When it comes to broadband, faster is always better, right? Actually, no. Not everyone needs the fastest speeds, or the latest technology. And while those people don't want to get sucked in to paying for a service they don't use, others really would benefit from an upgrade to something a bit quicker.
But with so many broadband deals to choose from, how do you work out which is right for you?
What speeds are available?
Most of the major broadband providers in the UK offer broadband at three speeds. Standard broadband is available in speeds up to 17Mb, and fibre broadband has two options, up to 38Mb and up to 76Mb. Virgin, along with a few specialist fibre broadband providers, have different speed tiers, the fastest currently being up to 1Gb from Hyperoptic.
Note the use of the words "up to" in all these cases. Quoted speeds represent an absolute maximum, and in reality you'll likely get somewhat less. There are numerous factors that affect the broadband speeds you can get. For standard and superfast broadband the distance you live from your nearest telephone exchange or cabinet is crucial, and there's not a whole lot you can do about it. Faster services over 80Mb are more likely to be affected by the hardware you’re using, and whether your devices support the latest home networking technology.
What speed do you need?
Even so, you might be surprised to learn that slower speeds are still capable of handling most common internet tasks. The base requirements for many popular services are relatively modest.
Web, email, Facebook: for what we might class as light use, with general browsing and using social apps, any broadband speed will suffice
TV on demand: downloads using Sky On Demand require a minimum 2Mb broadband speed. BBC iPlayer recommends a minimum of 2.8Mb for HD viewing, or 1.5Mb for standard definition quality. Streaming over Netflix requires 3Mb for SD quality and 5MB for HD. All are possible on a standard broadband package
Ultra HD TV streaming: the exception is with Ultra HD — or 4K — streaming on Netflix. This requires superfast fibre broadband with a speed of at least 25Mb
Streaming music: music streaming services don't need fast speeds to function properly. The recommendation for Spotify is 512Kb; for a lossless service you'll want something closer to 2Mb
Gaming: speed is less important than other factors such as latency for gaming, and the requirements are quite low. For Xbox Live you need 3Mb speeds, well within the reach of most standard broadband users
Video chat: to make video calls with Skype you need 1.5Mb broadband speed for HD, or as low as 0.5Mb for what is classed as "high quality"
Downloading: it goes without saying that files will download faster on faster networks. It's possible to get a rough idea of how fast they will be: divide your internet speed (in megabits per second) by eight, to convert it into megabytes (MB) per second. You can then see how long it will take to download a file. (For example, 24Mb broadband downloads at 4MB per second, so a 1GB file will download in around four and a half minutes.) If you regularly download large files, or are a heavy user of cloud services, you will benefit from faster broadband
On the whole, fast speeds aren't all that important when it comes to just getting these services to work. Where it does become an issue is when you have several people in your household each trying to do one of these things at the same time.
If one person is watching music videos on YouTube while another is downloading a video game on a PS4, your Netflix stream may have drop down to a lower resolution, and may even start buffering. Unless your connection is fast enough to handle them all together.
When trying to decide what speed broadband you need, it's really important to weigh up the needs of your entire household together. If you're a "light use" household then you should be safe in making a decision on price alone; if you're a heavy use family you'll want to compare fibre broadband deals in your area to find the one that will give you the best online experience.
TalkTalk's current offer of FREE SimplyBroadband will be coming to an end in only a week, so you'll need to hurry to take advantage of the deal. Sign up before midnight of the 18th of February, and you can also claim a £50 Love2Shop voucher, which can be redeemed in a number of popular high street stores!
The SimplyBroadband package is free for 12 months, and offers speeds of up to 17Mb and a truly unlimited download allowance. You'll also get a free Super Router, HomeSafe® online protection, and free calls to other TalkTalk customers. Want to add TV to you package? The Essentials TV package is on offer for only £5 a month for 12 months! You get everything in the SimplyBroadband package along with YouView, which offers over 70 Freeview channels, hundreds of On Demand films and shows, 7 day catchup and the option to add Sky Movies and Sports. Alternatively, you have the option of taking out Essentials TV with FREE Fibre Medium, which has all the benefits of broadband and TV from TalkTalk with speeds of up to 38Mb!
Minimum broadband contract 18 months. Free broadband offer ends midnight, 25th February. Voucher offer ends midnight, 18th of February. Love2Shop vouchers only available to customers switching online from BT, Sky or Plusnet and keeping their existing landline number. Speeds dependent on location and distance from local exchange - use our postcode checker to find out what's available in your area. Line rental required at £17.70 a month, or £191.16 for a year up front. £6.75 delivery fee for the router.
December 2015 saw average download speeds for fixed line providers recorded by users of our broadband speed test remain stable in comparison to the results from November, coming in at 20.56Mb. Average upload speeds saw a 0.15Mb drop to 3.68Mb.
Of the big 5 home broadband providers, Virgin Media remained in first place but their average download speeds appear to have levelled out since rolling out their 200Mb service, remaining stable at 46.57Mb, with upload speeds at 5.66Mb. BT Broadband retain second place with average download and upload speeds steady at 17.58Mb and 4.42Mb respectively. TalkTalk move up to third place, with download speeds stable at 12.8Mb and upload speeds dropping by 0.21Mb to 1.86Mb. Plusnet drop into fourth place, dropping by 0.59Mb to 12.6Mb for average download speeds with a 0.39Mb decrease to 2.85Mb for average upload speeds. Finally, Sky remain in fifth place with a 1.1Mb fall in download speeds to 10.92Mb, while their upload speeds decreased by 0.41Mb to 2.47Mb.
Results from users testing with mobile-enabled devices including phones and tablets suggests that mobile broadband speeds saw an overall rise since November. Taking mobile broadband separately from home broadband, EE Mobile retain first place, with download speeds increasing by 1.1Mb to 17.55Mb and upload speeds holding at 3.87Mb. Vodafone are in second place, seeing download speeds fall slightly by 0.19Mb to 13.76Mb and upload speeds steady at 2.82Mb. O2 are in third place with download speeds at 11.78Mb - a respectable 1.4Mb increase over last month - and upload speeds at 2.53Mb. Three are still in fourth place, with average download speeds of 9.84Mb and upload speeds of 2.56Mb.
When mobile broadband and home broadband average speeds compete on the same table, 4GEE is head-to-head with BT's second place with a difference of only 0.03Mb. 4GEE and Vodafone mobile broadband sit in overall 3rd and 4th places beating all home broadband providers' averages bar Virgin Media and BT. This suggests that 4G broadband may have higher uptake levels relative to 3G compared to uptake of the fastest possible fibre broadband products relative to cheaper options.
This month's supplementary broadband providers table (see page 4 of the report) found Post Office Broadband had the UK's slowest broadband speed overall with only 2.55Mb average downloads and only 0.33Mb average uploads. Hyperoptic was fastest overall with 102.1Mb average downloads and 92.13Mb uploads.
Direct Save Telecom are already one of the cheapest broadband suppliers out there with their £1.95 broadband and calls package. However, this hasn't stopped them from introducing a new, cheaper deal! They now offer a fantastic unlimited broadband contract for only 95p a month!
This deal is on a 12 month contract and comes with a free wireless router. It also features an only pay for the calls you make phone package, charged at the standard Direct Save call rates. This is ideal for those who primarily use the inclusive minutes on their mobile phone contracts to make calls and don't want to pay extra for landline call features they simply won't use.
While you will need to pay £17.75 line rental a month, you can reduce these costs by paying £138 for a year up front, making it the equivalent of only £11.50 a month!
Only available within Direct Save Telecom's low cost network area, more expensive packages are available for those outside of their network area. One-off setup fee of £24.95 applies along with £8.95 delivery fee for the router. Calls to UK landlines cost 15.75p to connect and then 9.5p a minute.
Despite not having celebrated a family holiday yesterday, Britain still gets to enjoy America's traditional equivalent to the January sales, Black Friday, with headline grabbing special offers available not just today, but all weekend and on Monday too.
This year several broadband suppliers have jumped onto the Black Friday bandwagon and are offering some record breaking special offers, some of the best we've ever seen.
Offers only apply to new customers of the relevant broadband provider who sign up online who do not need a new telephone line or number. Minimum contracts apply for all deals. Line rental required on all but Hyperoptic's deals. Setup costs and additional charges may apply. Offers may be restricted to particular coverage areas. Rewards must be claimed online after activation. One reward per household. Unless otherwise stated, offers are valid until the end of 2015-11-30. Offers may be withdrawn or amended at any time. Click through to the providers' websites for further details, terms and conditions and confirmation of eligibility.
October 2015 saw average download speeds for fixed line providers recorded by users of our broadband speed test rise by 2.76Mb in comparison to the results from September, coming in at 21.88Mb. Average upload speeds saw a 0.4Mb increase to 4.65Mb.
Virgin Media's average download speeds rose by 6.31Mb to 48.66Mb, with upload speeds also improving to 6.64Mb. Virgin have recently begun rolling out their 200Mb service for new and existing customers, which accounts for the significant increase in download speeds.
BT Broadband retain second place with average download speeds increasing by 1.32Mb to 18.84Mb, and upload speeds increasing by 0.45Mb to 5.59Mb. Plusnet hold third place, remaining stable at 15.09Mb for average download speeds with only a 0.33Mb decrease to 4.25Mb for average upload speeds. TalkTalk stay in fourth place, with download speeds at 12.89Mb and upload speeds at 2.32Mb. Finally, Sky are in fifth place with a 0.87Mb rise in download speeds, putting them at 12.76Mb, while their upload speeds increased by 0.38Mb to 3.64Mb.
With the recent improvements to our speed test, we're now able to record results from mobile users on their phones and tablets. EE Mobile are in first place, with download speeds averaging at 17.81Mb and upload speeds at 5.36Mb. Vodafone are in second place, with download speeds at 12.95Mb and upload speeds at 3.79Mb. O2 are in third place with download and upload speeds at 11.03Mb and 3.81Mb respectively. This leaves Three in fourth place, with average download speeds of 9.03Mb and upload speeds of 3.45Mb.
Virgin Media were already the fastest of the big broadband providers, but since the 1st of October they've become even faster! With the introduction of the new hybrid fibre-coaxial VIVID packages, Virgin Media customers can enjoy download speeds of up to 200Mb!
The speed difference compared to fibre-to-the-cabinet competitors is thanks to Virgin Media's DOCSIS 3 technology. Their insulated coaxial cable houses a thicker copper core and is run directly into your home. This means that there's much less signal loss than there is over the copper phone lines used by most fibre broadband providers, so the speeds you can get are much faster and you won't experience slowdowns with distance from Virgin's street cabinets. The launch of VIVID sees tweaks to the protocol and technology used to get even more speed out of Virgin's existing hybrid fibre-coaxial network.
Interested? Why not use our postcode checker to see if you can get Virgin Media in your area, then check out the following better than half price deals!
Want to add a Virgin Media TV package, currently reduced in price for 9 months? VIVID Big Bundles start from only £19.99 a month. The Big Bang package comes with 130+ channels and VIVID 100. If you want the faster VIVID 200 speeds, then the Big Kahuna bundles come with over 230 channels, while the Big Daddy has over 260!
Existing customers can also benefit from the faster speeds with the option to opt into a speed increase rolling out between the 1st of October and June 2016, with 90% of customers expected to have the option available by the end of 2015. Customers on slower speed tiers are also expected to see a boost in upload speeds.
Broadband discount offers for new customers only. Time limited introductory offers. Products only available in Virgin Media cabled streets - use our postcode checker to find out if this is available in your area. £49.95 set-up fee applies to standalone broadband packages. Line rental required for phone and TV bundles at £16.99 a month, or £164 for a year up front.
With the Summer holidays coming to an end, it's time for new and returning students to head off to university. A decent broadband connection is vital for student accommodation these days, as so many aspects of university life rely on it. But many students only need to stay connected during the academic year and head back home for the summer months. This makes long contracts a waste of money as you either have to keep paying for the whole year, or incur fees for leaving your contract early. Luckily many unlimited broadband providers have 9 month offers designed just for student houseshares that also take into account your limited student budget.
BT Student Broadband: Sign up with your .ac.uk student email address to take advantage nine month contracts on both BT Infinity and standard copper broadband.
Sky Student Broadband: You don't need to be a Sky TV customer to take advantage of their student deal - just pay for line rental, and get truly unlimited up to 17Mb broadband free for the nine month contract.
TalkTalk Student Broadband: TalkTalk are offering their usually 18 month contract SimplyBroadband package on a 12 month contract with 12 months free, exclusively for students. Includes a £50 Love2Shop voucher*. Pay line rental a year up front to save even more.
Virgin Media Student Broadband: If you can get Virgin Media in your area, then you can benefit from their ultrafast speeds on a 9 month contract. Suitable for even the busiest student homes.
However, you don't necessarily need a student-specific package to cover your needs. Plenty of broadband providers offer short, monthly contracts that also fit the bill. We've put together a guide that gives you all the information you need to know about student broadband, with a list of all the deals that suit your requirements as a student.
If you're in the market for a new broadband contract, TalkTalk are currently offering their SimplyBroadband package as free for 18 months - it's an offer so good that TalkTalk are calling it the Boss of Broadband Deals! With the SimplyBroadband package, you benefit from speeds of up to 17Mb and a truly unlimited download allowance. You'll also get a free Super Router, HomeSafe® online protection, and free calls to other TalkTalk customers. Sign up before midnight of the 21st of August, and you can also claim a £50 Love2Shop voucher, which can be redeemed in a number of popular high street shops!
Minimum broadband contract 18 months. Free broadband offer ends midnight, 28th September. Voucher offer ends midnight, 21st of August. Love2Shop vouchers only available to customers switching online from BT, Sky or Plusnet and keeping their existing landline number. Speeds dependent on location and distance from local exchange - use our postcode checker to find out what's available in your area. Line rental required at £16.70 a month, or £180.36 for a year up front. £6.75 delivery fee for the router.
If you're shopping around for a great fibre deal, then TalkTalk's fibre flash sale could be exactly what you're looking for. With TalkTalk's fibre offer, you can enjoy unlimited superfast broadband for just £7.50 a month with free connection! What's more, the special introductory price lasts for the entire duration of the 18 month contract, not just the first 12 months! This package can also be stacked with TalkTalk's current £50 Love2Shop voucher deal, which can be redeemed in a large range of popular high street retailers. So hurry to take advantage of these money-saving offers!
Minimum fibre broadband contract 18 months. Offers ends midnight, 13th of August. Love2Shop vouchers only available to customers switching online from BT, Sky or Plusnet and keeping their existing landline number. Fibre deals only available in fibre-enabled areas - use our postcode checker to find out if you can get fibre in your area. Line rental required at £16.70 a month, or £180.36 for a year up front. £6.75 delivery fee for the router.