January 8, 2009

New Study Questions Broadband Speeds

According to new research from regulator Ofcom, the average speed of a broadband connection in the U.K. is 3.6 megabits per second (Mbps).

Ofcom considers this test speed, "one of the most sophisticated and thorough" tests ever done.

Ofcom said that the average speed is still significantly slower than that which many broadband packages promise.

On average, Internet users receive 45% of the advertised headline speed.

Ofcom introduced a new code last month that requires all ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to provide consumers with an accurate estimate of the maximum speed their phone line could support.

It was found that people are getting 85% of that maximum speed on average, according to the report.

Also, the study found that during the evening, the speed falls by a further 30%.  The evening is considered the rush hour of online traffic.

"This suggests that there is congestion on the ISPs network or other factors at play which is reinforcing the view that speed in the UK is a lot slower than it could be," said Ian Fogg, an analyst with Forrester Research.

It was also found that consumers in urban areas received speeds, which on average were 15% faster than those in rural areas.

Ed Richards, Ofcom chief executive, described the study as "the most comprehensive assessments of consumers' broadband experiences to date".

He issued warnings to the ISPs.

"We want to see all internet service providers meet the needs of their customers by clearly explaining what speeds they should expect and by ensuring that their networks meet consumers' increasing demand for higher speed broadband," he said.

The next report by Ofcom, due in the spring, is likely to be specific about how individual ISPs are performing.

There are numerous speed tests around the Internet, but experts question the accuracy. 

Test conducted by broadband performance firm SamKnows, differed from many of the speed tests available to consumers because it is a hardware test which automatically test at regular intervals and is therefore not subject to the vagaries of the web or individual computers.

The firm is in talks with modem manufacturers to see if the test software can be built into hardware that all consumers can use.

The ability to benchmark net performance is crucial as new services, such as BBC's iPlayer, make even greater demands on broadband.

The report showed that customer satisfaction fell from 93% for those using it mostly for web browsing to 67%.

Michael Philips, head of broadband comparison site broadbandchoices, thinks it makes the case for next-generation broadband.

"This survey is going to start looking a lot uglier next year when more people are using services such as the iPlayer," he said.

Alex Salter, SamKnows chairman, said it was important to move the conversation on from an obsession on speeds to what should replace current broadband.

"It is not just us saying that the current generation of broadband is not fit for purpose. It's no longer a question of whether we need it but how we are going to pay for it," he said.


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