Broadband Speed

Are you getting what you’re paying for with your broadband speed? Our guide offers insight as to what you can expect when you next shop around for a new broadband deal.

When choosing your next broadband package, speed is one of the most important things to consider. There are many factors that impact on your internet speed, such as how many people are using the internet and where you live.

Many people don’t know what their broadband speed is or aren’t sure of how many Mbps they need when they compare broadband packages. It’s always good to understand how broadband works and how to check your broadband speed before you talk to your provider.

What is broadband speed?

Broadband speed is essentially how quickly you can upload or download data using your internet connection. The average user spends more time downloading data such as music and films, so suppliers normally provide a faster download speed in comparison to upload speed.

How is broadband speed measured?

Broadband speeds are measured in megabits per second (Mbps) and kilobits per second (Kbps).

  • 1 Kbps: 1,000 bits per second
  • 1 Mbps: 1,000,000 bits per second
  • 1 Gbps: 1,000,000,000 bits per second

This means the higher the number of bits per second, the faster your broadband speed is. The maximum capacity for information to be sent or received is called bandwidth.

What is a good internet speed?

A good broadband speed depends on how you use the web – you can generally sort internet usage into three categories:

  • Light users: People only using the internet for day-to-day tasks like online banking and emails
  • Medium users: People who use the internet regularly for social media, surfing the internet and catching up on the latest episode of their favourite show
  • Heavy users: Individuals who use the internet for a significant amount of time. For example this could be peer-to-peer file sharing, online gaming or streaming films and music.

Consider the usage requirements of each individual that lives in your household, as the number of people using the connection can affect the overall broadband speed.

Remember while providers may advertise certain speeds, this isn’t necessarily what you’ll receive. These speeds are often only available to 50% of customers, meaning that you might end up with a slower connection.

How fast is my internet?

If you take a look at your current agreement with your provider, it should state your quoted speed. This information should be available on your latest bill or by calling your provider. They should also be able to inform you if you have a guaranteed minimum broadband speed.

How do I test my internet speed?

Our free broadband speed test lets you see the average speed you’re getting from your provider. It works by sending data to and from the main server and timing how quickly the data completes the round-trip, which is then measured in milliseconds.

The test is then run several times in order to establish a precise result. It’s useful to regularly test the speed of your broadband so you can ensure you’re getting what you pay for.

What difference is there between standard and fibre optic?

Standard broadband, also known as ADSL, uses pre-existing copper phone lines to send and receive information. Fibre optic broadband uses much newer fibre optic cables whereby data is transported as flashes of light.

These flashes of light are then subsequently interpreted by the technology when it reaches its destination. This results in a quicker connection, with fibre optic broadband achieving speeds of 76Mbps and beyond – compared to standard broadband generally averaging at 11Mbps.

Fibre optic vs standard broadband

Data collected by MoneySuperMarket, correct as of July 2019

What if I’m unhappy with my broadband speed?

If you’re not happy with the broadband speed that you’re getting, you don’t have to put up with it as per your broadband consumer rights. If your connection is significantly slower than your quoted speed, the Consumer Rights Act states that goods must match any provided description – meaning suppliers are liable to take action.

  1. Talk to your current provider: They may be able to increase the speed you’re receiving or advise you on how you can improve your speed yourself
  2. Make a complaint: If you don’t feel happy with the response, you can make a complaint to your provider if you feel like they are in breach of the Service Level Agreement. If your provider is a registered member of the Internet Service Providers’ Association, they must conform to their code of conduct. This states that they have 5 working days in order to respond to your complaint and that it must be resolved within 10 working days
  3. Switch provider: If you’re still not happy with the situation, you should consider switching your provider. Make sure you check your area and shop around to compare download speeds and other factors before committing to a new agreement, as it’s not always a guarantee that you’ll achieve a faster connection when swapping

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 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 weaker and experiences ‘noise’. The further the distance, the more interference you experience. This isn’t an issue with fibre broadband
  • Password protect your router: If your broadband doesn’t require a password, anyone can use your internet connection. This will slow your broadband speed down, but is also a security risk
  • Other electrical devices: other technology that emits wireless signals can cause interference. Try to keep your router as far away from these as possible
  • Update your internet browser: if you’re not using the latest version, this could be slowing down your speed. Make sure you’re using the most up-to-date browser as this can also help improve your online security as well as enabling a quicker connection
  • 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: it should be placed on a table or shelf, rather than the floor. The signal will also 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. Broadband 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.

How to compare broadband speeds

In order to accurately compare broadband deals, you’ll need to provide your postcode. This way, your search results will be specific to the area you live in, as not all providers offer services nationwide. Once you have entered your post code, you’ll be presented with deals that clearly specify what average speed you are likely to achieve.

Before purchasing a new deal, it’s important to check with the provider that the given quote is realistic. Broadband speeds vary dependent on location and you may receive less than the speed that was originally advertised.