Broadband users misunderstand bandwidth, claims ISP

Fail to factor in the effect of video

Many broadband consumers think they understand the concept of bandwidth without always factoring how applications have an impact on it, a survey has found.

The survey of 1,300 UK users for ISP Eclipse Internet found that more than eight out of 10 consumers claimed to understand bandwidth, despite a third believing that watching video would not slow their connection.

Nine out of 10 users experienced periods when Internet was slower than usual, with 44 per cent simultaneously watching videos with other bandwidth-hungry apps such as video conferencing.

Seventy-two percent of those surveyed received no help from their ISP in understanding how applications impacted on bandwidth.

Put out by Eclipse, which has an ISP way of looking at consumers (i.e they tend to be confused about technology), the survey is itself unexpectedly hazy on the core concepts.

Bandwidth is the ability of a consumer to download data at a given rate, data consumption is the volume of data that can be downloaded within a given period, and latency is the ability to access the web applications without noticeable interruptions. At tmes, the survey seems to confuse bandwidth (throughput) with data consumption.

More generally, ISPs struggle to explain how different applications affect downloads because their equipment is designed to monitor by protocol. Since video can come via Port 80 - everyday web traffic - it disappears into a larger pile of general browsing traffic. Similarly, many online games now use Port 80 rather than open specialised ports through firewalls and are also difficult to keep track of.

Arguably, data consumption is easy to keep track of. A user has either consumed a certain amount of data or they haven't. Bandwidth - the rate at which that data can be consumed - is more controversial, with ISP's claimed throughputs not always keeping up with advertised rates for a variety of reasons.

"It's critical that all ISPs focus on a more open, honest and trustworthy way to sell Internet services," said Eclipse director, Clodagh Murphy, aptly.

"This can only be achieved by proactively offering advice to users about the speeds they're actually getting, how much data they have consumed, what's consuming it, and how much they have remaining, in order to uphold a level of trust between them and the customer."

That seems like a big ask from most ISPs who are often content to manage users at the lowest common denominator of service because that's what the business model demands.

"They [users] do have to take a certain amount of responsibility for their actions when consuming resource heavy content online. Peak usage times and sites like BBC iPlayer that are experiencing huge demand for popular content, can also have an impact on the how fast someone perceives their internet connection to be," Murphy added, betraying an ISP-centrism.

Arguably, ISPs should also provision their services to deliver the applications users want to consume. The job of an ISP is simply to offer consumers ways to access these applications at an appropriate price and service level, rather than moaning about the naivety of the customer.

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John E Dunn

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