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February 2, 2012

UK broadband speeds need some work

Ofcom's recent research suggests the the UK's average broadband speed is getting faster gradually, but is being held back by customers on old technology.

By Vinod

Ofcom’s research showed that the average UK fixed-line residential broadband speeds continued to increase across the second half of 2011. The average speed in November was 7.6Mbit/s up 11% from 6.8Mbit/s average recorded in May 2011, and up 22% on the 6.2Mbit/s average recorded a year earlier.

"High speed broadband is now no longer a luxury item for households, but rather a necessity, so to see an increase of 1.4MB across the board is an encouraging trend. Across our global fibre network we are seeing a massive rise in the consumer demand for rich content services consumers, so it is no surprise that people are willing to pay a bit extra to improve their quality of experience. The rapid growth of such services is being supported by a plethora of increasingly affordable connected devices, which will only become more widely used in the future," said Jeff Smith, Senior Director of Data Services at Level 3 Communications.

While the speed increases have mostly been driven by the migration of BT and Virgin customers onto higher speed services, the research suggests that the average speed could be even better, if customers migrated to faster services.Broadband providers are attempting to migrate customers from aging ADSL1 infrastructure to ADSL2 and faster services – a shift to a world where 20Mbit/s services are the norm.

"As Internet services for both businesses and consumers become richer and more mainstream, the underlying fibre-optics must scale to support this, not just in the UK but globally. The providers of infrastructure need to reinvest the additional revenues this is driving, scalability must be assured to support on-going growth."

Ofcom’s research did note that Virgin Media was offering 100-120mbit/s plans, but this was not included in the research.

Currently, more than half of UK residential broadband connections have a headline speed above 10Mbit/s. But the Consumer Panel says it has now reached the point where broadband is getting so cheap, those operating below 10Mbit/s could easily get a higher speed at little or no extra cost if they switched package or provider. Whether the speeds advertised were genuine is another matter.

"It’s good news that average broadband speeds are improving. However, we remain concerned that many people with ADSL-based broadband connections continue to experience much lower average download speeds than the headline ‘up to’ advertised speeds. The Panel has already said that internet service providers (ISPs) should stop using misleading ‘up to’ speeds in their adverts," said Consumer Panel Chair Bob Warner.

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The Ofcom research found that in November 2011, half of consumers who had paid for an ‘up to’ 8Mbit/s broadband package only received an average speed of 3Mbit/s or less. Half of consumers who had paid for an ‘up to’ 20/24Mbit/s service received average speeds of 5Mbit/s or less.

Warner wants the new Committee of Advertising Practise (CAP) guidance, which comes into force from April to go further, and require speed claims to be achievable by at least 10% of an ISP’s customers.

"This additional qualifying information must be equally prominent to consumers when they are thinking about which broadband package to buy. Consumers can only make an informed choice if they can easily compare different packages and providers. We will be watching carefully to see if the new guidelines are effective."

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