Broadband internet services are playing an ever more central role in the lives of the UK’s consumers and citizens. Recent research by the Communications Consumer Panel concluded that households with broadband regard it as an essential utility, as important as electricity, gas or telephony. In its Digital Britain report, the Government confirmed its intention to deliver broadband access of at least 2Mbit/s to virtually all UK households by 2012. It has also proposed the creation of a new independent fund to extend next-generation super-fast broadband services to areas where it is not commercially viable to do so.
This research report provides important insights into the current performance of the UK’s broadband networks, and in particular the actual download speeds that consumers receive. Speed has become more significant as people increasingly use the internet to download video and audio, but consumers have lacked reliable information on the actual speeds delivered by ISPs. Our consumer research has shown that speeds are the single biggest cause of dissatisfaction in relation to broadband.
The research has been a huge undertaking, involving the installation of hardware monitoring equipment in the homes of a representative sample of over 1600 UK broadband users. During the six months of data collection we have run around 60 million tests in total. We believe that this research uses the most robust technical methodology ever used to capture broadband performance data and we have taken great care to ensure that the data we present from this research is representative of UK broadband users as a whole, and also enables like-for-like comparison between providers. We are very grateful to technical partner SamKnows both for supplying the technical methodology and also assisting in the collection and interpretation of the data, to market research partner GfK NOP Ltd for recruiting and managing a representative panel of UK broadband users and collecting and collating survey data, and to Professor Andrew Chesher (Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society) for his contribution to and independent expert validation of the statistical methodology we have employed in this analysis.
Our research has confirmed that actual broadband speeds are significantly below the advertised headline speeds. In part, this is because DSL broadband slows as customers get further from the exchange. But we also found that speeds slowed down during peak times and that this affects both DSL and cable broadband services.
We have already taken steps to help ensure that consumers are not misled on speeds as a result; under the voluntary Code of Practice on Broadband Speeds (‘the Code’) which came into force in December 2008, internet service providers (ISPs) are required to tell customers the maximum speed they can expect and must also explain why actual speeds differ from headline speeds. It is essential that ISPs comply with the Code’s requirements, particularly as faster broadband services with higher headline speeds are introduced.
Our research found that there are small but significant differences between the performance of individual ISPs over the period we conducted the research, largely driven by the access technology employed and the capacity of their networks.
This report is an important step in understanding the factors that affect broadband speed and performance. Publication of this research should help consumers understand more about the factors which determine broadband performance. In turn, operators will have greater incentive to compete on actual performance, and invest in newer access technologies and increased backhaul capacity in order to provide consumers with faster broadband services. Publication of this research is part of our broader strategy in relation to super-fast broadband of stimulating timely investment through effective competition and promoting consumer understanding. It provides much new valuable insight into the UK’s broadband market and we hope it proves to be a useful reference source for consumers and our other stakeholders.