How to: Find the best Broadband Package – Part 1

With so many different broadband providers and packages finding the right one can be a daunting process. There are a number of considerations, including:

– Download/Upload Speed
– Total Cost
– Peak Usage Limits
– Contract Term

Some websites try and simplify your search by comparing the above considerations in a table. However your search doesn’t end here as there are other less visible factors which might influence your final decision.

Download/Upload Speed

The most important thing to stress about broadband speed (bandwidth) is in almost all cases the speed advertised is not necessarily the speed your going to receive. In fact in most cases it will be much less, because the advertised speed is the upper limit, not the average. Most Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) will now validate this by using the pre-cursor ‘Up to’ before the advertised speed. There are a few factors which influence the speed, the most important of which are:

– Distance from the exchange
– Type of connection
– Line Contention Ratio
– ISP Fair Usage Policy, or FUP
– ISP ‘Traffic Shaping’ (Bandwidth Throttling) policy

The first two are somewhat in your control in that you choose where you live and the type of broadband you subscribe to (Cable, xDSL, Satellite, 3G). The last three are governed by the ISP, and ultimately decide the level of service your going to receive. Some ISP’s hide the detail in the small print while others are open and honest about it. Ideally for the best speed you want to be as close to the exchange as possible, this is particularly important when subscribing to xDSL broadband as line degradation is more noticeable on xDSL connections. Fibre Optic cable currently offers the fastest widely attainable speed, with 100, 50, 30, 20, 10Mbps connections being available in most high population areas. Worth noting however that ADSL is the most widely available and popular broadband choice in the UK, made available via the BT telecommunication network, with speeds ranging from 512Kbps to 10Mbps or higher in some parts.

Line contention refers to how busy the line is, each line has a throughput limit, which is shared across all the subscribers. Your ISP will decide how many subscribers can use that line without any noticeable speed degradation. The contention ratio is the amount of subscribers per line, often between 20:1 to 50:1. Some ISP’s tend to oversubscribe, leaving subscribers to contend for available bandwidth.

Most ISP’s have some kind of Fair Use Policy (FUP), often in the small print[1], which states their interpretation of fair usage so that all subscribers benefit from sustained speeds with acceptable levels of performance. If you download large amounts of data over a given period your likely to be classified as a ‘heavy’ user and fall foul of the ISP’s ‘FUP’. Although ISP’s like to advertise ‘Unlimited’ packages, sadly they very rarely are truly unlimited and almost always have some kind of FUP which dictate how much your permitted to download during ‘peak’ hours, and which protocols you can use (HTTP, FTP, P2P etc…). Personally i think the real reason ISP’s have FUP’s is because they deliberately oversubscribe the line to cut operating costs.

Traffic shaping refers to the deliberate blocking or restriction of certain ports or protocols during peak hours to ensure sufficient bandwidth is available for all. P2P is a common protocol which gets ‘shaped’ during peak hours as it tends to suck up all available bandwidth and results in speed degradation for all other subscribers of that line. Bandwidth throttling is a more generic enforced limitation across all internet traffic if you are identified as being a ‘heavy’ user, or when a subscriber infringes the FUP. If you find yourself constantly being penalised by your ISP for downloading large files during peak hours consider installing a download manager and scheduling large downloads during non peak hours, or upgrading your package. Again some ISP’s manage this much better than others, so if your not happy with how you ISP defines fair usage, there are plenty of others with less intrusive measures who advertise clearly how and when they limit your usage. Consider this carefully before signing any lengthy contract, some ISP’s do have short term contracts, and from personal experience although generally more expensive these ISP’s offer the best service for ‘heavy’ users.

Part 2: Find the best Broadband Package >>

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