back to article ISP reporting network to pierce bandwidth smokescreens

ISP watchers have launched a bid to get to the bottom of what's going on with UK broadband by recruiting people to install specially-adapted network gear on their line, to collect reams of independent performance data. The initiative to improve the transparency of ISP packages is being led by The site is aiming …


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  1. Peter White
    Thumb Up

    we need these thing

    we need these on VM, BT and TT lines to gather independant data before and if poss during the phorm / webwise trials (if we are lucky enough that a user invited into the trial has a box) to confirm any impact on browsing speeds

    about time the claims of UPTO 8mbit when the average is 2-3mbit unless you are on a VM fibre line

  2. Mike Crawshaw
    Thumb Up

    Count Me In!

    We all know ISPs lie, and it'll be nice to have some independent proof of this as opposed to the current situation of nothing but anecdotal evidence, which, as every marketing drone knows "doesn't reflect the excellent service that ShitCo delivers to its thousands of satisfied customers.."

  3. Eddie

    It's a start

    But it's really sad that it's a private individual - doing this the government, which ever dept it is, is not willing to open the can of worms that is the pitiful state of the broadband network in the UK.

    I read today from a post on DigitalSpy that VirginMedia, the Phorm bedhoppers, are trialling a new type of traffic management that limits, which hit new heights in complexity and opacity...

    for the details. I think from this it's painfully clear that the much vaunted Telewest/NTL/VM fibre network has more than hit it's capacity, and there is no room on the net to complete the 10Mb upgrades (Edinburgh, where I live, is still classed as TBC for the upgrades, and even though I've downgraded to 4Mb, I still don't even get that), let alone roll out the 50Mb service that they are trialling.

    What the heck is the point of willy-waving upgrades if you then shape/traffic manage/whatever doublespeak you want your customers to a lower bandwidth than they had previously? Obviously, they need a marketing line to entice customers - put the weasel words "up to" into the adverts to clear the trades description act, and even if your 10Mb connection has problems getting above 300kb, you're in the clear.

    Let's hope that hard stats (isn't that a tautology?) from Samknows start a ball rolling - but hell - the government has ignored the consumers, it has ignored the Trading Standards, and it has ignored the consumer council, so I doubt that there will be much new from this initiative, however laudable it is.

  4. Neil Greatorex

    I will be interested in the results

    My Onetel "unlimited" package, now it's owned by Talk Talk is appalling. What used to be a superb service is little better than my old 38.8 modem.

    Evenings & weekends forget it.

    They are also packet shaping, the latest Ubuntu ISO, downloaded using bittorrent & despite there being thousands of seeds, took almost 2½ days. Speed never went over 20K. Bastards.

    Can anyone suggest a decent ISP? Proper speeds, no packet shaping, no Phorm, static IP & a reasonable "fair use" policy.

    Mine still has "Phuck orft Phorm" in Rhinestones :-)

  5. Sabahattin Gucukoglu

    Show us the source!

    You can't, because the tests have to be secret? (They're using a modified Linksys router running on Linux.) Oh, very well. It wouldn't do to spoil your fun, I suppose, but do make sure you release the sources / describe the tools and methodology when the tests are over. I don't want to connect completely foreign hardware doing potentially strange stuff on my network, thanks. My own hand-built Linux router is already quite capable of doing all the monitoring in the world, and also keeps my network up. Unfortunately, though, the router also provides services from/to the net directly through the DSL modem inside, so testing on my network with this trick would never work. Pity! But I await the results anyway. They could be interesting.



  6. david

    its a sad state of affairs

    its a bit sad

    a.) that we have to resort to this

    b.) some (to me) previously unknown web site is doing it and not ofcom or trading standards.

    I hope this routes out all the bad isps whic adversise unlimited boardband at 8 mbps yet dont let you download more then a couple of gig a month between 4 pm and midnight (some one in sheffield might know who you are). I would be up for this to clean out the market my only question is will this go far enough?

  7. Simplepieman

    Where is the REGULATOR!!

    Something I've been ranting about for ages is a standardised set of performance and price metrics (a kind of dashboard) that allows users to compare products in much the same way as APR and prominent disclosure of significant terms did for loans.

    My biggest grief is with mobile companies, but increasingly with ISPs. Their text and talk bundles make it nearly impossible to compare like-for-like, before throwing mobile and roaming charges in.

    If all mobile sales contracts started with an A5 landscape box where average price per minute for off peak/peak/Europe/International (send+receive)/Text/Data that would at least give some visibility to consumers.

    Similarly with ISPs, except the box would arguably be simpler, as there are less parameters: inclusive GB, bandwidth shaping policy, blocked ports, mandated invisible proxies (y/n), average speed achieved by real customers at 3 standardised times: 10am, 1pm, 8pm split weekdays/weekends.

  8. Bill Cumming
    Thumb Up

    @ Neil Greatorex

    Try Zen or Demon both are good (but not cheep).

  9. Stuart Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Broadband shaken, not stirred

    Decent ISP? I use the one with 3 letters beginning with the last of the alphabet.

    Excellent - and i guess there are a few more offering good 'pure' broadband and can be trusted to contine unless they get snapped up by one of the majors.

    And that's the problem. The good guys are small, expensive and no advertising budget. Even if you are prepred to pay that five/ten pounds a month for a decent service - how do find the good guys except by personal recommendation?

    I wish they would band together into a trade group (after all their real competitive market is not with each other but with dissatisfied customers from the majors). A few well timed press releases using SamKnows figures could do wonders.

    "Would you like your broadband traffic shaped or pure sir?" Lets give people a real choice.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    You get what you pay for!

    It is very true! You get what you pay for and cheapskates can't expect to get the same service as someone who pays significantly extra to get broadband for one of the better providers. Cheapskates of the world should shut the f*ck up! Dig into your pockets and pay for a proper broadband connection fom a proper provider.

    Numpties of the world unite and realise you've bought into the marketing spin of the big boys and you need to pay more to move to a good provider.

    Top tips for better broadband:

    Avoid all the big boys who advertise on TV.

    Avoid all the special offers that give you broadband for next to nothing.

    Avoid all the deals that include broadband along with other services.

    Be willing to pay £20 - £40 per month for a good quality ISP that specialises in ADSL broadband.

    Chose a provider that has monthly contracts so you stay with them because you want to, not because you've signed their 12/18 month contract in your own blood.

    Checkout the ratings on the compare tool over on

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Secret methodology

    The test methodology needs to be more transparent than this, otherwise how can anyone scrutinise what Sam is doing to be confident that the tests are a reasonable reflection of real-world activity?

  12. Craig

    Re: Neil Greatorex

    You want a recommendation? I think there is only one ISP in the UK these days that offers what you ask for. Hopefully El Reg won't mind me pimping the services of Zen Internet, I've been with them six years and no plans of changing because everywhere else I look I see traffic shaping, usage profiling, fair use policies that are not in the slightest bit fair to customers, the list goes on.

    Some people don't like a fixed download cap. I'm on 100 gigs per month and rarely use half of that even though I am a heavy downloader. Still, it's easy enough to top up with additional download quota if for some bizarre reason I ever exceeded my limit.

    Which ISP was offering 500 gig download caps without shaping last year, then kicked a tonne of their users for breaching the 'fair use policy'? I really don't know why these companies are allowed to get away with such abuse.

  13. Neil Woolford

    Oh! My chance to be a corporate shill has arrived.

    The Sheffield based ISP David obliquely refers to *doesn't* offer an "unlimited" connection; in fact their website is very clear about why this can't be honestly done on a commercial basis. Secondly, the account type David refers to is an old one, (which also gave 50GB per month from midnight to 8am, if I recall rightly). The new contracts - apart from the ten quid one - all offer 15GB plus with unmetered in the small hours. They aren't all crooks, you know...

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Top marks to Sam once again

    Sounds absolutely marvellous, as Sam's followers would probably expect... and thanks to El Reg for the publicity... tried something not a million miles different a year or three ago, using a Windows client to monitor latency and host+service availability, but it never really caught on (before its time, maybe?). Hopefully this will do better.

    NB from reading Sam's FAQ the testing alone uses 2GB/month download and 500MB upload by default, so those like me who are on PAYG or other low cost tariffs may wish to carefully read the small print. Sam describes this as "a very low cap", I'd describe it as typical small-household no-kids no-leeching broadband usage, which in my case also offers no noticeable traffic shaping.

  15. delboy

    Expose Them

    I'd love to see the offending isp's exposed, I'm fed up of Rip Off Britain

  16. Turbojerry

    @Neil Greatorex

    Any Entanet reseller, full 2meg for around £35/month, one of their resellers is who use the profits to support UK open source if you're so inclined. Note: I have no affiliation to Enta other than as a satisfied customer for the last 18months.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Neil Greatorex

    "Can anyone suggest a decent ISP? Proper speeds, no packet shaping, no Phorm, static IP & a reasonable "fair use" policy." - been with them since my exchange went live (early 2007) and never had an issue with them. Can max my connection out any time of the day/evening/weekend (getting a nice 1.7Mbyte/sec) and I'm a heavy user (from time to time over 300GB when I have a backup or to that I need to download....)

    Free static IP, No Shaping, Fair Fair Use and 1.7Mbyte/sec @ my sync rate (16778 kbit) for £18/month... can't complain :)

  18. Anonymous Coward

    Excellent idea, maybe

    If they're upfront about this, then it's a great idea. Wish our lousy regulators had though of it first!

    But given the rush by just about anyone to put spying hardware on our networks just now, I'd also like to know a bit more about what it's doing, who Sam is, and who he's planning to pass the data on to.

    If you're thinking of joining up, have a good look at the T&Cs first.

  19. Anonymous Coward


    I'm still with them too, get max speeds at all times, no shaping and no complaints for downloading shall we say...rather a lot. Steady 30-50ms pings in various online games too. Torrents going at 180KB/s atm mainly because the swarms are bit a pants.

    I've actually stuck with them because the service I currently get is better and cheaper than any other on the market today.

    Which is nice. You prolly got auto-migrated over to talkcrap's systems. They do suck.

  20. Maverick

    @ Neil Greatorex

    as myself & others have said on here - go to any Entanet reseller mate

    yes, Entanet do throttle at times of high demands (down to 2mbps in steps sometimes) - but they are COMPLETELY open - nice simple reporting so you know when it will get implemented, but heck I'm happy with 2mbps on a line solidly running at 6mbps (& yes, that's the same one that failed the BT test for static 2mbps ADSL)

    this is done to ensure everyone gets a reasonable service / pings - some leeches don't like equal treatment such as this - but I'll admit I'm glad if they leave ;)

    - you can even switch centrals if yours is unusually busy

    - very fair prices for the quality of service

    - 24x7 UK support as well (and not a script monkey in sight!)

    - both CIO and CEO have made their position on Ph*rm very clear in public



    . . . mines the one with 'a happy user' on the back & underused bandwidth in the top pocket

  21. Adam

    38.8 Modem

    Anyone else *not* remember these?

    I'm sure I've never had one either!

  22. Steve Browne

    Decent ISP

    UK Online gives me a business package, including static IP, 20:1 contention ratio and a "up to" 8Mbps, which syncs at 5.5Mbps. A fair use policy exists if you download more than 500GB in a month. All for £19.99 per month.

    Couple of other bits, like free domain name and some web space.

  23. Alex
    Thumb Up

    good one sam

    keep up the good work and you could count me in!

  24. SImon Hobson Silver badge

    Want 8megs, no cap, no contention ?

    You can have it ... for something approaching a grand a month !

    So two choices - pay that amount of money, or accept that you aren't going to get that level of service. Anything else is simply cloud cuckoo land !

  25. Martin


    I've been with Be for the past year, on their '24Mbps' 'unlimited' package. On the whole they seem to have been pretty good, except for a couple of flakey moments during the past 2 months. Cost? £18/mo (£24 for business).

    In central Birmingham I'm getting (at the time of posting, 9575k down, 727k up. The highest I've got was 13536k down, 1112k up (13th Dec 07, 6:39PM). Torrents seem to rattle along nicely (if there is shaping, its not set low).

    Anyway, forget all that; what do you reckon my chances are for getting 100-or-so locals to chip in together for a 100Mbps fibre line ;-)

  26. John Widger
    Paris Hilton

    Maybe, just maybe...

    this could be my chance. I've been asked and have agreed to the test. ATM I'm waiting for confirmation and as I use BT I'm very interested.

    Paris. Cos she looks how I feel Monday mornings. Who needs an angle?

  27. Neil Greatorex
    Paris Hilton

    Thanks guys

    Unfortunately I can't get Be in my area (wilds of Lincolnshire) but Zen looks very interesting.

    Maybe, just maybe, I might then actually get what I'm paying for. I was with Onetel, I'm bloody not with Talk Talk. 24 squids a month for an unusable service. Bah.

    Paris, as even she wouldn't stay with Talk Talk.

  28. Gordon Henderson
    Thumb Up

    I've got one ...

    Had it some time now too, although I suspect it's a pre-release as it's not a modified router...

    It does run Linux though - I watched it boot :)

    I snooped it for a bit too - it does what it says it does - some pings, dns requests and file xfers...

    Looking forward to seeing the results!

  29. Anonymous Coward

    Think Yourselves Lucky

    Living in the Algarve We pay €35 per month for an ADSL. connection at 2Meg with a international limit of 5GB. per month. It is the national provider the only one avalible in this part of Portugal. I have never seen more than 1.2meg down, and only that in the early hours of the morning. Daytime is normaly around 450k down and 40K up. Complaning gets you, just, If you dont like it go without!

    So please may I have some of your "Rip OFF Britian" without the weather!

  30. HeavyLight
    Thumb Up

    Thanks, Sam

    Well done for putting this initiative together.

    And thanks for a great site, too.

    I'd happily volunteer [VM 4Mb cable] but I usually download 80GB/mth so can't take part -- what we think of today as 'heavy' downloading, will be 'normal' in just a couple of years!

  31. Chris


    A quick glance at Zen their site says you get a max of 50GB and per extra GB they bill you STG1.75...

    Hardly fair... Im going to relocate to Blighty and my isp here in Belgium charges me EURO 0.25/GB... now THAT is fair... Granted most major isp's are rip off's here 2...

  32. Anonymous Coward


    I love my BT connection, easily get 800KBps downloads on torrents, cheap, unlimited and since the 4th of April on my PC alone, not the other 2 in the house nor the BT Vision or 360 I've totalled 175GB down and 91GB up

  33. Anonymous Coward

    100mb for 20 quid

    Yes, I live in Tokyo where I get a phone and internet for 20 quid a month, download speeds around 3mb/s and upload around 1mb/s. Its never broken. Britain just looks so old and tired from here!

  34. heystoopid


    So lifted from digg mob , will they be producing interesting reports like the following:

    1/ beeb player bandwidth growth rate rates thus

    link =

    2/ Bell filtering p2p effects(note some one in IFPI/RIAA/MPAA does not know which end of his head is in his posterior about that one in either 2 or 3)

    link =

    3/ wired has an intriguing research data on p2p too

    link =

    Ah piracy by p2p appears to be more fiction then fact or so it would appear .

    Oh well , let the fun with numbers and statistics continue .

  35. Lee Sexton

    Govt doing nothing

    I am STILL awaiting an official response from the minister of communication (totally ironic due to the lack of communication) 1 year on, yes 1 YEAR on. He has been written to numerous times by my local SNP office. Still no response. But in the meantime (shameless plug) please sign my petition

    This petition is almost a year old, sadly it only got coverage in PC Pro, the other one (crystal clear or something) got more coverage due to being a magazine and sadly didnt really highlight any issues for me, if people are too stupid to know that adsl is distance dependant and depends on copper/allu wiring and they cant use bt's own telephone checker to see how far away they are and let them know what speeds they are likely to receive, well........

    Mine was always about throttling. I dont mind paying extra for my connection, I understand ISP's have to make money but at least give us the option of having an "elite" service without throttling. Of course they make more money getting as many people onto pipes as possible so they'll never do it........

    OFCOM, dont make me laugh, their answer is to complain to your isp. What all 30 million of us? Talk about washing your hands.......

  36. Anonymous Coward

    Bandwidth Usage

    I had a very interesting conversation with an ISP yesterday on behalf of a client, I don't want to name and shame them here, so I've abbreviated their name to their pure initials, we'll call them B.T.

    I wanted to upgrade the aforementioned client from an older version of their package to the new one to take advantage of a speed increase, unbeknown to the call operator, my Netgear router has a traffic meter built into it which puts my usage at around 235MB a week.

    So imagine my surprise when the call operator in a very sincere but certainly pushy manner tells me that my bandwidth usage is huge and that I will quite likely push through the 10GB bandwidth limit on my service! Within the first few weeks of the month I can tell you that my facial expression was not that of an impressed individual, I did however crack a wry smile when he had to perform a momentous climbdown after I quoted my actual usage, which is not the 10240MB he's quoting!!!

    I wonder how many other ISP's use this (quite possibly illigal) practice in order to oversell bandwidth to their end users? It quite possibly has the trappings of a endemic problem in sales teams everywhere doesn't it!

    I currently manage a few hundred DSL connections on behalf of my customers, and from this single experience I shall be installing traffic meters on all of the connections and adjusting my client's packages and changing ISP's if nessacary, I recommend you do the same.

  37. Anonymous Coward

    I've got one

    I've got one (an earlier version, thin client style) and before I plugged it in I disseminated it to check it wasn't doing anything wrong!

    I'm obviously not going to reveal exactly what it does, but it's basically as Sam says... a few tests using standard linux tools (nslookup, ping, wget, etc)

    Of course, it's remotely updatable (over ssh!), so it might have changed now - maybe I'll have another look to see :)

    Oh, and I never agreed to not reverse engineering it - wasn't required for early adopters; is now!

    Still posting AC though

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Sheffield based ISP David obliquely refers to ....

    >They aren't all crooks, you know...

    When I was with them they got my billing wrong twice and that was using their own usage figures. God knows how accurate their usage stats are in the first place.

    Firefly, they're lovely, but not cheap.


    >A quick glance at Zen their site says you get a max of 50GB and

    >per extra GB they bill you STG1.75...

    >Hardly fair...

    Yes, that is, fair is telling you what they're going to charge and giving the service they said they would. What it isn't, is cheap.

    "Fair" != "Cheap".

  39. Brett

    already there

    iirc, this is already in place commercially. This data is available (you have to pay for it), but that I know of, there are around 6 ISP's that already use it.

  40. Niall Campbell

    @ Neil Greatorex

    I was with Onetel for years, dial up first then broadband, and they actually provided the speed and service I paid for. £24 a month for 2mb unlimited is what I got. Then along came Trash Talk, offering me unlimited downloads for free at 2mb.

    When questioned, the sales lady did say that their was a 15Gb per month cap.

    So i siad to her: "that's nott unlimited then is it?'

    Yes is she insisted. Stupid arse.

    When I checked, I found my connection was slow. I wasn't getting what I paid for so I was gone within a two weeks, never to look back.

    Now got Sky and downloads speeds of around 315kbs, uploads about 83kbs.

    Far better and cheaper. Strange that I should actually be praising anything from the Dirty Digger.

  41. Andy ORourke

    A stroke of good luck for me.....

    Just moved house (and counties), being a Northerner moving "Darn Sarf" I expected to easily beat my current DSL speeds (used to get 5.2 M down (ish) and 768K up (ish)

    The wife chose the house on a nice new development outside Basingstoke center and I thought the world was my lobster, give Virgin (I know, phorm etc) a try but, New Development! Virgin have not (and probably will not) build out in that area.

    I was with BT at home so decided to move address (apart from having to pay £125.00 for a line install (which was for connecting at the local exchange since the house had an existing line) The DSL checker told me I might not be able to get ADSL at all, and if I could it would likley not be more than 500K Up. Oh well, better than nothing since I do use it quite a bit and the current mobile offerings are a little punitive if you exceed your download limits.

    The modem has been up for a few days now and I am getting a steady 3.5M download, 768K upload. Better than expected but I would have thought the DSL checker could be a little more accurate.

    Now all I have to do is await BT's introduction of Phorm, not agree to the change in my T&C's and get my MAC code and start using a real ISP!

  42. Gulfie
    Paris Hilton

    @ Andy ORourke

    The cable company (there used to be loads, now it is pretty much just Virgin Media) hasn't done any cabling of any significance in the last ten years.

    When franchises were granted, they came with cabling targets - 'w% within x years, and y% after z years' or something along those lines.

    Even in the inner city franchises, neither 'w' or 'x' is 100%. Almost all cabling out stopped as soon as the franchise agreement figures were hit, even though the payback could be in as little as six months for a combined cable TV/telephone installation. I've lived in two 'new built' estates put up since 1999, typical cable fodder where one in three households could have been expected to sign up, so investment returned inside two years. Still no sign of getting cabled though. Eight years of profits lost. Ironically we get leafletted at least once a year to sign up for cable!!!

    Paris, because even she can do the figure work and decide it makes sense to cable out...

  43. Lee Sexton

    @Andy ORourke

    Little known fact, BT are chancing their arms with the £125 install for moving home. I moved recently and BT tried this with me, I kicked up a stink and the fee suddenly changed to half price, I then told them the gf works for bt in the home movers department (which is a lie she works in the business number port team!) and that she trold me the home move does not have a charge. It was dropped after a few days, by then I had gone to cable out of sheer frustration. But it seems BT are just chancing their arms, the fee can and should be waived. I suppose you have already paid it though which is a shame.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    Must be a long time since you did figures in the Cable Industry. 6 months payback. No chance.

    I think you'll find the new build cable laying stopped pretty much the same time as the cable companies went bust paying for it due to the long payback periods.

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