So much of life is lived online these days, having a speedy, reliable broadband service is hugely important for most of us.
Making video calls, online gaming and watching content through streaming services have become the norm in many households. The increase in home-working is another key factor when it comes to increased broadband usage.
But what is a “good” broadband speed and, if your broadband is too slow, how do you improve it?
What types of broadband are there?
OK – here comes the science.
There are three main types of broadband in the UK – ADSL, cable and fibre.
Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) uses the copper wires of your phone landline to deliver broadband to your home. It’s widely available but has limitations.
With this method, often referred to as standard broadband, the speed of your broadband will depend on how far away you live from your telephone exchange. The further away you live, the lower the broadband speed is likely to be.
There are two types of ADSL in the UK – ADSL1 and ADSL2+. According to Ofcom, the market regulator, the maximum speed of ADSL2+ is around 24Mbit/s. ADSL1 can only reach around 8Mbit/s.
There’s info below on what these speed measurements mean…
Cable networks can deliver superfast broadband – fixed broadband services with a download speed of at least 30 Mbit/s are classed as superfast.
With this method, broadband is delivered through coaxial cables, which are also used to deliver cable TV.
According to Ofcom, the fastest cable packages can offer speeds of up to 152Mbit/s.
With fibre, your broadband will be delivered using fibre optic cables. There are two types of fibre broadband available – fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) and fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP), sometimes known as FTTH (fibre-to-the-home).
FTTC uses fibre optic cables to deliver broadband to street cabinets and then it is taken to your house through copper telephone wires.
With FTTP, broadband is delivered directly to your house through fibre optic cables. This results in faster and more reliable broadband speeds, but it is less widely available. According to Ofcom, its availability is increasing, but, currently, FTTP is only available to 12% of homes.
Ofcom says that FTTC is typically sold as offering speeds of up to 38Mbit/s or 76Mbit/s, while FTTP can offer speeds of up to 1Gbit/s.
What is broadband speed?
Broadband speed is how quickly you can upload or download data using your internet connection.
It is measured in Kbps (kilobits per second – 1,000 bits per second), Mbps (megabits per second – 1,000,000 bits per second), and Gbps (gigabits per second – 1,000,000,000 bits per second).
The higher the number of bits per second, the faster your broadband is.
Broadband is often referred to as standard, superfast and ultrafast. Standard broadband has speeds of below 30Mbps, superfast broadband has speeds between 30Mbps and 300Mbps, and ultrafast broadband has speeds of more than 300Mbps.
What broadband speed do I currently have?
If you’re unsure what broadband speed you currently have, take a look at a current bill from your broadband provider, your contract, or call your provider to ask.
You can check whether the speed you’re getting matches what you’ve been promised by running a broadband speed check. Try Ofcom’s here.
Results of these tests can vary, though, depending on the time of day you do the test and which devices you try it on, so it might be worth running it a couple of times for the most accurate results.
How do I know what broadband speed I need?
The broadband speed you’ll need will depend on the type of internet user you are. It can be tempting to opt for the fastest speed on offer, but you could end up paying over the odds if you don’t need it.
At the other end of the scale, scrimping and going for the cheapest option may mean that your broadband isn’t fit for purpose and you could end up being frustrated by it.
To decide on the speed you’ll need, think about how often you use your internet and what for.
For example, if you only use the internet to read web pages, check your emails and participate in social media, and perhaps to occasionally shop online, standard ADSL broadband will probably be sufficient.
But, the more you do online and the more devices you have connected to your internet, the higher speed you’re likely to need to be satisfied.
Reasons why you might need a higher broadband speed include:
- several people in your house using the internet at the same time – this is key
- using video and music streaming services regularly
- uploading videos or photos to the web
- making regular video calls
- playing online games.
How can I improve my broadband speed?
If you know you’ve signed up for the broadband speed you need but it feels just that bit too slow, tricks to improve it include:
- Moving your router – the closer you are to your router, the stronger your WiFi is likely to be. And the fewer obstacles, such as walls, doors or furniture, between you and it, the better.
- Think about interference – certain electrical devices can interfere with your router so keep items such as speakers, halogen lamps and fairy lights away from it. Devices that emit wireless signals, such as baby monitors and cordless phones, can also be a problem.
- Check your computer isn’t the problem – upgrading to the latest version of the browser you use and running regular virus scans to eliminate any troublemaking intruders can speed things up.
- Make sure no-one is hijacking your broadband – if your broadband isn’t password protected, anyone nearby could use it too, slowing things down for you and potentially causing other problems. If yours is password protected, there should be a padlock next to the name of your network.
- Consider plugging in – if your WiFi is slow, try using an Ethernet cable to connect your computer to your router. It should result in a more reliable connection.
- Upgrade your kit – if you’ve got an old router, it may be worth asking your broadband provider about their latest kit as technology is improving all of the time. Your provider may also be able to offer other devices to speed up your connection too, such as a wireless booster or a broadband accelerator.
If you’ve tried all of these techniques and your broadband still isn’t the speed you’d like, talk to your provider to see whether it can help.
If this doesn’t work, consider switching deal or providers.
If you’re tied into a contract that you took out since March 2019, but you are not getting the speed you’ve been promised, you might be protected under Ofcom’s Code of Practice.
This allows customers to exit contracts early if download speeds fall below the minimum guaranteed level on a daily basis for three consecutive days and the problem is not resolved by your provider within 30 days of you reporting the problem.