Dan Howdle | January 19th, 2024
One of the things that makes our job difficult (prepare your violins) is the ongoing forward marching of technology. Only a few years ago we would have still said that in a household where you don't do a lot of gaming and streaming an old-fashioned ADSL broadband connection offering about 8Mbps to 17Mbps was enough for small double or single occupancy homes.
No more. In fact, we would go as far as to say that even the lower-tier 'superfast fibre' packages you typically see advertised at around 35Mbps are going to start hitting their limits regularly in any household with three or more internet users who stream, browse and noodle about with their mobile phones a lot.
Much like monetary inflation, where a holiday you had 20 years ago costs more than twice as much now, broadband speed inflation is also a real thing. Just a decade ago the most demanding streaming services such as BBC iPlayer and Netflix didn't need more than 3Mbps to 5Mbps. Now the most demanding streaming services can require up to 40Mbps for a single stream.
Of course, that demand comes with a huge increase in audiovisual quality, but it's just one example of how much more demanding of your internet connection just about everything is compared to just a few years ago. Which is why slower broadband packages are being phased out. You won't see 10-11Mbps ADSL packages advertised anymore – you can only get such a connection if you're in the tiny minority of households that can't get anything else. And while still available, many broadband providers have stopped promoting entry-level fibre packages too, funnelling customers into the nippier packages of 65Mbps or thereabouts.
Now, many of us are cruising happily along on a connection speed that's less than the maximum we can get. And that's fair enough. Broadly speaking, the more speed you opt for, the more you tend to pay. But if you're hear to find out how to get a faster speed than you currently have, we're guessing you are hitting the odd wall here and there when it comes to bandwidth.
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This is a big topic. So here we're only going to cover it in loose terms. All you really need to know, at a bare minimum, is there are multiple broadband technologies operating on top of one another in the UK right now. No one planned it that way, it's just that when the newer, faster network infrastructure comes along every decade or so, the previous technologies take a while to phase out (as exampled in the last section).
Here's a look at those different technologies and the speeds they tend to offer:
|Also known as
|Availability to households
|Standard broadband, fast broadband
|Fibre to the cabinet, superfast broadband
|Full fibre, ultrafast broadband, gigabit broadband
|Virgin Media Broadband
Note that 5G broadband (mobile broadband) and satellite broadband both have some strengths and weaknesses that should be considered beyond what you may be used to considering with a regular broadband connection. To understand those at a deeper level, you should read those respective guides.
Hopefully you're with us so far. If so, you may have already guessed that the best way to get much faster broadband than you have will more often than not mean switching from your existing broadband technology (for example standard fibre broadband), to a faster and more future-proof technology such as full fibre or Virgin Media.
The potential problem with that is of course whether you can get those technologies where you live. Standard ADSL and standard fibre broadband are available pretty much everywhere as you can see from the table above. So too are 4G/5G broadband and satellite broadband (at the cost of some considerable downsides compared to fixed line broadband), while the fastest technologies – full fibre and Virgin Media – are available only to 25% and 60% of UK homes respectively.
With the various pros and cons of the different ways to get faster broadband accounted for, here is the order in which you should go about investigating getting faster speeds:
Yep. Even as we're certain you would have thought of this, it bears a mention to say the easiest and simplest way to upgrade your broadband speed is through the provider you're already with, provided you're not already on their top speed. You can upgrade your speed mid-contract with all providers (you cannot downgrade, though). Just be aware that your broadband provider will most likely renew your contract period if you go this route. In most circumstances outside of your current contract, switching broadband provider makes more sense.
If you're already a customer of Virgin Media, see above. Virgin already offers the fastest widely available broadband in the UK, so if you're already with them, upgrade. If you're not, you can check if you can get Virgin Media with our broadband postcode checker. Or you can take a look at a selection of Virgin Media deals currently on offer below:
Full fibre is the next generation of fibre optic broadband. With fibre optic cables running through ever part of the network, on paper at least, it can offer speeds of up to 10Gbps. Yes, you read that correctly. That's ten thousand megabits per second. Right now, where available, speeds go up to around 900Mbps and are available from BT, Sky, TalkTalk and all the other usual suspects. Only around one in four households can currently get full fibre though, which is why it's our third port of call for faster broadband.
So-called 'mobile broadband' is now being offered by providers such as Three Broadband and Vodafone. The advantage is you can often get it where fixed-line broadband is otherwise slow, and it works just fine provided you can get a good 4G or preferably 5G signal where you live. The downside is that mobile phone networks tend to be a bit less reliable than fixed-line broadband networks, and there can be latency issues that affect gamers.
Satellite broadband does what it says. It relays your broadbands signal to and from your home via a satellite in orbit round the Earth. The technically-minded among you may have already realised that it takes a bit of time to bounce a signal up to a satellite and back down to Earth again and this is certainly true. The latency therefore is horrible, and you simply cannot play fast-paced online games on a satellite broadband connection. Satellite broadband should be seen as a solution only for very remote homes with unworkably slow broadband options.
If you've taken our advice, understand what technologies are available to you, and the answer is simply that you already have the fastest broadband you can get to your home, your options are going to be rather limited. You're going to have to either wait for something faster to come along or delve into the ultra-techy side of home networking and deploy some bespoke solutions to speed things up.
Those solutions may include bolstering your existing home broadband connection with a 4G or 5G solution, then using a second router to combine the speeds of those two connections. Not easy to do if you don't know what you're doing, and well beyond the remit of the advice we're able to offer here.
There are also some things you can do to speed up your home wifi, and some housekeeping tasks that'll free up bandwidth such as ensuring mobile phones in the house connect using their own mobile networks rather than taking up bandwidth on your wifi. Generally speaking though, you're best just keeping an eye out.
Finally, if you are indeed in one of those households that's in broadband limbo waiting for something truly fast to be available to you, there is a place to turn to at the very least get an idea of how long you'll likely be waiting for that to happen.
Openreach – the network owned by BT and on which all other providers besides Virgin Media operate – has a map showing where full fibre is available, and more importantly, where it's coming to and when, as judged by how close to completion the rollout there is.
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