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Updated: 24 Jun 2022

What broadband speed do I need?

Superfast broadband sounds appealing. But just how fast is it and do you really need it? Read on to find out.
Yvette Fletcher
Couple on internet at home 475358

Speed is a crucial consideration when you're deciding which broadband package is right for you. Too slow and you'll struggle to do the things you need to do; too fast, and you may be paying for a service you don't really need.

The best speed for you depends on a couple of things: how you use the internet and where you live.

Take our quick quiz below to find out what speed you need, and once you've decided, check our list of the best and worst broadband providers.

Do you need to switch to get faster broadband?

Not every broadband provider offers the same speeds - some providers will only let you choose between two different speeds, while others have four or five on offer. You may be able to get a faster connection by choosing a different provider.

How fast a connection you'll get also depends on where you live - unfortunately, the fastest speeds aren't available everywhere. So before agonising over which speed to go for, it's worth finding out which deals are available where you are - and how much they cost - using Which? Switch Broadband.

Use Which? To Switch Broadband

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Standard vs fibre broadband

'Standard' broadband packages in the UK use ADSL technology and so transmit data over the existing Openreach phone/copper network. This means standard broadband is widely available, though average download speeds are just 10-11 megabits per second (Mbps). 

For context, a 10-11Mbps connection will take more than five minutes to download one episode of a TV show, while faster connections can take seconds. But the broadband speed you receive in your home can be far less than 10Mbps if you live a long way from the nearest telephone exchange

Standard broadband used to be the most popular type of connection, but most customers have since moved to speedier options. Super- and ultrafast packages use more efficient fibre optic cables to transmit data. This means they can reach much faster speeds, though they're not available in all parts of the country. 

If you feel standard broadband is adequate for you, use our standard broadband reviews to find the perfect package. However, it's worth keeping in mind that, while fibre broadband used to be pricier than standard broadband, it is now competitively priced - and some faster fibre deals can actually be cheaper than standard broadband.

If you're interested in fibre broadband, it's worth noting that very few "fibre" packages actually offer a fibre connection from your house all the way through to the exchange. Instead the vast majority use fibre to connect the exchange to the cabinet in your street and then switch to the phone line for the final leg into your house. 

This type of connection - called Fibre to the Cabinet or FTTC - offers average speeds of between 36Mbps and 76Mbps. Compare these broadband deals using our super fast fibre broadband and ultra fast fibre broadband reviews.

Only a small proportion of houses - approximately 28% of homes in the UK - are able to receive pure fibre directly from the exchange (known as FTTH, Fibre to the Home, or FTTP, Fibre to the Premises), though a total of 47% of properties can benefit from speeds of up to 1000Mbps (1Gbps). Learn more about this 'gigabit' broadband in our guide on the benefits of fibre broadband.

The benefits of faster broadband speeds

Fast speeds allow for quicker downloads, uninterrupted streaming and also help to reduce the problems caused when different family members log on at the same time. They let you seamlessly enjoy services such as online radio, video on-demand and catch-up TV at the same time, while fibre's faster upload speeds also make life easier when you're sharing photos online or making video calls for work.

As the table below illustrates, at its fastest the difference between downloading a film from a service such as iTunes is about 9 seconds for the fastest (gigabit) connection vs around 20 minutes for some standard broadband connections (also called ADSL). But even superfast fibre connection (average speeds of 38Mbps - 76Mbps) are fairly speedy and should put an end to any stuttering and buffering of on-demand TV.

Broadband speedOne album (10 mp3s at 5MB)200 photos (1MB per file)One TV show (406MB via On Demand)One movie (858MB via On Demand)
5Mbps (standard)1 min 20 secs5 mins 20 secs10 mins 50 secs23 mins 9 secs
16Mbps (standard)25 secs1 min 40 secs3 mins 23 secs7 mins 14 secs
38Mbps (superfast)11 secs42 secs1 min 25 secs3 mins 3 secs
76Mbps (superfast)5 secs21 secs43 secs1 mins 31 secs
150Mbps (ultrafast)3 secs11 secs22 secs46 secs
500 Mbps (ultrafast)1 sec3 secs6 secs14 secs
1000Mbps (gigabit)0.4 sec2 secs3 secs9 secs

Check the speed of your broadband package with our broadband speed checker.

Do I need to get superfast broadband?

Superfast broadband is now very competitively priced when compared to standard broadband. Standard broadband can be adequate for browsing the web, checking emails, uploading the odd photo to Facebook and even streaming from BBC iPlayer or Netflix, but it's worth checking you can't get a more affordable superfast deal before committing.

For iPlayer you need 2Mbps of sustained bandwidth to watch standard-definition content or 3Mbps for high-definition, while the minimum recommended broadband speed for Netflix is 1.5Mbps. 

However, you will likely benefit from a speedier connection if you regularly:

  • Use your broadband at the same time as other people in your home
  • Download films or large online files on a regular basis
  • Use online TV catch-up services from more than one device
  • Upload videos and other large files to the web
  • Play video games online
  • Use video-calling services, such as Skype
  • Live in an area where broadband speeds are low

Keep in mind that fibre doesn't only offer faster speeds - fibre connections are usually more reliable too, so it's worth considering upgrading if your standard connection drops out regularly.

Compare the packages on offer using our superfast fibre broadband reviews.

What about ultrafast broadband?

A connection is generally considered 'ultrafast' if it's 100Mbps or faster. Some of the providers that use the Openreach network - such as BT and TalkTalk - offer ultrafast connections, but only to customers in certain parts of the country.

Virgin Media is one major provider that doesn't use the Openreach network. Instead it uses its own fibre optic cables to connect its street cabinets to the phone exchange and then uses coaxial cables to link the cabinet to customers' homes. Coaxial cable is faster than standard phone lines, so most of Virgin Media's deals are ultrafast.

While it's less widely available than Virgin Media, Hyperoptic is another provider with its own fibre network - it's mainly available in apartment blocks in major centres.

Find a speedy great-value package by browsing our ultrafast fibre broadband reviews.

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How accurate are broadband speeds?

Speed is clearly important. But the reality is that not all of us will get the average speeds that providers quote in their ads. That is because companies advertise average speeds available to at least 50% of customers at peak times - meaning the other 50% of customer could get lower speeds.

This is a vast improvement on broadband ads used before May 2018, when providers could advertise lofty 'up to' speeds that only had to be available to 10% of customers. We're pleased that this change has been made, but we think there's still more that could be done to improve broadband in the UK.