Choosing the Right Broadband Package

Some of you may have been following the news recently and seen a lot of talk about the Government targets to have every household in the UK able to access a minimum of 2Mbps internet connections by 2015.

With this has come accusations of funding being favoured in the wrong areas, a general fear that rural communities could still be left behind and more importantly, much confusion and hullabaloo regarding which connection is best suited for such a task.

In reality many people don’t understand the broadband options available in their area, and less still understand how to get the most from them. Internet users in cities may be blessed with a range of choices from cable to SDSL. For those in rural areas the choice is less broad and the prospects of fast internet arriving in the near future are slim for many.

The days of the internet being limited to the odd email to a friend or relative and general interest browsing are long gone as we all know. We now use the internet on a daily basis for a number of reasons, with multiple devices connected and with browsing patterns that have evolved to push bandwidth to the limit.

Along with these trends the media has painted a picture of digital Britain where users enjoy streaming movies at the touch of the button and play fast paced games online with their friends. However, such services work your connection hard and rely on “superfast” networks.

Sadly, funding simply isn’t available to bring such connectivity to all homes, leaving those living in slow service areas looking for alternatives. Unless community-involved and self-funded broadband projects such as B4RN find a sustainable way to roll out nationwide, it looks like staying that way too.

With this in mind, there are important things to consider when choosing (or changing) your broadband package no matter where you live…

How often do you use the internet and what do you use it for?

Light usage: Smaller packages are perfect for those who don’t use the internet much and only require it for the odd bit of looking up information and emailing.

Heavy usage: Heavy usage is for those who stream and download often, or those who want to play live online games that require fraction-of-a-second speed such as Call of Duty or Fifa.

Business: Although all data is sensitive and all packages offer protection, a business package can offer that extra little bit of security as well as static IPs, webspace and email addresses. It can also cater for heavy usage in the day with multiple systems online.

How do I decide?

It’s widely considered that 2Mbps is the standard speed most internet users require to carry out basic tasks such as browsing or emailing, whilst 8Mbps and higher is needed for those wishing to download, stream videos or play online gaming.

However, it’s hard to judge how much bandwidth you use when you consider not all file sizes are equal such as standard definition video vs. high definition video or JPG photos vs. RAW photos. This interactive broadband usage calculator from Tooway Compare goes in depth to give you a rough estimate of how much bandwidth each task uses and help you work out what package you will require.

Where are you located?

Urban: Those in an urban area are most likely lucky enough to have access to faster and more reliable connections such as ADSL or an even faster fibre optic connection. These are considered the best connections but are not available everywhere.

Rural: Fibre optic cables are at present a luxury for any rural area. Many have ADSL, but for some further away from the telephone exchange the signal can weaken as it travels further down the line and cause speeds slower than dial up.

An alternative to this which is common place in the United States is Satellite Internet. Although it is a solution that does not compete with ADSL or Fibre optic due to latency, it helps those who have no internet access methods what-so-ever get connected with adequate speeds. Satellite Internet has stayed out of the mainstream in the UK due to a reputation for slow speeds and high costs, but launch of the new Ka-Band Tooway satellite last year has provided faster speeds whilst lowering the cost to the consumer.

Satellite internet won’t allow you to play heavy live action games due to having to ping a signal back and forth from thousands of Kilometres, but it can stream video and run programs such as Skype smoothly.

Mobile: For those often on the move and away from home but take the laptop at all times, a mobile connection or a package that includes one could be worth more of your time than a home stand-alone connection. Although some hotels, airports, bars and restaurants now provide wireless services for patrons, many you have to pay for or be a customer which can add up to a lot of money if requiring to connect often and for prolonged periods.

Again, mobile broadband is not ideal for heavy usage users, is a last resort for anyone in a no spot and relies on a mobile phone signal. However, for sending emails, browsing, social networking and the occasional standard definition short video it is adequate.

How do I decide?

Obviously what internet services available to you depends on your location. Uswitch’s postcode checker can give you an idea to what services are available in your area before inquiring providers about their services. For mobile broadband usage at home Signal Map’s postcode checker can give you an idea what signal is best for your area.

Other things to consider?

Customer support: Read reviews and fish around before signing on the dotted line. Many companies can seem nice as pie in the sale pitch but abandon you once you’ve parted with your money. Don’t be afraid to ask about their worker maintenance availability, call center efficiency and any other issues you can think of.

Hidden costs: ALWAYS READ THE SMALL PRINT. Some providers may charge you for equipment when taking out a service or charge you for non-return of equipment when leaving. If they do require any equipment returned, will they cover your costs to ship or collect it? Also check the billing patterns; is there an initial fee of X months advance required in the first payment and if you’re taking out a set period contract is it a rolling service that still requires you to request cancelation? It’s always worth a second opinion on T&Cs from a friend or colleague in case you missed anything important.

Other services: Many providers also supply digital TV, a telephone line, virus protection, technical support and other services with an internet connection. This can help tie your bills together conveniently and save money.

Getting the best connection tailored to your needs from the outset can not only help you save money in the short and long run, but save time and effort switching services later down the line, prevent getting tied into contracts inadequate to your need, and most importantly make sure your internet usage is an enjoyable experience.