Welcoming new advertising standards for ISPs

Introducing more accurate Broadband advertising

Recently, it was announced that the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) was set to introduce an all-new range of regulations for Internet Service Providers advertising their products. Specifically, ISPs will now have to give far more accurate estimations of speed when advertising services, doing away with the current standard of allowing adverts to claim speeds ‘up to’ a largely unachievable level.

From the 23rd of May, when ISPs discuss speeds in their advertising, they’ll need to base these speeds off those available to at least 50% of customers during peak usage times (specifically, between 8 and 10PM, as defined by Ofcom), while also including information on any relevant limitations to service performance - absolute peak usage during major events, for instance.

At Exa Networks, we really welcome these changes - they’re a vital part of ensuring that customers get genuinely effective service as advertised, rather than being mislead. As an example, it’s currently legal for ISPs to advertise speeds which only ~10% of users can achieve, with the other 90% of users going unmentioned.

Given that we only provide connectivity to schools and businesses, the requirements would affect us in a rather different way - there’s relatively few organisations using the Internet between 8 and 10 at night, for instance. However, we’ve always been completely committed to accurate advertising. When we advertise speeds, we’re able to deliver them, with many of our services provided completely uncontended from our network to our customers (check out the next section to find out more about the technical background for the ASA’s changes and how our services deliver accurate performance).

While the upcoming changes are a fantastic start, there’s still a lot of work to be done when it comes to improving the overall state of advertising for connectivity, with ISPs currently allowed to falsely advertise services as being ‘fibre’ connectivity, giving customers a completely false impression - and underperforming services. Our partners at CityFibre are currently working to reverse this standard, giving customers a more accurate level of advertising, so stay tuned for more updates.

Exploring some technical details

Taking a look through the new ASA guidelines, it’s made clear that the main point of the changes is to prevent customers being mislead by advertising, with the 50% standard at peak time being highly qualified, aiming to move ISPs towards providing a general, predictable level of service rather than advertising the best performance they can possibly deliver.

It’s worth considering some of the factors which lead to performance disparity between connections provided by any given ISP. Geographic location can play a major difference, with Internet connectivity performance being heavily dependent upon physical infrastructure like distance from local cabinets. Another side of infrastructure can make a difference to a connection’s performance - the ISP’s network capacity.

Essentially, in practically all cases, ISPs can reasonably expect that their customers won’t all be heavily using their connections at any given time - even at the peak times stated by Ofcom, some people will be out of the house, even if a lot of users are using their home connections to stream video/ similar. As such, ISPs estimate how much traffic they’re likely to need to accommodate for, building up their network capacity based around that rather than carrying out expensive (and largely unnecessary) work to accommodate for absolute maximum demand.

This work is often expressed to customers as a contention ratio, a measure of how bandwidth is allocated to users. If a service is uncontended, users should always be able to get the full possible speed, while high-contention services can experience slower performance at peak usage times - hence the ASA’s use of these times to determine a reasonable, non-misleading speed.

As we don’t provide connectivity to the home market, working exclusively with schools and businesses, we’re able to provide a higher level of service, with a highly provisioned network delivering fantastic speeds at absolutely all times, while offering a number of service options that are completely uncontended from our network to users. We’re committed to providing a network designed to completely accommodate for our customers, carrying out a major expansion last summer to support our growing userbase - and their increasing reliance upon high-speed Internet connectivity.