Cast your mind back to the days of dial-up internet. Your options tended to be so limited, that the biggest choice you had to make when joining the internet revolution was whether to go with the AOL installer you were given at the local supermarket, or call your phone line provider and ask if they have any options for you.
Your download speed was always a maximum of 56 kbps, unless you were one of the lucky ones who had a super fast modem that was capable of a blistering 128 kbps. Either way, if a call came in while you were surfing the web, you would be brought back to the real world with a bang.
Fast forward to 2017, and the plethora of options available to anyone signing up to a new internet provider can make the average consumer’s head spin. The advent of broadband has brought with it different tiers that can confuse anyone who isn’t massively internet savvy.
How much speed do I need? Do I need a large broadband package for gaming? What do I need to run a business from home? These are just some of the questions that plague the minds of the less ‘techy’ out there.
For those of you who are looking to change internet provider, this handy guide should give you a better idea of what sort of package would suit you and your particular needs.
Download, upload and ping
Anyone who has run a speed test on their computer, phone or tablet will be aware of a few different numbers that come up in the results, download speed, upload speed and ping. Starting with the download speed, this is usually the big number that the internet providers fly like a flag on their adverts.
When you see “100MB internet from X” this is referencing how much data can be sent down the pipe to your home at the same time. Upload speeds are the opposite of this, and refer to the amount of data that you can send from your home, back to the internet at any given time. Your ping rating is the speed at which this data can travel to and from your premises to the local exchange.
To give it a simple analogy, imagine your broadband as a road. Your download speed is relevant to the amount of lanes on the road flowing towards your house. The more lanes (the larger the download number) the more traffic can travel towards your house at the same time.
Your upload speed similarly depend on how many lanes of traffic can flow away from your house, again the more lanes (the higher the upload number) the more traffic that can simultaneously flow away from your home. Your ping rating, is the speed at which the cars (your data) can drive, the lower the number, the faster the data moves.
Each of these facets are important for different things, and as such the package you select should reflect your particular needs.
Low usage and small use cases
So who exactly is a ‘light internet user’? These days most of us probably use far more data that we would expect. From auto-rolling videos on Facebook, to uploading our daily Snapchat updates, the amount of data we use when just browsing the web has increased exponentially in the last few years. There are however some use-cases that can be deemed as ‘light-use’, and as such, can rely on a less robust broadband solution.
If you happen to live alone, only use the internet to send emails, check facebook from time to time, a little light web browsing and maybe indulge in the odd Skype chat, you may be considered a light user. Chances are, you won’t be hitting anywhere near 20GB of data a month, and as your needs are so small, the cheaper packages from internet providers should suppress your needs adequately.
Sometimes these economy packages come with data caps, but seeing as you rarely use any services that gobble up data, this shouldn’t be a problem. There are many good value ADSL broadband packages that are very cheap, and will cater for your very limited needs. It may not be the fastest internet you have ever witnessed, but when you are using it this sparingly, it really shouldn’t bother you.
Mid level use cases
These are households with perhaps a couple of people, both of whom aren’t sat at their computers 24/7, but enjoy the occasional Netflix drama. Maybe you both enjoy watching TV with your iPad’s sat on your lap, chatting away to your friends most evenings, or sharing Whatsapp videos.
Your evenings and weekends are spent using the internet, but it isn’t the focal point of your life. For you, a mid-level broadband package should suffice. Some ADSL lines may offer what you need, but if VDSL is available, this is definitely an option to consider. It is faster than ADSL, and generally has a higher data cap, or sometimes no data cap at all.
If there is a cap, bare in mind the average hour of Netflix in high definition can use up to 3 GB, so any cap under 60 GB could lead to trouble if you find yourself blitzing through House of Cards on a Sunday.
High level users
Firstly, let’s get this straight, if you live in a house with teenagers, you automatically fall into this category. They have grown up in the internet age, and as such they most probably use it more than their parents. They use it to socialize, they use if for entertainment, school work, and communication.
There is no getting away from it, if you have kids, it’s probably best to classify yourself as a high user. Even if you don’t have children, but consumer a lot of your entertainment through the net, then again you are a heavy user.
Also running an office from home? Chances are you are a high user. There is no getting away from the fact that if you are sat at your computer for a vast amount of the day, you will probably be burning through your data at a rate of knots, and as such, it is always best to err on the side of caution when signing up to your 12 month contract.
For those of you who were hoping that you would fall into one of the previous categories, the good news is that paying for the higher tiers is not as expensive as it used to be, and in some cases, the difference between the middle and top tiers are almost negligible.
A quick look at the comparison page for any good broadband provider will show you just how minimal the price difference can be, and for the sake of a small price increase, you can relax in the knowledge that no matter how much time you spend on the internet, you shouldn’t be hit with any data caps or bandwidth issues if you shell out for a fibre line.
If you happen to be a gamer, the a fibre line is definitely going to give you a better experience too. This is not just because the bandwidth is vastly improved, but also because your ping rating should be a lot lower than broadband coming through a copper telephone line (ADSL and VDSL).
In essence, when you issue a command in a game, the information has to travel from your computer, to the game’s servers. If you have a high ping rating, then your commands are not represented as quickly in the game world. This is bad news for anyone who takes their gaming seriously, and is something you will generally experience more on ADSL and VDSL lines.
Fibre on the other hand, should enable you to game smoothly and without the annoying ‘lag’ that is associated with bad connections. The same goes for Skype calls.
Ever been on a video call where you keep talking over each other? This is probably because there is a lag in the connection. Less lag means a smoother experience in general, and a lower ping rating should help keep video calls more in sync, and gaming more responsive.
Finally, if you run a business from home, choosing a fibre line over the cheaper competitors makes sense. As mentioned above, if you use Skype or any similar applications, then you probably don’t want the hassle of dealing with a poor connection.
If your business deals with large files, such as a those found in video and audio production, then fibre is a ‘must’, and one with a higher upload bandwidth should be prefered.
Above all, opting for fibre is a good way of future-proofing your connection. If you desperately need to save the extra cash, then the lesser packages could suit you well, as long as your needs don’t exceed the capabilities of that service.
The rule of thumb should generally be, if you can’t choose between two of the categories above, go for the bigger one.