Digital Single Market
Digital Economy & Society

Broadband speeds in Europe are not delivering on their promises; broadband prices are declining

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The European Commission just published three studies on broadband: on speed, price and coverage.

The first study, on broadband quality concludes that subscribers are getting 75% of the advertised download speed. The second study, on broadband prices, shows that broadband access has continued to become more affordable and the third report, on broadband coverage, confirms substantial deployments of high speed fixed as well as 4G (LTE) mobile infrastructures.

1. Broadband speeds

The first study covers all EU countries, Iceland and Norway and shows that on average, EU fixed broadband customers are only getting 75% of the download speed advertised, the same as they were getting in 2013.  Despite continuous investment in broadband networks, which raised the average actual download speed significantly from 30 Mbps in 2013 to 38 Mbps in 2014, the difference between advertised and real speed remains constant.

Broadband speed

This is why the EU is requesting operators to be more transparent and is giving users more rights through its new rules for a Telecoms Single Market. The text will be formally adopted by the European Parliament next Tuesday, after an agreement was reached in June (press release).

Today's study also shows that, overall, broadband delivered over cable and fibre-based networks was more reliable than other technologies and the actual download speeds in Europe remain higher than in the US.

Different technologies – different speeds

The difference between advertised and delivered speed varied according to the broadband technology:

  • xDSL-based services delivered only 63.3% (63.8% in 2013) of the advertised headline download speed. Seven out of ten broadband access lines in Europe use xDSL-based technology to provide access to the Internet. This means that a large majority of European consumers enjoy a much slower internet access speed than they would expect. In a few countries, consumers are getting only half of the advertised speed for xDSL access.
  • Broadband delivered over cable and fibre-based networks was more reliable, with cable-based networks delivering on average 86.5% (against 89.5% in 2013) of advertised speed and FTTx 83% (82.7% a year ago).

The average advertised download speed across all countries and technologies was 47.9 Mbps (38.50 Mbps a year ago) during peak hours, compared to 38.19 Mbps (30.37 Mbps a year ago) of actual speed.

EU and USA internet speed

The actual download speeds attained in Europe for any given technology were considerably higher than those measured in the USA by the same method, with this being particularly marked for cable networks:

  • xDSL services averaged 8.27Mbps in Europe and 7.67Mbps in the US;
  • cable services averaged 66.57Mbps in Europe and 25.48Mbps in the US;
  • FTTx services averaged 53.09Mbps in Europe and 41.35Mbps in the US.

However, consumers in the USA get on average 101% of advertised download speeds (92% with xDSL, 113% with FTTx and 102% with cable technology), i.e. US providers give their customers more realistic information about their download speeds than is generally the case in Europe.

What can you do if your internet speed is not delivering on its promises?

Current telecoms rules ensure consumers are informed on what services they subscribe to and what they can do with those communications services. Consumer contracts must specify the minimum service quality levels, as well as on compensation and refunds if these levels are not met.

You will have more broadband rights as from April 2016

Under the recent agreement on the Telecoms Single Market package (press release), as of 30 April 2016, operators will need to be more transparent. They will have to inform customers of fixed internet access about the minimum, normally available, maximum and advertised internet speeds they can expect to get; in mobile networks, operators will have to inform of the estimated maximum and advertised speed. Operators will also have to explain the remedies consumers have if they do not get the speeds for which they have subscribed. Customers will be able to terminate their contract more easily if promised speeds are not delivered.

National regulators will make sure than operators meet these new requirements and deal with complaints by users.

2. Broadband prices

The second study, on broadband retail prices, includes the following key findings:

  • Despite a stabilisation in price between 2013 and 2014, broadband prices in the EU28 fell by about 12% between 2012 and 2015; the decline was particularly strong in the 30-100 Mbps speed category (by about 20% during the same period).
  • Prices vary significantly and they could be up to 300% higher for a similar service depending on the location.
  • 12-30 Mbps offers seem to offer the best value for money, while offers with speeds over 100 Mbps remain in general still relatively expensive (by 40-60% higher than 30-100Mbps offers).
  • The least expensive offers per country are, in around 80% of cases, provided by new entrants, which, however, are generally not available to all customers, because they have lower coverage than the incumbents.
  • The EU28 is less expensive than the US for broadband above 12Mbps, however South Korea and Japan are cheaper than the EU28 for broadband above 30Mbps.

Broadband prices

3. Broadband coverage

The third study conducted for the Commission - on broadband coverage - found that over 216 million EU households (99.4%) had access to at least one fixed or a mobile broadband technology at the end of 2014 (excluding satellite). High speed mobile broadband (4G based on LTE) coverage went up from 59.1% in 2013 to 79.4% in 2014. Next Generation Access (NGA) technologies (capable of delivering at least 30Mbps) were available to 68.1%, up from 61.9% a year ago. The below map shows how NGA is deployed at regional level.

Broadband coverage

Background

Speeds of broadband products are advertised as "up to XX Mbit/s". This speed is called "advertised", "nominal" or "headline" speed and it is what is seen in the adverts. But there may be significant differences between the advertised speed and the actual speed consumers receive. This is the third measurement of a study on broadband performance that covers all EU Member States as well as Norway & Iceland, using the same approach. The project has been run by broadband performance testing specialist @SamKnows, which has already conducted similar projects in the UK and the US. It is based on a methodology that uses hardware devices and provides the most accurate and independent results of Internet performance regardless of access technology and home installation.

This methodology has also been used by national regulators in the US, the UK, Brazil and Singapore. This study presents the results of measurements taken from 8 582 measurement devices in October 2014. These devices were spread across 30 countries. A total of 10 418 841 762 measurements were taken across 66 466 182 unique tests.

The study on broadband prices was conducted in the EU28 and some non-EU countries (European: Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Turkey and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and non-European: Japan, Korea, Canada and three states of the USA: California, Colorado and New York). The study analysed the pricing information of about 200 internet service providers and 4,500 residential broadband offers grouped in 32 baskets.

The study on Broadband Coverage analysed thirty-one countries across Europe – the EU 28, plus Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, and the availability of nine broadband technologies (DSL, VDSL, cable modem, DOCSIS 3, FTTP, WiMAX, HSPA, LTE and satellite) across each market, at national and rural levels. These cover overall fixed & wireless broadband availability, fixed broadband availability and next-generation access (NGA) availability.

The data for prices refer to February 2015, while coverage data is as of end 2014.

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