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UK's NBN model falls short on advertised speeds

Only 3 percent of fibre-to-the-cabinet users in the UK can get the average download speed advertised on the service.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor on

A report by UK consumer research and action organisation Which has found that BT's fibre-to-the-cabinet service is not delivering the advertised speeds to the vast majority of customers.

Which reported (PDF) last week that its analysis showed that 15.4 million UK households -- or 74 percent of those with fixed broadband -- could not get the "up to" download speeds advertised with their broadband service.

The report surveyed 1,992 broadband users by connecting a monitoring unit to their router that extracted speed data over a 24-hour period in November 2014. The unit recorded the maximum speed over the 24-hours, the average speed, and the average speed between 8pm and 10pm.

It found that just 17 percent could get an average speed that matched the advertised 'up to' speed, and the average maximum speed received was only 68 percent of the speed promised.

Broadband providers are allowed to advertise 'up to' speeds as long as 10 percent of customers can achieve those speeds, but Which found that some of the services even failed to meet that low requirement.

On BT's 76Mbps package on the fibre-to-the-cabinet service, for example, the organisation found just 1 percent of customers were able to get 76Mbps on the service that uses BT's legacy copper infrastructure from the cabinet into each premises.

Across fibre-to-the-cabinet broadly -- including EE, Plusnet, and Sky -- 10 percent of customers could get the advertised maximum speeds, while only 3 percent could get the average speed advertised. The average maximum speed for FttC customers was 88 percent of the advertised speed.

The company formerly known as NBN Co has entered into an information-sharing agreement with BT in order to improve the rollout of its own similar fibre-to-the-x network in Australia.

NBN last year decided to keep the speed tiers from fibre-to-the-premises for the new so-called multi-technology mix model, but with a caveat that the speed tiers would now be advertised as "up to" the speeds on offer. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission admitted that such representations could be construed as misleading to consumers.

NBN has indicated that retail service providers may be offered speed tools to test out lines before a product is ordered on the NBN.

Initial trials of fibre-to-the-node in Australia yielded results of an average 98Mbps down, 33Mbps up, but ZDNet revealed that both Telstra and the Department of Communications had warned that the test results may not represent 'real-world experience'.

The majority of UK households are on ADSL connections at 59 percent, with 22 percent on Virgin Media cable, and 12 percent on fibre-to-the-cabinet. Just 0.1 percent of UK households are on fibre-to-the-premises.

93 percent of ADSL customers did not get their advertised maximum speed, with only 5 percent getting the average speed as advertised.

Cable proved better than the rest, with 98 percent of Virgin Media customers achieving the maximum speed advertised, with 67 percent receiving an average speed that matched the speed advertised.

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