Friday, 30 November 2012

76Mb broadband?

The fastest BT FTTC services used to be advertised as "up to 80M" (I think), and now it is advertised as "up to 76M". Why?

The answer is new rules that say that ISPs have to show that the speeds they quote can be achieved by at least 10% of customers.

Why is this? and has this new rule helped?

I have trouble understanding why this was an issue. I, personally, never had any issue with use of "up to". It is clear to me that it means a maximum. It means, in essence, that I would not get faster than that speed but could get anything that is slower, possibly much slower. After all, when we had 56k modems, did anyone ever see one sync at 56k? I never did, but did ASA get involved, no!

It seems that people would buy services "up to 24M" or some such, and then complain when they got 23M, or got 2M or whatever. The fact that some, indeed many, got the 24M, did not matter, as they "did not get what was advertised". I have actually heard people say that about their broadband (not with us), and get very puzzled when I try to explain what "up to" means, and that as long as what they got "was not faster" then they are getting the speed that was advertised. But then I never understand why I have to explain thermostats to people, either!

Surely the solution to this is education. To explain what "up to" means so that people don't misunderstand. There have been a load of sensible moves to ensure ISPs provide availability checks that give realistic ideas of speeds likely to be achieved. They even went as far as insisting a range of speeds is quoted. That is all sensible, and managing expectations. It does not help with BT charging ISPs for this data, but it is good for educating customers.

So, this move has meant, for example, the BT adverts I see on my blog saying "up to 76M" instead of saying "up to 80M". Clearly, assuming they picked this based on these new rules, that means 90% of people will get less than the advertised speed. So instead of being a nice round number and a reflection of the technology and the service behind it, it is now a less easy number that is slightly lower. Does that help? Also, all ISPs are affected, so it does not really make a comparison between ISPs any better. It is also true that the "feel" of an internet access technology will depend on a lot more than the raw speed of the "tail" link. It will depend on a lot of factors including stuff "in the Internet" and not down to the ISP at all. There are differences between technologies, such as the way DSL works, the way satellite links work, and the way cable services work, which have a major impact on the way the service feels, but are nothing to do with headline speed. These are what you really need when comparing ISPs using different technologies. These new rules do not help a jot with that.

So all this does, in theory, is reduce complaints to ASA by 10%. Does that actually help consumers? I think not. I think it makes matters worse.

What do A&A do? We don't say what speed the line can go up to. For a long time we used "not faster than", but we don't even say that now. In a technical description we do explain that FTTC technology (VDSL) can, in theory, do over 100Mb/s, but that *no* customers can get that as the service is available capped to either 80M or 40M. These caps are not variable or a grey area - e.g. everyone (who can get FTTC) can get a service with a 80M cap. Their service might be 30M or 20M (see the checker!), but the cap we are applying is 80M, not "up to 80M". We're not saying "up to" at all, we're saying "look at the checker for your number". So this means we have an 80/20M capped FTTC service which looks better than BTs "up to 76M" service, even though the last mile technology is exactly the same and a specific customer may only get 30M on either service. Madness. I am not going to say "up to 76M" on a service where any customer could get more than 76M as it would be a lie, and I don't lie in adverts.

Given how irrational the original complaint of "not getting the speed advertised" was, I wonder if we can start a campaign of new complaints. When someone buying an "up to 76M" service gets 80M, or anything over 76M, they should complain to ASA. The basis of the complaint? Well, that the advert is clearly wrong and clearly a lie as they get more than the "up to" rate stated. So if the advert is a lie, what speed are others getting. Is a customer that is getting 80M losing out because others are getting 90M or 100M. After all, the "up to" was a lie, so what else is a lie in the advert? It is totally irrational, but no more so than the original complaints, IMHO.

Anyway, just my opinion.

22 comments:

  1. It is always complicated trying to explain these things to today's typical customer. "Up to" some speed is not a promise that it will definitely be faster for you than one advertised as "up to" half that speed... though it is a declaration that it could be faster.

    It even confuses the suppliers, with one company trying to offer me a service that they claimed would (i.e. not might) be 75% faster than A&A... over the same copper line! Even I had to explain the meaning of "up to" then.

    It would be far better to state that the speed will be "between (lowest) and (highest)" - they would be guaranteeing the lowest and saying "you might get the highest speed if you're lucky". They would of course have to make the promise realistic, or that would be false advertising. They could use a "typically" speed if they wish as well.

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    1. Indeed, but either it is a quote based on the actual line, in which case it is done now and is realistic, or a general statement, in which case it is From 135k to 24M sync speed, which is the same as saying up to 24M in effect. Of course one could make a purely marketing distinction in services and have an FTTC service that is only sold where 80M is achieved. That is a guaranteed 80M service (only available in 10% of FTTC areas).

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  2. Out of interest, how many customers do you have who could get >76M?

    How easy would it be to take just these customers and move them to a new ISP (sub-AAISP/AAISP group member etc.) which could then quite legitimately claim to offer a faster service to BT (subject to prospective customers meeting the criteria of being within x metres of their local cabinet, or whatever)?

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    1. Indeed. I am not sure you need to make a separate ISP. Just have a marketing distinction where we sell "normal FTTC" and also a special "Guaranteed 80M service". The latter being exactly the same technology but only available to a smaller number of customers (i.e. where it is 80M). You then sell the :"guaranteed 80M service" as the headline with the "Sorry, you can't get that service where you are but we do our normal FTTC service there, would you like that". Deviously, one could even charge more for the "guaranteed 80M" service!

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    2. I didn't use to get 56k on my modem but I did get 53.333, which was nice at the time!

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  3. >>But then I never understand why I have to explain thermostats to people, either!

    Nor me - but I've blown SWMBO's mind with a programmable roomstat... she couldn't cope with the hysteresis of the "set and forget" thermostat (why is the heating not on, it's set for 20 and it's 19 now?) but now it has different set temperatures for different times of the day (and also for each day) - she's completely floored by the apparent complexity of it.

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  4. I think the original problem consisted of two parts: customer understanding of what's they're going to get, and what the supplier does when they don't get what they want. The customer sees an advert for "up to 24 Mbps internets" and places an order. They get 4 Mbps and are unhappy. The supplier says "tough". The ASA has attempted to deal with this by reducing expectations, which as you say is daft.

    To deal with the customer's understanding the system needs to be explained better (and AAISP has done a fairly good job of this). I think a bit part of the problem is that people don't realise ADSL is a compromise technology. Millions of people are connecting to the internet using crufty old wet string purely because it's cheaper than putting in proper cables. If I were an ISP I'd say something like:

    "There is internet infrastructure at your local telephone exchange. The service we sell, ADSL, is a system for connecting to that infrastructure using your existing phone line. We use your phone line because it is much cheaper to do that than to fit a new dedicated [fibre] cable, which would cost in the region of £squillions. Phone lines vary greatly in quality, as they are often decades old. ADSL does its best with what's available and can create a connection of between 0 and 24 Mbps. That's what you're buying, and there's no way to tell what you'll get until the equipment is installed."

    This should reduce disappointment.

    To deal with disappointment customers should be given more options:

    "The installation charge for ADSL is £X. Normally we waive that charge if you sign up for 12 months. If after your line is installed you don't get the data rate you wanted you can cancel the service immediately and all you have to pay is the initial installation charge. Alternatively we can put in a dedicated [fibre] line for you which will be guaranteed to get 100 Mbps. That costs £squillions."

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    1. Indeed, though the checkers are pretty good before installation now. The problem is the "headline" in the advert, which is far too small to explain. Making it "0-24Mb/s" will not make any more sense than "up to 24Mb/s" sadly.

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  5. I'd say that at least one person per day comes into BE IRC asking "Why is BE only up to 16mbps now"? when nothing has changed exchange side.. just advertising rules have changed. Leads to a very confusing conversation of them or other IRC users basically saying that the website lies and they will get faster if their line can cope with it.

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  6. Some people just like complaining about anything...

    Although to be fair there aren't too many products where you have to purchase the service with an upfront charge, and commit to perhaps a year of paying for it without knowing exactly in advance what you are getting.

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    1. To be fair, the checkers are pretty good, so you are not buying blind. It is the "headline" price that is the issue. Also, with FTTC, if your line cannot get the forecast, you can back out of the deal - most people don't know that.

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  7. I ordered fttc from you, I promise not to complain as long as I get more speed than my ADSL :)

    I might complain (but wont) about the "free" router though that just arrived, the box contains a manufacturers leaflet and amongst the pointless "safety" instructions it says :-

    "Unless express and prior approval by Technicolor in writing, you may not :-"
    "..."
    "* Copy, Rent, Loan, Re-sell, sub-license or otherwise transfer or distribute the equipment to others"


    Really? I'm not allowed to sell or give away the router when I'm finished with it? I know it's not your leaflet, but even so, you did supply it with those instructions :)

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    1. What the hell. I will look in o that now. It is totally unendorceable and wrong. I don't know what to say. Please do ignore it.

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    2. Oh I intended to, and I may have misinterpreted it, it seems to be in a section talking about software for the wifi part. But even so it's a strange thing to be in there. Not a problem at all, just thought I'd mention it :)

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  8. I think the "up to" speed is pretty meaningless and really shouldn't be used in advertising as it currently is. When I buy an internet connection I'm interested in what speed I'm likely to see, not the speed that the technology is _theoretically_ able to do for the 0.01% of people who live right next door to the DSLAM.

    When car manufacturers quote fuel consumption figures, they aren't "up to X mpg in almost impossibly perfect conditions" which would only be achievable by using hypermiler techniques, they give you a "combined" figure that is closer to what the average buyer is going to see under normal driving conditions. And what that "combined" figure means is regulated, so it is a like-for-like comparison between vendors.

    For internet connections, I would be happier to see a minimum, maximum and average speed quoted in advertising literature, so that I can judge what I'm likely to get - "up to 76Mbps" is worthless because it applies equally to connections that can do 76Mbps and connections that just about manage 50bps (yes, I know BT have a lower limit below which it is considered a fault - that limit isn't stated in anyone's advertising though, they only concentrate on the top end which only a few people can get).

    Here's a good example: using G.DMT, I can get a sync rate of about 7.8Mbps, which is advertised as "up to 8Mbps". When my line was moved onto the 21CN, my connection was suddenly advertised as "up to 24Mbps" (ADSL2+), yet if I switch my router to ADSL2+ mode I get a sync rate of about 9Mbps - an extremely marginal improvement at best, certainly not what you'd expect if someone told you the top speed of your line was tripling. As an aside, whilst ADSL2+ does give me a very marginally faster connection, its unstable as hell so I've just left it running G.DMT - I've not raised any kind of complaint with my ISP because I'm pretty sure that if I did I would simply be told that 9Mbps is within the bounds of "up to 24Mbps".

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    1. And these 'up to' or otherwise speeds are not really suitable for deciding which ISP to use as you will get the same sync speed for all ISPs using the same technology (fttc, adtl2+ etc). What is far more useful for comparing/selecting ISPs is how much of the sync speed is usable and how much (or little) it degrades during peak times. You read of people complaining that their line (on ADSL1) syncs at 8M but at peak times their download is consistently less than 2M but the expected approx 7M during the early hours of the morning.

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  9. I suppose the up to 76Mbit/s is due to the overheads since even with a sync rate of 80Mbit/s it is not possible to actually get 80Mbit/s of IP throughput on the line.

    A lot of the cable companies used to over provision their cable service to take this into account, not sure if they still do now they've all merged into NTL/VM.

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    1. Not for FTTC as sync on VDSL is quoted at Ethernet rte not ATM rate. It is this crap ASA thing.

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  10. Note that the actual rule is that "at least 10% of subscribers in the geographic area targeted by an advert must be able to get the advertised speed".

    The target is providers advertising directly to your home - it used to be the case that the major players (BT, TalkTalk etc) would offer me "their fastest broadband ever - up to 24M!", and insinuate that I could actually get twice the speed from their ADSL2+ implementation than I can from AAISP's ADSL2+ implementation (actually 3 times, as I use Annex M to trade off download for upload).

    By changing the rules like this, the ASA has changed the problem from "so, just what does up to mean, then?" to "is it reasonable to claim that this advert covers this geographic region?", a problem that they already know how to solve in relation to things like supermarket adverts. There are a few minor side effects (like 76M instead of 80M advertised for FTTC), and a few major ones (like being able to sanction a provider whose leaflets promise me 20M from ADSL2+).

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  11. I don't even understand why the obsession with speed at all. If you have a 2Mb/s adsl line, then sure faster is good. But really, what do the large majority of people do that need faster than 40Mb/s anyway? At that speed you can watch a HD tv program while downloading something, and browsing web sites without a problem. I find it hard to understand what anyone does with a faster link anyway... The occasional large download hardly justifies it... Clearly companies and shared lines are different.

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    1. For most people I have to agree. My brief time on FTTC was good for my work, which I do from home on occasion - wish I could get it again - faster is noticeably better for that. The main disadvantage of a faster speed, for me, is that it highlighted just how much bandwidth my partner was trying to use. We tracked it down, but he used to complain about my machine (which acts also as a fileserver) being slow. Well, SMB is often slower than NFS, but competing with all the other stuff on the network, no wonder it seemed slow.

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  12. So this on FTTP pricing - http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/12/05/bt_fttp_price_cuts/

    Not sure what I think of this. I guess I approve in general as it more accuratly reflects the prices of providing the service and the ongoing monthly costs. I expect they'll still manage to charge the install fee to locations that already have it installed though if you want to take it over...

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