How fast is my service?
Posted by Karen on Sep 15, 2010 12:00:00 AM
With Ofcom keen to set restrictions on advertised internet speeds, it is important to remember the difficulties in assessing the potential speed a user can get until the service has been installed. Back in the old days with fixed rate products, such as BT ADSL IPStream and SDSL, it was much easier to downgrade a user’s service to the next available product if the bandwidth they desired was technically not possible to deliver. However with the advent of ‘up to’ services customers receive the fastest speed their line can support for the same monthly charge. This change took place with the launch of ADSLmax (ADSL2) services from BT and many other LLU carriers followed suit. What users forget is that the overall cost of the service reduced dramatically during this time and focus was put on the bandwidth used, rather than the all-you-can-eat model that coined the word ‘broadband’. This meant that it no longer cost any more or less to deliver faster speeds and the onus was more on the amount of data transmitted. So while there is uproar in the consumer markets over advertised speeds and the actual speed they receive, there isn’t any cost saving for them if they were instead offered a 4 Mb/s product than the 8 Mb/s service they signed up to. From the carrier’s perspective, the faster the line the more likely you are to use the bandwidth, and hence the more it will be able to charge. Fundamentally the system is flawed because with the advent of TV and Voice services over IP the consumer will be penalised more than if we had kept the old model of fixed rate products. The issue I would be more interested in Ofcom tackling is the one of contention ratios and the fact that networks slow during peak hours as packet inspection/restriction takes place. A lot of this activity is kept secret from the end user in a bid to not look anticompetitive. I believe that complete transparency on traffic manipulation and contention would give consumers better visibility into the quality of the service they receive rather than focusing on headline speeds.