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Is 17Mb broadband fast enough for my household?

By Dan Howdle
Monday, February 5th 2018

For the last few years the advertised speed offered by all providers in the UK offering standard broadband has remained at 17Mbps. However, from 23rd May, this will drop to the more realistic 11Mbps. Most customers on a 17Mbps currently receive around 9.5Mb, which is still plenty for most online tasks. So what can you do with this speed, and more importantly, is it enough?

A lot of households don't need as much speed as broadband providers would have you believe. As a general rule, the more speed being offered, the less households there are that are actually going to make use of it. 17Mbps is enough for most households. By the time you've finished reading this, you'll know for sure.

17Mb is fast enough for:

  • Browsing the internet
  • Streaming TV, movies and music
  • Netflix, iPlayer, Spotify
  • Connecting 4-6 devices

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17Mb will struggle with:

  • Streaming 4K/UHD content
  • Downloading large files quickly
  • Connecting a large number of devices
  • Watching multiple streams

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What you can do with 17Mbps broadband

Browse the internet

A standard broadband connection is more than enough to browse the internet, with webpages opening almost instantly. Online shopping will be seamless and social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, will display smoothly. Some webpages, particularly those with audio and video features, will demand more from your connection than others, but 17Mbps is more than enough to cope.

Send emails and receive emails (with attachments)

You can quite happily send an email with reasonably sized attachments with 17Mbps. Most email clients have limits on how large a file you can attach so that may act as a stopping point, but they will stop you before your broadband connection does.

Bank and pay your bills online

Online banking sites don’t require a huge amount of download oomph, so you’ll be able to manage your direct debits, ISAs and credit cards without interruption. 17Mbps is enough to browse, so, by extension, it’s also enough to head on over to the website of your favourite utilities provider and hand over a chunk of your monthly wage.

Stream TV, movies and music

From Netflix to the BBC iPlayer, Spotify to Pandora, streaming content can be done with 17Mbps. Using streaming services to watch TV or movies and listen to music is one of the most data-intensive activities you can do with on an internet connection. To compensate for different connections, each service has recommended speeds for viewing or listening at specific quality.

Streaming content

Netflix

You can stream anything up to HD quality with a 17Mb connection. Netflix recommends a 5Mbps connection for this.

BBC iPlayer

A 17Mbps connection can comfortably stream BBC iPlayer. It streams at two speeds, 1.5Mbps for standard and 2.8Mbps for high.

Now TV

You can stream Now TV with a 17Mbps connection. Now TV recommends you have at least a 2.5Mbps broadband connection to watch its content.

Amazon Prime Instant Video

A 17Mbps connection is more than enough to stream content from Amazon Prime Instant Video. Amazon suggests a speed of 900Kbps for standard definition and 3.5Mbps for high definition.

Spotify

You can quite easily listen to Spotify on the highest possible setting with a 17Mbps connection. Spotify says 320Kbps is enough for the high-quality audio option.

Pandora

Similarly to Spotify, Pandora suggest a speed of 300Kbps to listen to its service in the highest possible audio quality. Easily achievable with a 17Mbps connection.

Play multiplayer games (including shooters)

Playing games online puts more of a strain on your upload speed than your download speed. Check with your provider, but most 17Mbps broadband connections come with a 1Mbps upload speed, which should be enough for fast-paced online games like FIFA or Call of Duty.

More important than a fast connection is a stable one. Factors like latency and packet loss should be taken into consideration to prevent infuriating stuttering and lag.

Download new games and apps for phones and tablets

Downloading new games directly to your console is where your download speed comes in to play. You can download these games regardless of how fast your connection speed is, but the faster the connection, the sooner the game will download. The average file size for a videogame is around 40GB. With a 17Mbps connection you should be able to download a game in around five and a half hours.

Most phones and tablets can connect to home broadband through a wireless router. Downloading apps, games and software updates, while connected to your home internet over wi-fi is a great way to save your mobile data allowance, and a 17Mbps connection is more than enough to let you do this.

Connect 4-6 devices without problems

The more devices connected to the internet the slower your connection will generally become; this can include phones, tablets, laptops, smart TVs and games consoles. A 17Mbps connection will support more than one person, but this depends on what they are doing. Four people simultaneously checking their Twitter accounts will be fine. Four people simultaneously watching Netflix in HD will not.

Work from home

Working from home usually involves working online, downloading and sending files over email and using VoIP services like Skype. You’ll be able to do all of this on a 17Mbps connection.

Use cloud computing services

Sharing files between your home office and your clients can be made easier with cloud computing services, like iCloud, Google Drive and Dropbox. These services use your upload speed as well as your download so, while you can use them with a 17Mbps connection, you will find downloading files will happen sooner than uploading them.

Use VoIP services

Using VoIP will use your upload speed as well as your download speed. A 17Mbps connection usually comes with a 1Mbps connection, which is more than enough to make group video calls with Skype, which requires an 8Mbps download speed and a 512Kbps upload speed.

The point at which you'll need fibre broadband

If you're going to be doing any of the follow, then 17Mbps just isn't going to be enough. You're going to need fibre broadband instead – so that's at least 38Mbps.

Watch video in 4K Ultra HD

A standard broadband connection will not let you stream in Ultra HD. Netflix and Amazon Prime recommend at least 25Mbps if you want to use this setting. Ultra HD requires a 4K TV, which is the next step up from HD TV, and Netflix will only let you stream in the setting if your TV, Netflix account and internet connection all support it.

Watch more than two streams at once

You should be just about able to support two HD Netflix streams at the same time, with a small amount of buffering (where the picture pauses to wait for the stream to catch up). Watching any more at the same time and you might have to watch in standard definition.

Download large files quickly

While a 17Mbps can still download large files, like videogames or movies, you’ll have more of a wait on your hands than if you went with something faster. As we’ve already seen, a 40GB videogame will take around five and half hours on a 17Mbps connection. That same game would take under 20 minutes if you used Virgin Media’s 300Mbps fibre connection.

Connect a large number of devices

This is really where a 17Mbps connection might fall down. The more phones, tablets, game consoles and laptops that share the connection at the same time, the slower the connection becomes for everyone. A 17Mbps connection, while it’ll happily cope with many folk browsing the internet at the same time, it won't take a lot of video streamers. Two is, in fact, all you'll be able to reliably count on.

If you do live in a household of frequent streamers and downloaders, 17Mb won’t be enough.

Run a business

It’s very well working from home with a 17Mbps connection, but running an entire business is a slightly different kettle of fish. Of course, it depends on what your business does. A B&B with only one computer will probably be okay, but a medium-sized web-based publishing house is going to struggle.

Final note: Speeds are often slower than advertised

Most standard broadband packages have an advertised download speed of around 17Mbps. Internet service providers can advertise these speeds if at least 10% of their customers can get it, so if you can’t you might have to lower your expectations.

If you’re not sure about what speed you’ll get from your new connection, you should be able to get a prediction from providers before you buy a package from it. You can also check your current internet speed with our speed checker.

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