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The State of UK Broadband — Not So Fast 279

Barence writes "The deplorable speed of British broadband connections has been revealed in the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics, which show that 42.3% of broadband connections are slower than 2Mb/sec. More worryingly, the ONS statistics are based on the connection's headline speed, not actual throughput, which means that many more British broadband connections are effectively below the 2Mb/sec barrier. Better still, a separate report issued yesterday by Ofcom revealed that the majority of broadband users had no idea about the speed of their connection anyway."
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The State of UK Broadband — Not So Fast

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  • by AlterRNow ( 1215236 ) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @06:33AM (#25897651)
    Because during my download of Fedora 10, Virgin Media will throttle my connection from 8 to 2 ( mb/s ) and put my ping time ( to Google ) into the 2 second range.
    • by David Gerard ( 12369 ) <slashdot&davidgerard,co,uk> on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @06:39AM (#25897683) Homepage

      But Virgin offers a new sixteen megabit DSL service! That's sixteen megabits total [], of course.

      I'm just picturing Virgin's 'thinking.' "We've heard that you can use things called 'computers' to send messages and even pictures. That'd be a good service to offer! We have this bloke in facilities who knows a bit about computers, we could get him to run it between refilling the coffee machines. If we tried, we could probably make it as reliable as our telly. Nobody really minds when the football drops out ten minutes before the end, do they."

      Virgin: "We've Never Done It Before, And We Don't Really Know How To."

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Firkragg14 ( 992271 )
        Im on virgin and yes they will throttle your download if you download more than a certain number of gigabytes between their busiest times which is fair enough. I prefer that to a download limit dont you. In my experience though it doesnt alter my ping so you have some other problem going on there. My tip with virgin is to do any of your large downloading in the evening or at night.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Mushdot ( 943219 )

          I've been really happy with my Virgin connection. I've never had an unannounced loss of service and my downloading speeds stay pretty constant, though not near the actual speed of the advertised package im on. I get my broadband and tv through a cable point which I think would increase the reliability?

          I agree that I would rather have my speed throttled than penalised in some other way. The only bummer is when you hit your limit when there's only a small part of a file left to go and you have to wait another

        • I prefer having no limits at all. My current provider has never bothered me about download levels, torrents always seem to saturate the line speed and if you live close enough to the exchange you can get 24Mb/s. Where we live we're only getting 16Mb/s, but at least I can use that fully without any complaints. And at £22/pm they are in the same ballpark as all the throttled / limited services.

          I don't normally mention them by name as nothing is worse for an ISPs customer relations than recommendat

    • by leenks ( 906881 ) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @07:15AM (#25897883)

      But it is all fibre optic! The advert says it is, so it must be quick!

      Quite how Virgin can get away with saying their broadband is fibre optic when the last loop is copper is beyond me. It's about time the ASA did what they are supposed to do - BT broadband is fibre optic by their interpretation of things!

      • by _xeno_ ( 155264 ) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @11:27AM (#25899815) Homepage Journal

        Beats me, but Comcast is doing that here in the US too in response to Verizon building actual fiber to the home. They have this weird graphic of various colored lines springing up all across the US which I guess "proves" they have "the largest fiber optic network."

        It's actually kind of pathetic. Granted I think Comcast's point is supposed to be that they do TV better than Verizon - thereby saving themselves from "truth in advertising" laws. Still, that has nothing to do with using a fiber optic network. And they certainly don't offer comparable Internet speeds.

        I find it kind of funny that two companies are pulling the "but we use fiber optics somewhere in our network!" card.

        In Comcast's case it may be more pathetic, since the ads are sort of like the Mac vs PC ads: you've got the "fiber optic" guy who's hopped up on "light" (he's glowing and flickering), and then you have the "down-to-earth" Comcast guy. After making fun of the fiber optic guy, Comcast then announces that they, too, use fiber optics. At best, I would think that makes them equal. But what do I know, I'm not the charismatic down-to-earth guy.

      • Just out of curiousity, what is this "last loop"? You mean like, the user's NIC card? or what?

    • Try Virgin Media's mirror server: []

      Judging by the fact you have an 8mb/s connection, I assume you have ADSL rather than cable. I can happily download at 20mb/s and still have a reasonable ping time (I have some QOS on my router to help aswell).

    • What time are you downloading? In the early evenings they limit your usage to a relatively small quota and throttle you to around 1/4 of your normal speed. If your router doesn't prioritise TCP ACKs and ICMP then this will mean that your ping times will jump to around the size of your router's buffer.
    • Get Be broadband (Score:3, Informative)

      by Nursie ( 632944 )

      24Mbps, static IP address, 19 quid a month.

      Sure, due to line quality I only get about 11-14Mbps, but that's ok.

      They don't seem to throttle at all, torrenting stuff is nice and fast, as are my frequent OS downloads/net installs. No caps either AFAICT.

    • Use the virgin media mirror, they don't throttle that ;)
  • by tagishsimon ( 175038 ) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @06:41AM (#25897689) Homepage

    Concerned as I am with slow speeds, I'm more concerned that I cannot at home get broadband at all because there's insufficient regulation of the monopoly landline supplier. BT is not interested in fixing the twisted pair arriving at my house such that ADSL will work. The UK government is not interested in extending the Universal Service Obligation - the thing that forces the monopoly to connect you to the phone system for voice calls - to broadband.

    HMG's insistence that broadband is of economic and social importance is just so much humbug and cant if they will not bother themselves to lift a regulatory finger to ensure that the whole population can access at least a basic service.

    Perish the thought that the vast additional profit arising out of millions of DSL connections should be put towards improving the basic infrastructure.

    But I can get 2kbps downstream (yup, that's right) through my 2.5 or 3G connection. Yay. I think I was getting better than that on dialup in about 1995.

    • by jrumney ( 197329 )

      But I can get 2kbps downstream (yup, that's right) through my 2.5 or 3G connection. Yay. I think I was getting better than that on dialup in about 1995.

      You need to get an iPhone. Apparently they are really fast [].

    • Argue it with BT.

      Write to your MP.

      I did this, and BT eventually fixed it (about a year after I first started moaning). Just for our house, mind. The rest of the estate (a new build in 1998) had no broadband, and I'm sure they continue to have no broadband.

      Estate was the "Warwick Gates", in Warwick.

      • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *

        And, for God's sake, don't forget the most important step:

        Use lots of acronyms, without first defining them, so as to totally confuse anyone reading your post

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by busman ( 136696 )

      Here in Ireland the man has just announced to pick 3's 3G(HSDPA)to meet their requirements for universal broadband by 2009! []

      WTF! How can you say 3G is broadband! Just check out the problems people in Ireland have been having with 3's service []

      I'm lucky to have fixed wireless here in North Cork, but have friends who have no broadband access at all.

  • by OneSmartFellow ( 716217 ) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @06:41AM (#25897699)
    I'm supposed to have a 8MB connection. I've checked the distance to my DSLAM, and I'm well within the distance that 8M should be possible.

    I've got a good modem/router - Alcatel Speedtouch - which lets me run diagnostics on the line. The diagnostics report that my signal to noise ratio is just within the limits to establish an aDSL session (from memory it's 9dB), and certainly nowhere close to being able to run at max speed (which would need a S/N of something like 50+dB).

    I've contacted BT about the poor state of my line, and they basically ignore me. Actually, it's worse than that, they lied to me claiming that they have tried to contact me by phone, but I provided only my cell phone number and my e-mail, and there is no record of any missed calls from BT, just an e-mail claiming they tried to call. (not to mention that I always have it switched on and within easy ear-shot during working hours).

    I guess they just suck !
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Firkragg14 ( 992271 )
      Your on ADSL. The way ADSL works is that you get quoted a theoretical maximum speed and then you in fact get something completely different which is nothing like what you were quoted. The sad thing is that its considered acceptable by DSL companies to supply a connection that is in reality 25%-50% slower than the quoted speed.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by cgenman ( 325138 )

        To be fair, DSL companies really have no idea how dirty your line will be until it is fully hooked up. Is it a problem in your house? Last mile copper? Switch box? Nobody really has a way of knowing, and it is bloody expensive to find out.

        They're not stiffing people through neglect or malice, but rather because of technological limitations.

    • by leenks ( 906881 )

      How close are you to the exchange?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by daBass ( 56811 )

      Complain about excessive line noise when you call people It cuts in and out. Oh, and it kicks off your ADSL too regularly. They'll run a remote test and tell you it is not so. You put your foot down and they send down an engineer "but we will charge you if there really is no problem". You accept this.

      Cool thing is, the engineers are usually reasonable people and they like fixing your problems and do care about ADSL too - it is truly only the call centre idiots that are trained to screw you.

      Do you have above

    • 9db is a good SNR. SNR does *not* measure capacity only the noise on the line. btw. a good modem can hold a line at 3db or less.. try the netgear dg834gt for example.

      A 50db SNR is probably impossible unless you throttled to 512kb and connected yourself by CAT5 directly to the DSLAM.

      You need to be looking at Attenuation. From that you can calculate approximate line length (18.2db/km theoretically, although it's a very rough calculation).

      • by iangoldby ( 552781 ) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @09:25AM (#25898653) Homepage

        The 9 dB figure quoted is the signal to noise margin. With adaptive rate ADSL (maxDSL) the DSLAM and modem negotiate a target noise margin, and sync at whatever speed is necessary to achieve this.

        The target noise margin starts off at 6 dB. If this results in an unstable connection then the target gets increased, first to 9 dB, and then to 12 dB, and finally to 15 dB.

        So 9 dB is really not that bad. It means that the quality of your line varies a bit, but not too much. The more your line quality varies, the higher the target noise margin that is automatically set.

        The point of having a higher target noise margin is that when the line quality deteriorates after the modems have synced and the noise margin drops, it wont drop as far - that is - it starts from a higher value.

        As the noise margin drops, first of all error correction kicks in. That can correct a certain amount of data corruption. As the noise margin drops further the error correction becomes inadequate and some packets get dropped because they contain uncorrectable errors.

        Once the line starts dropping packets then the data transfer speed plummets because those packets have to be requested again. Soon you reach the point where even a simple text-only web page takes several minutes to load, or just times out.

        Eventually as the noise margin approaches zero, the modem loses sync. At this point it will probably resync automatically, but this time at a much lower rate in order to re-establish the original target noise margin. If this happens regularly then BT's systems will automatically increase your target noise margin to try to prevent this happening as often.

        The final insult is that when the modem resyncs at a slower speed, BT's systems reset your 'IP Profile' to match your new sync speed. The IP Profile is effectively a cap on the data rate (not the sync speed).

        Note that this adjustment to your IP Profile happens immediately when your modem resyncs slower, but not when your modem resyncs faster. In the latter case your line has to remain stable at the higher speed for five days before BT will put your IP Profile back up.

        With fixed-rate ADSL it is a little different. There is no target noise margin - the modem just connects at the fixed speed and the noise margin you get is just whatever it happens to be. Fixed rate doesn't do error connection so it generally needs a higher noise margin than adaptive rate to avoid retransmissions. But the good news is that there is no IP profile rate cap, so when a period of poor line performance ends your download speeds will recover immediately.

        Now, what was the question?...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Xelios ( 822510 )
      I had a similar situation with 1&1 in Germany. I paid for a 16 Mbit connection (which they assured me was available in my area) but the lines were so poor that I'd never see more than 6 Mbit. On top of that the modem would lose sync at least once per hour after 5pm which made VOIP a real pain in the ass. Talking to someone on the phone? Oops, not anymore.

      Incidentally the sync losses always started after the street lights turned on, I guess the lines weren't insulated properly. The customer service at
    • by Malc ( 1751 )

      SNR isn't completely useful by itself. At 6dB you'll probably start having problems. You need more information. What's your theoretical max rate, or the line occupation? Some modems tell you this, some don't. Maybe DMT [] will work with your modem. It's a fantastic diagnostic tool.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by sa1lnr ( 669048 )

      "I guess they just suck !"

      I have a good one for you. In the early hours of October 30th thieves made off with BT multicore cable from their access points in the pavement on my street. Got through to their automated line testing using my mobile, entered the number to be tested (my home landline) waited the short while for the test to complete and it came back saying that there was no fault on my line. I found this all rather amusing as I was standing in the street by the open access point looking at the resu

  • There are a lot of advantages to DSL/Cable over dial-up besides speed (always on for instance).

    So maybe a lot of people are using "broadband" as a more convenient replacement for dial-up, or as part of a "triple play" package, but actually don't download much and therefore don't care.

    If all you use is e-mails, youtube, facebook, and the occasional iTunes download you have no reason to care about speed.
    I mean, 8Mbit/s still means a whole album will download in a couple of minutes, I think it's sufficie
    • If all you use is e-mails, youtube, facebook, and the occasional iTunes download you have no reason to care about speed.

      That's exactly the problem - limiting people to those uses. Today's infrastructure can always accomodate today's applications, by definition. But for sustained economic growth new more efficient and productive technologies must be adopted.

  • Maybe (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Roland Piquepaille ( 780675 ) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @06:47AM (#25897729)

    I've contacted [any telco anywhere in the world] about the poor state of my line, and they basically ignore me.

    There, fixed that for you.

    • Re:Maybe (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Numen ( 244707 ) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @07:48AM (#25898075)

      I live on a small Spanish island off the West coast of Africa. I have a 10Mb/s line, and I can hit the full throughput of this on a good torrent... I did so downloading Ubuntu... This was after contacting Telefonica shortly after the line was installed to express concern about the poor throughput and them saying yes the line wasn't set up properly but should work fine within 48 hours which it did.

      At a previous apartment I lost my line after somebody basically cut through it while doing DIY somewhere in the block. It was rewired I think 3 days later.

      Yes there are many bad storied about Telefonica that could be told, but my point is that I'm quite confident that I have better bandwidth here than I would have if I returned to the UK. One more reason not to go back to the UK I guess.

      • by julesh ( 229690 )

        Yes there are many bad storied about Telefonica that could be told, but my point is that I'm quite confident that I have better bandwidth here than I would have if I returned to the UK. One more reason not to go back to the UK I guess.

        The major problem with Telefonica, AFAICT, is that they basically refuse to install DSL facilities anywhere the slightest bit out of the way. I know people who live less than five kilometres from major commercial centres in mainland Spain but have to get their broadband via m

        • by Numen ( 244707 )

          You're right, once you get "Es no posible" you're pretty much screwed regardless of what the issue is or what you have to say. I remember somebody elses number/line getting switched to mine, and being able to demonstate this to Telefonica and just being told it wasn't possible... I had to move apartment in order to get a working line.

          My friend did manage to get Telefonica to run a line halfway up the mountain just to his house after his (Spanish) wife spent some time threatening Telefonica with what I think

    • Re:Maybe (Score:4, Interesting)

      by eebra82 ( 907996 ) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @08:12AM (#25898183) Homepage
      I don't want to sound like a brat, but I actually wanted to test my 1 Gbit home connection to its full extent. I had two identical computers with 1 Gbit cards and wiring, RAID configurations that surpass the 1 Gbit barrier and whatnot.

      I was actually very satisfied with the 544 Mbit throughput that I reached, but I wanted to see if I could get more. I phoned the ISP, explained the problem and had it fixed two days later. Now I'm peaking at 978 Mbit. Still, it's interesting that ISP:s of such high speed connections care so much about the extra excessiveness.

      Anyway, that was about a year ago and since then I've moved to another country. Nowadays, I have a 30 Mbit over cable, effective bandwidth of some 25 Mbit, but I'm not complaining.
    • I've contacted CenturyTel twice over the years about problems with my line. Both times I got a prompt, courteous, and helpful response. I alsp had pretty good support from their predecessor, GTE North.

  • by shin0r ( 208259 ) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @06:53AM (#25897749) Homepage

    Headline speed isn't everything.

    "Unlimited" offers that are actually very limited, FUPs, throttling, packet shaping, off-peak, on-peak, web caching, port blocking, Phorm; - no wonder with all this crap the average customer is confused about their connection.

    I will now shamelessly plug [] and get me coat.

    • "Unlimited connections on static IPs. No download or upload limits. No port blocking, no packet shaping, no transparent web caches, no "fair usage" policy, no logging, no Phorm, no ad-serving, no small print. Rolling 1 month contract. No lock in period. Direct Engineer Support 24 hours a day, every day. Good, not cheap.

      £60 /month"

      I think this may be the company I have been waiting for my whole [internet] life.

    • You should join the anti-phorm league. [] I chose my present ISP because they were a member.
    • Living in Hong Kong, my office is connected to the Internet over a 2M/2M ADSL line - 2M both up and down, from Wharf T&T Telecom.

      The interesting thing is that in both directions I usually get 3Mbps throughput! That is 50% more than the headline... I have to say I haven't tried pushing up and down to the max at the same time. Would be an interesting experiment.

    • by sa1lnr ( 669048 )

      at £60($90) a month it ought to be bloody awesome

  • Consistent night and day >6Mb/sec on an advertised 8Mb connection. Bittorrents running at several 100 KiB/sec in the right circumstances. Never been capped, throttled or shaped despite downloading 10's of GiB/month regularly. Who's my ISP ? That evil multinational known as Orange ! They just recently blocked The Pirate Bay but I found a way to ACCESS BLOCKED SITES and all is good once again.
    • If your ISP starts blocking anything, it's not time to access blocked sites. It's time to access another ISP.
    • by julesh ( 229690 )

      Consistent night and day >6Mb/sec on an advertised 8Mb connection. Bittorrents running at several 100 KiB/sec in the right circumstances. Never been capped, throttled or shaped despite downloading 10's of GiB/month regularly. Who's my ISP ? That evil multinational known as Orange !

      So, their service actually, like, works now? 'Cause when I was with them, the service worked for about the first week, but then the router started refusing to connect (it would sync fine, but couldn't establish a ppp link).

  • I have broadband connections in two places. With my 10Mbit headline Virgin cable service, I get 9.6Mbit+ which persists long enough for me to download a Linux ISO. With the 8Mbit headline ADSL I can get about 5.5 Mbit for the same purpose. I suspect some upstream blocking, because when this line first came active, I was getting 7.6Mbit, but I haven't seen that for a year or so.

    So you can get reasonable connections in some places.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @07:25AM (#25897935)

    bloody pommie whingers

    (that's a term of endearment)

  • I'm still on their 8MBit package and it's great, always solidly at the max speed with no throttling, but costs a bit over the average at £20 + £10 line rental. They were recently bought out by Pipex/Tiscali but so far nothing has changed, hopefully it'll stay this way! Unfortunately it means you can no longer sign up for a new account with them.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by David Gerard ( 12369 )
      Bulldog is about the only broadband company in Britain who could have been improved by being bought by Tiscali. Now that they're not criminally overselling services they literally couldn't provision.
  • There is considerable obfuscation being performed by UK ISPs on the subject of connection speed.

    For example, I have an 8Mb line. I know that this speed isn't theoretical, I can obtain it fairly easily, dependent on the servers I connect to. For instance if the server is on Janet, I'm pretty much assured of 7-8Mb. 5-6Mb is usual, with 2Mb happening some evenings.

    However, when talking to several ISPs recently as I was considering changing provider, they all insisted that they had 'tested' my line, and it was

  • Yes, I total agree with the article. I pay for 20mbit and yet, when connected to one of Astraweb's servers, using 30 SSL connections, I can only manage to 18.5mbit. I am disgusted. Where's my other 1.5mbit?

    Some webpages, even the BBC in the early hours, are slow to _display_. The requesting of 50+ images, loading of a flash plugin and rendering by Javascript all add up. It has nothing to do with a slow connection on the client side. From 5pm til 10pm there is a noticable slowdown on all websites - I still g
  • I spend considerable amounts of time in both countries.

    In Poland I pretty much get the advertized speeds, maybe it's slightly slower in peek hours. Currently I'm connected via cable - 6 Mbps and yesterday's episode of House is coming home almost that fast.

    I've lived in two different houses in UK over the past 1.5 years and used the web at friend's house numerous times. Every house had DSL connection (speeds between 6 and 10 Mbps) from different providers. It's decent during the day (I'd say ~3 Mbps), but

  • How ? (Score:5, Funny)

    by daveime ( 1253762 ) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @07:52AM (#25898091)
    How in God's name is the UK Government supposed to keep a record of everything you do online, if you are using these unholy fast speed internet connections ?
    • Because nobody is using them to the max anyway of course :) If the users would actually start using those bandwidths, then, you know, trouble would come over the telcos. They would have to stop overselling their capacity and so.

      So no it's good as it is. ISPs happily overselling their services, and in the meantime keeping their excessive users nicely in check to allow the government to monitor everything without being swamped. Now who would want to change that ideal situation.

      P.S. just for the mods: the ab

  • Low latency and consistent speed can be just as important (or more important, depending on your use) as maximum speed.

    I pay $135/month for a 1.5mbps synchronous connection in the United States. On the face of it that seems ridiculously expensive for what I'm getting. But that includes a /28 block of static IP addresses and the connection is *always* that fast. There are no slow times. There are no problems. (The longest "outage" I've seen in the past 6 months is about 5-10 seconds, and that's been 2 or 3 ti

    • by Eudial ( 590661 )

      I live in Sweden. I have a 100 Mbps connection (that is always 100mbps) I pay roughly 20 US bucks a month for. It is not capped (explicitly or implicitly) it is always connected, it has the same up and down speed. Though I only have one IP.

      The funny part is that we too have those crappy deals in Sweden where you pay 40 bucks a month for a 10 Mbps ADSL connection. And people eat the crap those ISPs feed them with a healthy appetite.

      It is an oligopoly. DSL ISPs can take ridiculous prices for substandard produ

  • Better still, a separate report issued yesterday by Ofcom revealed that the majority of broadband users had no idea about the speed of their connection anyway.

    Furthermore, the majority don't care. Ask most of the non-geeks I know what speed their internet connection runs at, and the answer will be "Who knows, I don't care really, as long as I can get the internets on my computer thing I'm happy".

    Heck I still know a lot of people who use dial-up, as it achieves their only goal (getting on the internet) for

  • I get 6 mbit/s out of my DSL line. Which is great, until you consider it's a 16 mbit/s line which they reckon can do 8 mbit/s. I don't think I've ever seen 8 mbit/s out of it.

    An acquaintance of mine was incredulous, to say the least, on returning to the UK after 15 years in Japan.

  • > Better still, a separate report issued yesterday by Ofcom revealed that the majority of
    > broadband users had no idea about the speed of their connection anyway.

    Perhaps this indicates that it just doesn't matter much to them. Hard as it may be for Slashdotters to believe, there are many people who do not regularly download entire operating systems and unauthorized copies of full-length movies.

    • by julesh ( 229690 )

      Perhaps this indicates that it just doesn't matter much to them. Hard as it may be for Slashdotters to believe, there are many people who do not regularly download entire operating systems and unauthorized copies of full-length movies.

      Agreed. And right now, 2mb/s is more than enough for most users. So what's everyone complaining about?

  • [] is a good site for checking exchanges.

    Sadly for me, Entanet don't have 8 meg available on my exchange but given that they have no throttling and their caps are well documented (30GB peak & 300GB off-peak rather than "unlimited" but with an undefined "fair use policy") I'm not complaining too much.

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