Broadband: How to get the best broadband deal Broadband speed - which is best for me?
Deciding which broadband speed is best for you requires a little bit of extra knowledge about typical speeds and super-fast options. It's also worth knowing what to do if you experience slow broadband and why this might occur.
In this guide, we'll help you choose the best broadband speed for your computing needs.
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Typical broadband package speeds
- Up to 8Mbps: The older, most common flavour of copper-based ADSL services sold by BT and other ISPs using the telephone cables running from your local exchange. Heavily affected by the length of the line, with speed decreasing over distance.
- Up to 16Mbps: Not universal, but the fastest widely available connection, relying on a later generation of ADSL. Customers very close to the exchange may even receive speeds higher than advertised.
- Up to 30 Mbps: The starting point for so-called super fast services. Most useful for homes that actively download and stream a lot of entertainment content.
- Up to 76 Mbps: With fibre services becoming more widely available, early adopters can sign up to the fastest possible services, but there's very little to justify the added cost, as there are currently few online applications that really require the whizzy download rates.
What are the super-fast broadband options?
- BT: Fibre Infinity services from BT are increasingly available, either from the company directly or through reseller ISPs. Homes lucky enough to have been connected directly via fibre – known as fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) – can currently receive 160Mbps, with faster services in the pipeline. More normally, BT's fibre to the local cabinet services (FTTC) services offer up to 38Mbps and up to 76Mbps with its Infinity 1 and Infinity Option 2 packages.
- Virgin Media: Three main cable-based broadband packages are offered by Virgin Media, at 30Mbps, 60Mbps and 100Mbps, where available – about 50% of the UK.
- Other providers: The UK's other major ISPs – Sky, TalkTalk, PlusNet, for example - run services over BT's network. TalkTalk calls its 76Mbps package “Essentials with up to 76Mb Fibre Optic Broadband Boost”, while Sky's service is dubbed Fibre Unlimited.
What to do if you experience slow broadband
- Advertised speeds: Given that broadband does vary, ISPs have played fast and loose with the way it's advertised, often advertising 'up to' speeds that are unattainable for the vast majority of their customers. Advertising regulators have since stepped in, but have had limited impact, allowing ISPs to market a service as 'up to' a certain speed if just 10% of its customers can achieve it.
- Line checkers: ISPs signed up to telecoms regulator Ofcom's code of practice should provide a detailed quote for speeds your line should support. We've found that they won't always do this unprompted, so push the sales team for a likely figure for your postcode.
- Get-out clause: Under the rules, ISPs are obliged to 'offer an alternative package (if there is one) or let you out of any contract, without any penalties, if the actual speed is a lot lower than their original estimate.'
What else effects my broadband speed?
- Distance: With conventional phone-line based broadband, distance from the exchange is by far the biggest factor influencing your speed – the broadband signal degrades over distance, something fibre packages suffer from less.
- Traffic management: ISPs throttle speeds for heavy-downloaders, claiming this protects the network from bandwidth hogs that constantly download content and can cause traffic jams for other users.
- Household congestion: Homes with lots of people using the web can see individual user speeds dwindle. If two teenagers are streaming music videos upstairs, for example, account-holding parents might find performance on their iPlayer viewer falls short.
- Household wiring and hardware: According to ISPs, poorly performing broadband is the result of old wiring in your home, particularly the phone line. Minimising the number of extensions, keeping cable lengths short and removing ageing cables can reduce the impact. Ancient modems often don't support faster connections. Check with your ISP to see whether your modem is up to scratch.
- Website capacity: The websites that you visit will make a difference to the browsing experience. For example, even if you have a super-fast connection, a video being a streamed from a website that can't push the video out fast enough will result in a jittery image. This is most visible for news sites during a crisis, when demand on the servers where the material is hosted is too great.
- Time of day: The impact of time of day on broadband speed is linked to a providers broadband traffic management policies but there are also times when there are simply a lot of people trying to access the internet. More people tend to be online between 6pm and 11pm (peak times for many broadband providers). As a result, internet speed may be slower at these times.