Business ofcom Regs

Ofcom and the Typical Speeds Range for broadband

There was a lot of talk this morning about Ofcom ‘s research announcement that

“Average download speeds remain less than half of ‘up to’ speeds advertised by some Internet Service Providers (ISPs), particularly for broadband delivered via a phone line. “

Ofcom is recommending that if speeds are used in broadband advertising they should be based on a Typical Speeds Range (TSR), so consumers have a clearer idea of what speeds to expect.

The stock response from ISPs is that every line is different and by announcing an “up to “ speed they cover all the bases and customers are appraised of the actual expected speed of their line before they sign up.

This is an interesting one. I work for an ISP but I am also a consumer. I see no reason why ISPs should not be able to give greater prominence to typical speeds rather than the “best you can possible expect”. We should being straight and honest with our customers – not hyping things up and raising expectations that can’t be met (you can tell I’m not a marketing person here 🙂 ).

ISPS have made some concession to the fact that if a technology (eg ADSL2+) can theoretically do 24Mbps most people are not going to get that speed. A 24Meg line is therefore often described as an “up to 20Meg” line (not universally as the Ofcom data in the table inset shows). My “up to 20Meg line only does 11Meg. It is disappointing but I understand the game. Not everybody does, though you do wonder whether most people care.

Most people do care about the quality of their experience though and in the absence of any other suitable metric typical speeds are a good enough representation of this.

The survey results do make interesting reading. Firstly the Virgin results which are based on cable modem technology and not ADSL are consistently better – their typical numbers are consistently close to the “up to” numbers. That’s a technology thing.

If you look at the ADSL providers with similar technologies I’m not sure that there is much to differentiate them. The thing that is holding back these ISPs from quoting typical speeds is that these speeds would be significantly slower than those of Virgin. Not good for a marketing director’s pulse.

I sympathize with these ISPs but at the end of the day my consumer head still thinks it would be right to quote the typical speeds and not the “up to”. Or at least both sets of numbers.

I can’t see this happening voluntarily. It would only take one ISP to break ranks for all the others to have to follow.

All I can say is bring on Fibre ToThe Premises where 100Meg will be 100Meg, give or take a wavelength. I really hope that my home town of Lincoln skips Fibre to the Cabinet and goes straight to FTTP.

Trefor Davies

By Trefor Davies

Liver of life, father of four, CTO of, writer, poet,

7 replies on “Ofcom and the Typical Speeds Range for broadband”

It all depends whether your council falls for the telco hype and hands public money over to BT for cabinets like Cornwall and others have done. At least Lincolnshire have a shining example of a fibre village in Ashby de la Launde… they have no excuses. I think the whole ofcom exercise was to promote cabinets, especially virgin ones using coax and get people to campaign for access to faster speeds. Many will settle for cabinets. For a short while, and then the moaning will start again when the world goes to fibre and we are all left on slow lane copper phone lines. I hope you get your fibre.
The problem with cabinets is the donut effect. Their range isn’t very far, and many more will be left at the wrong side of the new digital divide. BT have already said they will be rolling out cabinets for years, and not upgrading them. That means another decade at least where they can milk the old phone network. Its a disgrace really. Our only hope now is Cumbria. Lancashire is proving gutless and the county council and RDA there is falling for the BT spin. Maybe Rory and his reivers can pull it off, and get some FTTH pilots up and running to prove how much more superior it is.

Does anyone on an eg. Up to 8M line get 8M, even very very very close to the exchange?

Many people don’t know what getting a particular speed actually means, other then faster is better.


Some do because, for example, Be Broadband until recently offered an up to 8Mbps BE Value deal that actually ran off their ADSL2+ service. We heard from a fair few people that did achieve 8Mbps and could probably have gone faster with one of the other packages.

Somerset hints at one important point that is probably over the heads of the ASA and OFCOM – that the figures are not quoted on a consistent basis. ADSL is quoted at ATM rate, Cable at TCP/IP rate (I think) and VDSL at ethernet frame rate. So the actual data contained by each is different.

So to answer Somerset’s point there are many people on up to 8M ADSL that get the full 8M – see – 20% of Entanet customers and 33,000 Plusnet customers at the time. Of course their full 8M line rate is an ATM rate 8128 sync which can be had 2.5 km from the exchange and has a TCP/IP data rate of 7150 and a useful data rate of 6800 kbits/s at the consumer’s PC.

Perhaps advertised speeds should be the measurable data rate at a PC – ie a speedtest result.

Virgin Media does fixed speed services – it’s either 10, 20, 30 or 50M link speed or it doesn’t work. So OFCOM’s stats for VM are effectively saying “something that runs at maximum 10 typically runs at 9 and a bit”.

ADSL is nearly all rate adaptive, so OFCOM data shows that something that can operate between 0.25 and 8 averages out at 4 and a bit. Well, duh !

Surely we can inform the sheeple of actual data rates without overheads, and differentiate between fixed speed and rate adaptive services, rather than letting marketing weasels try to pretend all services are fundamentally the same.

By the way Tref, any ISP that today dropped “up to” would be in breach of the ASA code. “Up to” is an ASA requirement on fixed speed services, and rate adaptive services over 2M require further “prominent copy” about the effect of location, line length, distance from the exchange etc.

Thnaks all for the comments. When I wrote the post I was aware of all the finer discussion points that could enter into the debate. Some of these I left knowing they would be raised as comments. I guess I left out any detailed comparison between ISPs offering similar services because of the lack of uniformity of data.

Data is useful though if we could identify the right data. For example I’m sure that end users would be intersted in the network performance of their ISPs network at their own peak times. In other words consumers during the evening and businesses during the day.

This would allow them to make objective decisions in respect of ISP choice though we must remember that here are other factors to be considered – cost and whether someone answers the phone when you call in with a problem.

MaxDSL:8000 – will usually sync at a maximum line rate of 8128 kbit/s and a minimum of 160 kbit/s. If you account for ATM overheads this translates to a maximum achievable data rate of 7150 kbit/s (or 893.75 kBytes/s) and a minimum of 145 kbit/s (or 16.87 kByte/s).

Or so I thought 🙂

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