Broadband basics

01 August 2015

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If you're new to broadband and want to find out more about it, or how to get the most from your existing service, then read on.

Many of us would be completely lost without the internet.

We use it to keep in touch, to find information and to watch our favourite films and TV shows.

It can also be vital for work, to shop and bank - and we can do all this from our homes thanks to broadband.

Broadband is a way of connecting to the internet. It allows information to be carried at high speed to your personal computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone, smart TV or other web-enabled device.

Broadband has largely replaced the original 'dial-up' (narrowband) method of connecting to the internet, which was much slower.

The three most common types of fixed-line broadband in the UK are ADSL, cable and fibre.

ADSL stands for Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line and is the most commonly available type of broadband, delivered through the copper wires of your phone line.

Two different types of ADSL technology which are used in the UK - ADSL1 and ADSL2+.

ADSL1 is capable of a maximum speed of about 8Mbit/s, and ADSL2+ a maximum speed of about 24Mbit/s.

However, the broadband speeds via both types of ADSL will depend on how far you live from your telephone exchange - the further away you are, the lower the speeds and the actual speeds you receive will typically be much lower than the maximum speeds shown above.

Cable networks use fibre optic and coaxial cables to deliver superfast broadband services - as well as TV and phone services - direct to homes.

Unlike with ADSL, speeds are not lost with distance. Cable technology can deliver very fast broadband speeds and the fastest cable broadband packages offer speeds of 'up to' 152Mbit/s

Fibre broadband is delivered via clusters of fibre optic cables (each one thinner than a human hair) and speeds are faster than ADSL.

There are two types of superfast fibre broadband - ‘fibre-to-the-cabinet' (FTTC) and ‘fibre-to-the-premises' (FTTP).

With fibre-to-the-cabinet, fibre optic cables run from the telephone exchange to street cabinets before using standard copper telephone wires to connect to homes.

Most fibre connections in the UK are fibre-to-the-cabinet services, and are typically sold as offering speeds of ‘up to' 38Mbit/s or 76Mbit/s.

Fibre-to-the-premises broadband - which, as the name suggests, involves fibre optic cables running directly to your home - is faster than fibre-to-the-cabinet but currently only constitutes a minority of broadband connections.

Fibre-to-the-premises broadband services can offer speeds of up to 1Gbit/s (i.e. 1,000Mbit/s).

If you are not sure which type of connection you have you should ask your current provider.

Virtually every home in the UK can get ADSL broadband. There are numerous providers although not all may offer services in your area.

Virgin Media and WightFibre (which provides services in the Isle of Wight) are the UK's only two cable providers. Check their websites to find out if their network operates in your area or is coming to your area at a future date

Superfast fibre services are becoming increasingly available and are offered by a number of internet service providers including BT, Sky, TalkTalk Plusnet and EE. These providers account for most of the superfast fibre broadband market, but there may be other service providers serving your area.

In the Kingston-upon-Hull area, KCOM provides ADSL, some FTTC and a FTTP broadband service.

There are several ways you can find out which broadband services and deals are available in your area.

You can enter your details - usually your phone number and postcode - in an online checker, or use an Ofcom-accredited price comparison website to see what deals are available.

SamKnows, Ofcom's broadband speeds research partner, also offers a broadband availability checker on its website.

Superfast fibre and cable broadband offers significantly faster speeds than ADSL services. For example, a superfast broadband connection should enable you to download feature films several times faster than ADSL.

Superfast broadband services generally cost more than ADSL services, although they might not be as expensive as you think - use an Ofcom-approved comparison site to see what deals are available to suit your budget.

You can find out if exchanges near you have fibre broadband - or when they'll get it . You can also find out more about the superfast roll-out programme in your area or get general information from the BDUK webpage.

It might also be worth contacting your local council, parish council or community group to see whether there are community broadband projects under way or planned in your area.

Under these schemes, community groups have partnered with broadband networks to roll out superfast services, primarily to rural areas not currently serviced by mainstream providers.

You can visit the Rural Broadband Partnership website to see what projects are under way near you.