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EE Unlimited Superfast Fibre Plus

Contract Length: 18 months

Download Limit: Unlimited

£27/month with no set up costs

67Mbit/s * Average Speed

Vodafone Superfast 2 Broadband

Contact length: 24 months

Download Limit: Unlimited

£24/month with no upfront costs

63Mbit/s * Average Speed

Zen Superfast Unlimited Fibre 2

Contract length: 12 months

Download Limit: Unlimited

£34.99/month plus £19.99 set-up fee

66Mbit/s * Average Speed

Talk Talk Superfast Unlimited Fibre 65

Contract length: 18 months

Download limit: Unlimited

£23/month, no set-up costs

67Mbit/s * Average Speed

BT Fibre 2 Broadband

Contract length: 24 months

Download limit: Unlimited

£31.99/month, £9.99 set-up costs

67Mbit/s * Average Speed

What is broadband?

Broadband refers to any telecoms technology that provides high-speed internet access that is ‘always on’. It’s emergence as a technology started in the late 1990’s and soon replaced the much slower ‘narrowband’ internet access technologies such as ‘dial-up’ or ‘ISDN’.

How does broadband work?

Broadband communicates data in the form of ‘1’s and ‘0’s. These ‘1’s and ‘0’s are the language of digital technology known as binary. For example, in binary the letter ‘A’ is made up of eight digits or ‘bits’ written as ‘01000001’. When your computer downloads a webpage it does this by downloading large quantities of ‘1’s and ‘0’s and then reassembling the data into the web-page you see as text and images. When downloading audio and video files the amount of data (i.e. the ‘1’s and ‘0’s) can be huge, which means that the download speed matters.

How are speeds measured?

Broadband speeds are measured in bits per second. The older and slower ‘dial-up’ technology, that some of you might remember, was only able to transmit data at 56k bit/s (56,000 bits per second). At this speed, it would have taken over 18 minutes to download an audio file of The Lovecats by The Cure.

As of 2020, the UK Government’s telecoms regulator, called Ofcom, defines a ‘decent broadband’ speed as a data service that provides download speeds of at least 10Mbit/s – pronounced 10 megabits per second – (this is 10,000,000 bits per second) and upload speeds of at least 1Mbit/s – pronounced 1 megabit per second – (this is 1,000,000 bits per second). At ‘decent broadband’ speeds in the UK it should only take about 7 seconds to download that same audiophile of The Lovecats by The Cure.

ADSL Broadband (Standard Broadband)

‘Standard’ broadband packages in the UK use DSL (Digital Line Subscriber) technology, most commonly a specific type of technology called ADSL (Asynchronous Digital Line Subscriber). This uses the existing copper-wire telephone-line network that already connects most homes in the UK. An Ofcom report released in May 2020, on broadband performance showed that ‘standard’ broadband packages using ADSL 2+ technology provided download speeds on average of 10.3MBit/s, over 24 hour periods, across the UK. ‘Superfast’ broadband is defined by Ofcom as download speeds of 30MBit/s or higher. ‘Ultrafast’ broadband is defined as download speeds of 300MBit/s or higher.

How do you get broadband speeds of over 100Mbit/s?

There are other broadband technologies out there other than DSL technology. The main categories of which are cable and fibre. The reason that they can manage faster download speeds is because they use less of – or don’t use at all – the old copper-wire telephone-line network to transmit the data.

What is Cable Broadband?

Cable is another type of broadband technology and in the UK this is offered exclusively by Virgin Media. Cable broadband emerged as a way of delivering broadband services by using the spare capacity on cable television networks. Rather than using the old copper-wire telephone network, cable broadband uses what’s known as Hybrid Fibre Co-axial (HFC) cables that combine optical fibres with co-axial cables. Since Virgin Media doesn’t use the Openreach network (the legacy telephone network in the UK) it can connect directly to customer properties without having to connect to the street-side green cabinet. This direct connection results in faster speeds than other service providers that use the Openreach network.

What is Fibre Broadband?

This is broadband delivered over fixed-line cables but at least some sections of the cabling are fibre optics. Fibre optics transmit data in the form of light. By using light, fiber optics are capable of far greater rates of data transfer than ADSL technology that relies on copper wires.

Are there different types of Fiber Broadband?

Yes, you’ll come across jargon like FTTC and FTTP fibre broadband. This just describes how much of the fixed-line cabling is fibre optic. You’ll sometimes here the different types of fibre broadband collectively described as FTTX (Fibre To The X).

Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC)

With FTTC, the fibre cables run from the exchange only as far as the outdoor streetside cabinet. If you live in an urban area, you might have noticed this green-coloured cabinet near the end of your street or a few streets away. The data transmission over the copper cable from the cabinet slows FTTC broadband down and the fastest FTTC connections can only reach about 76 Mbit/s.

Fibre To The Premises (FTTP)

With FTTP, the fibre cables run from the exchange all the way to the property and avoids using any of the slower copper cables.

Does distance affect broadband speeds?

ADSL technology (standard broadband) is sometimes prone to signal strength issues but this really depends on the distance of your property to the exchange. The further you are from the exchange the weaker the signal you are likely to receive. This is because, as mentioned above, broadband that uses ADSL technology delivers the data via copper wires all the way from the exchange to your property. The broadband signal simply gets weakened the further it has to travel along the copper wires.

Fibre broadband is less affected by distance from the exchange to the property because, as shown above, in the case of FTTC broadband, the signal only has to travel through copper wires from the cabinet to the property and in the case of FTTP broadband, the signal doesn’t travel through copper wires at all.

What speeds do I actually need?

Netflix gives internet download speed recommendations per stream for playing TV shows and movies;

  • 1.5 Mbits/s – Recommended broadband speed connection
  • 3.0 Mbits/s – Recommended for SD (standard definition) quality
  • 5.0 Mbits/s – Recommended for HD (high definition) quality
  • 25.0 Mbits/s – Recommended for Ultra HD (ultra high definition) quality

So, if you plan on streaming a High Definition movie from Netflix, 5 MBits/s should be fine for this but it’s also worth considering whether anyone else might want to stream a movie elsewhere in your home at the same time. Or whether there are other household users of the broadband service, while the movie is being streamed.

What can I do about slow broadband speeds?

On 1 March 2019, Ofcom, the broadband regulator in the UK, updated its voluntary code of practice on broadband speeds. The code calls on broadband providers to give more relevant information about broadband speed estimates around peak times, to provide a guaranteed minimum download speed and to make it easier for customers to exit their contracts without penalty if they do not receive the speeds they’ve been promised.

Under new Ofcom protections, broadband providers must:

Source: Ofcom

Currently, BT, EE, Plusnet, TalkTalk, Utility Warehouse and Virgin Media have signed up to the updated 1 March 2019 residential broadband code of practice.

So, if you are suffering from slow broadband speeds it might be worth finding out if your broadband provider has signed up to Ofcom’s 2019 broadband voluntary code and speaking with your provider about the service that you are receiving. If your broadband contract was signed after 1 March 2019 and your service provider is a signatory to the code, they should make every effort to provide the minimum guaranteed broadband speed promised or let you switch contract to another provider, penalty free.