Friday, 15 September 2017

Who could have predicted this and told the ASA?

As I previously blogged, there are proposals to make ISPs advertise broadband service speeds differently.

This is a complex topic - the speed of the line itself depends on technology and location, so in a general headline it is hard to explain. A headline explaining the best the technology can do is good for comparing ISPs, but changes to show 90th percentile muddied the waters and they are getting worse with latest changes. One suggestion was to advertising a minimum, for example...

Oddly enough I, and others, predicted it would not help... See this from Sky...

They are advertising a 55Mb/s minimum speed service.

Now, compare to normal FTTC which could be anything from 1Mb/s (maybe even lower, not sure) to 80Mb/s, if advertised as a guaranteed minimum side by side, you would go for Sky with the 55Mb/s minimum, obviously. Obviously a "guaranteed 1Mb/s minimum" is worse than a "guaranteed 55Mb/s minimum"... WRONG!

The speed you can get using a particular technology (presumably FTTC in this case) depends on your location and the line quality. You get what you get using that technology whether you go with Sky or BT or A&A.

The difference is that if you cannot get 55Mb/s then Sky will not sell you "that package", though I am sure they will then offer alternatives such as slower FTTC or ADSL package.

So all we have is misleading advertising making people think there is a better package when there is not.

Indeed, maybe we need an A&A headline: "79Mb MINIMUM SPEED GUARANTEE (available to X%). If you cannot get this we have an alternative 78Mb MINIMUM SPEED GUARANTEE (available to X%). If you cannot get that we have 77Mb MINIMUM SPEED GUARANTEE (available to X%)..." and so on.

The changes being proposed are absolutely not helping customers make informed choices.

Update: Someone has checked the Sky web site and put in various addresses and found that Sky are apparently guaranteeing the 55Mb/s based on the "minimum forecast speed (impacted)" not on the "handback threshold" and so are taking a small risk that some lines may sync between the two and they have to refund a customer without getting a refund from BT, so well done Sky - I stand corrected.

However, my point still stands, Sky will not make your line do 55Mb/s. If it can manage 55Mb/s, then it will for any ISP. If it cannot, then it will not for any ISP.

32 comments:

  1. Even if you lived in a flat above the exchange, I doubt the speed checker would give you any real assurance that you would get 80mb sync. My line syncs at 72 and was suggested at 50-70mb with a fault threshold well below that.

    Whole thing is insane. Sell by class of service for easy comparison. Maybe FTTC 20-80mb (10th and 90th percentile for that technology as a whole, not your specific customers).

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    1. I get 80M sync, BT checker gives me a high of 80, low of 74, handback threshold of 67...

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  2. The dropping headline speed would mean that people got exactly they paid for...

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    1. Oh good grief! You are trolling me aren't you? If you play for "up to 80Mb/s", then any speed that is 80Mb/s or lower is "exactly what you paid for", even if it is 1Mb/s. If you are sold "up to 76Mb/s" and get "79Mb/s", THEN you are getting something different to what you paid for. FYI we used wording "not more than" rather than "up to" when we did that at all.

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    2. You should be learning from the supermarkets. They're the absolute champs at impossibly confusing money off "offers", probably because they put them out so fast that literally nobody thinks about what they're writing: write it in five minutes, throw it on to the shelves, on to the next.

      I saw one thing today which was sold as "up to 50% off or over". Very informative! if perhaps less surprising than the occasional whoopsie like two for the price of three "offers".

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  3. Be interesting to see how that plays out when a 55Mbps customer ends up getting less due to line degradation or crosstalk as the cabinet fills up.

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    1. Well the dropping of min term next year makes that easy - you "let them out of the contract" as you failed to meet the guaranteed minimum, but obviously offer the "minimum 40Mb/s service" as an alternative if they want!

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  4. Regarding your final paragraph, in fact this is what Sky is doing! And note their fallback plans are not advertised as minimum speeds. They should be fighting this with other providers rather than playing the system to appear compliant but with fallback that leaves consumers misinformed and back where they started.

    https://www.sky.com/help/articles/sky-fibre-max-speed-guarantee

    What if my download speed is lower than 55Mb?

    ...
    If you contact us after 30 days, you’ll be offered the option to move to our next best fibre product free of charge.

    Sky Fibre products with totally unlimited usage include:

    Sky Fibre Unlimited Plus – with download speeds of up to 52Mbps and upload speeds of up to 9.5Mbps.

    Sky Fibre Unlimited – with download speeds of up to 38Mbps and upload speeds of up to 9.5Mbps.
    ...

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    1. That clarifies it is sync speed, and the pay out will be based on the Openeach/BTW minimum I bet, so they get back from them as I bet they only sell where the checker makes it 55Mb guaranteed to Sky. It is just misleading. It is so tempting to offer a "56Mb/s guaranteed minimum" :-)

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    2. So.. if you can only get 54Mb they'll sell you a package limited to 52Mb :p

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  5. At least they’re not quoting WiFi speed. They also quote they won’t slow you down, I assume they say that as if they oversell backhaul it’s the other customers slowing you down not Sky.

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    1. Whilst "overselling" is always a complex concept when talking of an inherently shared service, that is an impressive interpretation to say it is the other customers slowing you down not Sky. Nice one!

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    2. Surely overselling should be illegal? It's certainly immoral in my book. Airlines and hotels do it and I actively boycott any that do it or try it.

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    3. "if advertised as a guaranteed minimum side by side, you would go for Sky with the 55Mb/s minimum, obviously."

      Car dealers play this game. You approach Vauxhall Dealer Number 1. He says he can give you your new Corsa in 12 weeks flat.

      You approach Vauxhall Dealer Number 2. He will match the price and give you your new Corsa in 8 weeks flat.

      You give the business to Dealer Number 2.

      By the time you realise that Dealer Number 2 lied to you it is too late to then kill the order and go to Dealer Number 1.

      The liar, Dealer 2, says "too late now, what are you going to do? cancel the order with us and re-order with Dealer 1? It's now week 10. Then you'll probably wait until week 22 for your new sparkly Corsa with go-faster stripes. Stick with us and we'll deliver in week 12".

      Which is, of course, what Dealer 1 had originally offered you.

      They know this. This is the game that they play.

      The dealer who is honest (e.g. equivalent of AAISP in ISP world) always loses out.

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    4. I was thinking it was a reference to the traffic management at rivals like Virgin (over X Mb of traffic in a day, speed gets slashed to 25%), which were pretty draconian if you ever hit them.

      The "guarantee" seems rather a silly gimmick to me - though being able to downgrade free to the speed tier your line can actually support is reasonable. (If, when I ordered 80/20, the Openreach tech had found I could only sync at 37/8, wouldn't it be reasonable for Openreach to charge me/A&A for the 40/10 service they're actually delivering?)

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    5. I think you are missing the point. If an airline sells more seats you could find you don't have a seat. It more people than expected try and access something on the internet such that a link gets congested then the access will effectively slow down a bit. The usage of Internet is a fraction of maximum, on average, and the whole thing is an inherently shared service. However, you also have to understand that it would be technically impossible to sell and un-contended service (i.e. not "over sold") as if you had, say 80Mb/s, it would mean having a dedicated 80Mb/s to each and every web site and server and other connection on the planet specially for you, at only £35/month... Not possible. So even if the ISP was to invest 100 times more than normal in infrastructure to get you an un-contended link to a transit provider (and charge you accordingly) you would still be sharing the rest of the internet with the rest of the users of the internet and would see no difference to an ISP that runs without links getting congested. As I say, the term "over selling" does not quite fit to such a service. Out of interest, do you consider that your water or gas or electricity supply have "over sold" their services? After all, if everyone was to run their taps at once the service would not cope, so clearly they have "sold" more than they can supply?

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    6. We chose to drop the extra we charged for 80/20 over 40/10, and do VDSL at one price. We do pay a little more if the line can manage over 40/10 and so we put on the 80/20 service at the BT side, yes.

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    7. With hotels and airlines, the 1:1 ratio - one booking per room/seat - means "overselling" actually has a clear definition; for anything more flexible, like a restaurant, it just doesn't work. In the airline case, "no overselling" really isn't practical - it would mean every flight leaving with empty seats, ticket prices jumping, and all for minimal benefit. Much better to keep it under control, as we do: regulations about how overbooking gets handled, compensation if and when a passenger is adversely affected, etc.

      Has my local Chinese buffet "oversold" the chicken and sweetcorn soup if they don't have enough for every customer to have a bowl? Even then, they'd have to ban second helpings, which would make for a rather poor buffet...

      In the restaurant case, what you want is to have enough of each dish that they don't run out, while keeping waste to a reasonable level; in the ISP case, that means making sure you don't get slowdowns at peak times or on particular services ("it's always slow after 6pm", "Youtube keeps buffering" etc). Of course, some are better than others at this, some care more about keeping costs down than quality up...

      I'd be interested to see Anonymous trying to boycott all airlines over it: unless you stick to chartering your own flights, or obscure corner cases like Air Koryo who are a bit short of passengers, you just can't escape overselling there! Maybe another case of rewarding dishonest marketing, if there are airlines which imply they don't overbook?

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  6. "the speed of the line itself depends on technology and location"

    'Speed' is what, exactly? And from where and to where? Are we to take latency into account? My AAISP lines are good on speed, as we all know and expect. But now when I try to put data on to a server in Australia. But that's because of latency on the trans-continental links from Europe to Australasia. That makes the true throughput under 1 Mbps due to the delay on sending and receiving SYN, SYN-ACK and ACK messages, and the delay on sending and acknowledging the data itself, etc. So does that mean that my 240 Mbps bonded AAISP service is actually considered by the powers-that-be to have a speed of under 1 Mbps ? I hope not.

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    1. Even Sky say the speed "at the hub", not of the wifi or of the internet itself. As for Austrailia - you should be able to sort that with suitable window scaling. Even on 700ms satellite links on a ship I was able to get way more than 1Mb/s.

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    2. Agree with RevK - If you're getting under 1Mbps to Australia then you haven't tuned your TCP stack correctly. I got involved in a large file transfer from US to UK and they were only getting around 150Mbps on the 1gig link. After suggestions on what to tune on their various OS's they ended up nearer 800Mbps

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    3. We spent weeks on it with the software developers who could offer no explanations or solutions other than to move the remote data from AUS to EU. The problem then went away, of course, but it wasn't really the solution we sought.

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  7. Shows the lack of basic numeracy amongst the bureaucrats and government types. No proper critical understanding of maths and scientific thinking - just suits taking home the money. Their silly proposals for regulation are instantly outwitted by the commercial opposition because the regulators are too lazy or stupid to war-game the scenarios.

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    1. It's a bit like wanting 90% of hospitals to be above average (from IIRC last year). No critical thinking skills whatsoever.. but we keep voting for them.

      (this last case is easily solved by having 1 really, really bad hospital that brings the average up, thus satisfying the policy goal and no needing to spend any money to do it).

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  8. Why can't the different packages be advertised as *technology* capped at *speed*, for example "fttc capped at 40/10" then it would make it obvious to customers that 4 different companies offering the same package on the same line has the same result (subject to the isp's own variations) and then give a predicted maximum and guaranteed minimum of an individual's line when they actually go through to order? Seeing as how all the major isp's use the same speed checkers, customers will still be given an informed choice when it came to ordering g, without the crazyness that we have now where companies look to be offering g better/worse services purely on being more/less conservative with their advertising.

    It would then become more important for isp's to start advertising things that actually effect internet speed, such as traffic management policies, or how quick their interconnects are, for example.
    Sure, the more technical details don't mean anything to customers at present, not in the same way that a bigger number for speed is better, but I imagine people will quickly adapt and learn. I'm sure at one point people didn't really understand when speed was quoted in baud rates...

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  9. What worries me (as someone whose best ever VDSL sync speed is 10% *below* the handback threshold for my line) is that if ISPs start quoting guaranteed minimum speeds then they'll refuse to supply service to the slow lines. Or ISPs will quote average speeds and similarly not supply to lines which would drag their average speed down.

    (I did try entering my details into the Sky 55+Mbps sign-up, and it gave me a minimum speed of 26Mbps instead - with no explanation of the reduced speed.)

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  10. We never going to get a perfect solution because the industry has too much involvement in the outcome.

    But I think the new proposals are better than the current, the 10% of customers guideline we have now surely you agree is a joke rev :)

    I think the ASA is just trying to make small steps as it is unable to make that one big step to proper guidelines.

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  11. This is not what Sky are doing.

    If I do a BT Wholesale check at this address:

    https://imgur.com/hz88j45

    (Which is not my house, I just checked around until I found one in the speed range)

    Sky will sell me Sky Fibre Max with the 55mbit guarantee.

    https://imgur.com/N3tf6WR

    So, it seems that your assumption that they were doing this based on the handback threshold is wrong, as the handback threshold here is 44.6Mbps. They are taking the risk that if I cancel they will incur a hefty fee.

    By your policy, you could only "guarantee" me 44.6Mbps at this address whereas Sky will guarantee 55.

    If, for example, I was on ADSL2+ here, I might decide the extra money for fibre is worth it for 55mbit, but not 45mbit, In that case, the Sky offering is excellent for me, as while no other provider will do better, I can go back to ADSL2+ if it does not achieve the desired result.

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  12. When I look at the adverts in the paper, Sky are offering "Sky Fibre Unlimited" for £25 per month, and "Sky Fibre Max" (guaranteed 55Mb/s) for £30 per month.
    I can't see whether the 'Max' product gives you anything else, other than the guaranteed minimum speed.

    So if your line can sync at, for example, 60 Mb/s, do you get the choice of which product to go for ? In which case, why pay £5 per month more ? Or are you forced to take the 'Max' product if your line is fast enough ?

    Is this the start of different pricing for different speed bands ? If so, bring it on - my VDSL syncs at a mere 22Mb/s.

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    1. "Sky Fibre Unlimited" is a 40/10 service, not 80/20.

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  13. Just come across this on the official UK government petitions site:

    https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/200744

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    1. Wow that is special, and misunderstands the issue lot. You wonder how such a person would suggest one does sell a device which may sync at any speed up to a maximum depending on he length of the line.

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