Internet speeds explained
If terms such as upload, download, megabits and kilobits make you squeamish, fear not; your basic guide to Internet speeds is here. Marketers can make differences between any products seem more complicated than they really are, and Internet service providers (ISPs) are no different. If you know you want to get broadband Internet but just need to know which broadband speed is suitable for you, read on.
Internet speed jargon broken down
First up, when you read about the speeds on offer, they will often look something like this: 9,900/128 kbps (also represented as kb/s or kbit/s). It would be easier if there were a standard way of writing this, but there isn't. Basically, it means that there is a download speed of 9,900 kilobits per second, and an upload speed of 128 kilobits per second. Many ISPs would instead write 9,900 kbps as 9.9 Mbps (megabits per second - also mb/s or mbit/s), or even 10 Mbps if they were feeling cheeky. These are all one of the same thing. Whether or not the "ps" is added doesn't matter, it's always measured in seconds. So, to wrap up, 20,000 kbit/s is the same as 20 mbit/s.
Secondly, that slash in the middle (/) is there because the vast majority of home use broadband packages - whether ADSL, cable or wireless - allow much faster downloads than uploads, as that's what most home users need. In other words, downloading photos from the net will be far quicker than uploading them with a quoted speed of 9,900/128 kbit/s. Requirements are starting to change with the growth of file-sharing, VoIP and peer-to-peer networks, but for the meantime, it'll stay like this.
What Internet speed do I need?
You can start at the bottom, but also be aware of your download limit or cap. If you have a low cap of one GB (one gigabyte of information downloaded per month), you could use it up in no time without realising, just from visiting image-heavy web pages, listening to audio files or browsing MySpace pages.
This guide focuses on download speeds, which are more often than not much higher than the upload speed offered. Speak to your ISP if you know you will require a fast upload speed.
Most broadband ISPs will offer a bottom of the range download speed of 521 kbit/s. This may seem slow to some users, but it's still ten times faster than dial-up Internet! If you rarely use the Internet and just need to check emails occasionally, this is okay. If you want to use more (and the vast majority of users do these days), you'll get bored of it very quickly, although it is just fast enough to allow streaming of audio and video files (think YouTube).
Common in homes and small businesses, this speed is useful for website viewing, streaming and online gaming. It takes 0.8 seconds to load a web page and about 40 seconds to download a five minute music file at maximum speed - as opposed to 1.5 minutes with 512 kbit/s.
Much more suitable if you watch a lot of online video content, use VOIP, play online games, file share, or if you have more than one computer using the same connection.
Six to eight mbit/s +
Although internet download speeds are rocketing, and cable and ADSL 2+ might hit 24 mbit/s, anything over eight will feel lightning-quick for loading of web pages, even content heavy ones. The downloading of audio files will be practically instantaneous, and video far quicker.
Things to consider
There are some important things to consider when choosing what type of broadband you would like. These include:
- Distance from the exchange when using ADSL - if using ADSL, ask your neighbours how their service is; if you are a long way from the ISP, your connectivity may suffer as the signal does not travel well
- Traffic/peak times - both ADSL and cable services suffer from congestion at peak times as you are effectively "sharing" the service. You might want to consider wireless if you can only surf between 7 pm and 9 pm
- Wireless reception - although wireless Internet is competitive speed-wise, it can be hampered in some areas without direct 'line of site', not unlike mobile phone services.
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