Broadband customers 'let down by unrealistic adverts'

18 May 2018

Consumers in the UK are paying for broadband services that are, on average, 51% slower than advertised, according to new research by Which?.

The consumer group analysed the results of 235,000 broadband uses in the year up to 30 April 2018 and found that households were only getting average speeds of 19 megabytes per second (Mbps), although they had paid for 38Mbps.

Consumers paying for faster broadband speeds were even worse off: those on a package of up 200Mbps, on average, only received speeds of 52Mbps.

Under new rules from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which come into effect on Wednesday 23 May, broadband providers will no longer be able to advertise ‘up to’ speeds as these are only available to 10% of customers.

Instead, providers must advertise the median average speed for the service that up to 50% of customers receive at peak times.

Alex Neill, managing director of home services at Which?, says: “This change in the rules is good news for customers who have continuously been let down by unrealistic adverts and broadband speeds that won’t ever live up to expectations.

“We know that speed and reliability of service really matter to customers and we will be keeping a close eye on providers to make sure they follow these new rules and finally deliver the service that people pay for.”

Dan Howdle, consumer telecoms analyst at broadband advice site, points out that Which?’s findings are very different from telecoms regulator's Ofcom’s most recent testing, saying he finds them “odd”. 

He says: "Ofcom’s most recent testing shows, for example, that a 200Mbps connection (offered exclusively by Virgin Media in the UK) averaged 92% of the advertised speed at peak times.

"With such a large disparity between Ofcom's results and those of Which?, I believe something could be amiss. One possible explanation might be if measurements were to be taken over wi-fi (rather than over a LAN cable) – this would have the potential to show the much slower averages measured by Which?."

Which? asked users to measure speeds using an ethernet cable (so as to check the speed at the router), though some tests may have been conducted over wi-fi.

Where users did use wi-fi, they were asked to position themselves as close to the router as possible to minimise any effect on speed. The research was based on the 'lived' speed  [the speed through the router rather than to the router] with a 'conventional' set-up.

However, Mr Howdle says that being closer to the router would have "no effect" on the main problems encountered measuring speeds over wi-fi.

"It would not reduce interference and neither would it ensure a person's phone or laptop is compatible with the best wi-fi standard available on their router," he adds.

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