Super-fast broadband refers to broadband connections of 38Mb or above. Super-fast broadband connections enable users to surf the internet, download music & video and stream television at speeds higher than most internet users.
While the current average UK broadband connection is around 12Mb (2013), super-fast broadband products deliver speeds of up to 120Mb, usually through sophisticated fibre-optic broadband networks such as Virgin Media and BT's Infinity fibre optic cables.
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How does super-fast broadband work?
Unlike the majority of UK broadband connections, which use telephone lines, the UK's fastest broadband product - the 100Mb service from Virgin Media (it's 120Mb in some areas) - is delivered by a cable, or fibre-optic, broadband network. These cables are made up of glass and plastic, which allows data to move much faster than along the copper pipes used by ADSL broadband.
BT also offers an up to 76Mb fibre-optic service called BT Infinity, and plans to make this available to millions more UK homes in years to come. Latterly, the likes of TalkTalk, Eclipse and Plusnet have piggybacked on BT's Infinity service to launch rebranded super fast cable broadband products of their own.
However, fast broadband is not exclusively on offer to people in a fibre-optic broadband area. If you live within a certain range of your broadband provider’s exchange you can still get fast broadband by signing up for selected ADSL2+ broadband packages from the likes of O2, Sky, Orange, TalkTalk and Plusnet.
This type of connection uses the same wiring and telephone exchanges as regular ADSL phone-line connections, but because of the software and technology used can deliver speeds of up to 24Mb, however most advertised speeds are around "up to 16Mb".
Your speed depends, as always, on the quality of the wiring and the distance you are from the exchange, but if you live in a city or built up area you can realistically expect speeds of up to 16Mb or more. This still provides more than enough bandwidth for heavy internet users, and at a smaller cost than cable.
Which super-fast broadband product is the fastest?
The UK’s fastest broadband product is Virgin Media’s 100Mbps service, which goes up to 120Mb in areas where it has carried out a network upgrade. Virgin Media, which also offers 30Mb broadband products as a bare minimum, is able to deliver such fast connections thanks to its fibre-optic broadband network. Close behind that is BT's Infinity package and the aforementioned services from Sky, EE and TalkTalk, which use BT's fibre network and feature headline speeds in line with BT.
Alternatively, broadband products offering an up to 16Mb (or thereabouts) connection are available from most providers. The arrival of these speeds has been facilitated by an upgrade of BT's network with ADSL2+ technology, enabling the existing cabling to carry more data.
How do I get super-fast broadband?
Your first step is to see which super-fast broadband services are available in your area. Check which products are available using the uSwitch broadband postcode checker.
Advantages of super-fast broadband
Super fast broadband lets you make the most of all the entertainment on offer on the internet. You’ll be able to download movies in a matter of minutes - allowing you watch what you want, when you want it, and banishing the days of long waiting times for very large downloads.
Fans of on-demand TV can enjoy their favourite shows on the BBC iPlayer, as well as rival services from ITV and Channel 4, smoothly and without interruption.
Reduced ping means and improved response times delivered by super-fast broadband means that online gamers gain a competitive advantage over the opposition and can enjoy a better gaming experience.
Disadvantages of super-fast broadband
Speeds are never 100% as advertised (although are often very close) and depend on things that are out of your control, like the quality of wiring and the distance you live from their exchange. Even if super-fast broadband is on offer in your area, these limiting factors may yield little difference in speed for a much higher cost.
Who is super-fast broadband for?
The massive growth in the number of people downloading music, video and watching TV online means that there is no longer a typical user of super-fast broadband. However, if you are a heavy downloader or are one of the increasing number of consumers who prefer to catch up with TV programmes online, it makes sense to sign up for a super-fast broadband deal - preferably fibre opric for the best service.
Super-fast broadband is also ideal for fans of online gaming. This is because a faster connection eliminates the delays to in-game responsiveness – known as ping – that are often caused by slower ADSL broadband products. These can seriously ruin your gaming experience.
If you only use the internet for checking your e-mail and for the occasional search, it’s more prudent to opt for a standard ADSL deal.
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