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 affect your internet speed, such as how many people are using the internet and where you live.
Many people don’t know what their current broadband speed is, or aren’t sure of how many Mbps they need or what type of connection they can get 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.
Upload speed vs download 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 streaming music and videos, than uploading data, such as when you’re uploading photos to Facebook or making Skype calls. For this reason, suppliers normally provide a faster download speed in comparison to upload speed. And when providers talk about broadband speed, it’s usually the download speed that’s cited.
How is broadband speed measured?
Broadband speeds are usually measured in megabits per second (Mbps), although there’s also kilobits per second (Kbps) and gigabits per second (Gbps).
- 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 the average internet speed in the UK?
According to Ofcom’s latest report on internet speeds, the average UK home broadband speed in March 2021 was 79.1Mbps. This is mainly due to full fibre broadband and ultrafast speeds being rolled out in some areas of the country – many people still can’t reach the average speed just yet.
Don't worry if you can't get the average speed. In general, a minimum download speed of 10Mbps is good enough for everyday activities, such as browsing the internet, e-mails and social media.
How fast is my internet?
If you 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?
You can use our free broadband speed test to check 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 measured in milliseconds. The test is then run several times 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. Luckily, it’s quick and easy to do with our broadband speed test – simply enter your postcode and email address to get the results sent to you.
What broadband speed do I need?
The broadband speed that best suits you depends on how you use the internet. You can generally sort internet usage into three categories:
- Light users: People who only use the internet for day-to-day tasks, such as 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: People who use the internet for a significant amount of time, particularly for activities that use up a lot of bandwidth – for example, peer-to-peer file sharing, online gaming, or streaming videos and music
When choosing a broadband package, consider the individual usage requirements of everyone living in your household. You should also take into account the number of people using the connection, as well as what they’re using it for. All of these factors can affect the overall broadband speed.
Broadband speeds can also be generally sorted into three categories, although these aren’t strict definitions:
- Standard broadband – this uses ADSL technology to provide average download speeds of around 10-11Mbps
- Superfast broadband – this uses fibre-optic cables to deliver a broad range of speeds, covering anything from 30-300Mbps
- Ultrafast broadband – this generally means speeds of anything between 300-1000Mbps
As a minimum, we recommend a download speed of at least 10Mbps, which you can get with a standard broadband package. You’ll be able to carry out basic tasks, such as email, browsing the internet and online shopping.
However, if you have multiple people in your household using up your bandwidth, we recommend a download speed of at least between 30-60Mbps. You can achieve these superfast speeds with a fibre optic package.
And, if you work from home or enjoy streaming HD video or gaming – along with other members of your household – you could consider superfast or ultrafast speeds of anything between 60-1000Mbps.
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.
What broadband speed can I get in my area?
The maximum broadband speed you can get depends on where you live.
In general, rural broadband speeds tend to be slower than urban broadband speeds. This is often due to a lack of infrastructure, or living a greater distance from the nearest telephone exchange or street cabinet.
So, if you live in the remote countryside, you’ll likely face a slower internet connection than those living in a town or city.
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. Average speeds are usually around 10-11Mbps.
Fibre optic broadband uses much newer fibre optic cables, which transport data more efficiently 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 and more reliable connection, with fibre optic broadband achieving speeds of 76Mbps and beyond.
Data collected by MoneySuperMarket, correct as of July 2019
What if I’m unhappy with my broadband speed?
If you’re not satisfied with the broadband speed that you’re getting, you don’t have to put up with it.
It’s worth keeping in mind 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 obliged to take action and put things right.
There are some steps you can take to get a better service:
- Talk to your current provider: They may be able to increase the speed you’re receiving or advise you on how to improve your speed yourself
- Make a complaint: If you’re not satisfied with the response and feel like your provider in breach of the Service Level Agreement, you can make a complaint. 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 to respond to your complaint, and then 10 working days to resolve it
- 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 guaranteed that you’ll achieve a faster connection when swapping
What affects my broadband speed?
There could be many reasons why your internet is slow, as there are a number of things that affect the speed of your broadband:
- 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 are usually cheaper, but they’re less reliable and slower 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
- Lack of password protection: If your broadband doesn’t require a password, anyone can use your internet connection. As well as slowing your broadband speed down, it’s 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
- Outdated 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 – not only does this enable a quicker connection, it can also help improve your online security
- 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 on your bandwidth. To help speed things up, switch off devices you’re not using, or at least disconnect them from the internet
- 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
- Location of your router: Where your router is placed can affect the strength of its signal. It should be placed on a table or shelf, rather than on the floor. It should also be clear of any obstructions, such as walls or large pieces of furniture
- Weather conditions: Storms will affect phone lines, while freezing temperatures can affect underground cables
- Viruses/spyware/adware: As well as slowing down your PC, computer viruses and malware 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: Like traffic, you’ll find more people on the internet during the 'peak' hours of 6pm to 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 middle of night.
Read our tips on how to improve your broadband speed.
How to compare broadband speeds
To accurately compare broadband deals, you’ll need to provide your postcode. This way, you can see exactly what’s available in your area, as not all providers offer services nationwide.
Once you’ve entered your postcode, you’ll be presented with deals that clearly specify what average speed you’re 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 depending on location, so you may receive a connection that’s slower than the advertised speed.
Compare broadband deals in your area
If you’re looking for a faster broadband service, then the quickest way to find one is with MoneySuperMarket.
Just let us know your postcode and we’ll search our leading panel of providers to find the best broadband deals in your area.
You can then filter by costs, contract length, connection speed and what you want in your package, such as a phone line or TV services.
Plus, being a new customer, you can usually score the best deals.