For many internet users, broadband speeds can be a source of great frustration. They pay more to secure a high-speed connection but don't necessarily receive the upload and download speeds they had expected.
So what factors determine the broadband speed you receive and why do you not necessarily get the speed you expect? How can you perform a broadband speed test? And how can you secure download speeds at the pace you really want? This broadband speed guide will attempt to answer all of these questions.
What are broadband speeds?
Before you carry out a broadband speed test it helps to know what broadband speeds are and how they are measured.
There are many advantages to broadband over a dial-up connection. For one, your phone line is free when you have broadband. However, the main reason that most users made the switch from dial-up (narrowband) to broadband is that it provides faster speeds.
This means that with a broadband connection you can download webpages much faster than with dial-up. You can also download emails much quicker too. So instead of wasting time waiting for the information you require to appear on your screen, you can now view it almost instantly.
Broadband also allows you to upload information much faster than with dial up. Your upload speed is the time it takes to upload information from your computer on to the internet. An example of this would be 'uploading' a video on to YouTube, adding your C.V. to a job site or uploading pictures to social networking sites. With the increasing popularity of social networking sites upload speeds are becoming increasingly important as people are personalising their accounts by uploading pictures, music and videos.
The high speeds of broadband have other advantages too. You can now listen to music and watch video footage online without the quality suffering. Broadband is also great for online gamers who should find that their 'ping' is much lower.
Broadband is fast enough to allow several people to use the internet at once as long as they have a networking device, meaning you save money too as you don't need to install a separate connection for each PC/laptop in your home. Broadband speeds are the key to making the most of the internet.
How are broadband speeds measured?
The speed of the broadband connection you receive differs depending on a number of factors which we will examine later in this guide. However, speed is measured in kilobits per second (Kb) and megabits per second (Mb). The higher the number of bytes you are able to download per second, the faster the connection.
For example, a typical dial-up connection has a speed of 56Kb. A basic starter broadband package will offer a speed of 512Kb – ten times faster than dial-up.
What broadband speed do you need?
It's important not to be persuaded by advertising slogans and "can't miss" deals and think about what type of broadband user you are. Just because super-fast speeds are available, it doesn't mean that you should necessarily pay for them if you use the internet infrequently.
Here are the speeds we recommend at moneysupermarket.com based on your internet usage:
- Light broadband internet users: If you have just come off a dial-up connection and use the internet rarely, perhaps just a few times a week to check emails and briefly surf the web, there's little point in paying for high-speed downloads. There are many packages available at 512kb – that's 10 times faster than dial-up, which are cost-effective starter packages and should be suitable for your needs. You can always upgrade to a faster connection at a later date.
- Medium broadband internet users: You are considered a medium broadband user if you use the internet on a daily basis to check emails, surf several websites. occasionally download music or videos and upload photos and files. Download speeds should be important to you, but there's little point in paying for top-of-the-range packages. 2Mb-4Mb download speeds should be perfectly sufficient.
- Heavy broadband internet users: Are you on the internet for five or more hours every day? Do you like to download movies or lots of music, or do you enjoy TV streaming? Are you a social networking addict and upload photos and music regularly? Or are you a fan of online gaming? If so, then faster internet connections should be important to you. There are many affordable packages on the market now offering speeds of 4Mb and above. You might wish to consider these, or even higher speeds within your price range.
What affects the broadband speed you receive?
During a number of consumer surveys it has been found that the majority of users who paid for a package offering speeds up to 8Mb actually only receive speeds in the region of 2-3Mb after a broadband speed test. For many more users, the situation was more frustrating with their internet speed tests revealing broadband downloads were only marginally faster than dial-up.
To find out your internet speed, use the moneysupermarket.com broadband speed test...
The reason you are not necessarily receiving the speeds you are paying for is down to a number of factors.
- Distance from the exchange – This is the biggest factor in terms of affecting the speed you receive. The closer you are to the telephone exchange, the faster your broadband connection can be. Only people living close to an exchange will be able to receive speeds up to 8Mb with BT estimating that around 78% of users on its lines can enjoy speeds up to 4Mb or higher. Bear in mind this does not apply to cable broadband – only broadband through a phone line (ADSL).
Find out the broadband speed you can get in your area with this broadband speed test...
- Exchange contention ratio – If your telephone exchange is busy, or is being used for a lot of heavy downloads, your connection might be slow. Many internet service providers (ISPs) use a contention ratio which caps the number of people that can share the exchange – normally around 50:1. Other ISPs, such as Eclipse, prioritise your bandwidth based on the package you buy – customers on more expensive packages will be given priority.
- Number of connections in your home – Though wireless broadband has many advantages several people being connected to the internet at the same time can slow down your broadband speed.
- Quality of cables/modem – If your broadband cables or modem do not have a high capacity you will not receive fast download or upload speeds. Many internet service providers will replace your modem and cables for free as part of their package.
- Weather conditions – Heavy rain and extreme weather conditions can affect your speed and your connection.
- Disconnections – If you have suffered a bad connection or a complete disconnection, perhaps due to bad weather or a power cut, your broadband speed could suffer as a result. Generally it is recommended that you disconnect and reconnect on a daily basis for several days to resynchronise your browser with your broadband provider. However, consult your individual provider first to see what action it recommends.
- Viruses/spyware/adware – Any form of infection on your PC can seriously slow down your connection. Download anti-virus protection and remove any spyware/adware on your PC.
- Time of day – Unsurprisingly, the internet is used by more people during 'peak' hours – 6pm-11pm. Consequently download speeds can be slower during these periods.
- Website capacity – If a lot of people are attempting to access the same webpage at the same time, this will create slower downloads.
How to test your broadband speed
There are many different broadband speed test services on the market, some of which are unreliable because they only measure your speed there and then. There are also rumours that some broadband providers can make their speeds look faster by tricking the broadband speed test itself, so be aware of this when testing your speed.
Fortunately Moneysupermarket.com has now installed a speed test service allowing you to track your average broadband speed.
Use the moneysupermarket.com broadband speed test now.
The moneysupermarket.com broadband speed test works by performing several tests on your connection to give you an accurate assessment of your broadband speed.
The speed test is extremely accurate as it uses a system clock to judge your downloads over an average period. It has a built-in list of service providers – so if you are in the UK, the broadband speed test should be able to assess your connection no matter where you are or who your broadband provider is.
And the best part about the moneysupermarket.com broadband speed test is that it is completely free. There is no need to download an expensive package on to your computer and there is no risk of picking up viruses or spyware using this tool. It simply gives you an honest and impartial analysis of the download speeds you receive.
What to do if you are unhappy with the results of your speed test
If you find you are not receiving anything like the speeds you expected when you bought your broadband package, there are several courses of action to consider.
i) You can contact your internet service provider and ask them if there is anything they can do to increase your speed. The fact is that they advertise speeds “up to” the mark you are supposed to receive – and therefore, it is not false advertising if you don't actually get close to the speed you desire. However, if they fear they may lose your custom they might be willing to upgrade your package to increase the likelihood of you receiving faster speeds.
ii) You could choose to move to a different broadband provider. Bear in mind however, that this will not guarantee you faster speeds – and you will be tied into a new fixed term contract.
iii) Alternatively, you could downgrade your package to one that offers slower download speeds to avoid paying extra for a service you're not receiving. Of course you should carry out several broadband speed tests before taking this course of action to ensure your connection is not being affected by external factors, such as the weather.
If you want to know more about your broadband speed carry out a speed test on several occasions at different times of the day to receive an honest perspective on the rate of your internet downloads.
If you're not happy with the service you receive, contact your internet service provider and see if they can upgrade you without any extra charge. If not, then use the broadband comparison tool to search for a broadband package that's more appropriate for you.