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Broadband Platform Update FAQ

Plusnet Staff
Plusnet Staff
Posts: 12,169
Thanks: 18
Fixes: 1
Registered: 04-04-2007

Broadband Platform Update FAQ

Why are you doing this?
We identified that a small proportion of our Broadband customers (less than 0.3%) were using a significant amount of the available capacity (around 10%). This usage had a detrimental affect on the overall quality of our Broadband platform for the remaining 99.7% of our customers.

What is the average usage of ADSL users in the UK?
The industry average for broadband utilisation is around 7GB per month per customer, across all speeds, ISPs and account types. All of the customers we identified as part of this exercise had used in excess of 140GB per month, for a 3-month averaged period, with some customers consistently using 500GB per month, every month.

What performance benefits are expected from doing this?
We expect that the majority of our customers can experience a performance increase especially during busy times. This is because UK broadband is provided on a contended basis, and users can achieve maximum throughputs on a “burst” basis. The broadband infrastructure (irrespective of ISP) is not designed to support sustained maximum bandwidth downloading.

The customers that we identified were consistently using around 140Mb/s of actual data-transfer (Compared to 123Mb/s of capacity available on our average 155Mb/s central pipe - see below for more info). This meant that this capacity would not be available on the platform for other users causing a lower quality of service for all users irrespective of their usage patterns.

As mentioned previously, we have continued to over-provision platform capacity to ensure this situation doesn’t occur while we established what we believed to be the fairest way to address the issue with our customers. The actions we have taken, have effectively re-assigned around 6% of the overall platform capacity to the majority of our customers (and therefore away from the 0.3% of customers who were previously using it).

The affected customers will now receive a contended service that is still considerably better than the advertised service. This will mean that we can continue to expand our platform in line with our original plans, and are no longer required to over-provision capacity (See also later notes regarding future actions).

What does "contended service" mean?
A contended service is one where the available capacity is “shared”. In the case of broadband, this means that your capacity (or speed) is shared with a number of other users. For standard usage patterns, such as web-browsing, collecting & sending email, or listening to music online, it is rare that you require continuous data-transfer at the maximum speed of your connection.

Typically you will have a "burst" when you download a web-page & associated images, followed by a lull in the transfer. These bursts & lulls should, over a reasonable number of customers, average out so that the contention becomes almost unnoticeable.

Sustained or continuous maximum-speed data-transfer (such as P2P traffic or large downloads) can cause insufficient capacity to be available since these activities minimise the number of lulls which can be used by other customers.

Why can't you just keep adding capacity to support all of your users?
PlusNet have always aimed to provide a high quality of service at a competitive price. The customers we identified during this exercise were using more capacity than was available on a central pipe, which costs us just over £31,000 ex VAT per month each (See below for more details).

Sustaining this level of service for such a small number of customers would make it more difficult to offer the same high-quality of service to the 99.7% of our customers at current prices.

While we fully agree with maintaining a reasonable balance of users on the platform, and that it is understandable that some customers’ usage will offset that of others, we don’t feel that it is appropriate to pass on the significant costs involved in subsidising such a small (0.3%) number of customers to the remainder of the customer base.

What criteria did you use to select the customers affected by this exercise?
We took a number of steps to identify the 0.3% of customers. We analysed both the total data-transfer of all users over a 3-month period, and the point-in-time capacity used by these customers, to understand their impact on the overall quality of service.

The customers that we identified had transferred between 420GB and 1.5TB (1,500GB) of data over a 3-month period. What was more important to us was the way in which this data was being transferred - consistently utilising around 140Mb/s of our total broadband capacity, and peaking higher. This is the main reason that we have not just focused on the overall data-transfer as a measure.

Does this mean there is a cap?
No. We understand that customers have varying usage requirements, and we do not wish to introduce a cap across our products. However, our products are designed around an average level of usage, and it is the overall effect on this level which will decide the success or otherwise of this exercise.

Rather than expecting the customers to change their usage patterns, the steps we have taken are to contend a number of our customers such that their usage does cannot adversely affect the capacity available to the remainder. These customers are not constrained by a maximum data-transfer amount.

For a period of time you advertised the service as unlimited. Has this changed?
Provision of Broadband services in the UK is heavily dependent on the underlying wholesale provider - BT. In recent years BT have continued to expand their Broadband network, much to the benefit of the UK consumers. The technologies have evolved significantly over the last 3-4 years, and will continue to evolve as the needs of customers, and the role of the Internet, changes.

Part of these changes has resulted in new ways for ISPs to purchase capacity. These changes have allowed PlusNet to offer new & innovative products, allowing low-users to take advantage of discounts to standard service pricing. This also made the ISP responsible for managing capacity.

In making these changes we reviewed all of our product marketing, and decided that, while accurate, there would be better ways of communicating the usage patterns expected on our products. We still anticipate that the majority of our customers will be able to use the services in the manner in which they expected, and we have not limited the product’s design.

Did you get your product design wrong?
No. Our products are designed based on a number of factors. These are based on available industry information, our expertise in providing Internet services, and analysis of usage patterns of current customers.

For the majority of our customers the design has been shown to strike the right balance of quality and price.

Is my product going to change?
No, we do not foresee changes to our product design at this time. It is evident that the majority of our customers are using the service how we anticipated, and are benefiting from the decisions we have made about how we manage our Broadband platform.

We operate in a highly dynamic industry, and we expect there will be further changes in the years to come as Broadband in the UK evolves and grows.

Are your Broadband products sustainable?
Yes. Our products are perfectly sustainable for the vast majority of Broadband users in the UK.

We have identified that only 0.3% of customers whose usage patterns was causing an immediate problem.

Are you planning on doing this again?
No. As mentioned earlier in this FAQ, we believe that the actions we have taken are the fairest way of addressing the situation that we have identified. We have yet to see how effective this solution will be, both in the short and long terms.

One of the objectives of this exercise was to ensure that all customers have a better understanding about why our products are designed the way that they are, and why we have taken the actions that we have.

It is likely, however, that we will gain some customers whose usage does not fit the product design, or that the usage of some of our current customers will change to be outside of the product design. We will always do our best to ensure that such situations are dealt with fairly, and in the best interests of our customers.

How much of all of this is set in stone?
We have taken the time to publish this information so that customers can have a clearer understanding of the factors that affect our decisions. The UK Internet industry, specifically the Broadband market, is highly dynamic and so we expect that the products, and the ways people use them, will change over time.

We are committed to evolving the services we offer in order that they continue to meet the demands of the market. This evolution may require changes to the products & services we offer, and the way in which we offer them. We will always do our best to ensure that they are clearly communicated, and that we maintain our position as an industry-leading Broadband ISP.

How is Broadband delivered?
The Broadband service consists of 3 main components:
+ Your connection to BT
+ BT's Connection to PlusNet
+ PlusNet's connection to the Internet

Your broadband modem or router is connected to the BT phone line. Your internet traffic / data transfer (e.g. emails, web pages etc.) passes down your phone line and onto BT’s network through your local telephone exchange (which is also known as the "local loop").

BT's network is connected to PlusNet over one or more "Central Pipes", each of which have a fixed capacity. The number of customers who can fit down a central pipe depends on how much data they are trying to transfer at a given time.

Once the data has passed through the central pipe onto the PlusNet network it is sent to its destination (either on the PlusNet network or somewhere on the Internet).

PlusNet have to pay BT each month for each customer's Broadband connection to the telephone exchange and for each central pipe we use. We also have to pay other companies for transferring your data to and from the Internet.

How much does Broadband Cost?
The wholesale cost for Broadband comprises:
£8.40 (ex VAT) per month per customer for the local loop component @ 50:1 contention.
£12.40 (ex VAT) per month per customer for the local loop component @ 20:1 contention.
£31,130 (ex VAT) per month per 155Mb segment of a 622 central pipe (BT broadband network transit).
Depending on customer and product mixes, between 4000 and 10000 customers may be serviced per segment.
The resulting costs per customer are common to all ISPs.

What does PlusNet do differently from other ISPs?
PlusNet firmly believe in empowering the customer. This means that wherever possible, we make the tools available to you on the website so that you can do everything you need without having to send us a ticket or call us on the phone.

We also have automated tools that we use to run the business which means that we save money by avoiding often slow and costly manual bureaucratic processes. These savings and efficiencies are what helps us to provide a better service at a lower price.

What's the right balance between price and service?
At PlusNet we never let our constant drive to lower prices distract us from delivering a quality service and products, however pricing is an important part of our overall offering.

As a testament to the quality of service that we provide we have won awards for Best Consumer ISP and Customer Service Award this year, along with Best ISP on the Planet and Best Broadband ISP the year before.
http://www.plus.net/press/awards/

Why is it important for an ISP to grow?
Gaining new customers is key part in the success of any service business, PlusNet included. Economies of scale mean that the cost of providing a service to a customer reduces slightly with each new customer added. For example, since Broadband was launched 4 years ago, we have been able to bring the price down from over £50 per month, to less than £15.

Growing the customer base also allows us to bring new products to market and at the same time develop existing services to include more tools and features (e.g. Virus and Spam protection).
Customer Support
3 REPLIES
rslsys
Grafter
Posts: 215
Registered: 16-08-2007

Broadband Platform Update FAQ

Nice to see we should expect a performance increase during busy times . . .
N/A

Broadband Platform Update FAQ

It would be nice to see but I aint seen it
Community Veteran
Posts: 14,469
Registered: 30-07-2007

Broadband Platform Update FAQ

If you were already getting your max speed your line could handle during the busy period, the changes will not make it any faster. What it will do is those who were seeing speed slowdowns should not see it or at last not as often and as new customers are added, it shoul dnot cause any future speed issues.

There is still the issue with the BT load balancing which can still cause slowdowns as well which is discussed in another thread.