The average broadband speed received by UK consumers has increased by about 10% since the end of 2010, according to new research from telecoms regulator Ofcom.
Its figures show that while households with broadband were receiving 6.2Mbit a second in the last two months of 2010, this had jumped to 6.8Mbit per second by May this year.
One reason for this is that “superfast” broadband services are now available in most UK homes.
However, the bad news is that signing up to a new package promising quicker speeds is no guarantee of better access as the gap between actual speeds and advertised, or ‘up to', speeds has also increased.
The difference between actual and advertised speeds
Ofcom’s researchers found that the average advertised speed in May 2011 was 15Mbit a second, 8.2Mbit a second higher than average actual speeds of 6.8Mbit a second.
During the last two months of 2010, on the other hand, the gap was just 7.6Mbit a second, based on an average actual speed of 6.2Mbit per second and an average advertised speed of 13.8Mbit a second.
Adam Scorer, Director of External Affairs at Consumer Focus, said: ‘Consumers often pay extra for faster broadband and if they are paying a premium price they rightly expect a premium product.
It is worrying that the gap between advertised and actual speeds has grown. This is something which will doubtless be causing frustration for customers up and down the country.
‘All broadband providers should be upfront and honest about the real speed consumers will receive - and Ofcom and the Advertising Standards Authority must hold them to this.
If broadband suppliers are going to try to tempt customers in with eye-catching speeds they must make sure they are improving the network to make those speeds a reality.'
Benefits of ‘superfast’ services
“Superfast” broadband services seem to offer the best connectivity.
Ofcom's figures reveal that services of this kind offer significantly faster speeds than copper ADSL broadband, meaning that the difference between headline speed claims and actual speeds is much smaller – or even non-existent.
The average download speed on Virgin Media's 30Mbit per second service, for example, is 31Mbit a second, while its 50Mbit a second service offers average speeds of 48Mbit a second.
However, more than 75 per cent of UK residential broadband connections are currently delivered by copper ADSL telephone lines.
Speeds for these consumers therefore depend on the length and quality of the line running from their home to the local exchange.
In other words, the closer you live to the exchange, the better the performance. And if you live a long way away, the results can be very disappointing, with more than a third of people on packages promising speeds of ‘up to' 20Mbit or 24Mbit per second via ADSL getting just 4Mbit per second or less.
Ofcom is therefore trying to raise the number of households that can receive “superfast” broadband by publishing a broadband map of the UK to show performance in different areas and to help the Government and local authorities decide where money needs to be invested.
However, this is scant comfort for the many consumers up and down the country paying a premium price for what is not in reality a premium product.
Moneysupermarket.com is therefore calling for all broadband providers to be upfront and honest about the real speeds people can expect and for Ofcom and the Advertising Standards Authority to take appropriate action against them if they fail to do this.
Mike Wilson, manager of mobiles and broadband at moneysupermarket.com said: “The speeds advertised should be the speeds that people actually receive.
When purchasing broadband, providers have to give you an estimation of the speed you will receive to ensure you're not buying a product that doesn't meet your needs.
“Consumers should hold their provider to account if they aren't getting the service they've paid for. If you're not happy with your broadband speed and service you should vote with your feet and switch providers if you feel you aren't getting value for money.
"It really is worthwhile remembering that 'superfast' packages are only necessary if your household has multiple users or if you are a big online gamer. If you don't actually need the high price 'superfast' package there are many other products available at a more reasonable price."
Use our free gadget to test your broadband speed
and to see what kind of service your neighbours are getting from different providers. This is a really simple test but if you need some guidance, watch our video 'How to test your broadband speed
How to improve your broadband speed
Top tips for enhancing the broadband speeds you receive include calling your provider to report the problem and see if there is anything it can do to help and trying to avoid going online at peak times.
You can also try repositioning your router, securing your network to ensure your neighbours are not making your broadband slower by using it to get online, and by upgrading your web browser.
Once you have tried all that, though, it may well be worth switching to a provider with a good reputation for providing faster connection, such as Virgin Media, which benefits from its cable network, and Orange.
Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing.