Posted on 2020-06-29 17:03 in News SSE Virgin Media Vodafone BT TalkTalk Plusnet
The average Brit is now spending over four hours a day online, according to a new Ofcom study.
The industry watchdog's latest Online Nation report shows that a combination of factors have caused internet use to surge to record levels, up by almost an hour a day in less than two years.
Inevitably, the coronavirus lockdown was part of the cause - the Zoom video conferencing app, for instance, has grown by nearly 2000%, from 659 thousand UK users to over 13 million in just four months. But it's not just that. The popularity of streaming services continues to grow, plus there's the emergence of video sharing sites like Twitch and TikTok. The latter has moved well beyond its initial teen user base, with 12.9 million UK adults now joining in.
Even as the lockdown begins to ease, it's unlikely that our online activity is going to decline. So the question is, is your broadband connection up to the demands of this "new normal"?
Signs that your service might be struggling include:
- Downtime - we know that the internet infrastructure held up remarkably well during the lockdown, but if your connection keeps dropping, or you're being left without service for hours at a time, it's often a sign that it might be time to look elsewhere.
- Slow downloads or uploads - your download and upload speeds will slow down when you've got more people sharing your connection at the same time. Speed problems can be especially noticeable when your usage patterns change - like when you're working from home and sharing large files or connecting to your office server.
- Poor video performance - nothing ruins a boxset binge more than buffering, or even just seeing the picture quality plummet. Both are signs that your broadband can't keep up with the demands of your chosen streaming TV service.
- Laggy gaming or video calls - speed problems can also ruin the picture or sound quality in your video calls, and render online games unplayable. Occasional lag is to be expected, but if you keep seeing it it might be time for an upgrade.
The best broadband upgrades
So what should you look for in an upgrade? Try and prioritise what you need. That could be a faster service generally, or more specifically faster uploads. Or perhaps a more reliable service, or better customer support.
The obvious upgrade, if you haven't already made it, is to go from standard broadband to fibre. An entry level fibre deal will triple your download speed and should only cost a few pounds extra each month. If you're upgrading to a new deal with your existing provider you might even be able to negotiate a better offer. Plusnet and SSE currently offer the cheapest fibre broadband deals.
The next step is from the basic fibre (around 36Mb) to the higher end fibre, with speeds around 63Mb. Vodafone and TalkTalk have the cheapest deals at this faster speed.
If even that isn't enough, you can get over 100Mb speeds from a number of ISPs. The most widely available are from Virgin Media, who offer speeds up to 516Mb on average. Other big name providers like Vodafone and BT also offer ultrafast packages, but only in certain areas. These faster speeds will give you much better upload speeds as well as downloads.
If reliability and customer service are a bigger priority, the best way to check what you can expect from each provider is to read their customer reviews. Dig into our thousands of reviews for help on deciding your next move.
Ready to start shopping for a new internet deal? Use our postcode checker to find the best broadband offers where you live.
Posted on 2020-03-23 18:17 in News Vodafone Plusnet BT Virgin Media Sky EE
With millions of people now having to work from home there's been a lot of speculation about whether the UK's broadband infrastructure will be able to handle a massive surge in demand.
Well don't worry, because the expectation is that it can. That's the word from BT, who say they've got "more than enough capacity…to handle mass-scale home-working in response to COVID-19".
Last week, the company shared some data to demonstrate just how well their network was able to cope with higher levels of usage. They showed that in the previous week a couple of major video game releases and Champions League football had combined to hit new record levels of traffic for BT - to the tune of 17.5 terabits per second (Tbps) - without the network buckling under the strain.
The increase in home working meanwhile, has seen daytime traffic increase by as much as 60%, but still remains well below the record at around 7.5Tbps. Of course, with schools now closed, it's likely that traffic will go up further during the day, but the industry is confident that it will be able to handle it.
Our own speed test data, compiled from thousands of speed tests each month, supports the view that broadband connections aren't slowing down as well. We pulled the average home broadband speed results from the middle of February, and they were 44Mbps. The period between the 8th and the 14th of March saw average speeds of 43.9Mbps, while between the 15th to the 23rd of March, average speeds were 44.7Mbps. The speed differences displayed are of no real significance, and we're happy that people shouldn't be seeing any negative impact on their connection, despite the current change in UK working arrangements.
Are you working from home? Check out our tips on how to minimise disruption to your broadband service, and make sure it's good enough for what you need.
To help things along, TV streaming companies have agreed temporary measures to slash the amount of data they use by as much as a quarter. Netflix, Amazon and Disney+ are streaming their content at a lower bitrate, while YouTube now defaults to an SD stream - although you can still manually set videos to play at a higher resolution if you want to. The BBC also seems likely to make a change in the not too distant future.
Will you notice the difference? Possibly not, although it depends what you're watching. Streaming at a lower bitrate means that the video is more heavily compressed. With the way video compression works it's more noticeable in busy scenes with lots of fast movement, where the image may become blocky or distorted. In slower scenes, you'll have to look pretty closely to see any effect.
As for streaming in SD, as with YouTube, that might not look great if you watch on a massive 4K telly, but for viewing on a smaller screen like a tablet it should be just fine.
How to pause your Sky Sports and BT Sport subscriptions
In other news, Sky and BT have taken the decision to allow customers to pause their sports channel subscriptions for as long as there's no actual sport taking place. You can do this at sky.com/pausesport or at bt.com/tv. Unfortunately, you can't pause these channels if you've got them through Virgin Media.
BT have removed data caps on all their broadband products. This won't affect most people, since most of their plans are already unlimited. But if you're on an older deal you'll no longer have to worry about managing your usage.
And lots of broadband providers have issued statements to explain their COVID-19 plans, including what happens if you need a callout from a technician to solve a problem. You should have received this via email, but if you haven't you can read them online from BT, Sky, Virgin Media, EE, Vodafone and Plusnet.