Broadband speed: how fast does your broadband need to be?

Family watching TV broadband speed hero image

Along with price, broadband speed is perhaps the most important factor you need to look at when choosing a new broadband deal. With multiple devices on the go at any one time, our households are becoming increasingly data-hungry. A fast, reliable internet connection is no longer a luxury, but a necessity, especially if you work from home, enjoy online gaming or stream your favourite TV shows.

But with ever-faster packages being released by broadband providers, how do you know what kind of speed you need, or how much you should be paying? Here we look at how to keep your household online while keeping bills down.

What broadband speeds are available?

Broadband speed is measured in megabits per second (Mbps), which is the average amount of data transferred in that time. The higher the Mbps, the quicker your connection should be.

Broadband speeds are usually categorised as follows:

  • Standard or ADSL. A standard broadband connection has average speeds of 10-11Mbps. This is the type of speed you’d expect with a regular copper wired connection, otherwise known as ADSL. It’s generally the cheapest type of broadband available.
  • Superfast. Superfast broadband tends to be anything between 30Mbps and 300Mbps. This usually requires access to a fibre network (more on this in a moment). Depending on the exact speed, costs can vary widely.
  • Ultrafast. What’s faster than superfast broadband? Ultrafast broadband, naturally. While being the fastest packages, these are also the most expensive. Speeds can range from 300Mbps to over 1,000Mbps.

Gigabit. Speeds in excess of 1,000Mbps are referred to as gigabit broadband (1Gbps). A government target aims for 85% of the UK to have access to gigabit-capable broadband by 2025.

What’s the difference between standard and fibre broadband?

Standard broadband tends to refer to ADSL, where data is transferred over BT’s Openreach network via copper cables. This is why most broadband packages used to require a landline and many packages still come with broadband and landline bundled together.

The rollout of the fibre network means that it’s possible to get broadband only deals, with a faster connection to boot. It’s worth bearing in mind that this has less coverage nationwide than the Openreach network, so it may not be available in your area – especially if you live somewhere remote. But it’s only a matter of time.

Fibre connections come in two types:

  • Fibre to the cabinet (FTTC). This is where a fibre connection runs from the exchange to a cabinet in your street. Then there’s another connection between the cabinet and your home. You can expect average speeds of between 36-76 Mbps with this type of setup.
  • Fibre to the Premises (FTTP). This is where your home is connected directly to the exchange via its own fibre connection. As you might expect, this means your connection will be much faster, making it possible for you to enjoy gigabit broadband. This is often referred to as full fibre.

To find out more about how fibre, cable and creaky old ADSL work, read about getting broadband without a landline.

What broadband speed do I need?

Working out the ideal broadband speed is a bit of a balancing act. While it can be tempting to think that the fastest possible broadband is the best, this needs to be weighed against the needs of your household. There’s no sense in paying for a premium package if your usage is comparatively low.

So how many Mbps does your household need? Well, it depends on how many people and devices are accessing the internet and what they’re using it for. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Allow 10Mbps per user. If you have a household of four, speeds of around 40Mbps should allow you to comfortably stream high-definition (HD) TV, while using all your devices separately. But think about how you use your devices too. If there’s two of you and you just do a bit of web browsing and watch TV together, a standard broadband connection (10-15Mbps) may be sufficient.
  • Gaming and 4K streaming amp up your usage. If anyone in your household is into online gaming, it’s important for them to have a fast connection. Add at least 10Mbps per gamer. Likewise, add another 10Mbps for each device streaming 4K content. So if you have four people in the household, all of whom use data-hungry devices separately, aim for 80Mbps if you can.
  • Consider your smart devices. It can be easy to only think in terms of people, but household smart devices require data too – some more than others. If you have a HD video doorbell, for instance, it can potentially use more than 100GB of data each month.

Do I need to switch broadband?

If you’re out of contract or nearing the end of your plan, it’s definitely worth switching your broadband. Most broadband providers up the price of their contracts after the minimum term has expired, which means you could start paying a lot more per month for no extra. 

Another added incentive to switch is that you could be able to get faster speeds for the same or less than you’re paying now. And if you have a family with a growing number of devices and needs, it could be worth investing in a faster connection, particularly as it helps future-proof your household – especially if you or anyone else in your household likes online gaming.

At the very least, it’s worth shopping around. If you’ve been languishing on an old contract for years, you may find that you can get better speeds with a more reasonable monthly cost attached. It’s always a good idea to compare broadband deals to see what’s out there.

But if you’re not out of contract yet, there are other ways you can increase your broadband speeds.

Tips for increasing broadband speed

  • Ask your current provider for a new router. The equipment you’re using could be putting the brakes on broadband speeds, rather than the connection itself. If your router is a few years old, don’t be afraid to ask your provider for a new one.
  • Keep your router interference-free. To get the best out of your router, it’s a good idea to plug it into your home’s main phone socket, rather than using an extension. Keep it in as central a location as possible, and elevate it if you can – don’t keep it on the floor. Also keep it away from other equipment which emits wireless signals, such as baby monitors or cordless phones.
  • Use a wired connection. While going fully wireless is the dream, you’ll undoubtedly get faster internet access if you connect your device to the router using an ethernet cable, rather than relying on Wi-Fi. This isn’t always possible, but if your TV or laptop are fairly close to your router, this method should speed things up.
  • Boost broadband speed around the home. If you get good Wi-Fi speeds near your router, but it’s patchy in rooms further away, there are ways of boosting your signal. Investing in adapters such as devolo’s Magic WiFi range allows you to transmit a Wi-Fi signal from any plug socket in your home, with the data sent via your powerlines. This is a much more effective method than using traditional Wi-Fi boosters.

If you’re going to take the plunge, find out how to switch broadband provider, including what steps you’ll need to take.