Where would we be without broadband? It’s become an essential utility like gas and water. But there’s one crucial difference: whereas gas is gas, and water is water, the speed and quality of broadband services can vary enormously; therefore it’s vital to choose the right package for your specific needs.

Weighing things up

The performance of your home broadband depends on several factors. It’s not just a matter of price. Where you live, the cables it comes through, and the quality of your provider all matter a great deal. Opting for the cheapest option, like you might do when it comes to other utilities, is rarely the best option.

Speed and reliability are key. If your home broadband cuts out then you’re essentially cut off from the modern world — no web browsing, no email, no streaming, and no social media. Plus, if you work from home, it can temporarily mean no working. And that’s going to you cost far more than what you’ll save by picking the cheapest provider.

Your options

Given that faster services tend to cost a bit more, the big question is how fast you need your home broadband to be? Everyone wants ample bandwidth so they can live a buffering-free existence, but nobody wants to pay extra for crazy-fast broadband that they don’t really need.

Standard broadband, which has speeds of approximately 5–10 Mbps, uses ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) to transfer data via BT’s traditional copper wire network. Although ADSL broadband can reach speeds of 20 Mbps if you live near your local telephone exchange, the old copper wires are limiting.

As a result, more and more people are turning to ‘fibre’ broadband, which supports speeds of up to 80 Mbps. This ditches copper wires in favour of modern fibre optic cables. It’s worth remembering, however, that these fibre optic cables only run to the cabinet in your street (and it’s copper wires from there).

Around 10% of UK homes have another option called Fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) where the fibre optic connections run all the way into your residence. This hyper fast service supports astonishing speeds of up to 1000 Mbps — that’s 1 full gigabit (1Gig).

What difference does it make?

The speed of your home broadband can make a huge difference to your Internet experience. Here’s approximately how long it takes to download a typical music album, TV show, and film with the different services available:

Standard broadband 8Mbps:

Album: 1 minute

TV show: 7 minutes

Film: 15 minutes

Fibre broadband 80Mbs:

Album: 7 seconds

TV show: 50 seconds

Film: 2 minutes

Full fibre 1Gbps:

Album: instantly

TV show: instantly

Film: a few seconds

Although the differences above are stark, it’s not strictly necessary to shell out for the fastest service. For example, you can still stream movies quite happily with standard home broadband. BBC iPlayer works with as little as 1.5 Mbps and Netflix requires just 3 Mbps.

However, your home broadband speed will determine the quality of the picture. If you want high definition (HD) then you’ll need far more than 1–3 Mbps. Ultra HD or 4K, for example, necessitates at least 25 Mbps.

What’s more, although you can video call friends and family with standard home broadband, you might experience some buffering. Fibre is the best way to ensure a seamless service and high picture quality.

A word of warning

Sadly, you won’t always get the speeds that home broadband providers advertise. These publicised figures are the peak average speeds available to 50% of users.

Speeds will vary due to a number of factors: how far you live from your nearest telephone exchange, the time of day (peak hours between 6–11pm are slower), plus the number of Internet users in your household.

Remember that every active device hoovers up bandwidth; therefore your home broadband will be slower if lots of people are using the Internet simultaneously.

So what’s best for you?

This is the million-dollar question. If you’re a light Internet user in a small household, and you only use the web for browsing, email, and online banking, then standard broadband should suffice.

However, if you’re a heavy Internet consumer with bandwidth-guzzling kids who love downloading music, streaming different TV shows, and playing games online then fibre is your best bet by far.

If you fall somewhere between the two extremes then it’s worth finding out where your local exchange is and what standard broadband speeds you can expect. If it’s close to 20 Mbps then this might be enough to get by.

How can we help …

Still unsure which option is best? If so our experts can help. Just tell us what you use the Internet for, and how many people live in your house, and we’ll let you know what’s suitable.

Meanwhile, whilst different home broadband providers offer different perks, we offer the lot: a free router, free installation, and because we’re not dependent of the carrier networks, downtime is minimised and faults are sorted quickly.

Length of contract is another thing to look out for. Our home broadband only commits you to 12-months rather than the usual 18–24. Plus there are no termination fees.

We also offer a unique Everyday Superfast fibre package that offers speeds of up to 550 Mbps — just short of full fibre — for home workers who need reliable video conferencing and cloud-computing on top of the usual browsing and streaming.

It’s all about ‘the package’

Whilst speed is of the essence when it comes to home broadband, remember that it’s the whole package that counts. After all, you might not receive the advertised speeds anyway.

Price is important too but don’t underestimate the importance of both reliability and customer service — especially as a first class provider will ensure that you’re not wasting money on a supersonic service you don’t need.

Overall, whilst the speed of your home broadband can definitely affect your satisfaction levels, nothing will put you off faster than slow customer support and tardy engineers.