Is your broadband too slow? Here are some top tips for understanding what broadband speeds are, and how to speed up your connection.
How are broadband download speeds measured?
The speed of your broadband connection is the speed at which information is downloaded to your computer. Advertised speeds are as much as 100Mb or more in some areas of the country.
However, depending on the type of connection you have, ADSL or fibre optic cable, the actual speed you receive will be less than this. With copper wire (ADSL) connections it can be less than half the advertised speed.
The best broadband download speed your household's connection can achieve depends on many factors, including the package you've signed up for, the distance from your local telephone exchange to your house, the quality of the line, and the number of households that share your connection.
If you're interested in file sharing, or uploading files (like videos to YouTube), you should look at the upload speed you get on your connection as well, although this will be a lot slower than the broadband download speed.
How fast is your broadband?
You've probably heard conflicting stories about broadband download speeds. Some of the UK's biggest and most popular broadband providers have been accused of giving customers slower broadband connections than those they advertise.
Ofcom's latest speed tests reveal that the average broadband download speed in the UK is around 8Mb. So,how fast is your broadband? And what can you do about it if it's not fast enough?
Broadbandchoices.co.uk features a broadband speed tester that will tell you how fast your connection is running at any one time. It does this by downloading a file onto your computer. It then measures how quickly that file was downloaded, and gives you the actual speed of your connection.
What if I'm getting a slower broadband download speed than I'm paying for?
Check your broadband download speed a few times to make sure your first try can't be explained by a temporary blip. You will find that most connection speeds slow down at peak times - typically between 6pm and 8pm - so try testing your connection at different times of the day and night too.
If you're not happy with your broadband download speed, you should contact your Internet Service Provider (ISP). The physical workings of your broadband supply will be managed by the company you are getting your broadband from, an ISP such as , , .
You may find that an engineer from one of these companies will be sent to your property to examine whether there's a physical fault with your connection. If there is no fault, your ISP may be willing to reduce your bills to reflect the service you're receiving.
If they won't do this, and you remain unhappy with the speed you get, you can make a formal complaint to your ISP, and a further complaint to the independent regulator, Ofcom, if the ISP refuses to address your concerns.
Broadband speeds available
Since the introduction of the new Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) and Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) guidelines about the advertising of broadband, ISPs have adjusted the broadband speeds that they advertise.
Broadband companies can now only advertise up to speeds which at least 10% of their customers can actually get.
This has lowered the gap between advertised speeds and the actual speeds that customers receive, however it has led ISP's to advertise a wide variety of speeds especially with ADSL connections, and has left customers still no clearer about what speeds they are realistically going to get.
Fibre optic broadband fared better as generally speeds received have always been much closer to those advertised.
ADSL and ADSL2+ is broadband delivered via the traditional copper wire telephone network, and depending on your provider, will generally mean advertised broadband speeds between up to 10Mb and up to 19Mb. However, with speed degradation the actual speed will be less than this.
Fibre optic broadband
Fibre optic cables are designed to carry data at lightning fast speeds and broadband delivered via fibre doesn't suffer from the same degree of speed loss as copper wire broadband. Consequently, actual speeds are much closer to those advertised, usually 85-100% of the headline speed you signed up to. Virgin Media's entire network uses fibre to deliver its broadband. Other providers offer packages of up to 38Mb, up to 76Mb and more.
Both BT and Virgin Media's 100Mb connections utilise fibre-to-the-premises technology where fibre optic cable is used all the way from exchange to your house. This means connection speeds are preserved and the download speed you get is highly likely to be no more than a couple of percent less than the advertised speed.
With a 100Mb connection, customers can download an entire music album in as little as five seconds; a TV show in around 30 seconds, a high quality movie in as little as 1½ minutes and a high-definition movie in just seven minutes. It will also allow you to run several bandwidth-hungry applications at the same time without a slowing of connection speed making it ideal for multiple user households.
Independent fibre optic broadband suppliers
As well as BT and Virgin Media, there are other providers dipping a toe in the 100Mb water.
Some cities around the UK have developed their own fibre optic cable networks, and several smaller providers like Fibrecity, which has networks in Bournemouth and Dundee, and Hull-based provider KC, are delivering 100Mb connections.
2011 even saw the launch of a 1Gb FTTH service from Hyperoptic providing download and upload speeds 140 times faster than the UK average.
Compare broadband packages available in your area with our free online postcode checker and see if you can get a better deal.