Ofcom: Average UK broadband speeds rise but 'up to' speeds more misleading than ever

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Ofcom revealed this week that the average broadband download speed for UK consumers has risen by 10% over the past six months, increasing from 6.2Mb at the start of 2011 to 6.8Mb in May. These figures correlate with Broadband.co.uk's own speed figures for the period which saw the average speed recorded by our Broadband Speed Test clock in at 6.7Mb last month.

As with previous Ofcom speed reports, Virgin Media's fibre optic and co-axial cable based service performed best, achieving typical speeds closest to the advertised 'up to' speeds. In fact Virgin's up to 30Mb service actually saw typical speeds 1 to 2Mb faster than advertised! BT's up to 40Mb 'Infinity' Fibre to the Cabinet service offered competition to Virgin's speeds with typical performance of 32 to 37Mb.

Ofcom has pointed out that the gap between advertised speed and actual speed is now the widest it's ever been, with advertised speeds averaging at around 15Mb, more the double the average download speed. This is due to 75% of broadband users having their service delivered over copper telephone lines rather than via a fibre optic to the cabinet solution. Copper-only services are greatly affected by the distance from the local telephone exchange, meaning that a large percentage of consumers are unable to achieve speeds anywhere near those advertised. The average speed on copper line services advertised as up to 20 or 24Mb comes in at only 6.6Mb, with typical speeds of 3 to 10Mb and 37% of lines stuck with speeds of 4Mb or less.

However consumers need not be misled by advertised 'up to' speeds. Our Ofcom accredited price comparison calculator allows comparison between broadband products based on estimated rather than advertised speed. Having chosen a preferred supplier, consumers are now protected by new regulations that came into force on the 27th, with the following changes to Ofcom's broadband speeds Code of Practice:

  • Customers must now be given an indication of the typical range of speeds they can expect their line to support
  • During the first three months of their contract, if their line speed falls significantly short of those estimates and the ISP cannot resolve the problem, customers must have the option to leave their contract without penalty

This is welcome news for consumers, and many providers - including Virgin, BT, O2 and Sky - have already implemented these changes, with other ISPs due to follow suit over the next few months.

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