@Chris Miller

100mbit switched ethernet should give you wirespeed. Somethings very wrong if your not getting that! (Less TCP overheads of course, but you should expect 12mbyte / sec out of a theoretrical 12.5, providing you use an efficent protocol, not SMB.

54mbit wireless, is, of course, a different kettle of fish

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Jobs Horns

Spam giftset

"...Living in Korea, I have a true multi-gigabit fiber connection to my house. I can't remember a month that I haven't up/downloaded well over 500gb and a few months over 1tb. And I've never heard a word from my ISP..."

"Hence Korea being one of the major sources of spam!"

Sorry, I couldn't stop laughing... One of my wifes friends gave her a spam giftset(no sh!t) for her birthday. In wrapping paper with a big ribbon no less.

But I do agree on the other SPAM. I did some contract work for an ISP here for a bit and asked about it once. The reply was "So, what's your point?"

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Meh

Mbits and MBytes need to be made clearer. And I do not in any way or form understand how these ISP's have for so long abused the term "Unlimited". Surely, they can't enforce a fair usage policy on that!

I'm happy with Sky's 16Mb lines - I live really close to the exchange and I hit 1.2MB/s very often, averaging around 900KB/s. At £10 (I have Sky TV too), it's good value for money.

They don't complain much either. I've downloaded well over 9GB this month so far. Mmmmmmmmmm.

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Dead Vulture

@Jon Hewitt: 500gig a month!

As much as anyone hates to be /funny/, but what the hell are you downloading to achieve those kind of figures!?!?

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Coat

I`m wondering:

why it has taken Ofcom so long to slap the ISPs on their hands for this. Then again I`m still waiting for a hard disk that actually is the size it says on the box

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re: @Peter Redding - Joel and Anonymous Coward

So Peter has his units wrong and was therefore hoping for even faster downloads. I think you are missing (some of) the point.

He'll be happily downloading at 435KBytes per second (which is a good speed for package) and then, after an unspecified amount of downloading , it drops to a much lower speed.

It's the throttling to this slower speed that he's (also) moaning about, and I think this is the bigger issue.

The FUP rears its ugly head again.

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MB/Mb and more

Yes, people do not understand the MB/Mb relationship/difference. It doesnt help though when the tech support numpties dont know either (I have been told by many that I'd be getting an X Megabyte connection). But it's generaly more of an issue of the low level of inteligence of the general population than misleading by the ISPs.

However, most broadband speeds are significantly lower than the 'up to' rate quoted, which should be stopped. I beleive that ofcom should force the ISPs to charge for the rate the customer gets. So, say they charge £16/mo for "up to 8Mb", if you only receive 2Mb, you should be charged £4/mo. Also, you should be able to request a lower speed, and pay that. I know that prices would go up, but it's fairer to those paying the same for a 512k connection as others pay for an 8M connection.

They should also be forced to either remove the unlimited lable, or make it realy unlimited. They still have a contention ratio, so users cant complain if connected at 8Mbits and only getting 1/50 of that sometimes, but calling it unlimited when theres an FUP is wrong. The best FUP I've seen is on Be. As far as I know they have never had to enforce it, and I know that I have spent an entire month downloading and uploading for more than 90% of the time on an 18Mb connection to/from newsgroups.

I also agree with giving customers the option to pay for a FTTH connection as a simple £/mile calculation. It would work out well for me, as I am less than a mile from the exchange. However, those in remote areas would still be screwed, although there BT may still be able to make money by doing FTTC then charging for a fiber link from there.

Overall, given the rise in Broadband, I do think that BT should be forced to change their policy. Currently they do not have to provide a line suitable for anything more than voice or 28.8K modem, which is just not good enough.

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BT .....

yeah it is mostly BT's fault. Most ISP get their supply wholesale from BT, and as BT own the copper the speed readings are obtained from BT. The ADSL MAX service has always been a best efforts service from BT and wholesale resellers don't really have much of a choice with the branding of the product as there is no guarantee of the line speed prior to the service going live. This is a daily headache we have at the company I work for as we are a wholesale reseller of BT products, wrapped up into pretty bows and resold.

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Dead Vulture

I would have been happy to get half of 435KB/s...

when I was with F2S. (after they were bought by Pipex). On a good day I'd reach 40KB/s downloading from newsgroups but it averaged at 25KB/s.

Needless to say, I use another ISP now.

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500gig a month?

Either you spend a lot of time re-downloading stuff, or you find 500Gb/GB of new content worth downloading each month. In the former case, might I suggest a disc of some sort. In the latter case, either you watch a lot of amateur video (snigger), or it ain't all legal.

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@Steve

You're correct in principle, but who said anything about 'switched'? Contention is an issue, just as it is for (most) DSL/cable users.

As it happens, my ADSL (400m from the local exchange) shows a data rate of 7616/448kbps. I can achieve over 6Mbps download speeds from some Internet sites, but many of them throttle individual connections to T1 rates(1.5Mbps) - which is fair enough, IMHO, if they're providing a free service.

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Re: 500 GB/month

There are many possible ways of reaching 500 GB/month

* Dowloading HD films (20-50 GB each)

* HD videoconferencing with your girlfriend on the other side of the globe

* Being altruistic, eg. by running a Tor node.

* Working from home as a film editor / graphic designer / animator

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Dead Vulture

Hard disks, Megabits and Mebibits.

This made me giggle when I discovered the 'difference' allowing HDD manufactureres to diddle people out of precious bytes of storage area.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mebibit

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megabit

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Things will only get worse

The best solution would be for ISPs to be required to post independantly measured average peek time speeds, both in Mb/sec and ms latency. It would require sampling random people's connections at random times during the month, but could probably be done easily with a download for participants.

The real problem is not so much the lies that ISP tell, it's the lack of a solution. Virgin bumped everyone to 20meg to compete with Sky and Be, before their network was ready. As a result, stable 10meg connections now have traffic throttling, terrible latency and poor speeds during peek times. Just wait until 50meg arrives. The situation is even worse for other ISPs, who are reliant on BT's creaking old copper network which means either "up to" 8meg or try your luck with LLU "up to" 24 meg. The technology simply doesn't go any faster.

Either someone with vision wakes up and rolls out fibre (Govt., new company, BT maybe) or Britain has no way past the copper. Fibre roll out began 8 years ago in Japan. I can't see it happening in the next five years here.

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How...

... does this help when the FUP automatically cuts your rate by half after 30 mins use regardless?

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Tale of two regulators

So OFCOM has a toothless Consumer Panel? Big deal. OFGEM is a waste of space as it views itself as an arbiter of fair play between communications companies, rather than a champion of customer interests. So mis-selling "unlimited" services with "speeds of up to" instead of "at least" or charging termination fees on freephone and non-geographic calls is fine as long as the whole industry does it.

Compare this with OFGEM, which is regularly castigated by the industry players it regulates for being too consumer focused.

(Posted anonymously as I work for an energy company)

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Unlimited Virgin Media

For those of you who can't be arsed to actually look it up yourselves, the Virgin unlimited policy goes something like this:

If you exceed an arbitrary (allegedly what the top 5% heaviest users do) amount of data downloaded within peak hours (4pm to midnight), your bandwidth is shaped (nb not throttled, not limited, but shaped) to about half the up- and down- load speeds for the next four hours.

And so you see that whilst it is limited in technical terms (packet-shaping is, after all, throttling, or imposing a limit to the speeds when used like this) it *is not* limited in marketing (q.v. lying) terms.

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@Jason Aspinall

We once probably said that about downloading 1GB in the good old days of a 28.8k modem.

Times change, and so does size for that matter.

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Bandwidth limiting

If you read exactly what Virgin Media say, it is not a fixed threshold that you have to cross. You just have to be in the top 5% of users in a month. I'm not sure the exact scope of who you are being compared to. I would hope it was banded with the package. I would hope that my (up to) 8Mb/s would not be compared to people on the 0.5 Mb/s that Virgin offer, otherwise I am stuffed!

Also, you are bandwidth limited for the next month only, and only during the 'peak' periods. Still, this is mainly when I want to use it.

And yes, I can do many gig a month completely legally, and on occasion, I can get 1MB/s (yes, bytes, as measured by a bittorrent client [this was an ubuntu install CD download]), but this is unusual.

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@Peter Gathercole

"If you read exactly what Virgin Media say, it is not a fixed threshold that you have to cross."

I'd love to know where you read that.

"Broadband Size: L

During peak times, the top 5% on the Size: L package download at least 750MB of traffic each.

Any users hitting this amount during peak times (4pm till midnight) will have their broadband speed temporarily traffic managed – their download speed will be set to 2Mb, with their upload speed set to 192Kb. This will last for 4 hours from when the traffic management policy is applied."

From http://allyours.virginmedia.com/html/internet/traffic.html

With, later: "The way that our customers use their broadband is changing all the time, so it's possible that in the future we may increase or decrease the thresholds – don't worry though, we'll always let you know on our website if we're going to make any changes, and we don't expect the thresholds to change very often."

So expect to see further limitations announced on their website in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the leopard' soon.

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Use the availability checker !

There is some laws of physics stuff in here which non-techies might find difficult to swallow. Essentially the further from the exchange you are, the lower the speed you'll get.

The people at BT have provided a line-checker which gives you a much more accurate view, based on your phone number - check the link here: http://www.productsandservices.bt.com/consumerProducts/displayTopic.do?topicId=16738

This tells me I should get 2.5 (Megabits per second) - in fact I get nearer 4.

Perhaps the answer is for ISPs to point to their version of this link - that way you know before you sign up what you're likely to get.

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Virgin tested

A few weeks ago I decided to check what Virgin do with my connection for eight hours a day and sure enough it went exactly as suspected.

I've got an IPCop firewall that draws me nice little throughput graphs so you get to see exactly what happens when.

I tested this all by downloading (then throwing away) a load of Visual Studio Express installs simultaneously, basically saturating my line for eight hours between 4PM and midnight.

After 750Mb had come through the speed dropped to half (from about 400k/s to about 200k/s)

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Anonymous Coward

Re 21CN (Richard Austin?)

BT's 21CN is primarily about BT reducing its operational costs. It is not particularly about improving service to the BT (or BTwholesale) customer. It does absolutely *nothing* for the bit between punter and "exchange"; your nearest green box will still be a passive interconnect point and there'll still be copper (if you're lucky) all the way between you and the building which will still be called your "exchange". IE 21CN will not allow most folk's broadband to go noticeably faster. This despite the fact that low-energy shoebox-size DSLAMs for use closer to the punter than today's setup (and thus able in principle to provide higher speeds) have been available for a few years now.

Sorry.

Still, if it was easy and a guaranteed moneymaker, everybody and his dog would be running an LLU ISP using this kind of trendy kit, and the LLU ISPs wouldn't mostly be just offering basically the same services as BTw but "cheaper" and with significantly worse coverage.

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Anonymous Coward

Sold as "Up to" 8MB. Why is there a problem?

OK why can't OFCOM simply impose the obvious solution?

A Telco wants to market Broadband rated at (say) "Up to 8MB". Price = £24/month.

I'm quite happy to buy; but on my reasonable terms of the same "Up to" £24/month.

Telco delivers only 2MB average, so I'll pay only £6/month (average).

But then I'm not a monopolistic Regulator tasked with 'controlling' the very Corporations that pay my wages.

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Jobs Horns

@ Jason Aspinall

500gb a week would be easy for me to achieve.

Usually goes like this:

Me @ work

Boss: We got you a new workstation for that video stuff.

Me: Cool. (nice new Poweredge)

Me: opens case (wtf... dual board... 1 processor, 512 ram, 128m video)

Me @ Boss: You've got to be kidding. I'll do it at home.

Put the stuff on a shared drive, go home, download it and there goes 100+ gb

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several points ...

There's a lot of Bt slagging going on here, and whilst I'm no fan of BT, in reality they are the only body in a position to provide a sensible nationwide upgrade because they are the only body that owns the infrastructure ('exchanges' and ducting) to distribute the cabling - unless the government should decide to renationalise them that is !

The copper network evolved over MANY decades, and was initially built by the old Post Office when it was a public body. Thus, when BT went private, they started with a 'last mile' network and since then it's been a case of "more of the same" as and when required. In other words, they've spent a LOT of money expanding the network, but it's happened over time as they've been selling capacity on it to pay for it.

To upgrade to FTTH, or even FTTC will require a large investment - the figures are mind bogglingly large. If they do it slowly, only in areas where there's a lot of demand to pay for it, then we'll be back where we were with ADSL rollout - lots, and lots of complaints about the large proportion of the population who won't get it for years, if at all. To do a big rollout will cost lots, and they'll only do that if they can see a return on their investment - that's what a business does, it expects a return on it's investment. Bear in mind that only a small number of people actually want faster speeds, and fewer still will be prepared to pay for them. Don't forget that if you want to pay for it, you CAN get a connection where you don't suffer from contention and without any limits beyond what the pipe will carry - it'll cost you, IIRC our 2Mbps symmetric unlimited uncontended line at work is many thousands of pounds a year. trouble is, people want their 8Mbps all the time, but they only want to pay £15/mo for it.

That's why there's the debate - should public funding be provided in order to build what will effectively be a national strategic infrastructure, or should we just sit back while the rest of the world leaves us behind.

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Dead Vulture

Demon

Just been FUP'd , they cut my rate to ISDN speeds for 1 month, i only found out when i rang them after kicking my router a few times, on a Home Office package so paying em £25 a month even though now getting 128kbps (i think), did wonder about asking them if i can pay for ISDN service for a month instead.

But in there defence i was taking the mick slightly and never had a problem with them before but now found out there customer service is rubbish so checked out the competition and discovered they are all the same.

Would kill to be limited to 2Mbs at the moment

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Unrealistic expectations

100mbit ethernet will do 100mbit on decent hardware with nice tcp stacks and an efficient protocl. Using Windows with cheap switches and NICs and an ugly protocol like SMB, you'll get something like 8MB/s. Using nice hardware on Linux with NFS I have managed sustained transfers of something like 95Mbit. Bit of a null issue for me now that I've switched up to gigabit, though. Now that same setup averages about 50 MB/s.

That said, my cable internet connection in the US will do 12Mbit or faster 24/7, no matter how much I download, including 2TB of database backups from my friend's failing colo in a single month. Maybe I've just got more luck with the bits than other people.

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re: Use the availability checker !

I think the checker must work on "as the crow flies", or at least in part. It claims my parents will get a chunky 6Mb odd, but as you can follow the phone line along the road for the 5 miles to the exchange, that seems a bit unlikely. However it's only half a mile in a straight line on a map.

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We don't live in Oz

I'm with Virgin Media aka Telewest.

I'm on their XL package which is suppose to be up to 20Mb in my area (contention ratio of 1 I was told).

I haven't done a speed check for many months, so I did several today and they all come out as 4300Kb download. Yes 4.2Mb.

I phoned VM support and was told to phone technical support to see if my Cable modem is out of date. I said surely they can test that as they gave me the damn model and therefore they'll know what it can do surely?

Plus I've now to phone a 25p a minute line in addition to paying a lump sum every month for the service. So It seems I've got to pay to get the service I'm already paying for! Cute hey?

Ok they'll refund me this phone cost I'm told. But why don't they allow XL customers so many minutes of technical support free?

Heck I'm a IT guy, I've not used their tech support for years. I can access my Cable modem status page and read its status. I'm not an a newbie ffs.

In an ideal world if they sell a service to a customer they should check that it is giving that service. But I don't live in Oz.

Now if we can just get a decent upload speed in this country. Offering 512Kb is pathetic Virgin Media!

moan moan..... :-)

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@Jacob

My hard-drives are three and a half inches. Exactly what it says in the adverts.

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