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What is Broadband Speed

How are broadband speeds measured?

The speed of the broadband connection you receive differs depending on a number of factors which we will examine later in this guide. However, speed is measured in kilobits per second (Kb) and megabits per second (Mb). The higher the number of bytes you are able to download per second, the faster the connection.
For example, a typical dial-up connection has a speed of 56Kb. A basic starter broadband package will offer a speed of 512Kb – ten times faster than dial-up.

What broadband speed do you need?

It's important not to be persuaded by advertising slogans and "can't miss" deals and think about what type of broadband user you are. Just because super-fast speeds are available, it doesn't mean that you should necessarily pay for them if you use the internet infrequently.
Here are the speeds we recommend at based on your internet usage:

  • Light broadband internet users: If you have just come off a dial-up connection and use the internet rarely, perhaps just a few times a week to check emails and briefly surf the web, there's little point in paying for high-speed downloads. There are many packages available at 512kb – that's 10 times faster than dial-up, which are cost-effective starter packages and should be suitable for your needs. You can always upgrade to a faster connection at a later date.

  • Medium broadband internet users: You are considered a medium broadband user if you use the internet on a daily basis to check emails, surf several websites. occasionally download music or videos and upload photos and files. Download speeds should be important to you, but there's little point in paying for top-of-the-range packages. 2Mb-4Mb download speeds should be perfectly sufficient.

  • Heavy broadband internet users: Are you on the internet for five or more hours every day? Do you like to download movies or lots of music, or do you enjoy TV streaming? Are you a social networking addict and upload photos and music regularly? Or are you a fan of online gaming? If so, then faster internet connections should be important to you. There are many affordable packages on the market now offering speeds of 4Mb and above. You might wish to consider these, or even higher speeds within your price range.

What affects the broadband speed you receive?

During a number of consumer surveys it has been found that the majority of users who paid for a package offering speeds up to 8Mb actually only receive speeds in the region of 2-3Mb after a broadband speed test. For many more users, the situation was more frustrating with their internet speed tests revealing broadband downloads were only marginally faster than dial-up.
To find out your internet speed, use the broadband speed test...
The reason you are not necessarily receiving the speeds you are paying for is down to a number of factors.

  • Distance from the exchange – This is the biggest factor in terms of affecting the speed you receive. The closer you are to the telephone exchange, the faster your broadband connection can be. Only people living close to an exchange will be able to receive speeds up to 8Mb estimating that around 78% of users on its lines can enjoy speeds up to 4Mb or higher. Bear in mind this does not apply to cable broadband – only broadband through a phone line (ADSL).

  • Exchange contention ratio – If your telephone exchange is busy, or is being used for a lot of heavy downloads, your connection might be slow. Many internet service providers (ISPs) use a contention ratio which caps the number of people that can share the exchange – normally around 50:1. Other ISPs, such as Eclipse, prioritise your bandwidth based on the package you buy – customers on more expensive packages will be given priority.

  • Number of connections in your home – Though wireless broadband has many advantages several people being connected to the internet at the same time can slow down your broadband speed.

  • Quality of cables/modem – If your broadband cables or modem do not have a high capacity you will not receive fast download or upload speeds. Many internet service providers will replace your modem and cables for free as part of their package.

  • Weather conditions – Heavy rain and extreme weather conditions can affect your speed and your connection.

  • Disconnections – If you have suffered a bad connection or a complete disconnection, perhaps due to bad weather or a power cut, your broadband speed could suffer as a result. Generally it is recommended that you disconnect and reconnect on a daily basis for several days to resynchronise your browser with your broadband provider. However, consult your individual provider first to see what action it recommends.

  • Viruses/spyware/adware – Any form of infection on your PC can seriously slow down your connection. Download anti-virus protection and remove any spyware/adware on your PC.

  • Time of day – Unsurprisingly, the internet is used by more people during 'peak' hours – 6pm-11pm. Consequently download speeds can be slower during these periods.

  • Website capacity – If a lot of people are attempting to access the same webpage at the same time, this will create slower downloads.

How to test your broadband speed

There are many different broadband speed test services on the market, some of which are unreliable because they only measure your speed there and then. There are also rumours that some broadband providers can make their speeds look faster by tricking the broadband speed test itself, so be aware of this when testing your speed.
Fortunately has now installed a speed test service allowing you to track your average broadband speed.