The UK is quickly becoming a country that is falling behind when it comes to broadband speeds. While other countries are ploughing huge amounts of money into their broadband network, the UK government won’t commit to even the most basic of speed promises, even though we don’t have to worry about the challenging geographic conditions of countries like Japan or America or the financial pressures facing the developing world.
But there’s another problem that consumers have to face when trying to figure out an already complicated and confusing market – what speed they will actually get. It’s recently been reported that the average speed in the UK is around 4 Mbps, while the average speed advertised by broadband providers is 11 Mbps; nearly three times the average.
This big gap means that more and more consumers aren’t achieving the broadband speeds that they think they are paying for, with big companies taking advantage of the non technically minded that aren’t exactly sure what speed they are receiving.
Decades old computer lingo doesn’t help either. Files are reported in Megabtyes, while broadband speed is reported in Megabits. There’s a massive difference between the two, but how many consumers know – or should be expected to know – exactly what they are? While it’s true that we should all be willing to do a bit of research before buying broadband just like any product, it seems the broadband market takes everything a little too far in making the consumer jump through hoops.
Luckily, some of the more frustrating areas of the market are now being given a strict review by regulatory body, Ofcom. One of the biggest areas they are looking at over the next few months is the use of the word unlimited which has for a long time been used by companies that don’t offer unlimited broadband at all, and are more than happy to send consumers warning letters and additional charges if they use too much of their bandwidth in too short a time.
Just like with the figures for speed, these limits are often vague – if mentioned at all – and usually not accompanied by any explanation of what they mean. We might live in a much more technically minded world than we did even ten years ago, but recent studies have shown that there are still a large portion of the public who don’t know what terms like bandwidth actually mean. Without help, consumers can often find themselves stuck in lengthy contracts and either having to buy themselves out or put up with bad service.
It’s not all bad though, Virgin and continuing to expand their fibre optic service to more and more customers, which offers not only faster speeds than average but can also achieve close to the speeds advertised for most consumers. BT are also working on a fibre optic broadband roll-out which is already connected to about 400,000 households and hopes to connect several million more by the end of 2012. Both services are available for a competitive price that won’t break the bank compared to standard ADSL services.
There’s still a long way to go before we can expect total transparency in the UK when it comes to broadband speed and bandwidth, and perhaps even longer before we start seeing speeds that people in mainland Europe have already been enjoying for several years. In the mean time, word of mouth and broadband comparison sites continue to be useful tools for figuring out which ISP is going to offer the best service.
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