Jump in UK broadband speeds

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UK consumers are achieving 22 per cent faster broadband speeds at home than they were 12 months ago, new Ofcom research reveals.

In November 2011, the average actual UK residential broadband speed was 7.6Mbit/s, compared with 6.2Mbit/s in November/December 2010, and 6.8Mbit/s in May 2011.

This increase was mainly as a result of consumers moving onto higher speed packages.  In November 2011, for the first time more than half (58 per cent) of UK residential broadband connections had a headline, or advertised speed of above 10Mbit/s, up from 48 per cent in May 2011.

However, more than 4 in 10 broadband consumers remain on packages with speeds of 10Mbit/s or less even though many of them would be able to get a higher speed at little or no extra cost if they switched package or provider.

Changes to advertised speeds

This is Ofcom's sixth report of UK broadband speeds which aims to measure the performance of residential broadband in the UK.

Previous reports highlighted how there can be a significant difference between advertised speeds and speeds actually received by consumers.  This confirmed the need for the Advertising Code-writing bodies, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP), to review the use of ‘up to' speed claims in broadband advertising to ensure that advertisements do not mislead consumers.

Following this review, CAP and BCAP published guidance in September 2011 on the use of speed claims in broadband advertising, which will come into force in April 2012.  Among other things, it requires that speed claims should be achievable by at least 10 per cent of the relevant internet service provider's (ISP) customer base, and where a significant proportion of customers are unlikely to receive a speed sufficiently close to that advertised, further qualifying information, such as the speed range obtainable by those customers, should be included in the advertisement.  In addition, any claim should be based on robust and reasonably representative data.

In line with this new guidance, using data from Ofcom's latest research, the industry average speed based on the 10 per cent availability criteria would be 6Mbit/s for services currently advertised at ‘up to' 8Mbit/s, and 14Mbit/s for services currently advertised at ‘up to' 20/24Mbit/s. As indicated above, advertisements for these packages would also have to supplement headline speed claims with information such as the median speed or the typical speed range achieved by half of customers around the median.

ADSL: Digital technology that allows the use of a standard copper telephone line to provide high speed data communications

Cable: Cable uses DOCSIS technology. Data is transmitted via a fibre optic cable to the street cabinet. It then uses coaxial cables from the cabinet to customers' homes

FTTC: Fibre-to-the-cabinet uses high speed VDSL technology. Data is transmitted via a fibre optic cable to the street cabinet. It then uses standard copper telephone wire from the cabinet to customers' homes

Differences between Internet Service Providers

Of the 13 ISP packages covered, Ofcom's research found that the fibre-based and cable broadband technologies were fastest. Virgin Media's ‘up to' 50Mbit/s continued to have the highest average download speeds of approximately 49Mbit/s.

BT's fibre-based service (BT Infinity) delivered average download speeds of around 36Mbit/s, up from approximately 34Mbit/s in May 2011. The service also achieved the highest average upload speeds of 8.8Mbit/s.  All other ISP packages did not change significantly from May 2011.

Note:  These ranges reflect the speeds that would be achieved 95 times out of 100 if the exercise was repeated with different panellists. If the range of two operators overlap, then these operators offer comparable performance. They are not a description of the range of speeds actually measured.

Broadband Speeds Code of Practice

Ofcom is committed to ensuring that consumers have access to clear information about their broadband speeds.  The Voluntary Code of Practice on Broadband Speeds was introduced in December 2008 to inform prospective broadband customers of their likely maximum speed before signing up to a service, and a strengthened Code came into force in July 2011.

Ofcom has recently commissioned mystery shopping to look at whether ISPs are adhering to the spirit of the Code and aims to publish the findings in the spring.

Ofcom Chief Executive, Ed Richards, said: "It is encouraging that speeds are increasing and that consumers have a real choice of broadband service. There is a real opportunity for consumers to look at the packages and deals in their area in order to receive the best value, speeds and performance available to them.

"We can look forward to further increases in UK broadband speeds over the next few years.  Most households in the UK can now access superfast broadband services, and these services are set to get faster still as Virgin Media aims to double the speeds of most of its cable services and BT aims to double the speed of its fibre-to-the-cabinet service from 40Mbit/s to 80Mbit/s."