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Average broadband speed is still less than half advertised speed


speedometerAverage 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.      

New Ofcom research shows that the average broadband speed in November/December 2010 was 6.2Mbit/s – less than half (45 per cent) of the average advertised broadband speed of 13.8Mbit/s.   

The findings come as Ofcom submits its response to the current Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP) and Broadcast Committee for Advertising Practice (BCAP) consultation on broadband speeds advertising.       

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.        

Ofcom also recommends that the TSR must have at least equal prominence to any maximum ‘up to’ speed, and that a maximum speed must be used only if it is actually achievable in practice by a material number of consumers.      

The research

Next-generation superfast broadband services – available to a growing number of households – are significantly faster than current generation services.      

Broadband services delivered by fibre-to-the-cabinet  were measured for the first time and, along with cable services, delivered faster average speeds much closer to advertised speeds than was the case for current-generation broadband technologies.      

The research looked at 11 packages provided by the seven largest ISPs in the market, representing over 90 per cent of residential broadband subscribers in the UK.     

Over 18 million separate service performance tests were carried out in over 1,700 homes during November and December 2010.      

Broadband speeds table


*Caution: Small sample size (<50)
** Results should be treated with some caution as normalisation may not be as effective for O2/Be due to the lower incidence of panellists with longer than average line lengths These ranges reflect the speeds that would be achieved 95 times out of 100 if the exercise was repeated with different panellists. If the range of two operators overlap, then these operators offer comparable performance. They are not a description of the range of speeds actually measured.BT Infinity experienced a fault during three days of the testing period when all panellists had their speeds capped at a maximum of 2Mbit/s during the weekday evening periods of 6pm-12am. The results collected during this period are: 24 hours – 29.4 to 27.7Mbit/s, 8-10pm weekdays – 24.3 to 27.8Mbit/s.

Copper-based ADSL services – broadband via standard phone lines      

  • Speeds varied widely and were typically much lower than advertised speeds. 
  • The average download speed received for ‘up to’ 20/24Mbit/s DSL packages was 6.2Mbit/s (29 per cent of average advertised ‘up to’ speeds). 
  • For ‘up to’ 8Mbit/s DSL services, it was 3.4Mbit/s (42 per cent of average advertised ‘up to’ speeds). 
  • Very few ADSL broadband customers achieved average actual download speeds close to advertised ‘up to’ speeds. 
  • Just three per cent of customers on ‘up to’ 20 or 24Mbit/s DSL services received average download speeds of over 16Mbit/s, while 69 per cent received average download speeds of 8Mbit/s or less. 

Fibre-to-the-cabinet services – broadband via fibre optic cable to the street cabinet and then via a standard copper telephone line to customers’ homes      

  • BT’s Infinity service, tested for the first time and currently available to 15 per cent of the population, is a fibre-to-the-cabinet service.   
  • It performed better than ADSL services and our research found that average download speeds were 31.1Mbit/s, 78 per cent of the advertised speeds.   

Cable services – broadband via a fibre optic cable to the street cabinet and then by coaxial cables to homes      

  • Virgin Media’s cable services, available to 48 per cent of the population, delivered average download speeds that were much closer to advertised ‘up to’ speeds than ADSL services, delivering between 90 and 96 per cent of the advertised speeds.   
  • Virgin Media’s highest speed 50Mbit/s package delivered an average download speed of around 46Mbit/s.   

BT Infinity service delivers better upload speeds than other packages     

  • Download speed is typically the most common way of comparing broadband performance.    
  • However, upload speeds are also important, particularly for users that send large files, such as uploading videos and high quality photographs.   
  • The research shows that BT’s Infinity services delivered average upload speeds of around 8Mbit/s – significantly higher than any other service measured in the research.    
  • Virgin Media’s ‘up to’ 50Mbit/s service delivered average upload speeds of around 2.5Mbit/s while all other ISP packages delivered average upload speeds of less than 1.5Mbit/s. 

Listen to Ofcom Director of Consumer Affairs Claudio Pollack discuss our findings on the Radio 4 Today programme

Advertising broadband speeds

Ofcom believes that a change in how broadband services are advertised is necessary to ensure that consumers can compare services effectively.      

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has responsibility for broadband advertising in the UK and last year asked the CAP and BCAP (the committees which set advertising standards) to conduct a review of the advice provided to ISPs on advertising practices.        

Ofcom is submitting its response to the CAP/BCAP consultation, published in January 2011, alongside this research report.       

 Typical Speeds Range

Ofcom recommends that:      

  • a Typical Speeds Range (TSR) representing the range of speeds actually achieved by at least half of customers (around the median) should be used when using speeds in broadband advertising;
  • if a maximum ‘up to’ speed is used in an advert, then the TSR must have at least equal prominence.  The theoretical maximum ‘up to’ speed stated must also be a speed actually achievable by a material number of customers;
  • advertisers should include a qualification alerting consumers that they can confirm the likely speed that they will receive when buying their service, and, where it is the case, must also explain in the body of the advert that actual speeds depend on line quality and distance from the exchange; and 
  • any reference to broadband speed in advertising (for example, words such as “fast”, “super-fast” or “lightning”) must be accompanied by a TSR, which should have at least equal prominence to these words.

Ofcom has also responded to the CAP/BCAP consultation on the use of the term ‘unlimited’ in broadband advertising. Ofcom recommends that this term only be used when a service has no usage caps implemented through a fair usage policy.      

Ofcom is also setting out what the TSR might be for each technology used to provide fixed-line broadband.     

Typical speed range by technology

Typical speed range by technology

Voluntary Broadband Speeds Code of Practice

The new, strengthened Code of Practice comes into force in July 2011.      

ISPs who have signed up to the Code have committed to explain to new customers the access line speed they are likely to achieve at home, and to try to resolve problems for those customers whose access line speed is significantly below the estimate provided.    

If the problem cannot be resolved, then customers will be able to leave their provider within the first three months of their contract without penalty.      

 ’Clear and accurate information’

Ofcom Chief Executive, Ed Richards, said: ‘It is encouraging that new technologies are being rolled out across the UK and faster speeds are being achieved.      

‘However, the research shows that ISPs need to do more to ensure they are giving customers clear and accurate information about the services they provide and the factors that may affect the actual speeds customers will receive.       

‘It is important that the rules around broadband advertising change so that consumers are able to make more informed decisions based on the adverts they see, and that advertisers are able to communicate more clearly how their products compare to others in the market.’      

Read the full research

The response to the CAP/BCAP consultation on broadband speeds advertising can be found here

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