Users angry at slow Internet speeds

By Li Qiaoyi Source:Global Times Published: 2012-8-16 19:30:04

The past two weeks have undoubtedly been a period full of excitement for sports fans worldwide, with the London Olympic Games concluding Sunday.

 But while Chinese sports fans' passion for the event is as strong as ever, many have been frustrated by their inability to watch it online, due to the inadequate speed of their Internet connection.

"It is really bad that I could not watch the Olympic Games live online. The broadband can't have been at its advertised speed," said Lu Yuanyuan, a young woman working for a State-owned company in Beijing. Lu recently subscribed with Great Wall Broadband Network Co, paying 1,200 yuan ($188.64) for a one-year contract, which promised a bandwidth of 10 megabytes per second.

"How could I be unable to watch live streaming video on a bandwidth of 10 megabytes?" Lu complained.

It was more annoying as the apartment she rents has no television. "The more affordable pricing of Great Wall Broadband Network compared to broadband services offered by the major telecom operators was quite a lure for me. But now I regret choosing the cheaper alternative."

Despite frequently contacting customer service staff, Lu gained little help from the company in resolving the problem.

Lu's complaints might strike a chord with the large number of people who subscribe to broadband services offered by smaller operators, rather than the nation's big three - China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom.

Cheap but unsatisfactory

While Lu just expressed doubts about her broadband, some users have sought evidence to back up their anger about the speed of their Internet connection.

"I paid for a bandwidth of 12 megabytes, but the real bandwidth is just around 1 megabyte," a netizen called ansonlababyha from Guangzhou, also a subscriber to Great Wall Broadband Network, said Monday on his Sina microblog, attaching a picture showing results of an Internet speed test.

Wu Xiaofeng from Chongqing recently subscribed to a two-year contract for a 4 megabyte service from Great Wall Broadband Network for 738 yuan, according to a report in the Chongqing Evening News earlier this month. But Wu also experienced the frustration of poor network access when playing games and watching videos.

The actual network speed could be as low as 100 kilobytes, in stark contrast to the 4 megabytes promised by the company, said Wu, who used professional software for the speed test. Angered by the finding, Wu dialed the company's service hotline several times, but has yet to be offered a satisfactory resolution.

Beijing-based Great Wall Broadband Network Service, the largest broadband service provider after the country's big three telecom carriers, is not the only source of complaints among the many people who have been attracted by lower-priced Internet services.

Claiming to offer similar services for roughly half the price charged by bigger carriers, about a dozen other companies have tried to take a slice of the nation's enticing marketplace for broadband access services.

The market has long been dominated by China Telecom and China Unicom. Together, the two firms held roughly two-thirds of the nation's broadband access service market, according to the National Development and Reform Commission in late 2011.

The number of broadband users in China hit 164 million in the first quarter of 2012, maintaining the country's position as the largest market for broadband services in the world, according to data from non-governmental organization Broadband Forum.

Insufficient resources

Dissatisfaction with broadband access services - with their slow speed in particular - has become common throughout the sector, not just with lower-end services. This has prompted the government to consider launching access speed tests.

The draft testing methods that were unveiled to the public by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology in April came after a controversial survey report on the country's broadband users, which was released at the end of 2011.

The report by the Data Center of China Internet claimed that more than half of the nation's Internet users were using broadband that was slower than advertised.

While it is a general problem, slow broadband seems to be a particular problem among the cheaper service providers.

"There have been some disappointments with China Unicom's broadband services, but generally the network is satisfying in terms of speed, stability as well as maintenance services," said 29-year-old Remy Zu, who works at an IT company in Beijing. Zu changed to the China Unicom network in 2011 after using services from a smaller company for about one year.

Consumers' complaints reflect these smaller firms' innate weakness in broadband resources compared to the big telecom operators, industry experts said.

"Building a large-scale telecommunications network is too costly for the small firms, which could only offer limited broadband services based on their rental of the big carriers' backbone network infrastructure nationwide," said Xiang Ligang, chief executive of telecom industry information portal

"Complaints about their failure to meet the advertised speeds are inevitable given the firms' weak resources," Xiang said.

Poor prospects

Unlike some other areas where small rivals can still claim a considerable chunk of the market through offering differentiated services, the broadband service market is almost all about bandwidth, in which the big carriers have an undoubted edge, Xiang noted.

Even knock-down pricing as a strategy to win over consumers from the bigger carriers may prove to be less attractive, as these big players have been upgrading their network to offer faster speeds for no extra charge, Joy Yang, chief analyst of the carrier network infrastructure group at Gartner Research in Shanghai, told the Global Times.

"The smaller firms are expected to face poor prospects in coming years, because of pressure from the big carriers' network improvements and the fact that the difference in prices is not big enough," Yang predicted.

The nation has been upgrading its copper wire broadband network to higher-speed fiber-optic broadband, but this involves huge investment, Yang said, noting that it would be unaffordable for small firms.

The smaller firms are also feeling the pinch from their lower pricing. Analysts said a possible way out might be for some of them to merge into a larger entity to take on the big carriers.

"They may still have a chance through mergers and acquisitions. Otherwise, the prospects for them are not optimistic," Xiang told the Global Times.

Great Wall Broadband Network Service Co can not be reached by the Global Times by press time.

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