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What broadband speed do I need?

By Dan Howdle
Sunday, December 23rd 2018

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?

The aim of this guide is not to present you with more meaningless numbers. Instead we’re going to describe six different scenarios. All you need to do is pick the one that’s closest to the make-up of your own household and click the link to compare broadband deals at the speed most suited to your needs.

We’ve separated the guide broadly into two sections: households whose occupants use the internet normally, and households with high usage needs.

Normal usage households

Normal, everyday stuff, but none of the more hardcore uses you'll find described in the 'high usage' section.

  • Streaming movies, TV on-demand, catch-up TV
  • Surfing, messaging, Skype
  • Paying bills, banking, social media
normal internet usage households

1-2 people: 1-11Mb download speed

You either live on your own or as a couple, and you might have a son or daughter or two, but they’re not yet at an age where they use the internet independently of you. The most bandwidth (speed)-intensive things you do online are streaming video content (from iPlayer, Netflix, Amazon and so on) or downloading films. When you do these things, you do them together, rather than independently streaming or downloading things in different rooms and on different devices.

You and/or your partner do a lot of things online. You bank online, shop online and regularly use social media. You do these things apart as well as together, and you both have smartphones and maybe the odd tablet which either or both of you might use for things like sharing photos, video calling via Facetime or Skype, or downloading and reading the latest books from Amazon or the Apple Store.

Either or both of you might like to stream music to a smart speaker or something hooked up to your hi-fi system via bluetooth or your home network, and while you both regularly download and update apps on your phones and/or tablets, no one in the house ever downloads videogames from PlayStation Network, Xbox Live, Nintendo Shop, Steam or some other PC/Mac online storefront.

If your household fits this description more closely than any other the others, you need a standard broadband connection.

3-4 people: 10-35Mb download speed

The more of you there are in the house, the more likely it is you’re going to be doing things on the internet separately from one another. In this type of household, while you do tend to sit down and enjoy streamed movies and TV together most of the time, sometimes two or three of you are off in different parts of the house doing your own thing. That might extend as far as streaming movies and TV separately, or downloading movies, apps and games, though none of you owns a 4K TV and streams in 4K UHD resolution.

You’re a couple or a single parent with sons and/or daughters who live at home, or perhaps you live in a shared household where you all chip in for the broadband bill. Either way there are at least three of you and you all have smartphones and/or tablets, and you all spend what would be considered, in 2018, as a normal amount of time online. That is, when you’re home, a few hours per day, but none of you are streaming gameplay footage from your console or PC 24/7. Likewise, no one in the household is using file sharing utilities such as BitTorrent.

If this sounds like your household, you need an entry-level fibre package. Either an entry-level fibre connection from any of a number of UK broadband providers, with an average of 35Mbps, or a 50Mbps connection from Virgin Media.

5+ people: 35-60Mb+ download speed

You live in a large household. A family all of internet-using age, perhaps? Or maybe you’re in a large shared household or student dorm? Whichever of those best fits, there are at least five of you and you tend to do most things separately, rather than sat in the same room all together at the same time.

You all own smartphones, tablets, laptops and so on, and at least three of you have your own internet-ready smart TV or TV-with-streaming-box of some kind. There will be times when you all stream your own programmes at the same time. No more than one person in the house has a 4K TV, but they do stream in 4K ultra-high definition (UHD) on a fairly regular basis.

What’s more, there are internet crunch times in your household. Perhaps you all arrive home from work or school around the same time and all like to get online and do your own thing. This is usually between the hours of four and eight – during this time almost everyone is online doing something at some point. One member or the household might be an avid gamer and like to download the odd console or PC game from time to time.

If this sounds anything like your household, you will need a fast fibre package. Either a top-end fibre deal averaging 60Mbps from any number of UK providers or a 100Mbps broadband deal from Virgin Media.

High usage households

4K streamers, hardcore gamers, live-streamers (Twitch etc.), home-business owners, Bitcoin miners and so on. If you don't recognise any of these activities, chances are your household doesn't fall into this category.

high internet usage households

1-2 people

You live on your own, as a couple or as a couple with kids not yet at an age where they use the internet heavily. One or both of you frequently enjoy movies and TV from Netflix, Amazon or Apple in 4K UHD resolution. One or both of you are gadget-mad and as a result you have half your home contents connected to the internet in some way.

One or both of you is probably a gamer, and your main means of acquiring new games is to download them to your console or PC via various online storefronts. You frequently download large files, including movies in high definition, which you then watch when you’re out and about on your laptop or tablet.

You may, either instead of or in addition to, also run some sort of business at home that involves uploading and downloading large files to and from remote sites or client businesses.

If this sounds like your household, you’re going to need to start with a top-end fibre package of around 60Mbps from any number of UK providers, or 100Mbps from Virgin Media.

3-4 people

You’re a couple or single parent with two or three kids of late-school age. All of you love doing stuff on the internet. There’s at least one games console in the living room and more in the bedrooms throughout the house. There’s a PC in the study that one or more members of the household pretends to work on, but instead spends most of their time online playing Fortnite, Starcraft or Elite Dangerous.

No one in the house buys games or movies on discs, except for the 4K blu-ray discs whose quality streaming can’t quite match. Someone in the house is a YouTuber and spends all day downloading and uploading videos. You run a small graphic design business from the second bedroom and regularly upload your work to remote client servers.

All your photos and videos are stored in your copious cloud computing accounts and your home is cluttered with so many smart devices – from lightbulbs to thermostats – that your router melted from the sheer exasperation of it all. Everyone in the household likes to be on the internet at the same time of day.

If this sounds like your household, you need a 200Mbps high-end fibre connection from Virgin Media – the only widely available provider who can supply it. It’s not available everywhere, though, so be sure and check using our postcode checker after you’ve clicked the link.

5+ people

We honestly can’t imagine a regular family household where everyone is using the internet to the extent that they’d need anything faster than the 200Mbps packages from Virgin Media as outlined above. However, if you’re looking for some conjecture as to why you might want to go faster, well, we’d have to say you’re only going to need it in a big shared household full of gamers, movie buffs and internet addicts.

If there’s a lot of you, you’re on the internet 24/7, and you’re mad, you should go for Virgin Media’s 350Mbps ultra-fast package. But really – really, really – it’s overkill in 99.999% of cases.

A few final words to ponder

You know, none of this is an exact science. Just because you and your household will get by on 35Mbps doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be occasional uses such as downloading games and films where having more speed isn't going to save you time.

The writer of this guide has Virgin Media’s 350Mbps package and he lives on his own. I live on my own. But I download a lot of games and feel the few extra pounds I pay each month are worthwhile if it means that on a lazy Sunday I can be playing a new game ten minutes after purchasing rather than two hours.

We should pick something that fits, for sure. But if you want more and have your reasons, don’t be ashamed to stick to your guns. Having the fastest broadband you can get also has value in the form of peace of mind.

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