When selecting a broadband package, speed is one of the most important things to consider. Choosing a service that's too slow may mean you struggle to do the things you both need and want to do online. Opt for a faster package, however, and you may end up paying for a service that is beyond your requirements.
Ultimately, the broadband speed that is right for you depends on two things: where you live and how you use the internet.
What is broadband speed?
Broadband speed is measured in ‘megabits per second’ (Mbps) and ‘Kilobits per second’ (Kbps). The higher the number of bits per second, the faster your broadband connection will be.
When it comes to broadband speed, the more people accessing the connection at once, the more bandwidth - or speed - is required. This is especially applicable if streaming or downloading movies and playing games online is happening simultaneously.
How fast is my broadband currently?
To understand what broadband speed you need, you may first wish to confirm your current connection speed. This can provide a good indication as to whether you’re currently on speeds adequate for your level of usage.
The most accurate way to find out how fast your broadband is to run a broadband speed test. This will show you what speed you're actually getting. To get the most accurate reading possible, it's advised to carry out a few tests over several days, and at different times throughout the day.
Types of broadband
The type of broadband you have is the main determining factor for how fast your broadband will be. There are three types of broadband, which are as follows:-
Standard broadband, or ADSL, relies solely on copper wires of existing phone lines from BT's Openreach network to deliver your broadband connection. Therefore, when you have an ADSL connection, you will need to rent a phone line.
Average download speeds on a standard broadband connection are between 10 - 11Mbps. For context, downloading a film in standard definition on this type of connection will take more than 20 minutes. To do the same on a faster connection like superfast (FTTC) under 2 minutes, while an ultrafast (FTTP) broadband service will complete this task in seconds.
Standard broadband is more than adequate for 1-2 people sharing the connection and who use the internet for little more than light browsing.
It is important to remember however, that if you live far away from your telephone exchange, or if the copper cables delivering your service are old or damaged, then download speeds can drop dramatically.
Superfast, or 'Fibre to the Cabinet' (FTTC) broadband, is the next step-up from ADSL. Here, the term 'cabinet' refers to the big, green cabinets you often see on streets and footpaths. For an FTTC broadband connection, fibre optic cables are fed into these cabinets. From there, the distance remaining to your home is covered by copper telephone wires.
Because copper cables are involved for the journey from the cabinet to your home, a phone line is also required for this type of broadband. And, much like ADSL, if these copper cables have degraded over time, the speeds you experience may slow significantly.
For a household of 3-4 people, opting for superfast broadband between 30 - 60Mbps is a sensible choice. However, if you or anyone in your family works from home and downloads large files, enjoys streaming content in 4K UHD resolution, or is into online gaming, you may want to consider a faster option.
The term 'Ultrafast broadband' is often used interchangeably with 'Fibre to the Premises' (FTTP), 'Fibre to the Home' (FTTH), and 'full fibre' broadband. A connection faster than 100Mbps is considered 'ultrafast'. And, unlike superfast broadband, FTTP broadband is delivered to your home or business via just fibre optic cables. FTTP broadband is the fastest and most reliable type of broadband available in the UK. A full fibre connection also means that the speeds you experience are less likely to fluctuate throughout the day or drop out at times of high traffic.
Can I get FTTP broadband?
Most broadband providers - using BT's Openreach network - now offer ultrafast (FTTP) broadband options. Some, such as Virgin Media, Hyperoptic and Community Fibre offer FTTP broadband through their own networks.
But whether you'll be able to access FTTP broadband depends largely on where you live. A recent report from Ofcom shows that FTTP broadband is currently available to 47% of homes across the UK. So while there is clearly still some way to go, the government has announced its intention to roll out full fibre broadband to every home in the UK by 2025.
What are the benefits of faster broadband speeds?
Essentially, the faster your broadband is, the quicker you can download content. Faster internet speeds can also help alleviate issues if you have numerous devices connected simultaneously. Upload speeds will also be faster, too. This is particularly useful if you regularly share content online, such as uploading YouTube videos or photos to Instagram.
What broadband speed do I need?
The broadband speed you need depends on what you intend to use the internet for. Each household is different with varying needs. Depending on your circumstances, a faster connection may be more suitable.
The table below gives you an idea of different speeds and the average time it takes to download certain content via each type:-
|Broadband Speed||Album (50MB)||200 photos (200MB)||One HD TV show (450MB)||One SD film (800MB)|
|5Mbps (Standard/ADSL)||1 min 33 secs||5 mins 30 secs||12 minutes||21 mins 33 secs|
|38Mbps (Superfast/FTTC)||17 seconds||42 secs||1 min 57 secs||2 mins 48 secs|
|76Mbps (Superfast/FTTC)||5.26 secs||21 secs||47 secs||1 min 40 secs|
|150Mbps (Ultrafast/FTTP)||3 secs||10 secs||24 secs||42 secs|
|500Mbps (Ultrafast/FTTP)||0.8 secs||3 secs||7 secs||13 secs|
|1,000Mbps (Ultrafast/FTTP)||0.4 secs||2 secs||4 secs||6 secs|
What broadband speed can I get in my area?
The speed and type of broadband available to you is determined by a number of factors. These factors include: where you live (e.g., do you live in a major city or rural location?), how far your property is situated from the nearest telephone exchange and cabinet, and whether your connection is operating on frayed or damaged copper wires.
Our UK address checker can provide you a good idea of what broadband types and speeds you can access. Many households may be enduring slower speeds unnecessarily, unaware they could upgrade to a full fibre service.
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