Friday, October 6, 2017

Ofcom consults on improvements to point of sale broadband speeds

Changes are on the way for the Broadband Speeds Code of Practice and today we have found out the latest proposals from Ofcom, but importantly this is still a consultation and if the proposals are adopted the code of practice will not change until 2018. Of course as we are already seeing some providers are changing how they talk about speed and guarantees ahead of any actual changes coming into force.

  • At the point of sale and in contracts extra speed information should be given to highlight peak time speeds. Ofcom is defining peak time as 8pm to 10pm
  • The minimum guaranteed speed must be made visible before a sale. This seems to mean that in addition to the range of speeds people get when checking their telephone number or address that the minimum speed guaranteed needs to be shown.
  • Only allow providers a 1 month window to improve speeds before a customer can leave a service penalty-free and this is to extend to bundle contracts that include phone and pay-TV services.
  • The Broadband Speeds Code of Practice is to extend to all broadband technologies where operators have signed up to the Code of Practice.

The Ofcom release does not always make a clear distinction between connection speed and throughput speeds, and while the difference should only be 4 to 10% with a perfect setup as the speeds sold increase the differences become more visible and the distinction is important.

  • Connection Speed for those on VDSL2/ADSL2+ services this is the sync speed reported in the modem/router and the largest issue for the DSL based services is the physics of distance and attenuation. Full fibre and DOCSIS cable services have it easier since the connection is fixed.
  • Throughput Speed essentially the speed you see when downloading or uploading data and as reported by speed tests. This is of course subject to the limit of the connection speed, but other factors such as protocol overheads, TCP/IP stack optimisation, Wi-Fi connectivity and PC performance all have an impact. 

Generally to date any minimum guaranteed speed has referred to the connection speed, and the changes to the code of practice of adding information about peak time speeds will go a long way to addressing the gap that people see between throughput and connection speed. A key point is that two providers selling a GEA-FTTC 40/10 service should have very similar connection speeds (there is a small variation down to DLM profile picked), it is possible their peak speeds reported may vary though, but how useful that will be depends on how granular the results are e.g. UK wide, region, county, town or cabinet level.

With the guaranteed speed extending now to the fixed speed services such as Virgin Media the proposal is that the guaranteed download speed for those services be at least 50% of the advertised speed.

Reducing the window of time from unlimited to just 1 month before you can exit the contract penalty free over speed issues will avoid providers who keep using the trick of 'we have made a change and you need to wait 10 days to see if things improve' repeatedly, and while it has the possibility of forcing providers to get better at resolving speed issues it may have a negative effect of increasing their costs which will then be passed on as a price rise, or put more simpler if providers start sending out more replacement hardware, sending out engineers then the cost of this has to be recovered from somewhere.

For those with multiple broadband options at their address flip flopping between providers until you find one that performs as you want can be time consuming and if these rule changes do increase churn rates we would bet that providers will lower the guarantees given to try and improve their confidence they will hit and exceed the mark. If providers do their jobs correctly having to keep taking days off so a 'boost' engineer can visit and check your in home wiring to ensure its not the cause of the guarantee not been met will become annoying. Moving forward safeguards may need to be added to avoid major providers refusing to deliver a service to some people e.g. those with longer lines where predicting the guaranteed speed is harder, reducing the retail provider choice to a choice of one is not in the consumers interest usually and we already know of some where the advertised product is not offered to avoid impacting on speed test results if people fall below a certain speed.

So its time to see what the industry responses are to the consultation and once changes are implemented what is the variation between the operators.

With the ASA/CAP expected to rule on speeds talked about in broadband advertising very soon, we are running a real danger of so much changing in a short time frame for the public that people get confused between the advertised speeds, guaranteed speed and peak time speeds.


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