Sunday, 19 January 2014

Comparing broadband

I am not buying a house, but I was interested in how much behind the game estate agents seem to be and I wondered why. My daughter is selling her house (here) but the details do not list that she can get FTTC at 50-80Mb/s or ADSL2+ at 6-8Mb/s from any BT back-haul ISP, or that she can get TalkTalk DSL 5-8Mb/s. They could, but they don't. For some people this matters. For some people FTTC availability is a show stopper when picking a house!

To be frank I also wondered why broadband comparison sites (e.g. the ones you see advertised on TV) are behind the game as well. They ask for a postcode but do not actually work out what you can get.

The reason is the availability checkers. For both scenarios, what you ideally want is for the postcode (or better still address/number) check to be done to work out all of the underlying technologies available, and the forecast speeds and services available, and then report those along with the various packages that different ISPs can offer.

So, for example, if I go to, who proudly boast on their TV adverts that they "compare all of the best deals in your area" all I get is a list of the larger ISPs that have paid them money to be listed, all offering an "Up to XMb/s" services. They do not actually work out what speeds are available. Indeed, putting a friends postcode, who is in the middle of nowhere, and gets around 1.4Mb/s on each of four 20CN BT lines which we bond for him, broadbandchoices list a range of ISPs that use BT back-haul with speeds up to 6, 8, and 16Mb/s. Given that there is only BT 20CN, offering an "up to 16Mb/s" service is a tad optimistic, and given an actual postcode it is ludicrous. The fact that I am offered a choice of speeds for the same underlying 20CN technology which will work at the same speed is misleading at best. Yet this site is OFCOM accredited and approved?!?!

Actually, I wonder if the ASA should be involved here. Advertising "up to 16Mb/s" or whatever, is all very well for a national advert where someone in the UK can get that (and I don't agree with the ASA that picking a slightly lower figure helps), but when the audience is someone at a specific postcode that you know will not ever get close to that, then that is lying, surely? just plainly lie, in my opinion, in suggesting that anyone can offer "up to 16Mb/s" at my friend's Derbyshire postcode. It is a lie, simple as that.

The answer for both of these issues is that people like BT do not make the availability checks available to third parties. Even ISPs that have access have restricted terms of use, and can end up being charged for lookups.

If OFCOM had any sense then they would require all back-haul carriers to make these checkers available much more openly, even if for a [very] small fee, so that people like estate agents or comparison sites, could provide accurate comparisons and detailed information.

It almost falls in to public interest / national infrastructure type data, like the postcode location database which is now public under the ordnance survey data.

That said, it is crazy to suggest that you can compare broadband suppliers in the same way you can compare electricity suppliers or even telephone call suppliers. Alex covered this on his blog as well (here). The actual service varies, and does so by a heck of a lot more that just speed. Something to check an address and report technology based speed forecast and list ISPs that can provide, with their differences, would be good, but comparison sites don't do that - they compare the "up to" speed (badly) and the price and that is all.

So, my latest plan is to work with the local estate agents here to see if we can find a way to provide actual forecast speeds and availability checks for things like FTTC on particulars of houses they advertise, in return for an AAISP advert.

P.S. Did I mention that her house has FTTC, and structured cabling to each room, three floors work well with the unifi APs as a set, convenient to the town centre, and the local pub. You know you want to buy the place.

Update: Someone has pointed out that whilst the particulars of the property to not list broadband details, they have a link. This link is wrong, as it does not say the FTTC speeds that they can get - but well done for trying :-) It does beg the question - why can't broadbandchoices manage that?


  1. It's her sale - for which the estate agent will be charging her handsomely. If she wants something in the listing, she should jollly well get it. If not, change agents.

    They gits charge enough, without doing down a good sale!

  2. It's always surprised me as one of the things I look for is good broadband and I've never seen it on an estate agent's site, but they'll talk about things I don't care about all the time..

  3. For various reasons, I have spent most of the last two years hunting for houses in various parts of the country. For starters, I have *never* gone direct to an estate agent's website - given the areas I want to look at, just finding out which estate agents cover it is a task in itself... And when you do get to the sites, they're invariably terrible to navigate and get the information you want.
    Anyway, the point of this is that I use which does have a link to check broadband speed on the property page. Still a bit of a pain, as for me having something over 8M is a requirement and I'd like to be able to list houses based on connection speed, but I guess it'll be a long time before that happens.

  4. Sorry to hijack this topic a bit, but you just reminded me that you never reported back on how the Unifi access points worked out? I take it they're doing well if you've also recommended them to your daughter? Or did she inherit them when they didn't pass muster at the office!

    1. Ha, yes, they are doing well. We are running the latest beta release. Using at my home, the office, and her place, and we (A&A) are selling them. Good value.

  5. Things I'd like to see on "property sites" - Broadband availability ("Property is currently served by an FTTC 60Mb broadband connection from AAISP over BT infrastructure, but VirginMedia 100Mb is also available"), open details about the EPC rating (rated "C" - here's the link to the online rating), post code, age of boiler and useful room sizes (usually a problem on rented properties: we've seen "double rooms" which, yes you could fit in a double bed, but don't expect to move around it or open the door). Estate agents just seem to be concerned with hyperbole (if I see another "Situated in a popular area, this property is priced to sell" : if it isn't, why is it on the market for the price) rather than what people actually care about.

    1. Round here they often have the EPC rating and floorplan. Age and type of boiler is high on the list that should be there and isn't.

    2. Lack of postcodes and house numbers annoy me.

      I mean ... I can just drive down the street or use street view and find it. So what's the point in having it missing?

  6. One of my clients recently took new business premises (before talking to me). They asked the owner of internet access was good - she said "It must be, one of our tenants is a web design company". Turned out to be 3+Km from the exchange but fortunately covered by Orbital/VFast (who serve the web design company). They really should have checked with me first.

  7. Vaguely related and I wanted to moan somwehere. I recently tried to register for these forums:

    But all attempts to register failed complaining about a registration code. Emailing their admins revealed there should be a captcha where I see an empty box (on both IE and my iPad). They said it was probably my ISP's fault filtering it, but I'm on A&A which has no filtering. Eventually I tried using Three 3G from my iPad, this showed the captcha and I could register. My wild guess is their site is broken on IPv6 and Three 3G worked because it doesn't use IPv6, but I guess there could be other issues eg. bad DNS entry at A&A. I've never had a site not work like this before based on ISP so have no experience how to deal with it or where to report it.

  8. "Why don't Estate Agents look out of the window in the morning?"
    "Because then they'd have nothing to do in the afternoon"!

  9. As far as I know, Rightmove do actually have some form this in place at present. It seems like sheer idleness from the estate agent as they could use the information from the website.