What's Your ISP's Speed?
Average speeds compared to advertised speeds improved in 2012, but most providers studied still fall short.
You know what you pay for in ISP access speed, but what do you get?
The FCC wanted to know, so it commissioned testing of the largest ISP providers in 2011. The 2011 report found that the delivered speed was usually near the advertised speed--sometimes higher and sometimes slower. For 2012, the results showed improvement, but most providers tested were still delivering below-advertised speeds.
The information is contained in the report, "Measuring Broadband America--July 2012: Consumer wireline broadband performance in the U.S.".
Five of the 14 ISPs tested consistently deliver nearly 100% or greater than the advertised speed to the consumer. The speeds were delivered during peak traffic time periods when bandwidth usage was high. In contrast, only two ISPs were capable of this peak demand delivery in 2011. The average ISP in 2011 delivered about 87% of their advertised download speed during peak traffic periods. The figure is now 96%.
However, the chart below from the FCC report demonstrates that, despite the improvement, most of the 14 ISPs do not live up to their advertised speeds. Note that Cablevision and Verizon Fiber (FiOS) access consistently deliver better-than-advertised speed even during peak traffic periods, while Verizon DSL access is consistently below the advertised speed. (There are 21 comparison charts in the July 2012 Report.
In my own case, I started my Internet access on dial up connections. I then migrated to DSL. I now have Verizon FiOS fiber service. DSL speeds can vary based on the local loop length, how many filters are on the DSL line and even whether there's a heavy rain. Eventually my local loop failed and I was assigned a new twisted pair connection. I did not gain any speed with the new local loop connection.
Indeed, the delivery of the advertised speed does depend on the technology in use. The FCC testing discovered that the cable and DSL improved from 2011 to 2012, but they still struggle to meet the advertised speeds.
As shown in the next chart below, the three access technologies vary in actual speed versus advertised performance during peak periods. DSL averages about 84% of advertised download speed during peak periods. In 2011, DSL was measured at 82%. Cable speeds rose from 93% in 2011 to 99% of the advertised speed in 2012. Fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) improved from 114% in 2011 to 117% in 2012.
Upload speed performance is generally better at delivering advertised speeds than download performance during peak usage periods for cable and DSL access. Fiber access delivered the opposite--the fiber download speed was faster than the upload speed.
Two areas that will interest readers are the effects this testing showed for VoIP and streaming video. Here is what the FCC report had to say:
VoIP. VoIP services, which can be used with a data rate as low as 100 kilobits per second (kbps) but require relatively low latency, were adequately supported by all of the service tiers discussed in this Report. However, VoIP quality may suffer during times when household bandwidth is shared by other services. The VoIP measurements utilized for this Report were not designed to detect such effects.
Streaming Video. 2012 test results suggest that video streaming will work across all technologies tested, though the quality of the video that can be streamed will depend upon the speed tier. For example, standard definition video is currently commonly transmitted at speeds from 1 Mbps to 2 Mbps. High quality video can demand faster speeds, with full HD (1080p) demanding 5 Mbps or more for a single stream. Consumers should understand the requirements of the streaming video they want to use and ensure that their chosen broadband service tier will meet those requirements, including when multiple members of a household simultaneously want to watch streaming video on separate devices. For the future, video content delivery companies are researching ultra-high definition video services...which would require higher transmission speeds.
The FCC 2012 Report analysis was based on 13 separate measurements that characterize the various aspects of broadband performance to a consumer's home. The participating ISPs agreed to base the Report on a full month of data. The ISP participants agreed to April 2012 as the data collection test month.
Mobile broadband services are not included in the FCC report. This is due to the challenges inherent in measuring the delivered performance of mobile networks. Distance, location, network saturation, and even the data plan can affect the actual mobile broadband speed delivered.