Big Broadband Supplier or Small?

It was with some interest that I came across O2 trumpeting their win in the ThinkBroadband awards yesterday. I should probably nail my colours to the mast before I start and say that despite knowing a number of people who are quite happy with O2 broadband, when I switched over before Christmas I lasted a week before I went back to Zen thanks to the thirty day cooling off period on the contract. The problem from my point of view is that I don’t happen to live in an O2 coverage area, as a result I only have their O2 Access product available which relies on BT.

What I objected to with O2 was firstly that they were traffic shaping at peak times. They don’t do this on their own network, but apparently they are having congestion problems on the access service and rather than increase capacity are trying to control the service using shaping. It also isn’t working particularly well – even with the traffic shaping my speed was drastically reducing. I also had problems with the supplied router gradually negotiating the speed downwards – I’d had a similar problem on Zen and their tech support had been able to look at the line stats and tweak the settings to get my speed back up. Calling O2 their award winning customer support could only tell me that the line was connected – they had no statistics of connection drop outs, and their suggested action was that I sit and watch the router lights to see if they went out! After that I swapped back to Zen. (It is interesting to note at this point that BE who came second in the awards and are another O2 brand don’t even offer and access product for out of area customers…)

So based on my experience I’d easily rate Zen higher than O2, so I took a look at the ThinkBroadband results page. It certainly makes interesting reading.

The results have divided the ISP’s into two categories, Large and Niche, the dividing line being set at about 6000 user ratings. Zen comes in at 5,507 ratings with BE the smallest of the large category with 7,359 participants. Zen comes in as runner-up in the niche category.

But then I looked at the actual ratings. Zen scores 86% for customer service and 85% for reliability, O2 comes in with 75% for customer service and 68% for reliability. In fact the top four niche providers clearly beat O2 on both counts. If the dividing line had been set at 5000 user ratings Zen would have easily won the award by a large margin.

The upshot of the results seems to be that firstly, if you’re looking for a reliable and good quality broadband connection, you should seriously look at so called niche providers as the top ones rate significantly better than the big guys. I’m certainly happy to recommend Zen as a good reliable ISP, whether you’re on their network or a BT connection. Also when you see result headlines, take a look at the detail – an arbitrary split can make a quite noticeable difference to the results.

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