The Truth About Broadband Speed

Many of us get carried away by the speed of an internet connection when we're looking to buy our broadband package. We look at Virgin Media broadband and see 100mbps, and we are wowed, and something inside us makes us want it. The truth is that broadband is more than just about speed. You should also consider download limits, fair usage policies and traffic management, upload speeds, latency and whether you actually need a top speed.

Download Limits on Broadband

It's important to get the right type of broadband for your own particular circumstances. You may see fibre optic broadband and think it is the deal to die for. You may say to yourself: “If I can check my broadband speed and see 95mbps, I will be happy.” But there's no point having 95mbps if you can't do anything with it, and it is often the data volume that will, to a certain extent, restrict you.

Average connections on broadband these days are 10mbps, which is sufficient for most purposes. You can stream high-definition movies with that type of connection, and probably you can do so simultaneously along with other activities. However, when you run out of data, then there is no point in having any speed whatsoever, because you won't be able to do anything - or you'll be charged an excessive amount to do it.

If you go out of data on BT internet, you are charged £5 for every 5 GB of data over your usage allowance. You should, therefore, understand what type of user you are. You should ask yourself: a) Do I do a lot of streaming, online gaming or video chat, b) Do I do a little bit of those activities, but mainly browsing, social networking and email?, or c) Do I spend most of my time browsing and checking email and very little watching videos or doing anything else of that nature?

Those that answer yes to ‘a’ are probably high consuming internet users and, therefore, will need truly unlimited broadband. They should look at fair usage and traffic management policies of providers in order to ensure that they get the experience that they want, but more of that in a minute. Those answering yes to ‘b’ may well get away with 40 GB of data per month, or even less. Those answering in the affirmative to ‘c’ could have a light package with perhaps 5 GB or 10 GB of data and, sometimes, they may even get away with 2 GB of data without any extra costs.

Traffic Management and Fair Usage Policies

When it comes to unlimited broadband packages, you must understand that most of the providers will limit you in some way. They have finite resources in their broadband armory and, therefore, may set a usage cap up to which you can consume every month. TalkTalk, for example, will set a cap of around 40 GB per month. Many other providers will set caps of 100 GB per month.

If you are truly a heavy broadband user, neither of these levels might be enough, and you might want just go for a company such as Sky, BE or BT, who will offer truly unlimited broadband on their unlimited packages.

Traffic management involves the shaping of traffic in order to ensure that there is a certain level of consistency of service throughout the network. It's designed to stop customers with heavy data demands from impacting on the performance of the internet for others.

Some companies have fairly stringent traffic management policies, where they restrict peer–to-peer networking all the time; and others have certain times of the day in which they restrict certain activities. There is generally a tiered approach to traffic management, where certain traffic is prioritised and, the more you pay, the higher priority you'll get. Often, business consumers are top priority and will pay the most for their packages.

You should look at the traffic management and fair usage policies of the providers that you put on your shortlist to ensure that you get the service that you want and don't find yourself running out of data or having your connection slowed down when you need it most.

Check My Broadband Speed for Upload Speeds

When I check my broadband speed, I tend to look at the upload speed as well as the download speed. The primary reason for this is that I spend a lot of time updating websites and sending files to file transfer protocol (FTP) locations. The problem is that, on residential broadband, upload speeds tend to be an awful lot slower than download speeds. With fibre optic broadband, the condition is always better, it seems, but, right now on my broadband, if I do a speed test and check my broadband speed, I see a download speed of 11mbps and an upload speed of 9.8mbps.

It is normal for the upload speed to be slower, but in order to do activities where you're sending information upstream, you do need a good level of service. Often, business broadband packages are much better on upload speeds because the providers understand that businesses are going to be sending files as well as receiving them.

Upload speed may well be important to you, so take it into consideration when you are reviewing your broadband package.

Latency or Ping

The third measure of speed that you often find on speed tests is latency, or ping. This is the time it will take for a server to respond to your request through your internet connection.

Essentially, ping is an often forgotten aspect of broadband connections, but it does have a massive impact on certain activities. If you're gaming online, then ping can be one of the most important characteristics of the connection, in fact. With a slow response rate, you could end up with 3G performance and a very unsmooth game. Similarly, with VoIP and online video chat, you can end up with crackly screens and fussy performance if you have a low level performance on this measure. It is generally suggested that you have a ping rate of less than 40ms or 50ms if you want to get good performance on certain activities such as the above.

Do You Really Need the Speed?

You have to ask yourself whether you really do need really fast broadband. If it's just you or there are only two of you in a home, then a 10mbps connection speed may be plenty, and you may be able to go for ADSL and save yourself some money. Remember that with fibre optic broadband, you can avoid the requirement for a telephone line; or, you could have your phone activated just for setup, and deactivated after. But, there's no point throwing money away: if you don't need super-fast broadband, you might even get away with mobile broadband with a 20 GB allowance. Some people choose to use their phones as their broadband.

Getting the right broadband really is about understanding your requirements and ensuring you get a provision that matches them. If you get too much service provision, you'll pay too much. If you get too little, you get too little service and you may end up paying even more in additional data costs. Go through a logical approach to choosing your broadband, and you're more likely to get a better service; and don't just base your decision on the download speed.

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