HOW MUCH broadband do you need? In the last month, more of us than ever have flirted with streaming TV services like Amazon Prime and Netflix, yet the regulator Ofsted says more than a million homes are still unable to get what it considers a decent internet signal.
Exactly what constitutes “decent” is a movable feast, and is likely to rise exponentially the moment you buy a new TV or other video device. That’s because you’ll want to try out the smart apps that likely came with it, and in ultra high definition, if possible.
Streaming TV pictures in standard definition eats up around a gigabyte of data every hour - around 40GB a month for an average user. Once you move up to HD, you increase that threefold, and when you try to stream UHD, you’re looking at 7GB an hour and 120GB a month.
The monthly figures are important only if you pay for a capped broadband service, because your allowance could be gone in a week, if you’re not careful. But the hourly usage is down to the quality of your connection.
Bear in mind that if you have a house full of children or teenagers, your own internet use will likely be the tip of a rather large iceberg, and if your connection has to contend with their visits to YouTube, Facebook and goodness knows where else while you try to watch Netflix, you’re going to spend half your evening watching a spinning “buffering” symbol.
Streaming lots of video really needs a fibre-optic connection, and if there’s still time to make a new year’s resolution, you could do worse than making this the year you re-evaluate the way you get online.
Broadband is measured in megabits per second, and fibre offers you up to 52Mb or 76Mb, depending how much you pay. Either way, it’s much faster than any standard deal. Virgin’s cable broadband is speedier still, at up to 200Mb on the most expensive contracts, but you have to live on a street bypassed by one of their cables.
It’s a myth that fibre broadband is available only in built-up areas, but it does help if your house is within a few hundred yards of one of the BT roadside cabinets that join the wider network to the local telegraph poles and underground ducts. This last leg of the circuit relies not on fibre-optics but on old-fashioned copper wires, which slow the signal dramatically. The longer the distance, the greater the speed loss.
You also need to pay some attention to the speed at which the signal is distributed within your home. A modern router, which you should have if you’ve upgraded your broadband in the last year or two, will give you wireless speeds of five gigahertz, rather than the older 2.4GHz standard, and you’ll also get faster wired connectivity.
Assuming you are outside Virgin’s cabled area, the best deals are likely to be from Plusnet, Sky, EE and perhaps John Lewis. A less familiar name, the Doncaster-based Origin Broadband, is also worth considering. Factoring in the BT phone line rental you will have to pay, irrespective of supplier, and leaving aside any introductory offers, a little over £30 a month is where you should aim.
Take into account your expected use next year as well as now - because broadband, like chocolate and money, is something you can never have too much of - and no matter how much you do have, it will soon be too little.