Another article on "up to" speeds, and this is not the first time I have had a rant on this. It really annoys the hell out of me.
The problem is that some end users do not quite understand what is being offered by ISPs, and feel aggrieved that the service they get is somehow not what was advertised, so they complain to ASA and/or OFCOM.
Lets take a simple case of ADSL2+, which can sync at 24Mb/s ATM rate. ISPs used to advertised as "Up to 24Mb/s".
The solution to this problem, as dictated by the likes of the ASA, is ISPs advertising "Up to 16Mb/s" or "Up to 14Mb/s" instead.
What you are measuring?
It is, perhaps, more useful to say "Up to 21Mb/s" simply because the line is typically used for IP not ATM, and the overheads of ATM and IP mean an "IP data throughput of around 21Mb/s for an ATM sync of 24Mb/s". Even 21Mb/s is not necessarily the same as the stats on a TCP file transfer or web based speed test. That said, comms lines have traditionally (and therefore useful for comparison) been quoted at the bit rate. A 56k modem could do "Up to 56kb/s" at a raw bit rate - which was different to the IP rate. An ISDN channel is quoted as 64kb/s, not the IP rate. It is perhaps sensible to use a rate that is more closely related to the speed the end user will see when doing a file transfer though to avoid disappointment. You also have confusion of Mega (1000000) and Mebi (1048576) to add to the fun, but at least we have SI units well defined.
What do you mean "Up to"?
Even so, the issue here is clearly a simple misunderstanding.
I think the issue is that "Internet" is an "Up to" thing anyway - you may download no data some of the time, a bit of data slowly some times, or a big file quickly (depends on the other end). However, the "Limit" if your line sync speed. So people think an "Up to 21Mb/s" line is one that can actually do 21Mb/s and they can use any speed they like all the way up to that speed.
It is like selling a car that can go "Up to 100mph" - it will be able to achieve that speed if you have a suitable road on which to try it. If you bought a car that does "Up to 100mph" you would not expect it to be that some of the cars only do "Up to 50mph" and some do "Up to 100mph". You expect all of the cars to be able to do "Up to 100mph". So you expect all the ADSL2+ lines to be able to do "Up to 24Mb/s" in the same way.
The problem is some people somehow do not understand that the limit of their line will be what it is depending on the line quality and length. Their service may end up being what they might consider "Up to 5Mb/s" of data transfer possible, even though sold an "Up to 21Mb/s" service.
ISPs do try to make that clear, but the message is not clear to some.
I have had people, face to face, say that the line from some ISP was not the "Up to 21Mb/s" they advertised. They did not understand my objection to their statement. As far as they were concerned the line should be able to get 21Mb/s, at least some times, if sold as an "Up to 21Mb/s" line.
First you have to decide if you need a solution - if a few people are confused by something that is very clearly stated, and those people have not lost out (i.e. that any provider selling ADSL2+ will get roughly the same speeds), well, is there actually a problem to solve?
Assuming there is a problem to solve - it is about getting some industry consistent message / wording for this. Something like "Up to a limit that may be up to 21Mb/s depending on where you live". Or just "Up to 21Mb depending on where you live", or something simple. Maybe "Up to a speed between 250kb/s and 24Mb/s". I don't know the actual answer on how to explain it to people. It seems that this should not be beyond the wit of a marketing person to find.
If we could find a good wording, that would help remove some of the disappointment and complaints.
The wrong solution?
What does not make sense is lowering the figure. The ASA rule that the figure has to be one 10% can get is just silly. It does not change the message, and does not aid comparison between ISPs. If one ISP does ADSL2+ and so does another, on the same BT copper pair, the speeds will be basically the same (there are some tweaks some ISPs can do better than others, but that is not easy for comparison).
All this solution does is reduce complains by exactly 10%. It means that 10% of customers will no longer feel they did not get what the were sold. The rest will still feel cheated somehow. Ironically, some of the 10% would (and have, AFAIK) complain that the ISP lied to them as they are clearly getting more than the "Up to" speed quoted.
In many ways it would be better if we went back to comparing ATM sync rates. That way every ADSL2+ service would be quoted as "Up to 24Mb/s" and every ADSL1 service as "Up to 8Mb/s". It would allow people to compare numbers between ISPs as that is easier than comparing "Is VDSL better than ADSL" or some such.
Right now we have a confusing mix of numbers, and someone may indeed think an ADSL2+ sold as "Up to 16Mb/s" is going to be better than and ADSL2+ sold as "Up to 14Mb/s". Is it really helpful for the ASA and OFCOM and consumers for people to make a decision based on how far an ISPs marketing department feel they can push things and get away with it?
What I fail to understand is why this wrong solution was proposed. Was there not one rational person in the discussions and meetings to say "This obviously does not address the problem". As director I am facing a marketplace where I have to work within rules made by people that cannot see the problem with this solution, or even with calling coax cable "fibre", and it makes my job somewhat difficult!
Sync is not everything
Ironically, one of the big differences between ISPs is not the advertised line sync rate. Yes, that allows one to see ADSL1, ADSL2+, FTTC, and so on as a key difference, but there are other factors. Some ISPs are good (and this is not just small or just big or just A&A even). Some ISPs make sure they run uncongested links, and monitor for faults and issues. This means the overall "experience" is much better. The problem is that this is very difficult to market as a feature, or to guarantee, or to have clear metrics to quote and compare. If there was a way to see these sorts of stats, loss, latency, congestion, and so on, then that would be a far more important and relevant factor in choosing an ISP, typically along side cost and terms and so on. A&A publish a report here.