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Broadband faster than 56Mbps is too fast – for now

Monday, October 20th 2014 by Dan Howdle
You have to feel a little sorry for the players in the UK's highly competitive broadband market. Excluding TV bundles, home phone, mobile phone add-ons and customer service, there's only one tried and tested way to outbid your competitors: more megabits.

Because numbers sell, as attested by the more pixels than the human eye can see TV industry, or the six more blades than could possibly matter safety razor marketplace.

How fast is fast enough? At what point do the megabits lack for any practical use? It's something that's troubled me for some time, and for an equally lengthy period I've also wondered whether there exists some pseudoscientific method lacking just enough bogusness to provide a reasonable answer.

After all, one thing no one can dispute is that ratcheting up the megabits is not an inexhaustible well of tangible gain.

I'm going to make a series of assumptions here, some reasonable, some at which you may gasp, gag or gaffaw. First: you live on your own. Okay, not you – you probably don’t live alone, but you as in the 'you' who's about to volunteer as a receptacle to my sketchy averages and wobbly assumptions, live alone.

Which means you share your connection with no-one. Assuming you use your connection for regular stuff like surfing, watching Netflix, sending emails, downloading the odd game here and there. Assuming you're not one of those morally impoverished file-sharers torrenting 80 HD movies at one time. That downloading a new generation (PS4, Xbox One) game is the single biggest job for your bandwidth to cope with. Assuming all that, how much do you need?

That 50GB new-gen game, representing as it does the outer limits of day-to-day usage, should be the yardstick, should it not? Recognising, of course, that the amount of time it will take to download as a factor, we now need to find some way to measure what's an acceptable download time. Really, for a game, this only has to be faster than it would take to go to the shop on the high street, buy it, bring it home and install the disc.

Assuming (I'm doing a lot of assuming) that the time taken from the moment you decide to buy the game to playing it is at best two hours, your download should match or beat that interval for it to constitute a preferable (since you don't need to leave your couch) alternative.

50GB in two hours or less is... calculating... calculating... calculating... 56Mbps.

Of course I'm willing to accept you may be far more impatient than that. Or, that you don't recognise any serviceable benefit to a download over a shop-buy unless substantial time is saved. And maybe you live in a 600-resident rehab centre for World Of Warcraft addiction.

But for you, me, or the average man or woman on the street, the truth is, despite the ever-escalating arms race of more and more megabits, the amount of bandwidth you can actually make use of has not only been reached already, but exceeded by almost every UK provider.

And although the intention of this blog has been to entertain perhaps just a little more than to inform, there is a serious point couched in it. That there is a point in the megabits arms race past which we should no longer blindly follow broadband providers – a place somewhere far out in that battlefield where the numbers fired wildly from each faction lack power or impact. A place where they are but a futile distraction.

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