Page last updated at 12:56 GMT, Thursday, 8 January 2009

Ofcom benchmarks broadband speeds

A traffic jam
Some think the UK is still in the broadband slow lane

The average speed of a broadband connection in the UK is 3.6Mbps (megabits per second) according to new research from regulator Ofcom.

The speed test is described by Ofcom as "one of the most sophisticated and thorough" ever done.

The average speed is still "significantly" below that which many broadband packages promise, Ofcom said.

On average, consumers receive 45% of the advertised headline speed and less than their phone lines can deliver.

Faster towns

A new code introduced by Ofcom last month required all ISPs to provide consumers with an accurate estimate of the maximum speed their phone line could support.

The report finds that, on average, people are getting 85% of that maximum.

Moreover the study found that during the evening, peak time for people going online, that falls by a further 30%.

"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.

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

ISPs scrutinised

It is not just us saying that the current generation of broadband is not fit for purpose.
Alex Salter, SamKnows

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

He issued a warning to 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 Ofcom speed report, due in the spring, is likely to be specific about how individual ISPs are performing.

There are plenty of speed tests around but experts have questioned the accuracy of many of the web-based tests which measure how fast data travels from one given point to another.

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

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

Moving on

Being able to benchmark net performance is crucial as new services, such as the BBC's iPlayer, make ever greater demands on broadband.

The survey found that customer satisfaction fell from 93% for those using it mainly for web browsing to 67% for those using it for streaming or downloading TV programmes.

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

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

SamKnows chairman Alex Salter 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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