The way broadband speeds are advertised is set to change, in response to a call by the Advertising Standards Agency.
New independent research carried out on behalf of the ASA has confirmed what we've long suspected: there's widespread confusion about all aspects of broadband speeds. The ASA was concerned that this could prove to be misleading.
The research found that:
- Speed is an important factor for a significant number of consumers when choosing a broadband package
- Understanding of broadband speeds is low overall, with many consumers not knowing what speed they need
- Most consumers believe they will receive the advertised speed, or close to it, when in practice most won't
A recent report from the BBC's Watchdog also highlighted the problem of misleading speed adverts. Broadband providers are currently able to advertise packages with speeds up to a certain level, so long as 10% of their customers can achieve that level. The vast majority of customers will get slower - and often considerably slower - speeds.
Analysis of speed test results shows that the typically advertised 'up to 17Mb' figure may not even meet these standards - most providers' customers have a top 10% speed closer to 15Mb or, in some cases, 14Mb. Across rural areas, the top 10% speed for products advertised as 'up to 17Mb' is just short of 10Mb.
A period of consultation is underway, ahead of a likely change to be announced in the Spring of 2017.
What you need to know about broadband speeds
Hopefully, the result of all this will be greater clarity, ensuring you know exactly what you're signing up for when you buy a broadband deal. We don't yet know what the solution will be, and in reality broadband speeds are quite complicated. Here's what you need to know.
How broadband speeds are advertised
The current rules state that headline speeds must only be attainable by at least 10% of customers, and must be preceded by the words 'up to'. There should also be additional qualification to help people understand any other factors at play. However, in practice the industry appears to have settled on an advertised speed roughly 2Mb higher than the rules show have allowed.
Broadband speeds are usually much slower than advertised
Use our free Speed Test tool to see what speed you're getting, and how it compares to what you were expecting. We also produce a monthly report showing the average download speeds for the main providers in the UK so you can see which are the best and worst performing.
It's impossible to advertise an exact speed
Even though the 'up to' claims may not be satisfactory, it isn't possible to advertise an exact speed instead. There are numerous factors that affect broadband speeds, to the extent that two houses on the same street with the same deal may get different levels of service.
The main factor that affects broadband speed
The biggest problem is the distance between your home and the nearest street cabinet (for most fibre broadband packages) or nearest exchange (for standard broadband). This is because part or all of the connection runs over copper lines, and the further the signal has to travel over these lines the weaker it gets. It's worse for rural areas, where these distances tend to be much longer, and the rural infrastructure is also less likely to have been upgraded to anything newer or faster.
Virgin is not affected by this
An exception to this is Virgin Media, which uses its own cable network, as well as smaller fibre-to-the-property providers, which bring the connection direct to your home rather than your nearest street cabinet.
Other things that slow down your broadband
There are many other factors at play, too. Smaller providers may slow down during peak hours because they don't have enough bandwidth to service all of their customers at maximum speed. Some providers may have traffic management policies in place to restrict speeds on the heaviest users. Your Wi-Fi router could also be a problem. Many providers supply cheaper, older technology routers that slow down over longer distances or are unable to deliver the full speed of your broadband connection.
How you can improve your broadband speed
It's possible to speed up your broadband in several ways. These include making sure your router is positioned in the best place in your home, and potentially upgrading the router to a faster model. For more tips check out our 12 tips to boost you broadband speed.
What broadband speed you need
The speed of broadband you need depends mostly on two things: how many people will be using your connection, and what you're using the internet for. A small household just using Facebook and the web can get away with a slower package. A large household with people watching Netflix and play games online will need something much faster. Read more in our guide to what broadband speed you need.
Use our free Speed Test tool today to find out fast out how fast your broadband is.