When it comes to broadband and accessing the Internet, speed is very important. Without a speedy connection, you’ll be left waiting for days for a file to download. Much like we did around a decade ago before broadband even existed. Broadband speeds have increased vastly since it was first introduced in the early 2000’s where initial speeds were 2mb per second. Today you can find speeds up to 200mb per second in some areas and fibre broadband of 76mb per second is fairly common across the UK.
In this post, I’ll take a look into the history behind broadband speeds and take a look into where we use our broadband speeds.
Prior to broadband, the majority of the UK had to make do with a dial-up connection which was generally around 56KB per second downloads. In some rare cases, you could get 128kb download speeds. These dial-up connections were a lot different to broadband connections. To connect to the Internet, you would need to dial a phone number on your computer via ISP software like AOL or Freeserve. This worked much like dialling a relatives phone number and before you were connected you would have the dial tone and then a modem connection sound.
Dial-Up Internet connections were much more problematic than the broadband connections we have today. First and foremost, you could not use the phone at the same time as the Internet, and so most people would only connect to the Internet when they needed to perform a task like send an email. There was no such thing as an always on connection.
The speeds of dial-up Internet made performing data-intensive tasks almost impossible. Simple things we take for granted today, such as downloading a song could take up to an hour at times. If you wanted to download a video, you’d have to leave the Internet connected for almost a day to see any real progress.
Another issue with dial-up Internet was the pricing. Initially, it was priced similarly to phone calls in that you would pay per minute for access. As its uses become more widespread the pricing was changed to offer unlimited off-peak usage or packages for evening and weekends, again very similar to a phone calls package.
Thankfully in 2001, broadband was introduced in the UK, and broadband speeds of up to 2mb were available. 2mb doesn’t sound like much by today’s standard, but at the time it was the equivalent of superfast fibre optic broadband. This was the start of an always-on Internet era, and it made accessing the Internet so much simpler. Broadband differs to dial-up in that the phone line is split in two and broadband makes use of the higher frequency copper wires to avoid conflict with phone calls. Microfilters were given to customers so that there was no interference with voice calls. They are still in use today for most ADSL Broadband connections.
ADSL Broadband allowed maximum speeds of 8mb initially, and new copper wires were installed by BT Openreach to cater for this. 8mb speeds meant that downloading videos and songs were so much quicker and due to the connection being always-on. People began to use the Internet much more, and communication through software like MSN Messenger and social networks started to become popular.
Always-on broadband connections allowed for software companies and web developers to create programs that allowed for file-sharing and video conferencing and is what made the Internet very popular for businesses and younger people.
ADSL 2+ is more common today and allows for speeds of up to 17mb per second. In order to allow these speeds, the infrastructure was improved, and the copper wires installed allowed for data to travel over a much shorter distance. The shorter the distance a signal has to travel, the quicker the speeds.
Speeds like this allow for much more advanced usage and is why services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime are popular ways to access TV shows and films. It also allowed for online gaming to become more popular and consoles such as the Xbox One and Playstation 4 were introduced requiring access to the Internet to play games.
Virgin Media were the first offer superfast broadband through their own network. These cables were installed across the UK to cabinets on streets. A copper cable would then be installed from the box to the house. Virgin Media could offer much higher speeds than ADSL suppliers due to the fact that the data travelling through their own cables was managed by them and didn’t have any conflicts with other traffic that a normal phone line may have. The speeds advertised by Virgin Media in 2009 were up to 50mb per second which was almost five times the speeds of ADSL Broadband at the time.
Virgin Media can now offer speeds of up to 200mb through their own fibre optic broadband cables, and this makes them the fastest broadband provider in the United Kingdom.
I often get asked ”What is a good broadband speed?” and my answer is usually along the lines of “It depends on what you use it for.” Obviously, it would be easy for me to say 200mb is a good broadband speed, and it is, however, you’re likely to be spending quite a lot more on 200mb Fibre broadband compared to 17mb ADSL broadband. Therefore, it comes down to your own usage as to what makes a good broadband speed. In this section, I’ll look at how we use the Internet and why broadband speed is important to us.
Broadband speed is very important for watching films and TV shows via the web. Since the launch of popular catch-up TV services like BBC iPlayer, there has been a rise in the number of people using the Internet to watch their favourite shows and not stick to the standard aerial or satellite connection to watch shows live. Catch up TV has made it so simple for us to get home and switch on a show from the night before and pause it at any point. Catch up TV will generally allow us to watch a show up to 30 days after it first airs which means there’s no rush to watch a show before it disappears.
Services like Netflix and Amazon Prime have opened up our options for watching new films and televisions series. We no longer have to wait for them to be aired on a TV network and can watch them at any time we like. Some televisions shows will even be available for years on Netflix or Amazon Prime, meaning you can watch the entire collection in one go if you really wanted to.
To watch TV and films, a fast broadband speed is required especially if you want to watch high-quality videos. Streaming those films and television shows rather than downloading and watching them later will mean broadband speed is much more of an issue. In order for the show or film to stream uninterrupted, the download rate needs to at least match the speed of the content being played.
Online gaming has become more popular since fast broadband became available. It is important to have fast broadband speeds to be able to play online without any lag or buffering and is something that a lot of pro gamers require before they even attempt to play a game online. Most keen online gamers will want to have fibre broadband speeds of at least 76mb per second when playing online due to latency issues. Latency is the time delay between server and client and while gaming you will need to have the lowest latency speeds possible so that your client matches the server as best as it can. Without low latency, you will end up with a delay that means your game doesn’t match the server and some kills or goals may not register in the same way.
The other reason for fast broadband speeds when gaming is due to the large file sizes. Many games can be 50Gb or more and therefore on a standard 8mb broadband connection could take over 16 hours to download. On a superfast 200mb fibre broadband connection, however, it may only take 30 minutes to download. Because of the amount of updates that are often required to play a game, some being 10gb or more. A fast broadband connection means that you won’t have to wait hours just to play a quick game of FIFA or Halo.
With the increase in usage of popular streaming sites like Spotify or Deezer. The amount of people that now steam music rather than download is has grown massively. Streaming music doesn’t necessarily need superfast broadband to download songs, but it is important that we have broadband speeds in order to stream on-demand.
It is much more common now for people to stream a song when they want to play it rather than download it first and then play it later. This is purely due to the speeds that re available with broadband today, making a song playable instantly.
Nowadays it is not uncommon for households to have more than one access point for the Internet. When broadband was first introduced in the early 2000’s, most households would just have the one computer to access the Internet, and you would take turns to use it. With the increase in web-enabled devices, it is now more common to have 3 or 4 access points in each household, often even more. Mobile phones and tablets will now make use of Wi-Fi connections when at home and devices like the Amazon Fire TV and music streamers like Sonos also add to the strain on broadband speeds when they are all used together.
The more devices that we use at once, the bigger the impact on out broadband speeds. In some households, you may have one person streaming a film and another playing a game online. These two activities are data intensive and require a large amount of bandwidth to perform the tasks. On slower speeds, you will most likely notice a slowdown when both activities are occurring at the same time.
When you sign up for a broadband package, you will most likely be told a maximum speed you can achieve at your address. It is possible to find out what broadband speeds are available to you by taking a look at a broadband speed test or by using a broadband speed postcode checker. These will both let you know what speeds are achievable at your address based on the local exchange speeds and local broadband infrastructure. A common place to check your current broadband speed for free is at Speedtest.net. There are often problems with broadband speeds which may leave you frustrated and annoyed that you are not getting the speeds advertised. I will look into those problems below.
You may have been told you can get speeds of up to 17mb where you are but actually receive a maximum of 13mb per second. The problem with broadband speed advertising is that they will often start you will receive speed “up to” a certain amount and in actual fact only 10% of customer might receive those speeds. Broadband ISP’s are allowed to state this, but if you are receiving speeds a lot lower than advertised, then there is likely to be a problem on your line. I would suggest contacting your broadband provider to see if you can resolve these speed issues.
One common problem with broadband is that during peak times you may notice a slowdown in your speed due to the amount of people using the Internet in your area. The most common time for this slowdown to occur is during the evenings as this is when the majority of people will use it when coming home from school or work.
The reason this slowdown occurs is due to the Broadband Internet Service Provider applying traffic management measures to control what traffic is prioritised over others. Broadband providers will have something called a contention ratio which is the number of connection to a server in your local area. Often the contention ratio can be as high as 50:1, meaning that you will be sharing your broadband connection with 49 other users. When this many people are connected and performing data-intensive tasks such as streaming movies, you will most likely notice a steep drop in broadband performance.
Not all broadband providers have a contention ratio as high as 50:1; some will offer contention ratios much closer to 20:1 meaning that slowdowns are much less frequent. Lower contention ratios are often associated with more expensive broadband packages and those with special requirements. An example may be for business users or for gaming specific broadband such as Virgin Media’s Vivid 200 Gamer broadband package.
One of the biggest problems with routers that are supplied from your broadband ISP is that they are often cheaply made routers that do not have the greatest Wi-Fi range due to poor hardware being used. Good quality routers can often cost hundreds of pounds and it is not viable for most broadband providers to offer such a good routers.
If you live in a large household, you may find that certain areas of your house cannot receive a Wi-Fi signal from a standard broadband router and there are a number of ways to remedy this.
· Firstly, you could consider placing your router in a more central location in your home; this will mean that the signal should cover a bigger surface area
· Wi-Fi signal boosters are available to purchase from electrical retails like PC World or on Amazon and can be plugged into the wall to boost the signal from your router. Make sure the signal booster itself is able to receive a wi-fi signal before deciding on locations.
· If you still have major issues you can purchase a stand-alone router with better antennas. Most new routers will have better hardware and increased range available, and almost all stand-alone routers come with dual-band technology allowing for faster speeds.
You may be experiencing a slow connection when there are many devices connected to your router. If you have an unsecured network or have at some point given your network key to a neighbour, you may notice there are devices attached to the router that shouldn’t be. You can find out what devices are connected by accessing your router admin page. On the router admin page, you can see the devices connected to your router by MAC address which is essentially the unique serial number given to a device. If you see a device, you don’t recognise you can throw it off the network. It is also good practice to change your network once in a while to stop any unauthorised access.
Wi-Fi signals can also conflict with another signal in your area and is the reason that all Wi-Fi routers will allow you to select a channel to broadcast a signal over. If you notice connection issues on your router, it is a good idea to see if the issue is resolved by changing the channel.
Once you have performed a broadband speed test and established what your average speeds are, you may decide that your speeds are significantly slower than the speeds advertised by your broadband provider. If this is the case you can ask to cancel within 14 days, this is your statutory right and is available under the Consumer Rights Act.
If your broadband speeds are still slow after performing the above checks, you may need to start looking for a new provider. Whilst the majority of broadband suppliers will use ADSL technology through the BT Openreach network, you may be able to get better speeds through Virgin Media who operate their own fibre optic network.
You will need to see if Virgin Media offer broadband services in your area as their network is not as large as BT Openreach. If you can get access to Virgin Media in your location, you may be able to get speeds of up to 200mb per second through their fibre lines. This is a significant speed upgrade from the maximum 76mb on BT’s network.
Broadband speeds are constantly increasing as the infrastructure supporting them is improved, and you may find that the broadband package you purchased a few years ago is significantly slower than the maximum speeds now available. Always check the broadband speeds in your area regularly to see if you can upgrade.