Broadband still not up to speed

In Britain, we’re keen followers of the latest technology – just last year, industry regulator Ofcom’s annual report outlined how we were abandoning older media such as TVs, radio and even DVDs in favour of the internet, mobile phones and MP3 players. However, new research suggests we may not be well placed to capitalise on the next generation of web services and applications.

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A global study, conducted by a team of MBA students from the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford and the University of Oviedo’s Department of Applied Economics, revealed that the UK is lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to the quality of its broadband connection.

The study looked at broadband connections in 42 countries and found that while more than half enjoyed connections with the level of performance required – delivering a consistent, quality experience for most web applications today – the UK, on average, fell just below the threshold. Even more worryingly, of the countries studied, only Japan is currently prepared to deliver the quality required for the next-generation web applications that we can expect to see introduced over the next three to five years – such as high quality video services, cinema-quality live broadcasts, streaming and user-generated content.

Why has the UK fallen behind?
Some of the top-performing countries, such as Sweden and the Netherlands, which finished second and third in the study respectively, have invested heavily in fibre and cable network upgrades, something the UK has been slow to do.

The quality of a broadband connection is affected by numerous factors including broadband speeds in both directions, the quality of the cables used and how many people are using the network at any one time. That means it’s not always the broadband provider’s fault if you don’t receive the broadband speeds you expect.

Nevertheless, several providers are investing heavily in superfast broadband. Virgin Media has already built a fibre network and is due to launch its improved internet offering, with speeds of up to 50 megabits (Mb) per second, by Christmas, and will roll it out to 12 million homes by 2012. The network aims to allow users to download a song in just one second, an album in 10 seconds and a TV show in one minute. BT has also said it will invest £1.5billion to bring superfast broadband to 10 million homes.

So who is the best in Britain now?
Many broadband providers are still not delivering the speeds they advertise according to the latest moneysupermarket.com quarterly speed test results. Our speed test, which looks at almost 60,000 internet connections and measures average speeds, shows that O2 remains the most consistent performer with an average speed of 4.95Mb on its 8Mb package. Sky took second place with actual speeds of 3.63Mb on its 8Mb deals, while Orange also entered the top three with its 8Mb offering posting an average speed of 3Mb.

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While the performance of O2 in particular is encouraging, the results show that broadband providers in Britain are still failing to deliver the speeds they advertise. Though the European Commission has called on telecoms companies to share access to their superfast networks, with profits at risk this looks highly unlikely.

The speed tests, carried out on connections advertised between 2Mb and 24Mb show that for best value people should look at 2Mb products. The 2Mb packages achieved average speeds of 2.08Mb – therefore exceeding the speeds advertised. If you wish to test your own broadband connection against the speed you are paying for, use our broadband speed test.

The key when shopping around for a deal is to consider your browsing habits first, particularly if you are likely to make a heavy amount of downloads, such as if you work online or enjoy online gaming. Although 2Mb deals may offer the best value, heavy users should still opt for the fastest option they can afford.

So what deals are available?
Before deciding on a broadband package that’s right for you, think about what you use the internet for and how often you use it. There is no point paying for superfast broadband when all you do is browse occasionally, and similarly if you do a lot of downloading you may be frustrated by a slower connection.

Heavy users, such as online gamers, and those who regularly download movie or TV content, should look for 8Mb packages as a minimum. The O2 Standard package offers up to 8Mb speeds for just £7.50 a month if you’re an existing O2 customer and £12.50 a month for other users. If your internet usage is even more extreme, the O2 Ultimate package offers speeds up to 20Mb for £15 a month for O2 mobile customers or £20 a month for other users. Both deals also offer unlimited downloads*.

If you only use the internet for casual browsing and checking emails then a 2Mb connection should be fast enough. Sky Base is free to existing Sky customers and offers up to 2Mb speeds and a two gigabyte (GB) download cap.

The most frequent internet users should also pay close attention to download caps – this is the limit on the amount of downloads you can make per the terms of your contract before you are charged extra. While most packages now offer unlimited downloads, there are still some that impose download limits. Talktalk, for example, has a 40GB download cap on all of its packages, which would be more than adequate for all but the heaviest internet users. However, AOL only offers a 10GB limit, BT Option One a 10GB limit and Plusnet Option One has a 2GB limit.

When you bear in mind that it takes 600Mb to download a one hour TV programme, and more than 1GB to download a typical music concert, your allowance could be used up quickly.

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Disclaimer: Please note that any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing.

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