Disclaimer: The information on this page was correct as of July 26, 2021.
According to studies, UK residents aged 16-64 spend an average of 6 hours 26 minutes using the internet every day – that’s almost half our waking hours! With so much time spent on the internet, you don’t want to be struggling with slow broadband speeds. We’ve put together a guide to help you understand your broadband speed and how to improve it.
- How is broadband speed measured?
- The average UK broadband speeds
- What broadband speed do you need?
- Can you get fibre?
- How can different providers offer different speeds?
- Conducting a speed test
- What affects broadband speed?
- How to improve your broadband speed
How is broadband speed measured?
Broadband speed is measured in megabits (Mb) or megabits per second (Mbps). This determines how fast information from the internet can reach your home and devices – the higher the number, the faster the speed. Megabits are often confused with megabytes (MB) which measure hard drive and storage space.
There are two different speeds to take into consideration (upload and download) but download speed is most commonly used as the majority of our internet usage is downloading content rather than uploading.
Average broadband speeds in the UK
Before you start comparing broadband deals, you’ll likely want to know what is considered a ‘good’ speed. It might help to compare the speeds to the national average, which we’ve broken down below:
|Broadband type||Average speed|
What broadband speed do I need?
While we have a national average speed, not everyone needs their broadband to be that fast or night need it faster. So, here are the kinds of speeds you should be looking for to suit your home. These might not be exact figures as it all depends on how often and heavily you use the internet.
|Number of people||Speed you need|
As a general rule, you should add 30Mbps of broadband provision for every person who regularly uses the internet to play games, stream in 4K, or other heavy users. For example, if there are 3 people in your house, but one is an avid gamer, you should aim for around 60Mbps.
How do I know if I can get fibre broadband or not?
Unfortunately, while over 95% of UK households have fibre broadband available to them, not all do. Whether or not you can get fibre in your area depends on:
- Where you live – Rural areas are less likely to have fibre as it can be more expensive than it’s worth for network operators. Densely populated areas are also less likely to get fibre as replacing the underground cables can be inconvenient for too many people.
- How far away you are from the exchange – While fibre might be available in your area, you might be too far away from the exchange to be able to take advantage of it.
- Demand for fibre – If the demand for fibre in your area is too high, it could reach its full capacity, meaning it’s no longer available for some homes. If this happens, Openreach should be able to increase capacity and let you know when fibre is available.
How can some providers offer faster broadband speeds than others?
Providers can’t offer speeds over your home’s maximum broadband capacity – the fastest your broadband can be is fixed, no matter your provider. They can, however, limit your broadband speed depending on the package you pay for.
However, providers offering the fastest speeds use Fibre to the Premises (FTTP). FTTP means that the fibre broadband connection from the local exchange is connected directly to your router through pure fibre connection rather than through the copper telephone lines. With FTTP broadband, you could see speeds up to 1Gbps (1,000Mbps) because the copper wires aren’t slowing down the connection.
Unfortunately, FTTP availability is very limited at the moment and not many providers offer it yet. It’s only available to 3% of households in the UK, but Openreach is working to provide it to 10 million homes by 2025.
How to carry out a broadband speed test
Whether you’re just curious or think your broadband is slower than it should be, you can easily carry out a speed test to find out how fast or slow it actually is.
Before you conduct your broadband speed test, you should make sure:
- Nothing else is using the internet
- Nothing too intensive is running on your device (not necessarily using the internet)
- No other devices are using the network
- You’re not using a proxy or VPN
To get the most accurate results, run the speed test a few times either while cabled rather than wirelessly or as close to your router as possible.
If you’re planning on talking to your provider about your broadband speed, you might have to do a broadband speed test through their website or let them do one remotely, however, you can use the link below for a trusted third-party speed test.
What affects internet speed?
There are lots of different things that can affect your broadband speeds, making them faster or slower. The speed could vary throughout the day for a number of different reasons, including:
- The position of your router – If you’re experiencing slow internet, it could be that you’re too far away from the router. Alternatively, it’s been proven that some electrical devices can also cause interference to your router.
- The location of the telephone exchange – This is the most common reason why people have slow internet. The further away from the exchange you are, the slower your internet will be as it has further to travel in order to get you connected. If you’re too far away from the exchange, you might not be able to take advantage of fibre speeds.
- Where you live – If you live in a rural area, you’re more likely to have slower internet speeds than if you live in an urban area. Telephone exchanges are fewer and further between and providers may feel that it’s not cost-effective to invest in expensive improvements.
- Your broadband package – Which broadband package you buy can cap your maximum internet speed. For example, if you pay for a broadband package for up to 60Mbps, you’ll likely get faster broadband than if you opt for one up to 11Mbps (but not definitely).
- How many people are using the internet – The more people using the internet, the slower each person’s internet will be. This is because the overall broadband speed will have to be shared across multiple devices.
- The time – Peak time for broadband is between 8pm and 10pm, so it’s likely your internet could be slower during those times. However, you should still be able to get at least your minimum speed, if not more.
- What you’re doing – If what you’re doing is internet-heavy, such as streaming or playing games online, this might run slower than if you’re simply checking your emails or shopping online. You should take into account what you’ll be doing online when deciding on your broadband package to choose the right speeds for everyone.
How to improve your broadband speeds
While some speed issues may be out of your hands, there are a few things you can do to speed up your broadband.