Broadband Speeds Averaging About 1/3 Of The Speed On The Box

from the up-to dept

By this point, everyone should know that broadband providers always provide “up to” speeds with the connections they sell. By “up to” they usually mean under perfect conditions that you will never, ever see. But just what kinds of speeds should you actually expect? A new study in the UK found that broadband speeds tend to be about a third of the “up to” speed. The worst speeds were about one-eighth of the promoted speed. As the article linked here notes, is it really any surprise that only 30% of people claim they’re satisfied with their broadband? While it still seems like this should be false advertising, so far various regulatory bodies have said that the “up to” language is perfectly legal, no matter how misleading it may be. How hard would it be for an ISP to advertise expected speeds? I would imagine it would have happier, more loyal customers who know that the ISP is actually being honest, rather than hyping up speeds that will never be delivered.

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Comments on “Broadband Speeds Averaging About 1/3 Of The Speed On The Box”

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Tim Bellette (user link) says:

Broadband Speeds Averaging About 1/3 Of The Sp

It is a bit hard for providers to advertise exact speeds, since everyones exact speed would vary depending on line conditions and distance from their exchange or node. One place could get 80% of its advertised speed while a house only a few doors down could only be capable of getting 30% of the advertised speed.

I do agree with the fact that you may vary well, and most probably will not, get full speeds as advertised should be made more aware of by providers. Perhaps a theoretical speed calculator on providers sites or technical help lines should also be available.

With Australian ADSL2+ broadband there are a sites ( which allow you to calculate your distance and an estimated speed you will be able to obtain. However; these are not completely accurate because it also depends on line quality which is not available to these services.

Zeus512 says:

American ISPs

I’ve never had a broadband connection that delivered 1/3 what it promised, mine have always been within 90% delivery of the promoted speeds, from my understanding ISPs tell your modem how fast they are allowed to dl/ul and then the modem trys its best to give you that rate, many factors affect you recieving this speed such as bad packets or interference in the line, but your modem should be set by your ISP to what they bit rate they sold you, so it isn’t false advertising, sure they could go the extra mile and set you modem to a slightly higher speed to make up for the degradation of the signal, but that 10% is’nt going to make a noticable difference to the average user.

Paquito (user link) says:

DSL sucks!

DSL technology sucks…

Well, in fact, technology is not responsible for the actions operators perform (when they say your speed will be 3-6-whatever megabits and then you realize that’s “up to”).

That’s because of the “contention rate” operators should tell you. It means, if you want a 5 megabit DSL but the contention rate is 10, it means you’ll share that speed with 10 other users (always the same in fact), so the minimum speed you can expect is 500 Kbps and the maximum (if the other nine are not using the DSL) would be 5 Mbps…

Long story anyway,

Regards from Spain,


Dick Fer says:

Re: DSL sucks!

You’re talking about two different issues. Line speed, and contention for bandwidth going to the gateway router.
Content providers frequently promise a high line speed, but due to conditions, some subscribers can’t achieve those speeds. Contention is a whole separate issue. Contention is relatively easy to fix. However, there are oversubscription factors that are necessary within telecommunications, or it would be too costly to provide service. The phone and cable companies are selling shared access. You can and should complain if you get a good line speed, but a poor connection to the internet.

With that, the article is kind of funny. It says only 30% of the subscribers are satisfied. I’d say that less than 30% actually understand what they’ve purchased or how it works. They have even less understanding of how conditions affect their line rate. Many people have wi-fi, and the overhead, latency, and RF interference frequently cause troubles that are unrelated to the line rate, yet contribute to the overall experience.

I’ve never had trouble with broadband connections. I had a DSL line that was bad. I dropped it like a hot potato, then re-ordered years later and it was much improved. Architecture changes have improved technology.

Da_ALC says:

disagree, its perfectly easy for exact speeds to be advertised. The pro0blem is that they take on to many people for their lines/ bandwidth, and so up and down it..
Thats clled been greedy. Making money out of people by shifting up and down and supplying as many people as possible with a bad service, rther than a good service to a set ammount.
Fine from a business angle, not fine from mine!

Sorry for the limited explanations of my feelings here, i iz in a rush.

commonsense says:

on the box? or in the company's ad?

there’s a difference. the equipment is made to handle “up to a” certain speed, but that has nothing to do with what the broadband provider will be supplying to the box. contrary to what paquito mentions, DSL speeds are pretty consistent and reliable – unlike cable speeds which are capable of higher speeds but fluctuate according to the number of users in an area. DSL speeds just depend on the distance from the central switching office and/or is there are additional local routers between the CSO and your location.
so the lead article mentions the speed on the box, which is not the same as the speed offered by the service provider.

GoblinJuice says:


UK study, eh? I’ve heard horror stories about the UK’s broadband market… not sure if it applies to the US of A.

I’ve had the most experience with Comcast. When it works, it works great (at or above the advertised rate) 95+% of the time. I’ve only had to call them a couple times in a few years.

As for false advertising… that’s bullshit. They make it clear it’s “up to”. If you want an ironclad, “I can sue you if you don’t perform” sorta level of performance… that’ll cost you – big. =D

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: eh.

The problem is not that people want an ironclad estimate. It’s people are fed up with hearing “up to” 24Mbit and then they get 500Kbit. Come on, that’s just taking the piss.

Would you buy a car if the manufacturer told you it could reach “up to” 200 miles per hour, then you go test it and it hits 75 max?

The reality is ISPs can give decent predictions on your likely speed, every ISP I’ve had has done this. BUT only at my request. They simply will not do it at will because they know full well if they start telling people they will ONLY get 500Kbit MAX they might go for other services like cable.

As for Broadband in the UK, it varies greatly. I have an “up to” 24Mbit connection that syncs at 16Mbit and gives me on average 1.5MB per sec downloads. So yeah, it’s good. But I live in the centre of London so I expect it to be good. Others who don’t live so centrally get very poor speeds and reliability.

Dom says:

Advertising Speeds

At the end of the day, practically all ISP websites provide a “line checker” facility that tells you the sorts of speeds that you can expect.

If this can be done (and clearly it can be) then there’s no reason for ISP’s to be misleading. Sure, some people might get near enough to 8Mb broadband, but before you sign on the dotted line with an ISP, they should tell you in no uncertain terms what to expect. That way there’d be no confusion.

People would still complain that they had to ring up before they were told that they weren’t going to recieve 8Mb, but it’s better than signing up with an ISP and THEN finding out…

Neverhood says:

Experience from Denmark

As far as I have seen here in north europe, advertisers don’t say “up to” speed when they advertise. It must be a UK thing.

If the line is not broken, speeds is usually at 85-90%+ of advertised speed here in Denmark.

Ofcause there is the rare occation where a new company wants to get a fast marked share and use the “up to X speed” slogan, but they don’t tend to be around that long.

If your speed is less than ~85% of advertised speed I recommend to call your ISP… It has solved my problem 2 times now.

TimW says:

UK speeds

Up to a few years ago, most UK speeds were given as absolutes. One would buy a “normal” 512kb connection or an upgraded 1 or 2mb.

Then some smaller ISPs started to advertise 8mb connections with small print giving details of “Yes you might get 8mb ifd you live next door to the telephone exchange and nobody in your area is sharing the line”. This prompted the larger ISPs to go down the same route.

To be fair to the ISPs this small print is always fairly prominant once you get to a sign up stage.

The UK suffers from poor quality phone lines (lack of investment over many years) and fairly high contention ratios (1:50 being most common). Over the last year or so broadband use has increased because of offers of “Free broadband” tied into mobile phone and satellite TV deals.

Personally, I live about a mile from the exchange, have a 1:30 contention ratio and get about 4mb/s on my advertised 8mb connection.

The Todd says:


I have worked for many different ISPs an worked with even more. I have seen issues where the speeds aren’t as advertised because its a small local ISP just getting started and can’t afford to increase it’s bandwidth so much that everyone gets what they want. In fact, they tend to use traffic shaping to stop the file sharing or at least slow it down. But even in the worst cases, I’ve only ever seen maybe 60% of advertised. I think this report is based on UK ISPs. I also would make the argument that DSL should not have that big of a loss as some people are saying when you live a long way from the headend. Using old ADSL technology we were capable of 95% at 8 miles and we were just a little telco with 400 DSL customers.

Spuds (profile) says:

DSL Speed...

DSL speed is widely variable based on a number of factors… the primary one being the inside wiring in the home. If your inside wiring isn’t what it should be, if you have improper DSL filtering done (modem filtered or no filters at all) then your speed will suffer.

Likewise, your distance from the central office will affect the speeds you will receive. With ADSL 1, the limit is about 18,000 feet (~6,000m) — And yes, “JimBob” could be limited to 512K at the DSLAM… and even though JimBob is across the street from the central office, all he can hope for is the 512K because that’s what he pays for.

|333173|3|_||3 says:

Re: Re:

The traqffic monitors should monitor how fast your connection really is, and charge accordingly. Here is an example: if I pay for 16Mbps ADSL2+, then if I can get that speed or faster than I gt that speed, adn am charged accordingly. When my speed drops below that, I get charged for the lower speed connection based on the percentage of the month for which I get that speed. THis way my bill might look like:

12Mbps $20 500H 25 $5
8Mbps $15 1000H 50 $7.50
4Mbps $12 500h 25 $4

TOTAL $16.50

Haywood says:

I'd settle for a little consistency

I don’t doubt that at times I exceed my “up to” speed. The problem is that what I get is like batch feeding. Right after a modem reboot it is usually blazing, then it slowly deteriorates to slower than dial-up and stays there until the signal gets so weak that the modem gives up and reboots. I’ve noticed that about a month before my contract is up for renewal all this magically goes away and I get exquisite service. I wouldn’t renew, but this is my only option except satellite.

Anonymous Coward says:

I actually have DSL and I’m paying for 3M down and 384 up, but im actually getting a steady rate over 5M down and 384 up — so I’m loving it. Its steady because it never varies like cable will when you neighborhood tries to get online with you.

You just need to ensure your close enough to a distribution box, which grows everyday as their increase their networks in areas of increased demands. So its a catch22, gotta demand it before you get it.

ComcastUS says:

I’ve been frustrated with comcast in the past (mostly because their tech support offers no assistance in confirming local router/packet loss issues – “reboot your pc”), but I get advertised speed in the middle of center city Philadelphia.

I’m curious how they’re testing the connection – is it just one HTTP download? What about usenet? Without fail I always max out my connection when downloading from usenet on 8 simultaneous connections to newshosting/giganews/usenetserver/whomever.

Rick says:

up to 100MPG

I was just thinking about how the car companies could start advertising ‘up to’ 100MPG cars.

In fine print you would find if driven downhill in neutral 785% of the time by a professional stunt driver….

Congress would outlaw or regulate ‘up to’ language so fast, you’d think they actually did something for once.

Monarch says:


Da_ALC, ISPs can NOT easily advertise exact speeds, unless you want to advertise low expectations. ISPs do NOT actually oversell either. I’ve worked for ISPs since 1998, and as technology has improved, so has speed.
DSL and cable are on ATM and Frame Relays that share bandwidth by design. It’s not overselling bandwidth, it’s by design. Why, well let’s see, you can purchase a T1 connection of 1536kbps for say $600/mo. or you can purchase a DSL or Cable connection for say $50/mo for 3-6mbps down and 512kbps up. There may be a couple hundred customers hooked up to the DSLAM or Switch that shares a DS3 for bandwidth.
What would the average customer be willing to pay for, for 3mbps download speeds? $1,200/mo for 2 mlppp T1s or $50/mo for a DSL or cable connection.
Then on top of that, the DSL and Cable are affected by Line Quality, Distance, voltage regulation and other issues. It’s not like a dedicated T1 internet access connection. Granted there are Frame and ATM T1 connections available, that share bandwidth through a switch also, and you can get them for around $200/mo, but if everyone were to use full bandwidth, there would not be enough there, causing latency. That’s the risk you take for purchasing cheap bandwidth. It’s not greed, it’s monetary fact. There is a very slim profit line from ISPs and Telco’s who provide that bandwidth. Especially in the Technical Support expenses, as the majority of calls to technical support are from lazy, ignorant or stupid people who call in for support they could fix themselves by using common sense or reading a help file. And that is especially true for people who have certs, they are almost the worst, as they THINK they know what the hell they are talking about.

charter hater says:

charter blows

I had fun with Charter Comm. internet connection would drop for about 12 hours a day. I kept complaining. This went on for 6 months. They finally sent a tech over and he was like, zomg!! all the apartments are dropping connection at the same time, this isn’t on your end. I was like, no duh! seems no one else complained… drinking town, no one cares about the internet. Also, this apartment is 100′ from a fiber hub and has a direct hard line. Eventually I just dropped the service because I was not getting.. service. Anyway, when the ‘not paying’ caught up to me and i got their lovely internal network IP and a constant redirection to a “Your account is having issues, contact us” page.. I was like WTF?!!?!?!?! i can access their warning page and get 0% loss to it, but when they reactivate my internet and get a ‘normal’ IP, i get 95-100% loss?!

LoneWolf367 (user link) says:

Mostly satisfactory service

I myself being a cable customer for the past 6 years from Charter Comm have almost always been able to get the speed advertised for my purchased package, at least to about 90-95%.

I want to know why I get disconnected every so often. When my “always on” connection gets disconnected for a 2 minute period several times a week, thats not always on and causes me some headaches. That’s false advertising.

Rat says:

Standard stuff on ADSL

Advertising ADSL as “up to” is all well and goodly, but a better mention of the factors that adversely effect your connection really needs to be addressed.

ADSL speeds are determined by: Cable Distance between user-exchange. Cable quality user-exchange, internal wiring on the users’ end, filtering of telephony devices, the technology of the modem (eg, G.DMT only), the technology of the DSLAM and ADSL equipment in the exchange, and the rate the ISP has set for the user.

Note that I didn’t mention line-sharing. Fibre suffers from load, ADSL doesn’t, or at least does to a negligible degree.

Here in Australia, with our poorly-maintained infrastructure, cable quality is the biggest killer of speed. The other factor that limits ADSL speeds is becoming Port availability on ADSL2/2+ DSLAMs. – even the 256kbps-1500kbps equipment is filling up.

From what I see of my employers’ DSLAMs and the users connected to, most get around the 8mbps mark, with a few on the outskirts of an exchange limited to 2-7mbps.
Very few on the ISP’s own equipment get under 1.5mbps, if any.
Generally speaking, it’s not too hard to get “Up to 8mbps”, but really, people expect too much magic from ADSL2 or 2+.
It uses higher frequencies. It dies out quicker, and has more signal to be interfered with. Short distance is critical.

I clock about 2km from my exchange, and get around 17mbps. Sure I pay for 24mbps, but really, no-one gets that speed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Standard stuff on ADSL

How can you possibly measure that kind of performance? I used to work for an ISP that would push 30mbps through their core router (in the city that I lived in) at peak times of the day out a single DS3. I never found a speed test (at the time) that was able to show me more than 8-10mbps even when we were only using about 5mbps in the middle of the night. Once you hit a certain speed, they only true way to test such a connection is to initiate multiple concurrent uploads/downloads to multiple different locations. (ie: 1000+ isp customers going to different places all at the same time)

The problem with advertising “expected speeds” is that people somehow “expect” that they will get that speed everywhere. Also, everything from operating system, internet browser, amount of malware, etc can dramatically slow down an internet connection to a computer. I had customers that I would show up to that would only be able to download at 200kbps on their w95/98 computer and when I plugge my laptop into their connection I was getting 1.2mbps+.

As far as the comments on oversubscription. I guarantee that any major residential isp is oversubscribing a lot more than 10:1. If we did not oversubscribe we would almost have needed a 1gig connection to the internet, but we only used 30mbps peak. Even at DS3 and OC3 speeds the ports alone (no local loop) would cost us $30-60/meg. (we were getting pricing like that because we were in 14 states at the time) You can bet on another 25% in loop depending on the location.

Anonymous Coward says:

I work for a cable provider( which will remain nameless at this point)

but the particular region i work in. our rating is over 90% of the ‘up to’ speeds.

my previous employer, who i will freely name “BellCrap” was shoddy at best. if i recall, from when i worked there, about 25%-40% of the advertised “up to” speeds, (but this was over 2 years ago)

Rat says:

Standard Stuff

How can ISPs determine connection speed a client gets?
A lot of ISPs have the ability to remote connect to the particular DSLAM and determine the exact statistics for the currently synched session – same as the data that would appear in your ADSL modem.
Hell, this data has enabled me to advise (judging by particular frequencies dying out in the ADSL curve) customers to have their filtering setup looked at, have their internal wiring checked (or their cable looked at) and has in a lot of those cases improved their sync rate by 2-5mbps!

Most, if not all clients get the appropriate download speed for the sync rate they get.

Where it really does fall flat, though, is international bandwidth.
Downloads from non-Australia locations result in bottlenecks around 100kB/s, or only 1mbps sync.
If memory serves, we only have the one pipe going out from this island, and with the amount of ADSL connected people there are now, there simply isn’t enough bandwidth to go around.
What this translates to is complaining customers claiming their download speeds are a teeny-tiny fraction of their total connection speed. And they’re correct!
Sadly, there’s naught that can be done about it, aside from laying another $1bn or so for another pipeline. =(

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