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What is broadband?

You will need broadband to use the internet, so this is a handy guide to find out more about it.

Last updated: 22 November 2020

What is broadband?
You will need broadband to use the internet, so this is a handy guide to find out more about it. The guide covers the types of broadband out there and what to look out for when comparing broadband providers. This will help you to find the best broadband deal for you! 

What is broadband?

Broadband is a type of high-speed internet connection that will enable you to access the spoils of the world wide web via a range of different media, such as cables and satellites.

Broadband is the younger brother of dial-up internet, notable for its slow speeds and memorable start-up sound.

How does broadband work?

Companies such as BT, Virgin Media and TalkTalk are known as Internet Service Providers, or ISPs; they use a variety of network infrastructure to provide your home or business with internet connection. Exactly what type will depend on the kind of connection they are providing you with.

Most of the home broadband services run on fixed cable infrastructure that runs underground in cities, towns, and remote locations, bringing it directly into your property. Due to the cost of laying this type of cabling, most companies pay wholesale for access to the BT Openreach Network, which runs nationwide. The most notable exception to this is Virgin Media, which has its own network of cables.

This is not always the case, as it’s possible to achieve broadband connection by way of satellite dish, which connects to orbiting satellites, and wireless broadband, which uses long-range Wi-Fi transmitters.

What types of broadband are there?

Since broadband emerged in the early 2000s, there have been some extraordinary advances in the kinds of technology available to the average consumer. Here’s a breakdown of the four most common broadband types available to you:

ADSL - Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) is the original type of broadband launched back in the early 2000s and uses copper BT phone lines to provide your property with internet connection. It is the most common type of broadband available in the UK, but also the slowest, with highest speeds of around 24Mbps. The further away you live from the telephone exchange, the slower your speed will be.

Fibre optic – This type of connection runs on fibre optic coaxial cables, transmitting the electrical signal as light along a specifically engineered network to provide your property with enviable internet speeds. There are two types of fibre connection. The first is Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC), which runs fibre optic cables to your nearest BT street-level cabinet, and then onto your property via ADSL lines. The second, Fibre To The Premises (FTTP), brings fibre connection all the way to your home. This is by far the fastest option but due to infrastructure costs, is not so widely available.

Mobile – Mobile broadband uses the wireless mobile phone network to connect you to the internet. It’s not that cheap or fast but can be useful if you’re someone who finds themselves constantly on the move.

Satellite – So long as you have a satellite dish without obstructed view, you can get satellite connection anywhere in the country. It connects to the internet by way of geostationary satellites, which unfortunately make it quite an expensive way of getting online.

All of these types of connection require different sorts of infrastructure, and so are not necessarily available in all parts of the country. Use our postcode checker to view your options and compare broadband deals.

Do I need broadband?

Probably yes. But just what type of broadband you go for will entirely depend on what you intend to do online.

If you’re someone who just needs to check emails and occasionally surf the net, then you’ll be fine on a lower-tier ADSL type of connection. But if you’re living in a larger household, or you use the internet a lot for work and streaming, then you’ll need to check out a more substantial fibre or satellite connection.

What should I look out for when comparing broadband providers?

It's absolutely essential you compare broadband providers when thinking about a new contract. Whether you’ve just moved into a property or your current contract is up for renewal, shopping around will mean you’re more likely to save money and get something that actually works for you, as everyone’s needs are different.

Here’s a handy checklist of what to look out for when contemplating a new deal.

Download speeds: This is often the selling point of a deal, as it will give you an indication of how fast your connection is likely to be. Remember though, that these are generally best average speeds, and may not be representative of your actual internet connection.

Availability: Not every type of broadband connection is available in each part of the country. Use our postcode checker to see what you have access to in your area.

Download allowance: Be on the look out for deals that have “unlimited downloads”, especially if you’re someone who needs to download bulky files for work or who likes to watch a lot of online movies.

Contract length: If you know you’re only going to be in a place for a short amount of time, don’t get sucked into a 18-month contract, because you’ll likely have to pay extortionate exit fees for leaving early. You can often get 12-month contracts, and there’s even the option to get rolling 1-month subscriptions, to help keep you flexible.

Equipment: Many ISPs now provide free or subsidised routers, and often they’re just plug in and go. Try not to get caught out by sneaky installation fees!

Technical support: This is a big one. Some companies specialise in customer service, whereas others are famed for their long wait times. Do your research on customer reviews, because it may be worth spending a little bit more to be with a company with large enough customer support resources.

How do I get broadband?

Now you’re all caught up, use our handy price comparison tool to find the best broadband in your area to suit your internet needs. It couldn’t be simpler!

Danny Lord

Author: Danny Lord

Danny is our Editor-in-Chief, and has been writing news and guides for comparison sites for the last five years.

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