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What broadband speed do I need?

By Dan Howdle | Tuesday, January 5th 2021

In the world of broadband, megabits are abstract. Though most of us understand the more the megabits the faster the broadband, few of us comprehend how that applies to our household. Is 10Mbps enough? What about 50? Or 100?

Broadband speed is measured in ‘megabits’, and most of us understand that the higher the speed, the faster you can download files and the higher quality your streaming content will be.

What many struggle with is how to apply average broadband speeds to the needs of our household, so that we can choose a broadband deal with an internet speed that truly matches our needs.

This page will tell you everything you need to know about measuring broadband speeds, and how to select the one that’s right for you, so that you don’t pay more than you need to for your home broadband deal.

What is broadband speed measured in?

Broadband speed is measured in ‘megabits’ or ‘megabits per second’, and is written as a number followed by ‘Mb’ or ‘Mbps’. It determines how fast information from the internet can be transferred to devices in your home. The higher the number of Mb or Mbps, the faster the speed.

For ADSL / standard broadband, a good average speed is 11Mbps. Fibre-optic broadband typically has speeds of between 30Mbps and 299Mbps, ranging from entry level to super-fast provision.

Megabits are sometimes confused with megabytes, which are used to describe both computer hard drive space and memory storage capacity.

How fast is my broadband?

A good way to find out your current broadband speed is to run a speed test while you’re at home and connected to your Wi-Fi. This will tell you the download and upload speeds you have with your existing broadband deal.

If you’re happy with these speeds, you can search for a new broadband deal that matches them. If you’re finding your broadband slow and unreliable, however, or are experiencing issues like buffering or content downloading too slowly, you may want to look for a new deal that substantially increases your broadband speed. This may mean that you also need to select a different type of broadband.

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What broadband speed do I need?

The speed of your home broadband is important. If it isn’t fast enough for the number of people you live with, and the things you do online, you’re likely to experience irritating delays and connection issues. These will be worse when everyone tries to get online at the same time.

On the flip side, if your broadband speed is faster than you need, you’ll end up paying over the odds for it.

A quick look at what broadband speed you will need.

Broadband users Type of broadband Speeds
1-2 people ADSL 10-11Mbps
3-4 people Fibre 30–60Mbps
5+ people Fibre 60-516Mbps
Gamers or streamers Fibre 60-516Mbps

For 1-2 people

If you live alone or with one other person who also uses the internet, and the most bandwidth (speed) intensive things you do online are internet shopping and browsing social media, it’s likely that your needs will be met by ADSL / standard broadband.

ASDL or standard broadband is offered by most UK providers and is often the cheapest broadband deal as it’s typically slower and a little less reliable than fibre and mobile broadband. It uses pre-existing BT copper phone lines to send and receive data, with a typical speed of around 10Mbps.

Despite being the cheapest option, standard broadband is perfectly adequate for a couple of light internet users, so there’s no need to pay over the odds for your connection.

  • NOW Broadband Brilliant Broadband

    NOW Broadband
    • 11Mb average speed
    • Unlimited usage
    • Inclusive calls
    £18 p/m
    £5 one-off cost See Deal

Households of 3-4 people

In a large household, while you may sit down and enjoy streamed movies and TV together on occasion, it’s likely that at least some of the time, you’ll be in different parts of the house doing your own thing online.

The more people that use your broadband connection at any one time, the more bandwidth (speed) you’ll need, especially if you’re streaming movies or downloading and using apps and games separately.

For a household of 3-4 people, an entry level fibre-optic broadband package is usually a sensible choice - as long as nobody owns a 4K TV and streams in 4K UHD resolution, works regularly from home, or downloads games or large documents.

This type of broadband deal will typically offer speed between 30-60Mbps. Some providers, like Virgin Media, offer much faster fibre-broadband connections that go right up to 108Mbps. Choosing a faster speed can help future proof your broadband usage, particularly if you have growing kids who are spending more and more time online. If you or someone you live with might be switching to home working in the near future, it’s also a good idea to add a little extra broadband speed to accommodate this.

  • TalkTalk Fibre 35

    TalkTalk
    • 38Mb average speed
    • Unlimited usage
    • PAYG calls
    £22 p/m
    £4.95 one-off cost See Deal

Households of 5 or more, or student sharers

If you have a larger than average family or live in shared student accommodation, it’s highly likely there’ll be times each day when everyone wants to get online separately. It’s also likely that along with a range of other devices, someone in the household will stream content via an internet-ready smart TV, or a TV with a streaming box.

There may also be peak times when everyone wants to get online, usually between 4pm and 8pm when everyone has come home for the day.

  • BT Fibre 2

    BT
    • 67Mb average speed
    • Unlimited usage
    • PAYG calls
    £90 Reward Card
    £29.99 p/m
    Zero one-off cost See Deal

In a busy household, you’ll want to make sure you have a reliable connection to avoid issues like buffering or slow-downloading games and documents, so aim for a fast fibre-optic broadband deal with an average speed of at least 63Mbps.

This type of deal can include speeds of up to 516Mbps (Virgin Media’s flagship deal).

high internet usage households

Serious gamers and streamers

Judging broadband speed based only on how many people are in a household doesn’t always work, as one or two people in the household may use the internet much more than the others.

The likely culprits for using more than their fair share of the broadband are serious gamers, who often need to download huge files containing new games and updates, and 4K streamers who want to watch movies and TV to their 4K television via the likes of Netflix, Amazon, Apple TV, YouTube (consuming anything up to 40Mbps of your home broadband connection). Make sure you’ve allowed enough speed to stream all of your favourite shows with our guide to streaming speeds.

As a general rule, you should add an extra 30Mbps of broadband provision for each person in your household that downloads games to a console, PC, or tablet, or who streams TV shows in 4K, or make sure that your broadband deal includes an average speed of at least 100Mbps to cover all bases.

Compare fast broadband

What can affect my broadband speed?

There are a number of factors that can affect your broadband speed:

Home layout: The arrangement of your furniture, thickness of your walls, and nearby electronic equipment can all disrupt or weaken the wireless signal transmitted by your broadband router. If you live in a built-up area, it’s also possible that a high number of routers in close proximity will interfere with each other and slow down your broadband speed. To give your router the best chance of achieving top speeds, it may be possible to set it to operate on a separate channel, depending on the type of router you’re using. You should also place your router close to the centre of your home, away from walls and doors, to ensure the best signal coverage.

Multiple connected devices: The more devices that connect to your wireless broadband router at any one time, the more likely your speed will be affected. If users are simply browsing the web and reading email, performance is unlikely to be heavily affected. If, however, users regularly download files, update software, and stream music or HD video, speed will be lowered for everyone across the network. This can be combated somewhat by closing any programs or apps that aren’t being used.

Distance from the cabinet: If your standard or fibre-optic broadband is sluggish, it could simply be that your home is situated a long distance away from the nearest cabinet where the copper or fibre optic cables are connected. It’s also possible that your standard broadband is running along very old or damaged copper wires. In this case, switching to a fibre connection will help. For more information about how the distance from the exchange can impact your broadband speed, read our guide.

What if my speed is lower than expected?

If you’ve signed up for a new broadband deal and are experiencing speeds much lower than expected, get in touch with your broadband provider who should be able to help.

What broadband speed can I get in my area?

Average download speeds for broadband can be affected by a number of factors. These include how far your home is from the nearest cabinet and telephone exchange, whether your standard broadband is operating along old or damaged copper wires, and what types of broadband are available in your area.

Our postcode address checker can quickly tell you what speeds and types of broadband can be accessed where you are in the UK.

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Frequently asked questions

What is a good internet speed?

Generally a good internet or broadband speed is around 11Mbps for standard broadband. A faster broadband speed would be between 11Mbps and 50Mbps. A very fast broadband speed would be 100Mbps or higher.

Is 10Mbps or 11Mbps fast enough?

For low usage households, browsing or shopping online will be fine. It also depends on how you use your broadband and the number of people in your household. Lots of devices, streaming and more than two people – we would recommend a minimum of 30Mbps.

What broadband speed can I get?

Broadband speeds are dependent on where you live in the UK. To find out, check out our broadband in my area page. Simply enter your postcode and we'll show you the broadband speeds in your area.

What is Mbps?

Mbps or megabits per second is the download or upload speed of your broadband connection. Without getting too technical – the higher your Mbps, the better experience you will have browsing the internet or streaming movies. The more devices and people you have connect, the higher your Mbps should be.

Is 100Mbps fast?

Yes. The average broadband speed across the UK is around 35Mbps so if you can get 100Mbps – you're one of the lucky ones!

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