Broadband: but not quite as broad as advertised

The most popular forms of broadband whether ADSL, Cable and HSPA Wireless all suffer the same technological limitation -- it is almost impossible to predict the actual speed that the consumer will enjoy. And therefore, the marketeers take over and sell the maximum theoretical speed and in some small print actually describe that only in exceptional circumstances will the maximum speed be realised.

The following graph based upon a sample of 175k Plusnet customers illustrate the scale of the challenge.

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The graph illustrates that only around 12% of the base get the full 8Mbps at synchronisation whereas just over 6% of the base are languishing below 1Mbps. Very little fault can be ascribed to Plusnet -- it is just a feature of ADSL technology that speed is proportional to line quality and length. In fact, Plusnet work hard to ensure that their customers are satisfied. The recent polls of customer satisfaction showing Plusnet topping the list can not all be wrong.

In fact, we seriously doubt whether the majority of UK population actually currently know what speed they are receiving -- to most people the biggest test is whether the BBC iPlayer streams acceptably or whether Skype calls do not break up. Most people we speak to these days just accept that the really big bandwidth hogging applications such as P2P or Usenet downloading are just something you do in the background and it is not important when they arrive. Life is probably much more difficult for the IPTV service providers such as BT and Tiscali, who require more bandwidth.

However, we feel that all is about to change with the next generation of monitoring and comparison tools which are about to be unleashed onto the unsuspecting ISP networks. There is now the technology available to monitor broadband connections and determine where the bottlenecks are within an ISP network -- if the sample is big enough it will produce results down to the individual exchange / central level.

This will be a frightening thought to most ISPs -- a new churn generator entering the market. Churn is quite possibly the most destructive force ever invented for telco business models.

This will also be applicable to cable networks. Although they don't suffer the same degree of problems as ADSL technology, nonetheless DOCSIS is a shared pipe technology. Indeed... it is rumoured that on some segments in some areas of the planet some pipes are overloaded.

The situation for wireless companies is even worse: for not only is it a shared technology, but the signal degrades with distance from the cell site and when passing through walls. Vodafone recently revealed that 50% of its data traffic is transmitted from 10% of its cell sites. This illustrates the scale of the network engineering challenge facing the wireless operators.

In short, no technology is perfect and currently only a limited amount of customers will be aware or even care whether they are on the best local performing network. This is all about to change and the ISPs, whether fixed, cable or mobile, need to get ready and focus on delivering the best possible connection with the customer support to match to keep hold onto the base.

Your customers are about to become a lot more informed. What's your plan?