Broadband packages explained

It’s important to understand speed and data consumption, and how to get value for money when you are choosing providers.  This article will look at these three components of the decision before looking at some tools that you can use to develop a shortlist for picking your eventual provider.

Broadband Comparison based on your User Profile

You should ensure that you understand your user profile and that of your household before you start looking at broadband.  A broadband comparison should be based on the specific packages that are relevant to you - and not every package available. There are so many offerings available on the market that you have to filter down some way or another.

Your user profile will be dictated by how much data consumption you require per month and the speed at which you need to do things. If you are too fussed about short delays in downloads and streaming, and you don’t do many high intensity activities, then a limited data allowance may suffice for you.  However, if you are a heavy consumer and you are impatient, then you may require a much more comprehensive and expensive package.

Download Speeds

Download speeds are perhaps the most quoted headline rate when it comes to broadband advertising.  The broadband providers know that when people are doing a broadband comparison, they are primarily reviewing based on this speed.  Virgin broadband have been the fastest broadband provider in the market for some time; however, BT Broadband are releasing their 330Mbps connection soon, which really will shake up the mix.

If you can get fibre optic broadband then it’s certainly the fastest, and you can choose different levels of package depending on your budget.  However, if fibre optic broadband hasn’t come to your area yet because you aren’t a part of the 40 or 50% of the UK that does have it, then ADSL broadband will probably be the only way forward.

ADSL Broadband

ADSL Broadband tends to be advertised based on ‘up to’ speeds of 16 or 24Mbps.  The speed dictates, to a certain extent, the speed at which you’ll get data; but they’re not the actual speeds.  With fibre optic broadband, the cables are optimal for transfer of internet data and, therefore, you’ll get close to the advertised speed.  However, with ADSL broadband, the further you are from the telephone exchange, the slower the connection you’re likely to get on a particular technology.  The reason for this is that the cables of the BT infrastructure are not optimal for transfer of data and, therefore, over distance, the internet will slow down from loss of signal integrity. 

When choosing speeds of ADSL, it’s well worth finding out the actual speed you are likely to get, and the best way to do this is to find out where your telephone exchange is and to understand which technology of ADSL you’re on.

Finding out Where Your Local Telephone Exchange Is

It’s very easy to find out where your local telephone exchange is.  One of the best tools to do is the website Sam Knows Best, where you can plug in your post code and you can see on a map exactly where the exchange is.

You can also get a lot of other useful information, such as whether different providers have installed their equipment in your local exchange.  If they have, you’ll be in their network and you’ll be able to get better connection speeds and, often, cheaper prices too.

The bandwidth is dramatically increased when providers have installed their equipment in the exchange and it is a really good way to check which providers to add to your shortlist.

Post Code Check Tools

It’s also a good idea to find out the connection speed you’re actually getting in your area.  You can do this by simply asking your neighbours and finding out what their connection speeds are on different providers.  But, you can also go online and find out using certain tools. 

On websites such as uSwitch, you’ll be able to plug in your post code and see speed test results that have been shared by people in your area.  This way, you can not only see which providers are available in your area, but also see what upload, download, and ping rates they have been getting.  You should bear in mind that some of these connections that you will see will be broken connections - where people are trying to do a speed test to find out why their broadband has slowed down.

Additionally, some connections will be connected wired, and some wirelessly, and, so, you may find that connection speeds are somewhat lower than they actually are under optimal conditions.

Data Consumption

We’ve already seen that the user profile is crucial when it comes to getting broadband.  But in your broadband comparison, you should also compare like for like.  Some providers will have fair usage policies, whereby their unlimited packages are not truly unlimited.  Therefore, when you see an unlimited package, you should take it with a pinch of salt until you’ve read the fair usage policy.

Some providers have very restrictive usage caps on their unlimited packages - of around 40GB per month.  You could consume this streaming five or six high definition movies.  Other providers have more generous caps of 100GB or more, but it’s only a few that actually have truly unlimited broadband.  If you are a super-heavy consumer, then look out for Sky Deals, BT Internet and BE Broadband.

If you’re happy to take a certain usage cap then do be aware that your connection maybe throttled if you are over-using data.

Doing a Broadband Comparison

So now we know a bit about speeds, and we know a bit about data consumption.  But while doing a broadband comparison, we should ensure that we truly understand what we are being offered.  Some providers will have additional fees for installation, line activation, itemized billing, customer service calls and even payments that aren’t made by direct debit.  Reading the small print will help you understand the true cost of your package so that you can understand the value.  There’s no point having a leading rate on line rental with ADSL if you find out that you can only get this leading rate if you pay for 12 months upfront - something you’re not willing to do.

It’s therefore crucial that you don’t just buy off the headline rate and that, in your broadband comparison, you look at the fine print in order to compare like for like and understand the true value inherent in a package.  There are many broadband comparison websites available online and some will offer more details than others. 

You should understand that these broadband comparison websites are primarily there to encourage you to buy a package and, so, it is your responsibility to delve deeper and actually find out about fair usage policies, traffic management policies, additional fees and additional criteria for the package. 

If you take a logical approach to your internet broadband comparison, you’ll end up with a much better result in the long run, and be much happier with the package you choose.

Top Tip

Using the post code checker, you can develop a shortlist of providers in order to focus on these.  Not all internet access is built equal for your location and, even if you find out that your friend has got super-fast broadband in their location, it may be underperforming where you are.  This is the reason that all of the forums are packed full of people complaining about broadband and the different internet service providers.

It’s important that you do actually do your homework so that you understand what the limitations to your connection are likely to be.  If, for example, you are choosing between cheaper ADSL and more expensive fibre optic broadband, and you find out that your telephone exchange is a long, long way away, it could be worth upping your budget in order to get good value from fibre optic broadband rather than paying less for a very poor service through ADSL.

The more remote you are, the more likely you are to get poor service through ADSL, but also the more likely you are to not be able to get on fibre optic broadband.

Mobile broadband is increasingly becoming a solution for home broadband with 4G connectivity arriving in the UK.  However, it’s probably still early days in terms of the data caps on packages and the stability of connections. As more providers roll out their networks, and the stability and speed gets better and costs come down, this may become a reality.  More homes will then end up using mobile broadband as their primary solution.  For now, mobile broadband is probably better as a secondary solution on top of a fibre optic or ADSL connection. 

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