What is broadband speed?

A home broadband connection enables you and your family to access the internet on all kinds of devices - eg smartphones, tablets and games consoles - in different parts of your home.

You can browse web pages, send and receive emails, listen to music, play online games, even watch TV shows or films.


A router and laptop

All these activities involve 'downloading' digital information - also called data - through your broadband connection ('downloading' means transferring a file from the internet to your computer).

But not all broadband connections are the same - their speed or 'bandwidth' can vary.

Imagine your broadband connection is like your water supply. The speed at which the water flows into your bath is limited by the width of your tap. If the tap is narrow, the bath will fill slowly; if it is wider, the bath will fill more quickly.

A faster broadband speed is like having a wider tap. So, if you wanted to download a movie - the faster your broadband, the quicker the movie would download.

Megabits or Mb

Broadband speed is measured in megabits per second ('Mbps'), or 'Mb' for short. You might also hear megabits referred to as 'Meg' or 'Megs'. A 10Mb broadband connection is usually slower than a 50Mb connection.

The more data you download on a daily basis, the more megabits you will need.

Let's say you have one computer and only use the internet to browse web pages and send emails. In this case, a slower speed would probably be fine.

But if you have lots of internet-enabled devices in use at the same time, the demand for bandwidth will be greater.

Using multiple devices

You could have a household where someone is playing an online game, another person is watching a TV show, and someone else is downloading a film or music.

In this case, a faster package would be needed as huge amounts of information will potentially need to be downloaded at once.

Download speeds also have an effect on services, such as BBC iPlayer, which allow you to watch TV shows or movies. Often these services download continuously as you watch the show - this is called 'streaming' video.

If your broadband speed is slow, or if lots of people in your house are using the connection at the same time, the video may keep pausing as you watch it. This is because the next section hasn't downloaded yet. It is known as 'buffering'.

However, some services (including iPlayer) also let you download the whole show or movie for you to watch later, which avoids buffering problems.

Download limits

Apart from speed, the amount you can download per month is sometimes limited - according to the package you choose. This limit is measured in gigabytes per month, or 'GB' for short. You might also hear gigabytes referred to as 'Gig' or 'Gigs'.

A full-length film can use up to 2GB. If you have a 4GB limit and watch more than one film a month, then you will easily reach your limit.

If you do this repeatedly, you could be billed for extra costs or the price of your overall package might increase.

However, many broadband packages are virtually unlimited. This means that, within reason, you can download as much data as you want.

Speak to your broadband provider to decide on the package that is right for you.

By understanding broadband speeds and usage limits, you can get the most out of your internet connection - and avoid any nasty surprises when you get your bill.

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