From next week, adverts from broadband providers will all have to show the average rather than the top speeds they offer - but the actual speed you get now won't change.

Broadband ads will, from Wednesday 23 May, have to show the average speed received by at least 50% of a provider's current customer base between 8pm and 10pm - when most people are online.

However, although the use of average speeds is better than just advertising what the top 10% receive, you should still only use it as an indication of the speeds you MAY get. It's also important to note that it’s only the ads that are changing - the actual speed your line is capable of is not.

Use our Broadband Unbundled tool to find your cheapest broadband deal - it will also be changing to show average speeds.

What's changing?

These rules apply specifically to the way broadband download speeds are advertised.

Currently, the 'up to' speeds quoted in adverts - such as up-to-38Mb for fast fibre - only have to be achieved by at least 10% of customers. This means the majority of the customer base may receive speeds vastly different - and likely slower - to those advertised.

The new rules abolish this practice and state that speed claims made in broadband ads must be based on "average" speeds at peak times - the download speed available to at least 50% of a company's customers between 8-10pm.

For fast fibre, for example, instead of seeing 'up-to-38Mb', you'll start to see average speeds of around 34Mb - dependent on the provider.

Average fast fibre download speeds by provider (1)

Provider
Current 'up-to' speed
Average peak speed range (8pm-10pm)
BT
52Mb
42-44Mb
Plusnet
38Mb
33-34Mb
Sky
38Mb
34Mb (figure provided by Sky)
TalkTalk
38Mb
32-34Mb
Virgin Media
50Mb
54Mb (figure provided by Virgin)
(1) This table is based on figures published by regulator Ofcom unless otherwise stated. Figures rounded to the nearest whole number.

 

How to check the speed YOU'RE likely to receive

If you want to know the speed you're most likely to get to your home, the best way is to check before committing to a contract.

All large providers adhere to Ofcom's voluntary code of practice, which means you will be shown an estimated access line speed before committing - based on the speeds of other customers with a similar connection. This is still just an estimate, and refers to the speed of your broadband when it reaches your home router, so the actual speed you get on different devices will probably be lower.

What speed do I need?

Despite the change in advertising, broadly speaking there are still three main categories of broadband offered by the main providers - standard, fast fibre and superfast fibre, with Virgin and other small operators also providing ultrafast fibre.

  • Standard with advertised max speeds of 17Mb should be fine if you're a small household and just use the web for basic tasks such as emails, browsing and streaming.
  • Fast fibre with advertised max speeds of 38-52Mb is best if you do loads of streaming, online gaming, downloading or have multiple users in your home.
  • Superfast fibre with advertised max speeds of 76Mb or Ultrafast Fibre with speeds over 100Mb are pretty much a luxury, and best if you've a large household with many devices or 'normal' fibre simply isn't fast enough for you.

See our Broadband Unbundled tool to find the best deal at the right speed in your area.

What do the providers say?

We asked the main providers what the changes meant.

A TalkTalk spokesperson told us:We welcome efforts to simplify broadband pricing. Whilst average speeds are a useful guide, what customers really want is a guaranteed speed specific to their home. We already provide that at the point of sale, meaning customers can be certain about the speeds they will receive before they buy the product."

A Virgin Media spokesperson said: "We welcome the ASA’s changes which will provide consumers with long overdue clarity. We believe in being straight up on speed – that’s why we repeatedly called for a change to what were unfair and misleading advertising rules. At last, the majority of customers will now know what speeds they can realistically expect from their broadband provider, not just a small minority."