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Beginners guide: What is broadband?

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What is broadband?

Broadband is a high-speed internet connection that allows you to enjoy everything the online world has to offer.

Before broadband, internet access was achieved with ‘narrowband’ dial-up connections that were very slow by today’s standards. Broadband is much quicker and allows us to do more on the internet.

How fast is broadband?

What makes a connection fast enough to be called “broadband”? There is no standard definition, and what qualifies as a broadband service varies across the world.

In the UK, we have access to a wide variety of services with different levels of performance. Almost every home and business can get a fixed-line connection of at least 2Mbps (megabits per second), but most can now enjoy speeds in excess of 30Mbps.

Not sure what speed you need, or want to know what you’re currently getting? Our guide to broadband speeds can help.

How does broadband work?

An internet service provider (ISP) supplies the service and equipment to get your home or business online. 

Some ISPs operate their own infrastructure, but this is a complex and expensive endeavour so most pay for wholesale access to a network that they can then resell.

Most of the home broadband services you’ll find on Broadband Genie come into your home via a fixed line, which will very likely be either an Openreach (BT) telephone line or a Virgin Media network connection.

Broadband service does not always require a line though. There is also mobile broadband using mobile phone networks, satellite internet which connects to orbiting relays, and wireless broadband providers using long-range Wi-Fi transmissions.

What can I do with broadband internet?

A broadband connection will give you access to everything you can get from the internet. You will be able to send and receive email, surf the web, use social networks, stream music and video, do online banking, plus a whole lot more.

What do I need to use broadband?

All you need to use broadband is a device that can connect to the internet and has software for accessing online services. This could be a desktop computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone, games console, or any other device capable of connecting over wired or wireless networking.

How do I get broadband?

To get broadband you must first check to see what providers and types of broadband are available to your home.

Then you can compare prices and deals right here on Broadband Genie, before selecting a provider and signing up.

When you click out to a provider via Broadband Genie you’ll be taken through the process of joining, which will include providing necessary details and paying for any up-front fees. Remember that for most top broadband providers it is also necessary to pass a credit check.

The ISP will arrange for the service to be enabled (including an engineer visit, if work is required) and post the broadband router and any other equipment. On the day your broadband is enabled you simply need to power up the router and connect it to the broadband, then you’re ready to begin using high-speed internet in your home.

How can I find out what broadband is available in my area?

Enter your postcode below (or on our broadband availability checker) for details of what is available in your home.

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Why do we need your postcode?

Once you've entered your postcode, you'll only see deals available to that address. We partner with Thinkbroadband in order to bring you the most accurate information possible (see our privacy policy for further details).

There is something of a postcode lottery for broadband. When it comes to broadband using a regular (Openreach/BT) telephone line, service availability is dictated by your nearest exchange.

But even if a postcode check says you’re okay, some homes may be too far from the exchange to get certain types of broadband. And the speed of the connection is also impacted by your distance from the exchange.

Virgin Media fibre (aka cable) broadband has its own network separate from Openreach and at present is available in fewer locations, covering about 53% of homes.

There is also full-fibre FTTP broadband, where fibre optic lines run all the way into homes to deliver much faster speeds. The availability of these services is still relatively small but it is growing rapidly, and will eventually replace the old copper telephone network.

Interested in mobile services? Our guide to mobile coverage has more information and useful links.

How do I compare broadband?

There are a wide range of broadband deals out there, but don't worry - Broadband Genie's job is to guide you through them and make finding the perfect deal for you a doddle. Here’s what to look out for as you compare deals...

Price: This usually consists of a one-off installation fee (although broadband deals with free setup are available) followed by a monthly charge. Sometimes the monthly fee may be discounted for a set period.

Speed: One of the most common sales pitches for broadband is speed. Generally speaking, as the speed goes up, so does the price. Almost everyone will be able to get standard ADSL broadband with average speeds of around 10Mb. But this is quite slow by modern standards, and most of us will be able to get some sort of fibre optic broadband that can offer significantly quicker speeds.

Data limit: Many broadband packages are unlimited, but sometimes the cheapest Wi-Fi broadband deals have a monthly limit. Not sure what you should get? Our guide to unlimited broadband can point you in the right direction.

Extras: Extras can include free routers and anti-virus software, and free gifts like shopping vouchers and gadgets. Sometimes these are essential, or just provide a nice little bonus to the deal.

Broadband bundles: Bundles can see you save money by ordering telephone and TV deals alongside broadband. You can find Wi-Fi only deals, but bundled packages often work out as the best value. Read our guides to TV bundles and value-packed quad-play deals for further help with these options.

I already have broadband; how can I check my speed?

If you already have a broadband internet connection and are worried about your connection speed, you can check it with our broadband speed test. To build an accurate picture of your speed, we recommend you switch off or disconnect all other devices, connect to the router with a network cable (or, if that's not possible, sit right next to it to ensure your Wi-Fi signal is very strong), and run a number of tests at different times of the day throughout the week.

My broadband isn't working, what can I do to fix it?

If you want to troubleshoot your broadband connection, you've come to the right site! If you're specifically having trouble with your wireless connection, head over to our wireless set-up guide for more help.

We realise you may need to speak to your internet service provider (ISP) directly about a problem - whether technical or to do with billing or moving home, so we've included some handy contact details for all the major ISPs in our guide to customer and technical support. You can find details of all the ISPs listed on Broadband Genie on our customer reviews page.

If you've come to the end of your tether with your ISP, or simply want to move on to a cheaper, faster or in any way better deal, you should check out the Broadband Genie guide to switching provider, or check out our annual broadband survey to find out which ISPs have the highest customer ratings.

Matt Powell

Meet the author:

Senior Editor

Matt Powell, Broadband Genie's Editor, has been with us since 2009. A lifelong tech enthusiast, he has 20 years of experience writing about technology for print and online.

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