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A guide to broadband

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Fast, superfast, ultrafast, fibre, Mbps, unlimited…these are terms you’ll be familiar with if you’ve ever shopped for broadband. But what do they actually mean? Here we unpick some of the jargon to help you understand what broadband package is right for you.

What does Mbps mean?

Mbps is short for megabits per second. A megabit is a measure of the transfer of data. So in short, the greater the Mbps, the faster the broadband speed. To give you some perspective, broadband speeds can range from less than 10 Mbps to 1,000 Mbps. 1,000 Mbps is also known as 1 Gbps, or one gigabit per second. In reality, very few people will need anything close to 1 Gbps for home use.

What is the difference between standard, high-speed, superfast and ultrafast broadband?

Standard broadband is usually around 10 Mbps and may be advertised as up to 17 Mbps.

The definition of ‘high speed’ broadband and ‘superfast broadband’ tends to overlap. You may find broadband packages of around 24 Mbps called ‘high speed’. Ofcom guidelines state that to call a package ‘Superfast’, it should provide speeds of 30 Mbps or higher.

Ultrafast is defined as speeds of over 100Mbps.

What speed is right for me?

Standard broadband is sufficient for browsing the internet and sending emails. However, a high-speed package is more likely to suit your needs if:

  • You live in a household where multiple devices are connected to the internet and in use at the same time.
  • You often stream high-quality videos and movies.
  • You or someone in your household likes to download and play video games.

It’s unlikely that you’ll need ultrafast broadband for home use.

What is the difference between fibre and copper broadband?

You’ll often hear ‘fibre’ being used by broadband providers as a selling point. Fibre broadband uses fibre optic cables to connect you to the internet, whereas copper broadband, also known as ADSL broadband, connects you via copper telephone cables.

Fibre broadband is faster than copper broadband, but whether you can get fibre will depend on where you live.

What is ‘unlimited’ broadband?

Some broadband packages give you a monthly ‘allowance’, limiting how much information you can download. Unlimited broadband means there is no download limit.

Everything you do online contributes to your monthly download limit, but watching movies online, downloading large files or gaming will eat up your allowance much more quickly than simply browsing the internet. If you often stream or download movies or games, you’re likely to be better off with an unlimited package.

Choosing a broadband package

Here are some things to consider when choosing a broadband package:

  • Price: Is cost your priority? Superfast, unlimited broadband is going to cost you more than standard broadband with a download limit. If you only use the internet for shopping and sending emails, you may find a standard package suits your needs.
  • Speed and download limit: Do you watch high-quality videos or play games online? Do you download/upload large files? If so, you may want to consider a faster broadband package with no download limit.
  • Distance from the telephone exchange: The distance between your home and the telephone exchange may affect the speed and reliability of copper broadband.
  • Number of devices in your house: If there are often several people using the internet in your house at the same time, your broadband speed could be affected. This is particularly the case for gaming and watching videos online. Larger households may want to consider a faster, unlimited package.
  • Length of contract: If you want flexibility to leave your contract, discuss this with your chosen provider. Are there exit fees if you leave early? What happens if you decide to move house before the contract ends? Are shorter contracts available? How does the length of the contract affect the price?
  • Installation/router/set-up fees: Does the broadband package require you to buy a new router? Will an engineer have to visit your house? If so, will there be a call-out fee? Are there any other set-up costs involved?
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