How fast do I really need my broadband speeds to be?
We only use our connection to browse the internet, watch movies and download music, will we ever really make use of 100Mbps+ speeds?
And will we really ever get a connection that fast anyway even if we pay for it?
Snail’s pace: Average broadband speeds are 51 per cent slower than the advertised speeds
Emma Gunn of This is Money replies: Internet connections are reaching lightening speeds, with packages advertising up to a whopping 350Mbps.
It’s easy to get swept up into thinking you need the best and biggest broadband package, particularly as it is difficult to judge whether you will make use of faster speeds.
The type of household you are, what sort of things you use your broadband for and where you live are the main factors in choosing the right speeds at the right price for you.
But below we have answered a few key questions that will help you decide what type of deal is best for you, and hand picked out our favourite deals for each level at the end.
Are you really getting the speeds you think you are?
Your first step is of course to check what speeds you are actually getting.
There are a few online ‘speed checker’ tools you can find with just a simple internet search. Or you can use our expert partner service Broadband Choices.
When comparing deals you will always see a speed claim of ‘up to’ 17Mbps or 38Mps.
It’s long been the case that these are not actually achieved by most customers. Until now in fact, advertising guidelines have only required that 10 per cent of customers must get them for a company to claim these headline speeds.
This is true of speedier services and those older ADSL connections of up to 17Mbps.
In fact, households are actually shelling out for expected speeds more than double those they actually get, according to new research from consumer group Which?
That means customers paying for a ‘superfast’ package with up to 38Mbps speeds are likely getting somewhere closer to 19Mbps.
According to data collected by its speed checking tool from 235,000 users, those paying for standard ADSL speeds, advertised as up to 17Mbps actually receive an average 6Mbps speeds.
The good news is that from 23 May this will change.
Under new rules from the Advertising Standards Agency, companies must show the speeds achieved by at least 50 per cent of customers during peak times between 8pm and 10pm.
THIS IS MONEY’S FIVE OF THE BEST BROADBAND DEALS
Do you really need a superfast connection? It might be that you are paying more than you need to for a fibre package you don’t make the most of
How fast a package can I get?
This ultimately depends on where you live. Currently 93 per cent of the UK has access to ‘superfast’ broadband speeds (30Mbps or more), according to Ofcom figures.
Those in rural areas are less likely to be a able to get fibre deals than those living in cities.
It will also depend on the type of connection in your area. Around 80 to 90 per cent of the UK is covered by BT’s fibre network, offering up to 76Mbps, and around 60 per cent can get Virgin Media’s cable connection.
You can usually find out by using your postcode and a comparison service or starting the sign-up process with each provider online, as it will automatically check what speeds you can get for you.
Do I really need faster speeds?
It’s quite tricky to gauge the difference higher speeds will make; you will want to factor in how fast the connection needs to be for some services to work and how many people will be using it at once.
You might also want to consider how impatient you will be, and therefore how quickly you may want to download films or music.
Below we have compiled some examples to help you decide how fast you might need your internet to be.
According to Netflix, you only need 3Mbps speeds for streaming in standard definition, 5Mbps for HD and 25Mbps for Ultra HD quality.
Vodafone has done some handy research on its website here on typical broadband activities and the speeds they requires.
Here are a few examples.
- 1.3Mbps for social networking
- 15Mbps to stream 4K video,
- 2Mbps for surfing the web
- 2Mbps for streaming music
- 4Mbps for downloading a film or 8Mbps in HD
In another useful guide, Sky has some examples of how long it will take to download a programme or film at different speeds here. For example, it would take 10 minutes 50 seconds to download an episode with a 5Mbps connection, 6 minutes 46 seconds at 8Mbps and 3 minutes 23 seconds at 16Mbps. At 38Mbps it would take 1 minute 25 seconds while at 76Mbps it would take 43 seconds.
As a general rule, the faster the speeds, the smoother your online activity is likely to be.
To illustrate, Ofcom recently tested the reliability of video streaming using Netflix.
The images below show how reliable it is across three different types of connection, with different speed options.
ADSL2+ refers to connections up to 17Mbps. Cable is the type of connection used by Virgin Media where special cables wire directly into your home and FTTC means Fibre To The Cabinet.
This is when a fibre connection goes from the exchange to a cabinet in your street and then copper wiring connects this to your home. This usually goes up to 76Mbps.
Buffering: Ofcom research looked at how smoothly different broadband speeds dealt with Netflix
Whether you will make use of the faster speeds will really depend on how many people live at your address and what you are using the internet for.
According to Broadband Choices superfast broadband is worth considering in these instances:
- Have a large family or shared house, with several people using the web simultaneously
- Have lots of connected devices – laptops, tablets, mobiles, console, smart TV, for example
- Regularly download movies, music and TV to watch offline
- Use film and TV streaming sites like Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, and NOW TV
- Watch a lot of on-demand TV services like BBC iPlayer in high-definition (HD) or don’t want as much buffering
- Download and play video games that require an internet connection
- You currently have ADSL broadband, and find it just isn’t fast enough for your needs
It is therefore unlikely to make a lot of difference to you if you live alone, or you only use the internet for light browsing, social media and email.
What are the best deals at all speeds?
The faster the speeds, the smoother your online activity is likely to be. Fibre broadband is typically more expensive, although often seasonal sales or discounts mean you can pick up faster speeds a bit cheaper. Remember to consider carefully any deals with usage caps.
Here are the top broadband deals we found at each speed.
|Provider||Average Speed||Monthly price||Monthly price at end of term||Contract length||Set up fees||Why This is Money likes it|
|Post Office||11Mbps||£17||£29||12||–||Promises no mid-contract price hikes. Free weekend calls. Can pay bills in branches.|
|Talk Talk||11Mbps||£17||£27||12||–||Again, no price hike guarantee for the contract term.|
|Sky||10Mbps||£18||£30||12||£9.99||£50 prepaid Mastercard to sign up until 7 June.|
|Vodafone||35Mbps||£20||£20||18||–||Price for new broadband customers and existing mobile customers. 15% refund if speeds are below 25Mbps.|
|Talk Talk||35Mbps||£22.50||£33.50||18||–||Comes with a free £75 Amazon gift card when you sign up and fixed price guarantee for the full contract.|
|Virgin Media||54Mbps||£27||£33||12||–||£20 bill credit, no need for a landline. The same deal costs £29 per month with a landline or as part of its Player TV bundle.|
|Talk Talk||63Mbps||£27.50||£38.50||18||–||Fixed price guarantee for the contract.|
|Virgin Media||108Mbps||£34||£45||12||£20||Free weekend calls. Get the same speeds for £32 if you don’t want a landline|
|Broadband and TV packages|
|NowTV||10Mbps||£22.99||£25.99||12||£24.99||Includes 11 entertainment channels including Sky Atlantic, 300 box sets. Get faster speeds from £29.99 per month. Option to add Sky sports or Sky Cinema.|
|Talk Talk||11Mbps||£24.99||£34.95||12||£26||Includes 80channels, with 6 Sky channels, fixed price guarantee. Get faster speeds from £29,50 per month.|
|Sky||10Mbps||£38 for 12 months then £50||£50||18||£29.95||Includes 300 channels, Sky Q box. Get faster speeds from £50 per month. Option to add box sets, sports or cinema package.|
|BT||10Mbps||£30.99||£51.49||18||£69.99||Includes 80 channels and £50 BT reward card and BT Sport. Get faster speeds £37.99 per month.|
|Virgin Media||54Mbps||£29||£48||12||£29||Includes 80 channels and free weekend calls. Double your speeds and get more channels from £45 per month.|