Broadband can be delivered in a number of ways, including ADSL, cable, satellite, fibre-optics and mobile. ADSL availability is highest - visit Broadband Checker to see what options exist for your postcode.
Different types of broadband
ADSL broadband is delivered down telephone lines, while cable and satellite customers may be able to get broadband via the cable or satellite link.
Mobile – or 3G – provides broadband without a fixed telephone line. 3G is provided by the mobile phone networks and uses the same signals as mobile phones. You need a small portable USB modem, sometimes called a ‘dongle’, or a data card (called a PCMCIA card in laptops). The network should supply a free dongle.
The quality and availability of a mobile broadband connection depends on a 3G mobile phone signal, but mobile broadband is a rapidly growing technology.
Fibre-optic is the newest form of broadband, and the fastest. The service is relatively limited at the moment as the companies who supply it are still in the process of laying the cables needed to carry it.
Pick the right package
Choosing from the countless broadband providers is tricky, but there are online tools to help you. Specialist broadband comparison websites will make your task much easier.
However, it will help to have some idea of what you want. For emailing, web browsing and light downloading, a basic package will probably suffice. If you are planning to download a lot of films and enjoy online gaming, you will probably need a package that will allow you to receive more data at faster speeds. Bear in mind that more advanced packages are likely to be more expensive.
And remember that advertised speeds are rarely achieved in practice and will drop as you get further away from the telephone exchange.
But speed isn't everything. Check whether the service you're thinking of buying actually has a cap on how much data you're allowed to download, and whether it applies to all hours or just selected peak times. This is especially important if you frequently watch video across the web - streaming services send you a lot of data.
Equipment and installation
Your ISP should supply all the hardware you need, including routers. They allow several computers to connect to the internet at once - very useful for households with more than one internet user.
You should receive ADSL filters and cables for connecting your computer to the router/modem, unless it is wireless. A Wi-Fi router creates a Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN). If your computer or laptop has a wireless card built in, this will allow you connect to that network.
Your telephone line will be activated for broadband by your ISP. Some will charge for the service.
ISPs normally provide CD-ROMs containing step-by-step instructions for setting up broadband yourself. However, if the process seems too daunting they should provide engineers - but expect to pay a fee.