Broadband internet is the most popular choice for home internet connections. The lack of messy installation (it uses existing telephone wires), reliability and relatively low cost means that many people choose to go with Broadband. But when shopping around for a broadband internet service provider you will notice that different companies offer different speeds. AOL, for example offers speeds of up to 8 Mb, whilst companies like BE internet lists 14 Mb or 16 Mb speeds, and Virgin Media and BT both offer fibre optic broadband speeds of around 76 Mb. But what does all this mean? How does it affect you, and which one should you choose?

What is Broadband Speed?

Basically, broadband speed is the speed at which data can come through the internet connection into your computer. The faster your speeds are, the more quickly you'll be able to download things and the faster you'll be able to open web pages. The old dial up modem internet had speeds of around 56 Kb, whilst even a very basic broadband connection gets speeds of at least 512 Kb. However, the lowest offered speeds on the market right now tend to be up to 8 Mb. The faster the speed of the connection, the more expensive the broadband internet package will generally be, so you obviously don't want to pay for speed that you're not using.

What Kind of Speed Do I Need?

The kind of speed that you need really depends on how much you use the internet and what you use it for. Very light users who use the internet a couple of times a week and only check emails and maybe surf a little can get away with speeds of around 3 to 4 Mb. If you're a medium user, using the internet daily to connect for an hour or so, and maybe sometimes downloading some music or a video, speeds of around 8 Mb should work fine. Heavier users, who are on the internet for hours a day and who want to download efficiently should look for speeds of around 12 Mb. Those who enjoy online gaming or who depend on a fast and secure internet connection for work, who enjoy streaming TV programmes for example, should look at the faster fibre optic broadband speeds offered by BT and Virgin Media.

A Word of Warning...

Many companies advertise the speeds of their internet packages, and it's important to note that all of these advertisements contain the words “up to” and the speed. This is because the advertised speed is the maximum speed that the connection is capable of, and in reality it is not the speed that you will really receive. For example, an up to 8 Mb speed will generally get you around 4 Mb or so in real life. This is an important consideration. If you want to know the real speed that you will get, it's worth looking around online and reading user reviews. Ofcom reports annually on real life internet speeds, so reading their report will tell you the speeds that you'll probably be getting.