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How Fast can the Internet Go and How do I Get the Best Broadband?

By Edited Feb 13, 2014 0 0

New Advances in Internet Technology

The internet these days is faster than ever before.  If we look at fibre optic broadband, we see connections in the business realm of up to 1Gbps; and in the consumer world, connections of up to 100Mbps through Virgin Broadband - and 330Mbps soon to arrive through BT Internet.

The reality is that the connections we get in our homes are rarely as fast as it should be in theory; but with fibre optic broadband, we get up to around 95 to 96% of the speed in most cases. 

Fibre-to-the-home vs. Fibre-to-the-cabinet

There are two main types of fibre optic broadband on the consumer scene, and these are fibre-to-the-home and fibre-to-the-cabinet.  With fibre-to-the-home, the connection of the fibre optic cables goes all the way into our building.  With fibre-to-the-cabinet, the fibre cables go only up to the street level cabinet and, from there, we have the remaining leg of our internet journey over the copper cables of the BT infrastructure.  Therefore, fibre-to-the-home is faster than fibre-to-the-cabinet, as we have a seamless flow of internet over cables that are designed for the purpose.

The Design of Fibre Optic Cables

Fibre optic cables are designed with a core, a reflective inner layer and then an outer layer for protection.  The cables are excellent at carrying broadband signals, and this is why you can get faster pulse rates and more bandwidth through fibre optic cables than you can through the copper cables of the BT Internet telephone infrastructure.  Fibre optic broadband can actually deliver speeds of 1Gbps, and you may well see faster connections in the future.

Wireless Broadband

Most of our wireless broadband routers these days work at around the 80Mbps level.  However, it is possible to pass WiFi signals much, much faster.  For some premium routers the level of connectivity is up to 450Mbps, and we do have some WiFi routers that can go even faster.

Of course, when we connect via wireless, we’re at the mercy of the interference and obstructions in the form of physical objects and other WiFi signals in the air and, therefore, connections end up much slower than they would otherwise be.

If we connect on our home broadband wirelessly and wired, we’ll normally find that our wireless connection is between 5 and 20% slower than our wired connection.  Of course, it depends on how far we are away; but, over increasing ranges, the speeds will decrease as the wireless signal gets weaker.

ADSL Broadband

Although ADSL is much slower than fibre optic broadband, it has improved a lot.  It used to be the case that the top level ADSL broadband - whether or not we were with BT Internet or any other service provider - was up to 8Mbps.  Nowadays, we have up to 16Mbps and up to 24Mbps connections through ADSL 2 and ADSL 2+. 

Internet can flow faster because of increased bandwidth, due to the equipment installed in the telephone exchanges by the internet service providers.

BT Internet and Their Infrastructure

Of course, BT Internet runs the ADSL network and, therefore, they will have prime allocation of bandwidth and so forth.  Similarly, on the BT Infinity fibre optic infrastructure, they will have more control over their own network and, when they sell the infrastructure to sub providers that brand their own internet connections, these are often slower.

Indeed, on the BT fibre optic cables, BT Internet does offer the fastest broadband - up to around 80Mbps currently, with new speeds arriving soon.  The other providers tend to be just below in terms of the actual speeds achieved, and also the speeds that they sell.

Traffic Management Policies

Many providers will have to traffic-manage their consumers in order to ensure that they get good service for the majority of their customers.  Traffic management is normally signalled in the traffic management policy of the provider, and you can view them easily on their websites. 

Traffic management means that at certain times of the day and on certain activities, speeds can be slowed in order to ensure the integrity of the network.  The chance of this arises when consumers are doing certain online tasks that are high-intensity and take up too many resources.

Indeed, a few users on a shared line from the telephone exchange can impact the performance of the internet for everyone.  And this is why traffic management is in place.  Some providers do not traffic-manage, and are able offer a completely unlimited experience to their consumers. 

BT Internet, Sky, BE Broadband: Totally Unlimited

BT Internet, Sky Broadband and BE Broadband offer truly unlimited packages on their unlimited packages.  It’s very good to see providers offering this kind of service and enabling consumers to do what they want when they’ve paid for a service. 

Virgin Broadband offer truly unlimited broadband on some of their packages, but these tend to be on the most expensive ones only. 

Mobile Broadband

It’s worth talking about mobile broadband, as it’s becoming more of a home broadband solution these days with the improvement of technology and the move to 4G rather than 3G connections.

Everything Everywhere are the first into the market with 4G connections of up to 14.4Mbps, and Vodafone, O2 and 3 Mobile will soon be releasing their services.  The fourth generation of mobile broadband is ten times faster than the third generation, and it’s clear to see that mobile broadband internet flow will be faster and faster in the future.  It’s all about releasing a service that is stable and usable by the masses but, for sure, we will see increased speeds and new technologies even within 4G broadband before we get to the fifth generation.

The limitation of mobile broadband is, of course, that the coverage is heavily dependent on where you are.  If you’re within range of a telephone mast that can deliver 4G, you may get connection speeds of 10Mbps, which are in line with the average speed of broadband in the fixed line sector in the UK.  However, if you are out of range, you may be limited to 3G, which covers around 99% of the country.

Right now, 4G covers around 50% of the country, but we should expect it to reach between 97 and 99% from different providers in the coming year.  We do, of course, also have to have 4G-enabled devices in order to get on 4G; but certainly; internet flow through mobile broadband is going to make doing things on the go easier and easier, and also provide a better option for internet in our homes.  The fourth generation spectrum also has better penetration for indoor use through the allocation of a new spectrum, as well as, of course, excellent outdoor performance. 

Top Tip

If you’re looking for the fastest broadband for your area, it’s a good idea not just to look at the up to speeds advertised by companies, but also to find where your nearest telephone exchange is for ADSL, which can be found on Sam Knows Best, and to do a post code check of service providers in your area.

A post code check of service providers in your area can help you to see actual connection speeds that have been tested.  When someone does a speed test, they are given the opportunity to share their speed; and, when they do this, these results can be fed into a database which you can pull up when you enter your post code into a service such as uSwitch.

This is an excellent way to see the real situation with regards to broadband speeds as opposed to theoretical speeds that don’t necessarily reflect the reality but rather refer to advertised speeds.

Using these tools, you can develop a really good shortlist of providers, and also understand which fibre optic providers are servicing your area.  It may be that the cables aren’t installed in your home but they are at a cabinet and, so, you can engage with a provider and perhaps have fibre-to-the-home installed or at the very least, fibre-to-the-cabinet.

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