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back to article Broadband advertising speed gap widens

The gap between the marketing and reality of broadband speeds has grown even wider, according to figures released today by Ofcom. The average package is now sold as 11.5Mbit/s but in fact delivers just 5.2Mbit/s downstream, a 54 per cent shortfall. A year ago the average actual performance of 4.1Mbit/s was 42 per cent less than …

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Bronze badge

Sale of Goods

"I don't expect to get 60mpg just because the car brochure says so."

I do and so does UK law. If the car gave me 55mpg, I would probably put it down to driving style but if it gave me 30mpg instead of an advertised 60mpg, I would be complaining to the dealer and manufacturer and then trading standards.

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WTF?

@AC 11:28

You'll notice that car brochures give you the *average* MPG, usually for Urban, Extra Urban and combined. Unless your driving is awful you should expect to see results close to that. I certainly do.

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Actually no.

Cars can be a very useful analogy if you compare them with data packets. They both travel across complex networks with a variety of changing conditions. In fact a 'car crash' is one of the few attributes that don't have an equivalent. Pretty much everything else does.

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Try it - see how far you get.

>"I don't expect to get 60mpg just because the car brochure says so."

>I do and so does UK law.

I don't think the law is that stupid. First off it knows that brochures are just advertising and therefore not part of the sales contract. Secondly it knows that there are too many factors involved to make a simple judgement call. In order to claim you'd probably need to provide technical proof from a qualified motor mechanic.

The defendant would probably just need to show that the problem was common to most vehicles of that type. That would mean asking their competitors. Given that they'd all be in the same boat they'd likely stand together and agree it was quite reasonable.

The judge might just accept that and dismiss the case.

But it's a risky analogy anyway. ADSL is designed to operate at different speeds. A better analogy would be if you bought a car where the brochure said it could achieve up to 60mpg depending how and where it was driven.

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@AndrueC

>> I don't think the law is that stupid. First off it knows that brochures are just advertising and therefore not part of the sales contract.

Wrong, information provided in brochures and even manufacturers and dealers websites is part of the contract. That is enshrined in amendments to the Sale of Goods Act made by the Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002 (which enacts a European Directive). This explicitly states that public information provided by the vendor or manufacturer (eg on their website) is to be taken as part of the contract.

But back to the question, I'd like to see a minimum rate quoted when you try to sign up (or enquire). They already have the means to estimate the sync speed you are likely to get based on the length of cable from the exchange, but what we need is a guaranteed rate after taking into account contention with other users - particularly the backhaul.

Eg, when we first got ADSL here, I went with the 512k service which had a 50:1 contention ratio. In theory that means someone could get as little as 10k - ie about a 1/3 of what I got on dial-up. An ISP should be able to quote a minimum rate given your line length and exchange capacity - if they had to quote that then people could choose, pay more to an ISP with more backhaul and hence higher guaranteed rate, or pay less to an ISP with high contention if you aren't that bothered.

Also, monthly limits should be part of the "headline" information - some better ISPs already do this, selling different amounts of monthly cap at different prices.

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Anonymous Coward

That's as maybe

"information provided in brochures and even manufacturers and dealers websites is part of the contract. That is enshrined in amendments to the Sale of Goods Act made by the Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002 (which enacts a European Directive). This explicitly states that public information provided by the vendor or manufacturer (eg on their website) is to be taken as part of the contract."

That's as maybe, but the motor advertising contains small print saying something like "this is the mpg for model X under EU stipulated test conditions, consumption achieved in the real world or with a different model may differ". The law seems to be perfectly happy with this.

If the broadband advertising contains small print saying something like "speeds delivered on your line may be lower" then I can't see why that should be any different in law.

Of course we really know the difference don't we? Remember NuLabour and the "court of public opinion" bullshit? This is the same, this is an popular whinge among the middle classes so UK.gov wants to be seen to do something about it in order to raise it's approval rating.

What I find more annoying is the advertising a lot of companies are doing at the moment promising the earth, but delivering phuque all. You know the ones "up to 24Mb/s unlimitted downloads for £6.99 a month and free phone calls" then you apply and are told that they can't deliver that service on your line, but they can deliver an "access only" solution for four times the price at a quarter of the speed. What they really mean is IPStream with ridiculous contention ratios so you'll be lucky to get download speed of better than 512Kb/s at peak times. Funnilly enough they don't mention that in the small print except perhaps by saying something like "where available" and thinking that covers them. That's the real con in broadband sales at the moment.

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PaulWizard

"You'll notice that car brochures give you the *average* MPG, usually for Urban, Extra Urban and combined. Unless your driving is awful you should expect to see results close to that. I certainly do."

Hahahahahahahhahahahahaha! and Ha! You owe me a new keyboard.

FFS have you done any reading on how the EU standard mpg figures are actually achieved? I suggest you do some then reread your post and you'll find you'll laugh as hard as I did.

The tests are carried out in a test cell on a rolling road, not on a road or test track which is bad enough. What is even worse is how slowly vehicles have to accelerate, the reason for this is so that the tests will apply to all vehicles no matter how slow. So performance cars are being tested on a whiff of throttle and will, therefore give better results on the test than they will in the real world.

When these figures first came out a lot of people in the industry were puzzled by the fact that automatics did so well, indeed they often seemed to do better than the equivalent manual. Why should this be when real world experience shows the opposite to be true? Because the test standards stipulate the gear change point for manual boxes, these shift points are not magically the most efficient for every car. However because they couldn't find a way to make an auto shift at these points there is no such stipulation for automatic transmissions. Guess what, the auto box will generally be designed so that it shifts somewhere near the optimum point, especially if the transmisson comes with different modes like "economy" and "sport". The only fair way to run the tests is to allow manuals to shift where the driver feels they should shift, most decent drivers can tell where the best shift point is, or perhaps where the owners manual says you should shift.

The stupid thing is that these tests are also used to measure your CO2 emissions. So the tests are actually encouraging people to buy vehicles which may have higher CO2 emissions just to make things simple for the testing agency. Did they think: "what's the most accurate way to measure and represent fuel consumption?" No, they thought "Shit, this is difficult, what's the easiest way we can do this and what time's lunch."

Let a eurocrat get involved with anything and it will turn to meaningless shit.

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Boffin

Virgin

The fibre feeds a box of tricks that feeds coax. The coax is shared among a number of users. So while any user (unlike DSL) can get the full speed, once the number users and their activity exceeds the shared coax bandwidth, then it gets slower per person.

DSL is only shared at the exchange/ backhaul (equivalent to virgin's fibre), but the line speed drops dramatically with distance.

http://www.techtir.ie/comms/dsl-limits

Fixed Wireless (used more in Ireland) is like lower capacity coax. Mobile Wireless (i.e. 3G or 4G) is up to x10 or x16 worse than fixed Wireless, which is worse than Coax. So the 7.2Mbps or higher claims of Mobile phone networks are totally dishonest and make DSL claims look saintly!

http://www.techtir.ie/comms/fixed-wireless-broadband-better

see some comments & discussions

http://www.boards.ie/vbulletin/showthread.php?t=2055981258

and

http://www.boards.ie/vbulletin/showthread.php?t=2055978819

Mobile is advertised as Broadband, and compared to DSL or Cable, it's not remotely Broadband. A scandal.

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Big Brother

@ Oliver Mayers

Perhaps you should read up on the properties of coaxial cable, might help to explain why it isn't subject to the same interference problems the copper pair you get from BT is.

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

I have the same 20Mb cable service from VM in Leeds and get exactly that. In fact I downloaded software from Steam yesterday at 2.4Mbyte/s.

Let us not forget the impact of contention ratios and the dreaded Virgin Media Traffic management policy... :-)

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educate customers?

ISP's advertisements should make it clear that real-world speeds are dependant on the quality of your phone line, which is outside of their control, and, if you are using Wi-Fi, your house's construction.

However, they should have enough back-haul to keep up with the speeds they are providing.

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Big Brother

Not just ISP's

Your car is sold to you stating that it's capable of a 'up to a zillion' miles to the gallon. In fact it only does this under laboratory condition when driven by computer.

The reality is that it delivers far less mpg. I'd prefer to see a different system to let buyers more accurately guage cost of ownership. Perhaps summat similar to Fridges. Cost band B etc.

As it is - advertisers, manufacturers just follow the Governments example a lie their ass off.

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MrT
Bronze badge

it already is like that in car dealers

New cars are sold with those green to red A-G scaled stickers on the Windscreen. They base them on the g/km CO2 emission figures, plus a cost of ownership calculation that gives a price per year based on the average mpg and a notional average mileage. All of these things are driver-dependant, but given the vast array of models etc it's a fair comparison. It doesn't matter a hill of beans that eco-warriors' favorites get beaten on the outright mph battle by modern high-performance diesels, the comparison is made on the available standard data

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Silver badge

Which speed is being measured?

Is it the speed at which my DSL router connects to the exchange (in my case, it reports 7616/448kbps)? Or is it the speed at which I can download a file from a web server (in my case roughly 6Mbps - since the data is coming from SamKnows, I guess it's this one)?

But the latter speed cannot exceed ~80% of the former, due to overheads in the protocols being used. If I link two PCs with a crossed 100Mb Ethernet cable and carry out a file transfer, I don't expect to see a 12.5 megabyte transfer rate. Ought I to sue the IEEE because I can't use the full rated speed?

None of this should be used to excuse ISPs that sell 100 x 8Mb packages from a single exchange and only provide a 25Mb uplink to their POP.

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FAIL

Surely what this is a measure of...

Surely what this is a measure of is the complete and utter combined incompetence of OFCOM and the ASA?

And there's a slight misprint.

"BT reacted to the research by pointing to its ongoing £2.5bn investment in fibre optic upgrades..."

should read:

"BT reacted to the research by pointing to its ongoing £2.5bn investment in making adverts about its fibre optic upgrades like they'll make any difference..."

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Indeedy

And dont get me started on Unlimited deals with "Fair usage" smallprint.

All this survey goes is prove OFCOM would rather spend time talking about a problem rather than fixing it.

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Stop

BT

What gets me is that BT thinks that pointing to "ongoing investment" is in any way an answer to the fact that actual speed is lower than advertised speed. I'm not paying for speeds that I might achieve in the future, I'm paying for these speeds now.

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Anonymous Coward

BT?

At least BT are investing in the network. Most other ISPs are cherry picking urban exchanges and providing a horribly expensive, heavilly contended IPStream service for everybody else. That's the one that ought to be banned. If O2 et al want to advertise a service nationally they should have their own kit installed in every exchange in the country rather than fobbing off people outside the biggest cities with a shite IPStream service.

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WTF?

I must be

I must be the only person that actually gets more than the advertised speed i pay for the 50Mb but i get an average of around 60Mb

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Toothless offcom

I listened to some spokemans from Ofcom this morning on Radio 4. What a complete and utter wimp. He came across as so on the side of the ISP's it was absurd. Ofcom are letting the ISP's get away with lying and enforcing a city/country divide in speeds - they are a waste of space. Voluntary codes are hopeless - they need to get statutary stuff in place to force the ISP;s to actually spend some of the colosal amount of money being paid to them for a substandard service (according to their own upto figuires) on new infrastructure, countrywide.

Grr.

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Pint

This isn't "Ofcom's network of speed testing hardware"

Surely this is the Samknows "network of speed testing hardware", in association with Ofcon.

More at http://www.samknows.com/broadband/secret_sauce

Poor chap's gone all corporate. I remember when he was still a techy. Maybe someone will find a cure for his ills one day, but until then, I wish him well (and if he's got a fiver spare till the end of the week, may Paypal account number is ......).

Cheers Sam!

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You cannae change the laws of physics

Any provider managing better speeds than BT over unbundled BT lines is almost certainly massaging things somehow. Certainly unbundled providers in the past have set their hardware to work on lower noise margins than BT, which allows higher speed at the cost of dramatically reduced sync stability. BT I believe operate at 6dB by default, and can be tricked to go higher, whereas others are set to 3dB. Give me stability over speed (within reason!) any day.

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Happy

Usually good for me

On Virgin's 20Mbps offering and just speed tested it at 19.5Mbps (12:58) and I usually get that speed. But it does crash and burn at various times and that presumably is contention and bottlenecks up the highway. DNS lookup delays are what mostly seem to hit my surfing enjoyment plus adservers working like tar pits.

But I have got new 'digital filters' and put on a new circuit having had less than stellar performance. In most cases Virgin seem to throw in a new modem and that's it; if you don't complain, job done. I have friends on the same or better packages who don't get the speeds I do.

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Grenade

OFCOM - between a rock and a hard place

They want to be seen to be doing something for the consumer so the Con/Lib gov might grant them a stay of execution. But they don't want to upset their corporate friends or they will miss out on the juicy consultancies and directorships when the axe finally falls!

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So why haven't they done something about it before ?

"A year ago the average actual performance of 4.1Mbit/s was 42 per cent less than advertising claimed."

Supermarkets aren't allowed to mislabel 300 gram packets as "contains up to 500 grams".

Ofcom could and should be insisting that telcos stop advertising these misleading "up to" figures and require them to publish an "at least xxx bps" figure as the sole trumpeting figure.

But the change from 42% undersold to 54% undersold is only proof that the rule SHOULD have been brought in a year or more ago.

"Advertisers should also be made to include a "typical speed range", the regulator said."

That's not a lot of help. The speed that is advertised needs to be a guaranteed, CONTRACTUAL speed with no loopholes. It must be sufficient to ensure that a buyer who does not receive the advertised speed can legally withhold all or most of the payment, in the certain knowledge that a court would agree that the service was not up to the advertised standard.

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Flame

Not possible

>That's not a lot of help. The speed that is advertised needs to be a guaranteed, CONTRACTUAL speed with no loopholes

That isn't possible in this universe with today's technology. Maybe one day when FTTP is commonplace but right here, right now it's xDSL for most of us and guarantees would be lies. As with everything else it's up to the consumer to know what they are buying. Stop trying to abdicate responsibility to someone else. Step up and do your own thinking.

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Think I'll stick with Virmin.

While I occasionally forget the "fair use policy" I otherwise find my 10MB connection to be about 9.8-10.2MB.

However, when I found VM were potentially overcharging I went looking for a replacement -- and the fastest BT would guarantee over their lines was 2.5MB, and that was a "best endeavours". Oddly, a young lady from Sky turned up a few months later touting "20MB Broadband" -- she didn't know what to say when I asked her if they'd been down the street replacing copper. I checked the BT site later that evening, they hadn't but they did seem to have deployed new MODEMs and suggested a cautions "up to 3.6MB" on "best endeavours" though.

So, even in 2010, it is not possible to get a decent broadband speed in the outskirts one of the UK's biggest cities without using cable.

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FAIL

"Best endeavours"

Now there's a rather dangerous phrase to use. It means something rather different in law to what most people think it means. When writing any document that might become evidence in case of legal dispute, always, and I mean *always*, use "reasonable endeavours" instead.

Otherwise, if the other party can find any possible method by which you could have done better, irrespective of price, then you will lose.

Now, back to our advertised programme....

GJC

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CJO
Heart

VM

I am with VM, and although I dislike dealing with them as a company, I wouldn't go anywhere else because I like the speeds and consitency of speed with my connection.

The fair use policy is the only bit I do not like, I accept that throttling *may* be required during peak hours, but 1.5 gig between the hours of 4-9 is a little unreasonable if you ask me. Especially considering that I am usually only in during 4-9 :/

It has to be said that the throttling has improved, but they should bump the cap (for 10meg) up to 3gig, and also scrap the day time cap...

They used to also throttle you for 5 hours even if you hit the cap at 8:59 - don't know if this is still the case though....

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Anonymous Coward

Absolutely Joke

Would I accept it if I purchased a car advertised with a top speed of 120 mph, but when receiving I found it only went 60 mph. No I wouldn't I would demand my money back and claim damages for loss of time.

If people actually took action against their ISPs things would soon change. The problem is that no body is going to stand up against the ISP to risk having no internet access.

This actually need to government stepping in and insisting that the UK ISPs sort out their services. If it were a utility like Gas - we would not pay for gas if there was not enough pressure to run both our cooker and boiler.

This is a Joke and people need to lobby their MP to do something about this because it's not going to happen otherwise and we'll fall further and further behind.

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"That isn't possible in this universe with today's technology. "

It's not possible to guarantee a line to the stated 20Mbps -- true. Which is precisely why we are saying they shouldn't be able to make any claim which they cannot guarantee.

Instead, the line could and SHOULD be sold honestly as a line which guarantees "at least 2 Mbps". Substantially different, but completely truthful.

And in areas where the service is better, they can (again, truthfully) sell lines which guarantee "at least 5 Mbs",

And they can (and SHOULD) be required to charge LESS for those lines for which they can guarantee only 2Mbps.

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Anonymous Coward

FFS

I don't see the problem. If they advertise up to xMb/s then anything at all up to that speed is what is advertised. How stupid are consumers getting.

I saw a sale advertised yesterday with "Up to 25% Off" I didn't hear anybody howling that the items with only 5% off were breaching the sales descriptions act or similar.

I can't speak for all providers, but the major ones will tell you what line speed you can expect at the time of the order. As such I think they are being fair. After all when you see an advertisment for a car it may have a headline consumption figure of 60mpg, but the small print at the bottom might tell you that is the official EU figure is for the 1.2DTx and that you may achieve different figures in use and that furthermore other models in the range may get significantly different consumption figures. I don't see anybody saying car manufacturers should be forced to advertise the average mpg figure for the whole range.

A friend of mine recently rang to order ADSL for his new home and was told that the line speed he could expect would only be about 12Mb/s. I particularly liked the "only".

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Anonymous Coward

Damn Right They're Full of Sh*t!

Sky Advertised an "upto" 20Mbps service. I was advised on the phone I'd get 6-8 which is acceptable. What do I get? Upto 2Mbps, but practically, I've never had more than 1.8 in quiet periods. That's 10% of the advertised! They need to legislate. Nothing else is going to motivate honesty!

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Boffin

A novel idea

Here is a novel idea - charge customers based upon the actual speed they get, so that those with slower access do not end up subsidising those with faster access. E.g. if it is £16 for "Up to 16mbs" and you actually get 1mbs, then you should only pay £1.

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FAIL

No Chance

"Virgin Media's cable network, which covers about half the country, beat all ADSL providers, with its up to 10Mbit/s package delivering a real average of 9Mbit/s over 24 hours."

I'm lucky if my VM cable scrapes 3Mbit/s. Only once have I seen it peak at 5Mbit and that only for a few minutes.

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Bronze badge

two issues

I think the problem with this is that there is two issues here.

Issue 1 is that DSL and, to a much lesser extent, cable suffers speed loss dependent on the length and quality of the line. This isn't something the ISPs can do anything about but it is something they can allow for. With cable it isn't really a problem and for DSL the ISPs do allow for it. When you sign up for a connection the ISP tells you what speed you can expect. I don't see a problem with this.

Issue 2 is that the ISPs are overselling their connections. If my modem syncs at 20Mbps (which it does) then I expect to get 20Mbps, allowing for overheads, in my case I do get that speed, but I see a lot of people who clearly suffer from contention. When I used to have a Virgin Media connection my 20Mbps line rarely ran at more than 6Mbps. This is just unacceptable, I'm not expecting ISPs not to use contention but it's about setting your network up in a way that the contention isn't noticed. If an ISP can't supply data at my sync speed then they shouldn't be advertising their service at that speed.

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Grenade

Good news

All ADSL providers give you a better quote when you sign up based on the length of your line. 'Up to 24mb' is the theoretical maximum of the technology. Unfortunately BT controls the copper so all ADSL providers are the same unless they artifically cap your speed. Sky's 'up to 20mb' just means they'll give you all they can. You've got two choices - BT's network or Virgins. Suck it up.

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Thumb Up

@You cannae change the laws of physics

"Any provider managing better speeds than BT over unbundled BT lines is almost certainly massaging things somehow. "

Depends what speed your measuring. The sync speed, between punter and exchange, is the one that is determined by the immutable laws of physics.

The actual throughput the end user sees *will* be less than that.

If the end user's ISP doesn't use BTwoolsale, the end user throughput will be slightly less than sync speed purely because of unavoidable protocol overheads.

If the end user's ISP does use BTwoolsale, the end user throughput will quite possibly be a lot less than sync speed, not just because of unavoidable protocol overheads, but also because of a silly BTw system called Dynamic Line Management that imposes throughput caps depending on the lowest recently observed sync speed, and because of congestion in BTwoolsale's backbone network.

Changing the laws of physics is easy, it happens every day on TV. It's BTw you cannae change.

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FAIL

Title

If I'm honest I don't really have an issue with "up to a zillion M/bits per second" stuff.

I do have a problem with "fair use" on something sold as unlimited however and in my opinion the whole advertised speed / received speed thing is a complete red herring compared to the "unlimited" thing because by definition something that is artificially capped, regardless of what that cap actually is, is not unlimited.

I really don't understand how they can be allowed to advertise it as such. I can't think of *any* non data/technology related item or service that would get away with it.

would it really be so difficult to advertise "upto a zillion m/bit per sec" subject to a 15 gig / month limit.

Now, I've never actually been capped but if I found I was and it happened regularly enough for me then I'd be happy to pay a little more to get a bigger cap BUT ONLY if my service hadn't been flogged to me as "unlimited"

Pretty scandalous really.

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Surprise, surprise !

ISPs - even i the UK, that bastion of truth in advertising - lie about the speeds of the connexions they offer their customers (please, Reg monitor - read the above as synonymous with «make statements regarding the speeds of the connexions they offer their customers which have at best an ephemeral relation to reality») ! What a revelation ! But users in the UK can comfort themselves - solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris - we users everywhere, in particular ADSL users, are all in the same boat....

Henri

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I think the real issue is Max and the Price

They say £blah for a max 24MB/s. So 24MB/s costs £blah.

But actually, you're getting 6MB/s. So shouldn't you be paying £blah / 4 ?

You're paying the same price as someone else who may be getting 24 MB/s. So you're not getting value for money / the service you're paying for.

I think that's the crux of the matter.

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