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Monday, September 16, 2013

The Broadband Maze - ADSL, Fibre, Or Mobile?

In the broadband world these days, we have a number of choices to make.  The first one we should be making when we’re looking for a service provider is what technology we want to base ourselves upon.  A lot of these will come down to our requirements and usage profile as well as our budget.

In this article, we’ll look through the way to assess your usage profile and requirement, and then we’ll look at which technology may fit you the best.

Your Usage Profile

The first thing to consider when you’re looking at broadband is your usage profile.  Whether you go for Plusnet broadband on a basic package or Virgin Media on a fully loaded package, all depends on how much data you use and how fast you need to do things.

Your usage profile could be measured in a number of ways. 

Software Monitoring

If you already a Plusnet Broadband or any other connection you can use software monitoring to work out how much data you are consuming during a month.  If you already have the broadband connection and you install the software, you can quickly understand your usage profile and which activities are consuming the most data.

ISP Driven Monitoring

If you have been using mobile broadband on a pay-as-you-go or contract basis, you’ll probably have a monitoring tool that will tell you how much data you have consumed over the course of your contract and you can break this down into weeks and months.

This can be a great way to work out exactly what you have been doing but bear in mind if you up your speed and your package allowances, you may well consume a lot more by doing more high intensity activities.  It’s also possible to have an ADSL or fibre optic broadband monitor to keep track of your usage through the router. 

If you log in to your router admin control panel, then you can often see the amount of data being used.  If in doubt, speak to your internet service provider and find out if they have a monitoring system that you can tap into to find out about your consumption.  Most should have.

Broadband Usage Calculators

Broadband usage calculators provide you with the opportunity to simply estimate how much time you spend doing certain activities and how many times you do certain activities during the day, week, and month.  By plugging in the numbers, you can get an estimate of the amount of data that you consume monthly and this can form a good basis for a decision. 

This is a particularly good solution if you don’t have broadband at the moment or you don’t have the time to set up the other tools and just want to have a quick understanding of your usage profile before you make a purchasing decision.

The Technologies

Once you understand your usage profile, you can start looking at the technologies.  If you find that you are a light consumer then you can factor in mobile broadband.

Mobile Broadband

Mobile broadband is an excellent way to get online.  It provides speeds on 4G averaging around 8 to 12Mbps on Everything Everywhere.  It is a new way to get online in many regards because 3G connectivity was not released sufficiently for most home users but 4G now is.

The technology’s rolling out around the country and new providers such as O2, Vodafone, and 3 Mobile are going to be releasing their 4G connections soon.  It’s only a matter of time before the market becomes really competitive and really good. 

We now also have MiFi devices where you can jump online with a WiFi hotspot and effectively get five devices on the same router at the same time.  This is similar to the capacity that most routers at home realistically have on ADSL connections.

Mobile broadband is also portable so you can have it with you when you go from your home and also you can get a variety of contract types including pay-as-you-go, one-month pay in advance and 12, 18, and 24-month contracts.  It’s a great solution for those that are not too heavy in their consumption and are looking for an indoor, outdoor, mobile broadband service.

ADSL Connectivity

ADSL is available to around 99% of the country.  You don’t have to be as conscious of coverage as you do with mobile broadband where you really should be checking what level of 4G you will be getting in your area.  The difference though is that with ADSL you will have to know where your local telephone exchange is if you want to understand your true internet capacity.

If you jump on to a website such as Sam Knows Best, you’ll find out where your local exchange is and find out what level of connectivity you will likely to get.  Essentially, if you live a long way from your telephone exchange you will lose speed over distance because the copper cables of the BT telephone infrastructure over which the ADSL connections pass are not very good at transferring the data.  If you live close to your telephone exchange as I do here, you may well get 20Mbps connection speeds on your ADSL.  

ADSL is a diverse option as you can get low level Plusnet Broadband packages at the budget end of the market for really good value or you could go for a much more expensive BT Broadband, ADSL package that cost about the same as a simple entry level fibre optic broadband package.

Your ADSL connectivity will largely be dependent on your set-up, you location, and your hardware.  However you can routinely get 10Mbps connection speeds on ADSL which is plenty for most homes.  It is the most popular type of broadband and therefore may well be a good choice for you.  After that you just need to choose which provider will offer you the best speed and best performance in your area.  You can check whether Plusnet Broadband, Sky Broadband, BT Broadband, or any other provider is getting good speeds by logging on to services such as uSwitch that feed off the speed test results other people have had in your neighbourhood.

Essentially when you do a speed test, you’re given the opportunity to share the details of your results.  And when people do this, the data can be accessed so that people can understand what level of speeds people are actually getting on their connections through different service providers rather than just having an estimate from the internet service providers themselves.

Fibre Optic Broadband

Fibre optic broadband is the all-singing bells and whistles style broadband.  Unlike ADSL, the technology was actually developed for broadband and therefore the speeds are very fast.  The cables involve an inner core of fibre optic material surrounded by a layer that reflects the light back in maintaining data integrity and enabling higher speeds.  Outside there is a core of layer of plastic that protects the inner workings of the cables.

The cables have massive potential with speeds up to 1GB on some fibre optic broadband connections.  With Virgin Media you see connections upwards of 100Mbps and on BT currently up to 76Mbps although a 330Mbps BT connection will be arriving soon.

Fibre optic broadband is a solution for heavy households and student collectives that require really fast speeds and have multiple users looking to do high intensity activities.  If you are streamers, movie watchers, and gamers online then certainly fibre optic broadband is the choice for you.  It’s more expensive than ADSL but it is still remarkably accessible considering it is a relatively new connection.

Fibre optic broadband is available in most cities but is only available to around 50% or 60% of the UK, predominantly through Virgin Media and BT Broadband.  Many providers such as Plusnet Broadband will piggyback of the BT Infinity and will use the BT infrastructure to deliver their own connections.

My Top Pick – Plusnet Broadband

My top pick for internet is Plusnet Broadband.  They’re an extremely fair provider who are transparent in their policies and offer really terrific value connections that will suit the majority of households.  If you are a more intensive user then you might need to buy an add-on but generally they are a superb provider.

Sam Jones had heard a lot about Plusnet broadband (http://www.uswitch.com/broadband/providers/plusnet/) and wanted to know if he could use it to save money.  He found that sites like uSwitch listed the deals that would benefit him the most.
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