Broadband for gaming - is it time to level up?
Some people use more data than others. Those of us who regularly download large volumes of data need to make sure they choose a package that supports their habits. For example, a 25GB monthly usage limit is unlikely to be enough for a family that watches a lot of online video and catch-up TV, or someone who regularly downloads massive files.
Let's look at what broadband providers can offer heavy users, and the packages that likely suit their needs.
What is the best broadband package for heavy users?
If you're regularly downloading large amounts of data, you need a fast connection - otherwise you're going to spend a lot of your time waiting around staring at progress bars or buffering.
Fibre optic broadband is the fastest type of connection you can get, with speeds typically ranging between 38MB and 200Mb depending on the package and provider. It's a more reliable system than traditional broadband through the phone line, and offers speeds much closer to what the providers advertise than you'd see with older copper wire connections.
Fibre was once quite expensive, but fierce competition in the market has driven down prices considerably in recent years. Most major providers, including BT, Plusnet, TalkTalk, Sky and Virgin Media all offer fibre optic broadband packages - with Virgin Media typically being fastest.
That's the good news - the bad news is that it's still not available in all areas. You can use our postcode checker at the top of the page to see if it's available in yours.
If you can't get fibre, that doesn't mean you can't be a heavy user - it'll just take longer to get things done. The most important thing is to ensure you have an unlimited package without monthly download limits.
Unlimited broadband packages
All the major providers offer unlimited broadband. Some providers, like Sky, BT, or TalkTalk, let you download and upload as much as you like without limit - there are no fair usage policies, and traffic management.
Others like Plusnet and Virgin Media do manage traffic at peak times to ensure everyone gets a consistent connection. For example, Plusnet prioritises real-time services like streaming video services, but slows down peer-to-peer file transfers.
How do I know if I'm a heavy user?
Everything you do online - from checking email, to watching YouTube - requires you to download data, but some activities are more data intensive than others.
Everybody's usage will be different, but as a general guide, here are some activities that are likely to require you to download a significant amount:
- Streaming TV and movies - streaming video uses less data than downloading, but still uses a lot. An hour of streamed standard video might use 250MB and HD 2GB. That's approximate - the actual data used will vary from service to service, but if you watch a lot of catch-up TV or rent a lot of movies, you'll use a significant amount of data.
- File-sharing - Many people use file sharing services to download files from the internet. The size of a shared file can vary greatly - it could be 3MB or it could be 3GB - but if you regularly use these services to download large amounts, you're likely to be a heavy user.
- Downloading TV and movies - if you buy or rent movies online, you may be given the option to download them. This requires you to download a fair amount - around 700MB for a standard definition film, and 4GB for a high-definition flick.
- Gaming - playing games online doesn't actually use all that much data, but with today's consoles that's only half the story. Many people now buy games and additional content online, which typically requires a lot of data - in other words, if you want to get the most out of your console or PC expect to do a lot of downloading.
Those are just some of the types of activities that use a lot of data. Doing one of them doesn't necessarily make you a heavy user, but regularly doing two or three means you are likely to be.
You'll probably already know if you're a heavy user, but if you're not sure, take a look at our guide to data usage, and work out how much you typically download. For a more precise reading, you can use a download monitor to see exactly the number of gigabytes being guzzled.
If you are a heavy downloader, then there are two things you need from your broadband package - fast speeds, and generous - preferably unlimited - download limits.