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Is 50Mb broadband fast enough?

By Mike Whitehead
Tuesday, April 10th 2018

Putting broadband speeds into their simplest terms, the higher the number is, the faster the broadband will be. Faster speeds will allow you to do more things online. So is 50Mb the right broadband speed for you?

For some of us, fibre optic broadband has moved from the ‘nice to have’ category and is now firmly rooted in the ‘how did we ever manage without it’ section. Whilst most other providers' fibre broadband packages average 36Mb, Virgin Media’s VIVID range offers 50Mb as its entry-level download speed and BT’s Superfast Fibre 1 (previously Infinity 1) also averages 50Mb.

So, how fast is 50Mb and what type of households is it designed to cope with? Is it enough for your household, or just as importantly, is it much more than you’ll actually need? This guide will give you all the answers to these important questions.

50Mb is good for:

  • Browsing the internet
  • Streaming HD/4K TV, movies and music
  • Gaming and hosting games
  • Connecting 10-12 devices
  • Running a small, home office

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50Mb will struggle with:

  • Multiple UHD (4K) streams
  • Running a busy gaming server
  • Running a large company server
  • Large amounts of uploading
  • Connecting more than 10 devices

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What you can do with 50Mbps broadband

Browse the internet

Still the basis for all of our broadband needs, internet browsing is a breeze for 50Mb. At these speeds you should see any website you choose open instantly. Whether it’s online shopping or a typical social media site – Facebook, Twitter, and the rest – it will be a completely seamless experience. Even webpages laden with imagery or audio and video, such as Instagram or YouTube, should open immediately. Any delays will most likely be down to the quality of the site rather than your broadband speed.

Send emails and receive emails (with attachments)

As with internet browsing, our need to send and receive emails with little or no hassle is still a foundation for our broadband requirements, and at speeds up to 50Mb you will have absolutely no issues at all. Even emails containing large attachments will cause you no bother. There are usually limits to the size of file you can send or receive by email that are set by your email client, but up to that point, you shouldn't have any problems.

Bank and pay your bills online

As most of us now manage our general banking and finances online this is another vital area to consider. Again, it’s one that 50Mb can handle with no problems. Checking your balance, making a payment or setting up new accounts, each screen will load instantly and transactions will process straight away.

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Stream TV, movies and music

The growth of the streaming services industry is one of the key reasons why we’ve seen such an increase in broadband speed requirements. Watching a TV programme or movie and listening to music is one of the most data-intensive requirements for your broadband to handle. Each service has different recommended speeds, all of which are well within the capabilities of 50Mb broadband packages with no buffering or reduction in image quality.

Netflix

In order to stream anything up to HD quality, Netflix recommends a 5Mb connection, therefore, 50Mb is more than sufficient even for those households who use multiple devices.

It will also be completely compatible for UHD viewing. Netflix recommends a minimum connection of 25Mb for this, so 50Mb broadband has some room to spare. You’ll need a 4K TV to watch it, though.

BBC iPlayer

The BBC’s streaming service doesn’t need quite as much broadband room as Netflix. To view any programmes in HD from the iPlayer, you need a 2.8Mbps connection and 1.5Mbps for standard quality. With 50Mbps you’ve got plenty to cover you for this service.

NOW TV

The recommended download speed for streaming movies or programmes on NOW TV is 2.5Mbps, which is well within the boundaries of a 50Mbps connection.

Amazon Prime Instant Video

If you prefer Amazon Prime for all your streaming content you will need 900Kbps for standard definition and 3.5Mbps for high definition. There is no official minimum internet speed recommendation from Amazon for watching UHD content. It’s likely to be similar to that offered by Netflix – up to 25Mbps required. All these settings are covered with a 50Mbps connection.

Spotify

Audio streaming is actually less data-intensive than video streaming, so all you music lovers can relax and stream to your heart's content. You only require a 320Kbps connection to stream at the highest quality setting.

Pandora

Same goes with Pandora, with only a 300Kbps connection requirement. So if this is your music portal of choice you’re more than covered with a 50Mb speed package.

Play multiplayer games (including shooters)

This is an activity where upload speed is as important, if not more so, than your download speed. For its VIVID 50Mb broadband package, Virgin Media states an average upload speed of up to 3Mb at peak times (8pm – 10pm). BT states an even more impressive 9.5Mb average upload speed for its 50Mb Superfast Fibre package. Both of these would be more than sufficient for all the most popular multiplayer games, such as FIFA and Call of Duty.

Download new games and apps for phones and tablets

Downloading a new game can be quite a chore if you don’t have a fast connection. The faster the broadband speed, the quicker you can start playing. The average file size for a new game is 40GB. A 50Mb connection should be able to download a game in less than two hours. App downloads and updates for your phone software are also no problem for a 50Mb connection.

Connect 10-12 devices without problems

Even for such a large broadband connection, the correlation between the number of devices connected at one time and what they’re being used for is still relevant.

A 50Mb connection should be able to comfortably support a large household with a handful of phones and tablets browsing the internet and a 4K TV streaming a video from the living room all at the same time. In fact, a few of these devices could be simultaneously streaming without a disruption in quality. Using your wi-fi connection in the home will allow you to preserve your mobile data allowance during the month.

Work from home or running a small office

An average small business uses the internet to send emails and browse the websites for research purposes, pay bills, use VoIP services such as Skype or download files and images. All of these requirements would fall well within the remit of a 50Mb broadband connection.

Use cloud computing services

Another area where upload speeds come into play as much as download. Cloud computing services such as Dropbox, Google Drive or iCloud utilise both your upload and download capacity. Upload speeds of between 3Mb – 9.5Mb, as stated by Virgin Media and BT, should be sufficient to cover most requirements here.

Use VoIP services

Upload speeds will also become relevant when using VoIP services such as Skype. For a large group video call, Skype recommends a download speed of 8Mbps and upload speed of 512Kbps. This would be adequately covered with 50Mb connections from either BT or Virgin Media.

The point at which you will need a higher broadband speed

So far so good for 50Mb broadband, but there are some activities where a higher-speed package will be required.

Watch multiple UHD streams at the same time

As 4K UHD TVs become more and more popular, large households will want to start putting them in several rooms and watch more than one UHD movie or programme at the same time. At 25Mbps this is, without doubt, the most data-intensive activity for a broadband connection.

This will definitely weigh down a 50Mb connection. It’s at this point where a higher speed will be needed.

Running a gaming server

The upload speeds available with a 50Mb connection are fine when you’re inviting a few friends to join your server. If and when it starts getting much larger than that, you will need to consider upgrading to a higher-speed package.

Running a larger office

Let’s say your small office has become so successful that you’ve gone through a major recruitment drive. A 50Mb broadband connection can cope with, say, 8-10 employees all with a desktop computer but if this starts to double, then double again, you will start to place a huge strain on your internet connection, particularly for any large upload requirements. At this stage you will need to upgrade your broadband package to a speed capable of dealing with such activity.

Final note: Speeds may be slower than advertised

All broadband providers are now obliged to advertise their average speeds, attainable by at least 50% of their customers. This means that you have a good chance of getting the speeds you pay for. However, if you sign up for standard broadband, you may experience slower speeds if you live a long way from your nearest street cabinet.

Your new provider should be able to give you a prediction as to the speed you will get based on your area. You can also use our speed checker to check your current internet speed.

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