Fast broadband is something we all want. No one enjoys a stuttering Netflix stream or a choppy Skype call. Plus, with smart tech becoming a standard in our homes, the need for high speed broadband becomes increasingly necessary.
There are many factors to consider when choosing a broadband provider: cost, reliability, value, and of course speed. You can see the best broadband deals of the month in this article. We've also looked at the best TV and broadband bundle deals in the UK.
Here, we look at the fastest broadband provider in the UK (it's Virgin), the different types of broadband connections (and what this means in terms of speed), how to identify which speed of broadband is right for you, and Virgin's current plans.
Fastest broadband provider - Virgin
Broadband Genie’s survey pool consists of nearly 4,500 people in the UK to identify which broadband service provider excels in reliability, value for money, customer service and of course speed.
If you're not already aware, broadband speeds are described in Mbps, which means megabits per second. Megabits are different from megabytes, however. The lowercase "b" in Mb indicates megabits, while the uppercase "B" in MB indicates megabytes.
8Mb (megabits) make 1MB (megabyte), so a Mbps speed you may see in an ad indicates how many bits of the megabyte will be downloaded per second. For example, imagine you're downloading a song that's 5MB (megabytes), at a speed of 10Mbps. Since 8Mb makes 1MB, you're essentially downloading 40 bits – which should take 4 seconds.
So while both downloading and uploading speeds are important, faster download speeds means faster access to content – games, movies, shows, and so on. Whereas, upload speeds may matter more to those who often posts to social media or send large files, like videos and graphics to friends or clients.
While the overall winner was Plusnet Broadband, Virgin topped the speed rankings with an average download speed of 85Mbps. Vodafone came second, but at less than half of Virgin’s rate, at 34.0Mbps.
Virgin has a few broadband packages to choose from that bundle services such as phone and TV, but you can also choose from broadband only plans as well.
Virgin’s broadband bundled plans are all on 12 month contracts and do not have any set up fees. Keep in mind, the prices are introductory for the first year of service and then increase.
Broadband speed claims guidance
In May 2017, the Advertising Standard Authority, or ASA, released a broadband speed claims guidance that pushed for more accurate representation of speeds from providers. Now, service providers must advertise average download speeds instead of the highest possible speed, which can mislead customers.
This means at least 50 percent of customers should access the speed claim shown in ads during peak hours over a 24-hour period.
While most broadband providers were found to have lower speeds than advertised, Virgin's speeds were shown to be higher. As you will see, in Virgin's Vivid 50, Vivid 100, Vivid 200 and Vivid 350 plans, the average rates for each respective plan are in fact higher than what's named in the plan.
Types of broadband connections
There are three main types of broadband connections: ADSL, Fibre and Cable.
ADSL (which stands for asymmetric digital subscriber line) divides your phone line for both the internet and phone calls. ADSL relies on copper wiring. The maximum speed here is typically 17Mbps.
Fibre connections use fibre-optic cables, that is glass or plastic cables. This does a faster job at transferring data than the regular copper wires used in ADSL connections. The two technologies hold vast differences, with fibre optic using pulses of light to transmit information and copper using electric currents.
This not only makes fibre-optic connections faster and stronger, it also covers more distances. You can read more about the science behind fibre-optic cables here.
Fibre broadband comes in two varieties. It can be either ultrafast full fibre which connects your home directly to fibre optic cables, or superfast fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) which uses a mix of fibre-optic and copper cables. This is most common, along with cabled connections. FTTC speeds range from 38Mbps to 76Mbps.
Cable, or hybrid fibre-coaxial connections, use fibre-optic and coaxial cables, making it superbly fast, up to 362Mbps. Coaxial cables are specially insulated copper wiring, which makes it more reliable than copper wiring alone. Cable broadband is not available everywhere however, so you may need to check if your area qualifies. You can use our tool below to search availability by your postcode.
Which broadband speed is right for me?
The speed you need depends on the number of people within your household who actively use the internet, and how much is being used on a daily basis.
Light to moderate usage
For general light browsing in a household of two people, you shouldn’t need more than 11Mbps. For example, you may mostly check email and make Skype calls. When you stream movies, you often stream from one device at a time, as opposed to streaming separate content from different rooms.
Moderate users on the other hand, or households with three to four people may need up to 35mbps. Users may use social media frequently and stream films at the same time from separate rooms.
Both light and moderate users may benefit from Virgin’s Vivid 50 plan. Again, keep in mind not every area is equipped to support fibre broadband. Use our tool above to see if your area qualifies.
Virgin recommends this plan to small households with up to 4 devices. The average download speed is 54Mbps and upload speeds are 3Mbps. It also includes talk over the weekends. The price goes to £42 per month after the first year. Get the Vivid 50 broadband plan with Virgin phone line here.
You can also pay £32 a month for this plan to also include TV channels with a Virgin TV V6 box. After a year, the price goes up to £51. Get Vivid 50 with the Player TV bundle here.
If you want this plan without the Virgin phone line, it costs £35 per month and there is a £20 set up fee. Get the broadband only plan here.
Moderate to high usage
If you’re in a shared household of 5 or more people and are fairly heavy users, you may need a speed up to 60Mbps or more. This means most users may stream in 4K, or stream from their smart TVs from different rooms. You might also browse and stream from your phones, tablets and laptops often.
This plan allows download speeds of 108Mbps and an average upload speed of 6Mbps. Virgin recommends this for households with five to nine devices. After a year, the price increases to 47 per month. There is no set-up fee either. Get the Vivid 100 plan here.
If you would prefer this speed without a Virgin phone line, you can get it for £40 per month on a 12-month contract. There is a £20 set up fee. Get the Vivid 100 broadband only plan here.
This is ideal if you’re in a multi-member household where you often stream films in 4K and have your home connected to various smart assistants and devices (thermostats, lighting, alarm systems etc.). You may also be or live with avid gamers who often download and livestream games and movies. You’re online 24/7 and may even be running a business from home that requires frequent video calls, connecting to the cloud and uploading large file sizes.
Such usage typically needs upwards of 200Mbps, so Virgin's 350 fibre plan should be the most useful to you. It is the most expensive, so we would recommend assessing how extreme your internet demands are prior to finalizing on a plan.
Virgin’s Vivid 350 fibre broadband plan is the highest speed you can find of any broadband provider, with average download speeds of 362Mbps and upload speeds of 21Mbps. According to Virgin, the Vivid 350 plan lets you download a movie in five minutes (with a wired connection). Again, this is useful if you consume tonnes of content on a monthly basis.
The plan costs £50 per month and increases to £57 per month after the first year. There is no set up fee. Get the Vivid 350 plan here.
If you prefer the broadband only version of this plan, the price remains £50 per month and there is a £20 set up fee. Get the broadband only version of the Vivid 350 plan here.
If you feel the Vivid 350 plan may be more than you need but your household does use the internet fairly heavily, there is also a Vivid 200 option but on a rolling monthly plan.
The Vivid 200 plan has an average download speed of 213Mbps and upload speed of 12Mbps. Virgin recommends it for households with over 10 connected devices. It costs £52 per month and there is a £65 upfront fee. Get the Vivid 200 broadband rolling plan here.
If you prefer the Vivid 200 plan without a Virgin phone line, you can get it for £45 per month instead, also on a rolling basis. Get the Vivid 200 broadband only plan here.
Virgin broadband rolling plans
If you don't want to be tethered to a year-long contract, Virgin also offers its broadband plans on a rolling basis. This means you can cancel anytime with 30-day notice. All the plans above are available on a rolling basis, including the additional Vivid 200 option.
You can see all rolling plans with Virgin phone lines included here. Alternatively, you can see all rolling plans that are broadband only here.