Broadband Speed Guide

Read our guide to broadband speeds to develop your understanding to ensure you are getting what you are paying for from your internet provider. Learn why you are receiving the upload and download speeds you are and what can be done to speed up your internet connection.

Taken From: How to check your broadband speed

For lots of us internet users, wireless broadband can be a real headache, sometimes we pay top dollar for a service that promises high speeds, only to let us down at the first possible hurdle.

So what factors determine the broadband speed you receive and why don’t we always get the speeds we expect? How can you find out how fast our connections are? And how can you ensure that downloads happen at the speed you 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 plenty of advantages to broadband over a dial-up connection. For one, you don’t have to worry about not using your internet and phone at the same time. However, the main reason that most users made the switch from dial-up (narrowband) to broadband is that broadband is much, much quicker.

This means that with a broadband connection you can view webpages much faster than with dial-up. You can also download emails much quicker too. So instead of wasting time waiting for loading screens, you get your information much quicker with broadband.

Uploading information with broadband is also much faster compared to dial-up. If you’re unsure, your upload speed is basically the time it takes to upload information from your computer on to the internet. A good example of this would be putting a video on YouTube, adding your C.V. to a job site, or uploading pictures to social media sites. With the ever increasing popularity of the likes of Facebook and Twitter, upload speed is being considered much more nowadays, when previously it was only majorly judges by consumers who uploaded a lot of information.

There are other advantages of a high speed broadband connection though. It helps when listening to music or watching video footage online, ensuring quality is kept to a suitable standard. Broadband is also especially good for online gamers, who’ll suffer from ‘lag’ if their internet connection isn’t fast enough.

Also, broadband is fast enough to cater for multiple internet users, whether they be on computers, smartphones, tablets or games consoles, meaning you won’t all be fighting over the internet like you would the bathroom in the mornings. Simply put, the key to enjoying your time on the internet often comes down to your speed of connection, especially if you’ve become accustomed to faster speeds.

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 of connection is normally measured in megabits per second (Mbs), unless of course you have an extremely slow connection, which will still deal with kilobits per second (Kbs). The higher the number of bytes you are able to download per second, the faster the connection.

For example, a cheap broadband package regularly offers download speeds of up to 3Mbs, whilst a more expensive connection could offer upward of 150Mbs, around fifty times faster. Compare this to the standard dial-up connections of a few years back and you could receive speeds as slow as 56Kbs, making the better broadband connections 300 times faster, it really does go to show how much better broadband is compared to wireless, doesn’t it?

What broadband speed do you need?

Before going all out with your broadband connection, take a quick look at your internet usage as a household, as sometimes is might actually make sense to go for a less expensive option which will suit your needs, rather than an expensive one that you won’t be using as much. Basically, 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 based on your internet usage:

  • Light broadband internet users: If you don’t use the internet all that often, maybe 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 around 3Mbs, which are cost-effective starter packages and should be suited for your needs as a household. Besides, if you do feel a little held back, you can always upgrade to a faster connection at a later date.
  • Medium broadband internet users: If you find yourself on the internet each day of the week, maybe scrolling through your Facebook feed, checking emails, watching videos and maybe streaming some television services, you’re likely to be in the medium usage bracket of broadband users. Download speeds should be fairly important to you, whilst upload speeds might not be as much of a forethought for you. If you’re in this bracket you should probably look for a service of around 10-20Mbs to keep you going each month.
  • Heavy broadband internet users: For serial internet users out there who use the service to its full potential, and by this we mean spending hours on end watching cat videos on YouTube, downloading films and music regularly, streaming hours’ worth of TV shows and playing online games until the early hours, you’ll be safely considered a high-usage customer. You should definitely put download speed as a priority in your broadband search, and seriously consider an unlimited download limit along with a decent upload speed. The generally accepted speeds for you should be upward of 30Mbs, but serious users should look for services offering maybe 100Mbs to be safe.

What affects the broadband speed you receive?

Numerous surveys across the UK have confirmed that broadband users paying for 8Mbs service often suffer from speeds of around 2-3Mbs, less than half the speed they think they’re getting. An unfortunate few even suffer from drops in speed during peak hours to a complete snail’s pace, sometimes taking several minutes to load a simple web page!

Thankfully, to find out your internet speed, you can use the broadband speed test, which will tell you exactly what speeds you are registering. But, if you are struggling to match your expected speed, it could be down to a few factors, so don’t go switching just yet.

Distance from the exchange – If you’re still having your internet connection go through your phone line, then this can be a major reason why you might be suffering from slower speeds. Put simply, if you’re closer to the telephone exchange, you’ll get a faster speed, but if you’re not so close, you can expect a diminished pace without a doubt. Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot you can do about this unless you’re willing to move house to secure a shorter exchange distance. Remember, this only applies if your internet runs through your phone line, cable broadband isn’t affected by this problem.

Find out the broadband speed you can get in your area with this broadband speed test...

  • Exchange contention ratio – It makes sense that if a lot of people are working through one telephone exchange, then your connection will likely suffer. Many internet service providers (ISPs) use a contention ratio which caps the number of people that can share any said exchange – normally around 50:1. Some ISPs actually prioritise your bandwidth based on the package you buy meaning customers with a more expensive package will be given priority over customers paying less.
  • Number of connections in your home – A common issue which often causes headaches, if multiple devices are hitting your broadband at once, it’s likely that the speed of your connection will drop. There isn’t too much you can do about this, but if you have a higher speed to begin with, you shouldn’t drop too far in terms of pace.
  • Quality of cables/modem – Many people think speed is dictated by the service provided by your ISP, and whilst this is true, your hardware also has an input. If you’re using cables that have been chewed by the cat, and have a modem which looks like it should be in a museum, your speed is sure to suffer. The good news is that many ISPs will replace your modem and cables for free as part of their package, meaning you should be able to have a decent collection of hardware to run through.
  • Weather conditions – Similarly to TV signal, mobile phone coverage and other types of connection, if the weather isn’t playing nice, then your internet connection may face issues. Unfortunately this is just something you’ll have to put up with…
  • Disconnections – Sometimes delayed speeds can carry on after weather problems or a previous disconnection. If this does happen, try resetting your router, and if the problem persists, contact your ISP for help.
  • Viruses/spyware/adware – Computer baddies like viruses and malware primarily slow down your computer but can also slow down your internet connection. To avoid this, download some anti-virus software (there are plenty of free ones like AVG or Avast!) and perform regular scans. Also, if you receive a dodgy email with a link in which doesn’t look quite right, the odds are that it’s not wise to click it…
  • 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 – A very common problem when trying to buy limited goods, like tickets or special edition items. If a website has thousands of visitors all trying to get onto one page, connection problems will often occur due to the company’s server struggling under the pressure. If this happens, don’t refresh the page unless clearly instructed, it will only make things worse.

How to test your broadband speed

When it comes to testing broadband speeds it’s safe to say you have a huge selection of tests to choose from, some of which aren’t the most reliable. Some tests promise to show you your speed, but do so only for there and then, whilst others actually trick you into thinking your connection is actually faster than it actually is.

Fortunately has now installed a speed test service allowing you to track your average broadband speed.

Use the broadband speed test now.

The broadband speed test works by performing several tests on your connection to give you an accurate assessment of your broadband speed, without trying to trick you with dodgy results.

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.

The best part about the broadband speed test is that it is completely free. Also, there is no need to download any package on to your computer and there is no risk of picking up any viruses or other internet baddy by using it. 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 aren’t happy with the speeds your receiving, or if you find out that you’re receiving much slower speeds than expected from your internet connection there are several routes you can go down.

i) Your first port of call should always be your current ISP, to see if they can help sort out your issues with the connection to keep you happy. The main problem with this comes as they advertise with speeds “up to” the mark you are supposed to receive meaning you can’t argue that they are falsely advertising their services. But, 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) If your ISP isn’t doing a good enough job of course, you choose to move to a different broadband provider. But remember, this doesn’t always guarantee a faster service for the same price, and you will obviously have to sign a new deal with a new company, tying you down with a fresh contract.

iii) Finally, if your issue is with the money you’re paying rather than having a faster connection, you could downgrade your package to one that offers slower download speeds for a cheaper price. Just make sure you carry out several broadband speed tests before taking this course of action to ensure your connection is not being affected by external factors, like the weather. recommends...

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.

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