Broadband speed is important, because the faster your internet is, the more you can do online. It also means more people can use the internet at the same time without affecting each other’s consumption.
However, the world of broadband speeds can be a confusing one. Many people don’t know what their broadband speed is, or aren’t sure what the numbers mean when they compare broadband packages.
And if something goes wrong with your broadband, or it doesn’t seem to be as fast as promised, it can seem like a bit of swindle.
To get past these hurdles, it’s always good to know how broadband works, how to check your broadband speed, and why you don’t always get the mega-speeds promised.
Broadband speeds explained
Put simply, broadband speeds outline how fast data can come (downloads) and go (uploads) through your modem. Broadband speeds tend to be split between the download speed and upload speed because these are two different things: download measures the speed with which you can receive data over the internet, and upload speed means how fast your data can be uploaded.
It’s common to see a much higher download speed than upload speed. That’s because most people will spend most of their internet time consuming data by streaming movies, browsing social media, or downloading music, for example. The average person spends much less time uploading data by doing things like posting a photo on social media, backing up images, uploading video footage and so on.
Each broadband package will advertise a maximum speed, but it’s important to note that these are up to speeds* and yours may vary. You should be able to get an individual estimated broadband speed from a potential supplier.
How are broadband speeds measured?
Broadband speed is measured in megabits per second (Mbps), and the higher the number of megabits you are able to download per second, the faster the connection.
For instance, many broadband packages will offer speeds of up to 38Mbps*, with 76Mbps seen on some superfast fibre deals. It’s possible to get even higher speeds of up to 1,000Mbps but these contracts are pricey and not appropriate for average home usage.
*Note: broadband speeds are advertised as ‘up to’ because this means that 10% of people should be able to achieve these speeds.
What is a good internet speed?
A good internet speed is entirely dependent on how you use your broadband. What would be considered a good speed for a household of two people using the internet sparingly will be vastly different to the speed that a household of active online gamers or Netflix binge-watchers will require.
You need to consider your household internet usage before you decide what a good internet speed is.
Your usage can be split into three types:
- If you only use the internet a few times a week to check emails and briefly surf the web, this would be considered light-use and you may want to consider one of the cheaper options.
- If you use the internet each day and spend time browsing social media, watching videos, or streaming TV, this would be medium-use. You may find that a package offering up to 38Mbps may not be sufficient, but you may not need to go as high as up to 76Mbps.
- If you spend hours gaming, binge-watching TV online, or downloading music and movies often, you’ll need to prioritise speed as this would be heavy use. Most advice suggests you’ll need over 50Mbps at least.
How fast is my internet?
If you dig out the agreement with your current internet provider, you should see a speed quoted. It might tell you what speed your line can support, and should outline a guaranteed minimum speed. It’s always good practice to make sure you test the speed of your broadband and check you’re receiving the speed that you’re paying for.
How do I test my internet speed?
Our free broadband speed test lets you test and track the average internet speed that you receive. It works by testing your connection several times to give you an accurate assessment of your broadband speed.
What affects my broadband speed?
There are a number of things that affect the speed of your broadband, and could be causing low internet speeds:
- The type of connection: There are three main ways of connecting to the internet: Fibre-To-The-Home (FTTH) which is fairly rare and only available in certain places, Fibre-To-The-Cabinet (FTTC) which is the most common fibre-optic connection, and ADSL which uses the copper phone cables. ADSL connections may be cheaper, but they are less reliable and often come with slower speeds than fibre broadband.
- Distance from the exchange: If you have ADSL broadband, being further away from the exchange means your connection becomes fainter and experiences ‘noise’. This isn’t an issue with fibre broadband.
- Exchange contention ratio: There’s a limit to how many people can share an exchange if they have ADSL2+ broadband. Some ISPs will prioritise your bandwidth based on the package you buy, so customers with a more expensive package may be given priority over customers paying less.
- Number of connections in your home: The more devices you have connected to the internet, the more of a drain this will be and can cause slow speeds. You can switch off devices you’re not using, or consider upgrading your broadband package, to speed it up.
- Quality of cables and router: Old hardware can cause slow speeds, but many ISPs will replace or upgrade your router and cables for free as part of a package. The placement of your router is also important: the signal will lose strength if it has to pass through walls.
- Weather conditions: It’s fairly unlikely a bit of rain will knock out the broadband, but storms will affect phone lines and freezing temperatures can affect underground cables.
- Viruses/spyware/adware: Computer viruses and malware will slow down your computer and they can also slow down your internet connection. Download some anti-virus software (there are plenty of free ones) and perform regular scans to avoid this.
- Time of day: Unsurprisingly, you’ll find more people on the internet during 'peak' hours: 6pm-11pm. Download speeds can be slower during these periods, so it may be better to download films or music during the day or in the dead of night. In the days of Netflix and Amazon Prime TV, this is less of a problem because everyone is streaming.
What if I’m unhappy with my broadband speed?
If you aren’t happy with the speeds you’re receiving, or if you find out that you’re receiving much slower speeds than expected from your internet connection, there are several routes to take to resolve the matter.
Your broadband consumer rights mean you don’t have to accept slow broadband. Here’s what you can do:
- Talk to your current internet service provider and see if there’s anything they can do to help improve your broadband speed.
- If you aren’t happy with their response, or you feel they are in breach of the section on your contract that details the Service Level Agreement, you can complain about your provider. Pursue internal complaints before you report anything to a dispute resolution scheme.
- Consider switching broadband to another provider. But remember, this won’t always guarantee a faster service because the capacity of your connection could be low. Make sure you review any estimated speeds when you shop around.
How to compare broadband speeds
You need to provide your postcode when you compare broadband deals, to get an accurate list of the suppliers in your area. When you review the results, you’ll see the up to speeds listed prominently so you can compare this simply.
However, the speed your line can actually receive may be less than the advertised speed, so always check with the provider before you sign up for any broadband package.
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