Here's the good news for British Internet users: the average "actual fixed-line residential broadband speed" for most ISPs has jumped by an amazing 25 percent over the past year. That's according to the United Kingdom's telecom regulator Ofcom, which commissioned a tracking study on broadband rates conducted by the research company SamKnows.
The speeds have leaped from 4.1Mbps to 5.2Mbps over the last twelve months, with many ISPs offering faster packages.
But there's also some troubling news. SamKnows found that the chasm between actual and advertised UK ISP performance is wide and getting wider, especially for copper-wire-based DSL services. Here are the newest stats:
Headline (Advertised) speed
Average actual speed
'Up to' 8/10Mbps DSL packages 3.3Mbps
'Up to' 20/24Mbps DSL packages 6.5Mbps
'Up to' 10Mbps cable services 8.7Mbps
'Up to' 20Mbps cable services 15.7Mbps
Bottom line: in April of 2009 your average actual UK broadband speed was 58 percent of the typically advertised rate, around 7.1Mbps. Now, as of May 2010, the real rates have dropped to 45 percent of the average advertised rate, which is 11.5Mbps. That's a credibility gap growth of 13 percent.
The research was based on over 18 million performance tests run in more than 1,500 households in May.
Uncle Sam wants to know too
These findings have pretty serious implications for the United States, whose Federal Communications Commission has also signed on SamKnows to ferret out this of data. The agency is in the process of recruiting 10,000 volunteers to attach a free measuring router up to their last-line connection to get a detailed sense of actual broadband speeds here in the states. The June announcement came following an FCC study indicating that four out of five Americans have no idea what their broadband speed is—real or advertised.
Look to the max
This actual-versus-promoted issue has been bugging the FCC for a while—with the big ISPs hoping the Commission will just stop worrying about it. Last August the agency first noticed the problem in public. "Advertised throughput rates generally differ from actual rates, are not uniformly measured, and have different constraints over different technologies," the FCC observed when launching a Notice of Inquiry on how to define broadband.
The ISPs were quick to weigh in on the subject. Whatever you do, they told the agency, don't define broadband by some metric of measured performance. "The Commission should continue to look at maximum advertised speed rather than some measure of 'actual' speed," advised the National Cable and Telecommunications Association in its response to the FCC's call for input.
Obey the code
But this latest SamKnows study has got to be turning heads on both sides of the Atlantic. Also rather jarring are the report's stats on the glaring gap between cable and telco copper wire ISP speeds. Virgin Media's cable ISP services, for example, are moving packets twice as fast as DSL services with similar "headline" (advertised) throughputs.
Virgin's "up to" 50Mbps cable ISP service clocked in fastest of all the providers measured, offering as quick as 46Mbps in tests run in the early morning hours.
Ofcom served up a circumspect response to this data.
The research "shows that average speeds have increased which is good news, but there is scope for a further step change in the quality of the UK communications infrastructure," declared the agency's Chief Executive Ed Richards.
But: "Actual speeds are often much lower than many of the advertised speeds which makes it essential that consumers are given information which is as accurate as possible at the point of sale; this is what the new Code is designed to deliver."
Richards is referring to Ofcom's Voluntary Code of Practice [for] Broadband Speeds, which the agency writes in collaboration with Britain's Advertising Standards Authority. Now Ofcom proposes to add the following lines to the code:
* Speeds should only be advertised if at least some consumers are actually able to achieve the advertised speeds.
* Those who advertise according to "up to" speeds, should also include a "typical speed range" (or TSR) based on a standard currency to be developed, similar to those in other industries (for example, APR in financial services, and MPG in motoring).
This sort of change can't come too soon, commented Chris Marling, editor of the UK's Broadband Genie.
"We have been calling for an end to 'up to' speeds for a long time now, as it is clearly a ridiculous concept," Marling declared in a statement sent to us. "An average actual speed of 6.5Mb on lines supposedly capable of 20Mb or higher starkly confirms that. It was only a matter of time before the ASA and Ofcom were forced into action."
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