Got a need for speed? This guide explains all you need to know about broadband speeds, including what’s the fastest option in the UK, and how fast your internet really needs to be.
Here in the UK, we appreciate speed. Don't believe us? Just look at some of the people we admire: Mo Farah, Lewis Hamilton, Sonic the Hedgehog…
The same is true when it comes to our broadband. We want our internet connections to be fast enough to do the things we love, whether it's using iPlayer to catch up on TV we missed, or just using Facebook and email to keep in touch with friends and family.
But how fast does your broadband really need to be? With the likes of Virgin Media and BT constantly shrieking about superfast internet, it's easy to assume you need your connection to be the fastest it possibly can. This isn't always the case - it's a speed trap if you will.
Popular broadband deals
|SimplyBroadband||Broadband: 50Mb + Phone: M||Broadband Unlimited + Talk Weekends (Existing Sky TV Customers)||Broadband + Weekend Calls|
Monthly cost: £3.50 1st year cost: £42.00
Monthly cost: £4.00
(for 12 months)1st year cost: £48.00
Monthly cost: £3.75
(for 12 months)1st year cost: £51.95
Monthly cost: £7.50
(for 6 months)1st year cost: £111.95
|speed up to 16 Mb||speed up to 50 Mb||speed up to 17 Mb||speed up to 16 Mb|
|Pay as you go||Weekend calls inc.||Weekend calls inc.||Weekend calls inc.|
Call TalkTalk on
0800 049 7843
Call Virgin Media on
0808 168 6088
Call Sky on
0844 241 1407
Not every user needs the quickest, most expensive package, and it's important to think about whether you do when choosing a broadband deal.
Before we get to that, we should talk about what we mean by broadband speed.
What are download and upload speeds?
Two terms are generally used when talking about broadband speeds:
- Download speed: The speed at which information is transferred from the internet to your computer. Better download speeds mean you can get photos, music, and video from the internet faster than if you're using a slow connection. You'll also be able to watch films and TV shows online with fewer pauses for loading.
- Upload speed: The speed at which information is transferred from your computer to the internet. The faster the upload speed, the smoother the online experience you'll have. Upload speeds also determine how quickly you can send emails, post photos on Facebook or upload large videos or batches of photos to sites like YouTube and Flickr.
On typical home broadband, upload speeds are considerably slower than download speeds, so don't be alarmed if you see a disparity between the two. Providers give 'downstream' data priority as most of us are more concerned with how quickly we can download stuff than how long it takes us to upload files.
What download and upload speeds do I get?
If you don't know what broadband speeds you currently get, it can be hard to talk about them. Everything seems irritatingly fluffy and vague - how do you know if you can get faster broadband if you don't know how fast it is already?
Simple solution though - use a speed tester to find out. This will tell you exactly what speeds you get, and help you confirm whether your connection's moving Ferrari fast, or more like a moped in mud.
Here's another important point, and it's a biggie. Don't assume the speeds that providers advertise are the speeds you'll actually get. For example, if you see broadband advertised as 'up to 16Mb', chances are you'll get much less than that in reality.
The listed figure refers to speeds that at least 10% of a provider's customers receive, and chances are you'll be in the 90% that get less. Yes, it's confusing. Yes, it's stupid. But these are the current advertising rules, so for now we just need to remember 'up to' means exactly that.
How do I get faster broadband?
When it comes to home broadband, broadly speaking, there are two types available in the UK. If speed's what you need, fibre optic broadband is the way to go - but a regular ADSL connection is sometimes more than enough. Here's what you need to know:
- ADSL broadband: Comes entirely through the telephone line, which isn't hugely efficient. Advertised speeds typically hover between 'up to 14Mb' and 'up to 18Mb', but you'll likely see less than that. Remember, telephone wires were designed for carrying our voices back and forth, not for you to stream the EastEnders omnibus.
- Fibre optic broadband: Delivered through efficient, reliable fibre optic cables. Advertised speeds are typically between 'up to 30Mb' and 'up to 100Mb', and more likely to be closer to the advertised 'up to' amounts than ADSL.
It's worth pointing out that fibre optic broadband packages vary as services, such as BT Infinity, still use a copper phone line to connect your property to the fibre network via the nearest street cabinet. As a result, your speeds may be slower than your neighbour's if they live closer to the green box at the end of the street.
What's the fastest broadband in the UK?
The fastest mainstream provider in the UK is currently Virgin Media (www,VirginMedia.com), which offers packages of up to 30Mb, 60Mb or 100Mb. It's not always the cheapest option, but if it's pure speed you want, it's most certainly one you should consider.
Not that the other providers are slouches, mind you. All of the major UK providers now offer fibre optic broadband, be it BT Infinity (www.BT.com), TalkTalk (www.TalkTalk.co.uk), Plusnet (www.Plus.net) or Sky (www.Sky.com), each offering speeds of up to 38Mb or 76Mb.
Basically, if you want faster download and upload speeds you have loads of choice. That's presuming, of course, you can get fibre optic. Not everyone can, because it's still a relatively new technology and hasn't yet reached every corner of the map.
Use our postcode checker to see if it's available in your area.
Superfast broadband deals
|Fibre Medium with SimplyBroadband||Infinity 1 + Weekend Calls||Essentials Fibre Broadband & Calls|
Monthly cost: £12.50 1st year cost: £180.00
Monthly cost: £10.00
(for 6 months)1st year cost: £186.95
Monthly cost: £15.99 1st year cost: £197.87
|speed up to 38 Mb||speed up to 38 Mb||speed up to 38 Mb|
|Pay as you go||Weekend calls inc.||Weekend calls inc.|
Call TalkTalk on
0800 049 7843
Call Plusnet on
0808 178 5954
What broadband speed do I need?
It's easy to get hung up on broadband speeds - the faster it is, the better, right? Well… not necessarily.
The truth is that not everybody needs their broadband to be at the upper end of the speed scale. Although prices are coming down, top-end fibre packages are typically the most expensive broadband options out there, and many users don't do anything online that requires, or benefits from, speeds of 100Mb or more.
For these users, it would be a bit like buying a year's gym membership, then only going once before throwing in the towel - why pay for something if you're not going to use it?
You should take the time to consider what speeds you actually need from your broadband package before making any switching decisions. With that in mind, here's a handy list of reasons to consider 'superfast' fibre optic speeds.
Do I need fibre optic broadband?
Superfast broadband is worth considering if you:
- Have a large family or shared house, with several people using the web simultaneously
- Have lots of connected devices - laptops, tablets, mobiles, console, smart TV, for example
- Regularly download movies, music and TV to watch offline
- Use film and TV streaming sites like Netflix, LOVEFiLM and NOW TV
- Watch a lot of on-demand TV services like BBC iPlayer in high-definition (HD)
- Download and play video games that require an internet connection
- You currently have ADSL broadband, and find it just isn't fast enough for your needs
If a few of these apply to you, you should look at fibre broadband packages. The faster the package, the smoother these activities are likely to be.
However, if you live alone, or you just use the internet for light browsing, social media and email, for instance, it's worth considering cheaper, less speedy packages.
Either way, do your homework and make sure you've weighed up your options before signing up. Compare broadband deals to find the perfect balance between speed and affordability.