British broadband running at half the headline speed

Research reveals the average British broadband connection achieves less than half of its stated speed

Barry Collins
8 Jan 2009

The average British broadband connection actually achieves less than half its headline speed, according to new research commissioned by Ofcom.

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The telecoms regulator has teamed up with SamKnows Broadband to test the actual speed of connections in 7,000 homes across the country using specially-adapted routers.

The research found that the average broadband speed in the UK was 3.6Mb/sec, compared to an average headline speed of 7.2Mb/sec. But the research also found that average throughput speeds for those on up to 8Mb/sec ADSL Max lines dropped by 30% during peak evening hours.

One in five people on an 8Mb/sec connection actually receive average speeds slower than 2Mb/sec.

The average maximum speed measured on an 8Mb/sec connection was a mere 4.5Mb/sec.

Ofcom says the research will help inform future policy making, but it's the clearest evidence yet that British broadband connections are failing to get anywhere near their headline speeds.

ISPs not named and shamed

The Ofcom report stops short of naming and shaming the ISPs with the best and worst performance. However, it admits that "the worst-performing ISPs had much greater variation by hour of day" suggesting that "degradation caused by contention is also a driver of difference in performance".

Alex Salter, chairman of SamKnows, says the regulator will eventually use the data to rank the broadband providers. "Ofcom really wants the ISPs to buy into the methodology," he told PC Pro. "There is a lot of momentum behind Ofcom publishing specific ISP data."

The report also suggests that distance from the local exchange isn't as critical to actual throughput as previously thought, with wild variations in speed even for people who live near their exchange. SamKnows creator, Sam Crawford, says factors such as old modems, faulty internal wiring and interference could also be major performance factors.

Consumer satisfaction?

Despite the speed problems, Ofcom claims that 83% of consumers are satisfied with their overall broadband service.

Yet, it also admits that more than a fifth of consumers have reservations about their speed. Overall dissatisfaction with broadband is predictably higher in rural areas, where average speeds are 13% slower than in towns and cities.

Satisfaction also starts to ebb away when it comes to bandwidth-intensive tasks. Only 60% of those who watch or download full feature films online are happy with the service, with 77% claiming satisfaction when it comes to downloading music.

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