ISPs Shamed by UK Broadband Speed Tests

The marketing sham that is the UK's broadband market was exposed today by a report from regulator Ofcom , which elucidates the chasm between the "up to" speeds advertised by service providers and the actual broadband connections that customers experience.

And if that weren't bad enough for the DSL service providers, including BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), Orange UK , Sky , and TalkTalk Telecom, the report finds that the cable broadband services delivered by Virgin Media Inc. (Nasdaq: VMED) are far superior in terms of average speeds delivered and meeting advertised speeds.

The report, based on research conducted with broadband monitoring specialist SamKnows during May this year, shows that, on average, British broadband users are getting a downstream connection of 5.2 Mbit/s, a 25 percent improvement on a year ago.

However, "the move to faster headline speeds has led to a growing gap between the actual speeds delivered and the speeds that some ISPs use to advertise their services," notes Ofcom, which identifies the quality and length of the UK's copper loops as the main reason for the gap between "headline and actual speeds."

The real blow for the UK's ISPs, the report concludes, is that "cable broadband services delivered significantly faster actual (or download) speeds than comparable DSL services."

Basically, that means Virgin Media delivers a more honest broadband service, as this table below, which highlights the difference between the "up to" figures and real broadband speed delivery, shows.

Table 1: Advertised & Actual Broadband Speeds in the UK, May 2010
Headline (advertised) speed Average actual speed
Up to 8/10 Mbit/s DSL packages 3.3 Mbit/s
Up to 20/24 Mbit/s DSL packages 6.5 Mbit/s
Up to 10 Mbit/s cable services 8.7 Mbit/s
Up to 20 Mbit/s cable services 15.7 Mbit/s
Source: Ofcom

Yet, amazingly, BT's response is to boast about how it "already gives customers the most consistently accurate prediction of the speed specific to their line," and, ironically, how it is set to increase its "up to" claims.

"BT is investing £2.5 billion in superfast fibre broadband. This will bring speeds of up to 40Mb/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," notes John Petter, managing director of BT’s Consumer Division, in a statement emailed to Light Reading. (See BT Ramps FTTx Plans, Turns a Profit and BT's Fiber to the Hype.)

"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," he claims.

Superior to Virgin Media? Let Ofcom and SamKnows be the independent judge of that.

— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading

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