Britain’s need for broadband speed may actually be less than you think

To meet a typical family’s download demands, 10 years from now the average speed will need to be 19Mb - pretty much unimaginable in rural areas, but already the norm for the many UK households with fibre optic broadband...

Broadband's getting faster all the time and, if you're lucky enough to live in an area where 'superfast' fibre optic is available, it's no longer uncommon to get speeds of 30Mb or more - double the current UK average.

How much speed do we really need, though? Well, according to the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG), which advises the government on all things broadband, we should be able to manage on those kinds of speeds for at least the next 10 years.

At present, the government's Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme, with the help of BT and local councils, is aiming to bring superfast broadband - defined by BDUK as being faster than 24Mb - to 95% of the population by 2017.

But according to the BSG's experts, even by the year 2023 the average UK household will only need speeds of around 19Mb to do all the things they want to do online.

Pamela Learmonth, chief executive of the BSG, said: "We're not presenting a magic number for desired speeds one decade out. Rather, we're demonstrating that to facilitate an informed policy debate around whether broadband infrastructure in the UK will enable consumers to do what they want to do over time, then we need to develop a better evidence base.

"Like any good maths student, we've not simply given a number - but also shown our working. We want to use this to develop a formative and evidence-based discussion on future bandwidth needs and what this means for wider broadband policy."

According to BSG, around half of UK homes will demand speeds of 19Mb by 2023, while roughly one in 10 will need 30Mb and only the top 1% will actually require 35Mb-plus.

Virgin Media and other superfast broadband providers offer speeds of up to 100Mb or more in some areas of the country already. However, if you live in a more rural area you'll be lucky to get decent broadband at all - let alone the lightning fast speeds.

What the report's highlighting, though, is a disconnect between the speeds our providers are able to deliver and the speeds we actually need to do what we want to do online.

Superfast broadband, if you can get it, is all well and good for a household of internet addicts using iPads for streaming, PCs for gaming, with kids online all hours of the day and everyone browsing the web at the same time on a whole host of wireless devices.

For couples or anyone who lives alone, it's likely that standard broadband will suffice - particularly if you don't do a lot of downloading, streaming or video calling.

However, with the price of superfast broadband coming down and the cost of line rental going up and up, for many households it might be worth paying extra for a fibre optic service that's ready to tackle bandwidth-hungry activities as and when they crop up.

Regardless of whether you actually need superfast speeds, a superfast connection should pretty much guarantee a pain-free experience of the internet at home.

And when purchased as part of a bundle, with home phone and perhaps TV lumped in, it won't necessarily cost you the earth.

Just remember to think about usage before signing up. If you're a big, broadband-guzzling family of four or more, then you'll probably need unlimited broadband to avoid running into problems.

Click here for our guide to broadband speeds

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