Broadband speed: how fast does your broadband need to be?

Avoid the dreaded buffering by ensuring your broadband speed is fast enough to meet your needs

uploading and downloading onto devices
(Image credit: getty images)

There are few things more frustrating than waiting for ages to download something from the internet, so it’s worth checking if you can find a faster deal elsewhere.

Here, we explain everything you need to know about broadband speeds so you can be certain you end up with a broadband package which is fast enough to suit your needs. 

(MORE: How to find the best broadband deals)

What is broadband speed?

The broadband speed measures how fast you can download or upload data. The slower your internet connection, the longer it will take you to do the tasks you need online. 

The speed you can get will depend on several different things, such as the area in which you live, and whether you’ve opted for standard or fibre-optic broadband (more about that later). 

How is broadband speed measured?

The speed of your internet connection is expressed in Megabits per second (Mbps). The higher the Mbps offered by a particular provider, the quicker your connection should be, which means you’ll be able to download music and films faster, as well as using streaming services without annoying buffering. 

How do I know what my current broadband speed is?

There are lots of free broadband speed checker tools available online, including including those at Checker.ofcom.org.uk, Broadbandspeedchecker, and Broadbandtest.which.co.uk, where you can test how fast your internet connection is. 

Bear in mind that for the test results to be as accurate as possible, you’ll need to make sure no-one else in your household is using the internet at the same time, and that you’re not running another other applications on your computer. 

ADSL versus fibre optic broadband

The two main types of internet connection are ADSL, which stands for Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL), and fibre optic broadband. If you have an ADSL broadband connection, your internet connection will be provided through home telephone lines, which means you’ll need to pay a monthly rental charge to Openreach. 

ADSL broadband connections aren’t as fast as fibre optic broadband, but usually provides a reliable connection. Fibre optic broadband involves your date is transmitted via fibre optic cables, and speeds are usually much faster than those available from ADSL connections. 

If you live in a remote area, however, you may not yet have access to fibre optic broadband, although it is gradually being rolled out across growing numbers of rural locations.  

How fast should my broadband be?

How fast you need your internet connection to be depends entirely on how you use the internet, and the number of people in your household who are reliant on it. 

As a general rule, if your whole family uses the internet to stream content and download large files, then you should really be looking for a broadband deal with a download speed of at least 35Mbps. 

If you don’t use the internet for work and only really rely on it to send and receive emails, along with a bit of online shopping here and there, you might only need a service offering speeds of 10-12Mbps.

What's a good broadband speed?

The fastest fast fibre connections allow you to download as much as 76Mbps, whereas standard speeds tend to range from around 5Mbps to 16Mbps. 

If you wanted to download a film, it would probably take you around seven minutes to do this if you had an internet speed of 16Mbps, but this would fall to around one and a half minutes if your internet speed was 76Mbps. 

Bear in mind that the fastest internet speeds won’t be available in every location, especially if you live somewhere remote that is a long way from the nearest telephone exchange. 

How can I compare broadband quotes?

The easiest way to compare broadband quotes from a wide range of different suppliers is through comparison sites, such as GoCompare, MoneySuperMarket, BroadbandChoices, Uswitch and ComparetheMarket.

Comparison sites enable you to enter your postcode, along with the name of your current broadband provider. They will then show the deals available to you. You’ll often be presented with numerous different options, but you can reduce these options by indicating how much you want to spend, the speed you’re looking for, how much data you need, and how long you want your contract to be.  

(MORE: How to save money on your broadband bills)