Author: Edd Dawson
Fast Broadband Buyers Guide
If speed is your number one issue when picking through broadband providers then you certainly are not alone, a desire for fast broadband is a recurring theme when we poll consumers on their broadband wants. It used to be simple, everyone used the same technology to provide broadband, and they all offered pretty similar top speeds. However now the range of technologies that power broadband in the UK is greatly increased, and with this variety comes a great deal of choice and more crucially difference in speed capabilities.
What are the different types of fast broadband?
OK, first things first, we need to consider the different types of broadband that are available, as although each can be fast in their own right, each also has different limitations.
- ADSL based broadband - This is the most common type of home broadband which is delivered over a BT phone line (although you may rent the line from another supplier, when we say "BT Line" we mean over a traditional copper phone line). ADSL broadband and it's variants ADSL2+ (also known as LLU broadband with some suppliers) can provide speeds of up to around 24Mbps (which is plenty for most people). However the maximum speed that ADSL can deliver to your house decreases the further away you live from your telephone exchange. So if you live next door to the telephone exchange then you may get around 24Mbps, but if you live 6 miles away from your telephone exchange then you'd be lucky to get 1Mbps. So we can see that although ADSL broadband is widely available, in some cases it's not necessarily the fastest broadband UK broadband.
- Satellite based broadband - Although rather a niche type of broadband, we do need to include it in this guide as it could be a lifeline if you live in a rural area. Satellite broadband can almost be described as "it does what it says on the tin", your broadband supply is provided through a satellite dish, and all communication is relayed via geostationary satellites. Speeds in excess of 10Mbps can be achieved over satellite connections which is pretty good, however due to the extreme distance that messages have to travel (from home, to satellite, to ground station and back again) it can mean that there is a lag between requesting a webpage and it downloading which can seem quite slow if you are used to more normal types of broadband. At the end of the day though in many parts of the rural UK this will be the fastest broadband available.
- Fibre optic broadband - Once almost exclusively the realm of Virgin Media, more and more providers are now able to provide fibre optic broadband. Fibre optic broadband is any broadband supply that uses fibre optic cables up to a few hundred yards from your home. The final distance to your home might be covered by more traditional wires such as copper or coaxial cable, but as this final distance is short it means that the speeds remain high, with much less variability than ADSL based broadband. The types that don't quite provide fibre all the way to your house are Virgin Media Cable broadband which uses coaxial cable for the last section, and FTTC (Fibre To The Cabinet) which uses your usual BT phone line for the last few yards broadband from BT, TalkTalk and Sky amongst others. Some other suppliers can provide fibre all the way to your house and these are known as FTTP (Fibre To The Premises), there are currently very few FTTP broadband providers but we expect this to increase in time. Fibre optic broadband tends only to be available in heavily urbanised areas at present due to the huge cost of expanding fibre networks. Speeds using fibre optic broadband range from a minimum of 15 Mbps, more typically 40-100Mbps and some FTTP providers can manage an astonishing 1000Mbps (also known as 1Gbps).
As we mentioned, not every type of broadband is available in every part of the UK, so it's crucial to use a broadband postcode checker to find out what types are available in your area, there's no point getting a hankering for fibre optic broadband if it just isn't an option where you live.
Do I need fast broadband?
It's always tempting to think that you absolutely must have the fastest broadband deal you can get, but remember that the fastest deals are in many cases also the most expensive deals. Fast broadband is a premium product, especially when you start moving to fibre broadband.
We suggest you sit back and think over what you broadband usage habits really are and whether speed should be your first consideration. Here are some example of the types of users where the fastest broadband can be a good option:
- Gamers - You know that a slow connection means that you are at a disadvantage to your adversaries in multiplayer gaming. Having a fast connection can be the difference between in-game life and death.
- Movie buffs - Watching streaming media can be very frustrating if buffering occurs, we all hate the jerky start stop of video on a slow connection.
- Multi-user household - In a house share or have teenage kids? Then you know that the more people hammering a connection at the same time, the slower it gets for everyone, fast broadband can save arguments over who is hogging the connection.
However if you live alone, and rarely play games, watch videos or any other activity that needs great speeds then you probably need to question whether you want to be paying for one of the fastest broadband deals that you will never push the limits of.
How do I get the fastest broadband?
Switching to a fast broadband deal is just the same as switching to any other broadband deal. You just need to compare broadband providers, find the fastest one in your area and then do the switch.
Some types of switching are simpler than others, and you should have a read of our broadband switching guide to see what to do in your particular circumstances, or if you are confused and don't know what to do next then simply call us.
You can also use the comparison table below to see the most up to date list of the best broadband deals available.