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Guide to running a broadband speed test

Looking for cheap broadband? Compare prices from top providers and get a great deal

Speed is one of the biggest factors when picking a new broadband deal, so you’ll want to make sure you know what speeds are adequate for your household. 

Before signing a new contract, however, you should carry out a broadband speed test on your current package to gauge how fast your broadband is right now and if your provider is delivering on its quoted speeds. 

Our expert team is going to run through how to test your speed, the difference between download and upload speeds and what you can do to get the most accurate results.

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Monthly prices are subject to increase each year on 31 March by Consumer Price Index rate of inflation + 3.9%.

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By conducting a broadband speed test, you will be able to see the upload and download speeds of your connection. Put simply, the higher each number is, the faster your broadband will be.

 

There are a range of internet speed tests you can use online. Some providers will have their own service, while there are also third-party sites such as Speedtest, Broadband Speed Test, and even Google. 

 

For the best results when comparing broadband speeds, you should:

  • Make sure no-one in your household is uploading or downloading anything, whether that’s on a computer, or any other device connected to your wifi, such as a games console
  • Log out of your VPN service while you conduct the test, as this will distort the results
  • To see the fastest your connection can be, plug your PC or laptop directly into the router using an ethernet cable
  • Avoid testing during busy periods, such as the evening, when more people are using the internet in your area
  • Carry out multiple tests throughout the day, in order to gauge how the speed of your broadband connection ebbs and flows

 

Comparing broadband speeds is an important step in finding the best broadband provider for your household. By checking the speed of your existing connection, you’ll have results you can compare against the average or minimum speeds promised by other providers. This can help inform whether or not you want to switch broadband deals.

 

You’ll also be able to check whether your current provider is living up to your personalised minimum guaranteed speed. And if it isn’t, you might even be able to secure a refund, or leave without paying an exit fee.

How is broadband speed measured?

Most of the time, an internet speed test will measure your connection in megabits per second (Mbps), where a megabit is a unit of data size.

So, for example, if your download speed is 80Mbps, that means 80 megabits are being downloaded every second. If your download speed was 40Mbps, that means it is slower than 80Mbps, and if it is 100Mbps, that means it is faster. 

If your broadband connection is especially quick, it may be measured in gigabits per second (Gbps), instead of Mbps. One gigabit is made up of 1,000 megabits. You can only get a 1Gbps connection with full fibre broadband

If your connection is particularly slow, meanwhile, you may get a reading in kilobits per second (Kbps). A megabit is made up of 1,000 kilobits. 

To recap, then, anything measured in Gbps is faster than Mbps, which in turn is faster than Kbps.

What is the difference between upload and download speed?

Downloading is when you take data from the internet. That could be a specific file, like a document someone has sent you via an email. But it could also be the data you download while streaming a video or song. 

Uploading, meanwhile, is when you transfer data from your own computer to the internet. That not only includes posting pictures and videos on social media, but your side of a video call.

When using the internet, you will mainly be downloading, rather than uploading, data. That’s why most broadband deals give far more weight to the average and minimum download speeds you can expect than they do to upload speeds. 

It also explains why most of the download speeds advertised are significantly higher than the upload speeds. It’s the more important number because, for most people, it’s what they will spend almost all of their time on the internet doing. 

Certain activities, such as video calls and online gaming, require good upload as well as download speeds. So you should make sure you take both into consideration when comparing broadband speeds, especially if you work from home or regularly participate in online gaming tournaments.

What broadband speed is considered good?

According to the latest Ofcom data, the average download speed in the UK as of March 2023 was 69.4Mbps. That shows download speeds in the UK are improving, as that figure is a 17 per cent increase on the same time last year. 

Upload speeds, meanwhile, are getting quicker at a much faster rate. In March 2023, the average upload speed in the UK was 18.4Mbps – a year earlier it was just 7.8Mbps.

So that means any download speed above 69.4Mbps, and any upload speed higher than 18.4Mbps, can be considered above average.

While remote and rural broadband users may end up with speeds much lower than these averages, there’s even good news on that front. Ofcom data shows the gap between rural and urban download speeds has fallen to 26 per cent, compared to 58 per cent in 2022.

Of course, different households will have different needs. If you work from home, or are big into online gaming, you may want download and upload speeds that are much higher than the national averages.

What factors affect broadband speed?

There’s a reason why you’ll receive a personalised minimum speed guarantee from your broadband provider. There’s a long list of factors that’ll affect your broadband speed, some which will be taken into consideration by your personalised speed quote, and some that will not.

Location

Your geographic location dictates which type of connection you can access, and therefore the download and upload speeds of your connection. For example, while 97 per cent of the UK can achieve superfast download speeds of at least 30Mbps, the more remote areas that make up the remaining 3 per cent cannot.

That’s why, whether you use a price comparison website or go directly to the provider, you should always put in your postcode, so you can compare the best broadband in your area.

Type of connection

There are three main types of broadband: Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL), fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) and fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP). As we mentioned above, which connection type you can access will depend on your location, and how much you want to pay.

ADSL is the slowest type of broadband and is delivered through copper wires, meaning you need a phone line to make a connection. ADSL delivers average speeds of around 11Mbps, so it won’t be suitable for every household. 

FTTC and FTTP are more desirable; the former uses both fibre optic and copper wires, with many broadband and phone deals being classed as FTTC. FTTP broadband deals are the fastest type of broadband and can deliver speeds of up to 1,000Mbps and above, making it one of the best types of gaming broadband on the market. If you want to find out more about the differences between FTTC and FTTP broadband, consult our guide. 

You can also look towards mobile broadband, wireless broadband and satellite broadband if you live in a rural area and don’t have easy access to traditional broadband solutions.

Broadband deal

While your location will dictate the broadband connections and providers you can access, your chosen deal also plays its part. 

Most of the time, broadband deals will be based around their speed. Usually, the more expensive the deal, the higher the minimum download speed. So, your maximum broadband speed will be capped by the contract you sign. 

Number of connected devices

The number of devices using your broadband at any one time will impact your internet speed. Rather than each device receiving your maximum available broadband speed, the available speed at any given time is divided up between the devices connected to your internet. 

So if you’re trying to watch Netflix on your smart TV, while someone is playing Call of Duty online in their bedroom, and another person is trying to have a video call on their laptop, all three of you might find your connection is slower.

Wifi vs wired connection

A wired connection will normally be faster than a connection made over wifi. So if you really want to boost your internet speed, connect your device to your router using an ethernet cable. 

Router

Your router can play a big role in determining your broadband speed. If you have a slow connection at home, you could consider updating to a newer router. 

Similarly, for the best connection across your household, your router should be placed as centrally as possible and, where possible, near an open doorway, as walls can interfere with the signal. 

Electrical interference

Certain electrical devices, especially those that emit their own wireless signals, can interfere with your router, and slow down your internet. Ideally, when placing your router, try to keep it elevated, and away from such devices.

Internet browser

Make sure you’ve downloaded the latest version of your internet browser, as this can affect how fast you can surf the web. 

Time of day

Think of your broadband connection like a motorway. At certain times, it is going to be busier, and therefore slower, than others. 

For example, in the evenings, when most people are home from work, you might find your internet speed drops. This is simply because more people are using the broadband exchange at once.

Weather conditions

Just as bad weather can make your commute more treacherous, it can make your connection slower when using the internet at home.

Lack of password protection

If you don’t password protect your wireless router, anyone can use your broadband. Not only will this make your connection less safe, it will also slow it down. 

Health and age of PC or laptop

If you have an older PC or laptop, or one that has a bunch of viruses and malware, you’re going to experience slower internet speeds than with a newer, more secure device.

Which providers offer the fastest download speeds?

When looking for the fastest broadband speeds, you must consider both the advertised speeds from each provider as well as the best broadband providers in your area. Currently, EE offers the best speeds out of the top UK providers at 1.6Gbps, although there are smaller, regional providers that can offer even faster speeds than this. 

Depending on your region, you may not be eligible for the fastest speeds from each provider. The infrastructure of your area will also have an impact, since houses without access to FTTP won’t be able to receive speeds faster than 80Mbps. If you’re looking for fast broadband deals, take a look at our guide on 100Mbps broadband deals

Below, we have catalogued a list of the top UK providers – and a handful of smaller companies – and the fastest average download speeds on offer from each.

Broadband provider Fastest average download speeds
BT Broadband 900Mbps
Sky Broadband 900Mbps
Plusnet 900Mbps
TalkTalk 944Mbps
Virgin Media 1,130Mbps
EE 1,600Mbps
Vodafone 910Mbps
NOW Broadband 100Mbps
Shell Energy 944Mbps
Hyperoptic 1,000Mbps
Three 150Mbps
Onestream 1,000Mbps
Community Fibre 3,000Mbps

Wifi speed testing for different internet use cases

When, and why, you are connected to the internet is going to vary when compared to your neighbour. Which means the speed needs of each household is different.

To get an idea of what download speeds you might need, you can use the below as guidance:

  • 10 to 40Mbps: low usage activities, such as basic internet browsing, checking and responding to emails, streaming videos on one device
  • 40 to 100Mbps: medium usage, such as streaming videos on multiple devices at once, downloading large files, one household member playing games online
  • Over 100Mbps: high usage, such as working from home, high definition streaming on multiple devices, multiple people playing games online
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What is considered a good broadband speed for gaming?

The best gaming broadband deals will offer speeds of 100Mbps or above, which allows for 4K and HDR streaming with minimal to no buffering or lag. If you are happy to game in lower resolution, speeds of around 25Mbps will also be serviceable.

 

Think of it this way –  the faster your reaction times need to be when playing online, the faster you will want your internet to be.

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What is considered a good broadband speed for streaming?

Streaming doesn’t require the same internet speeds as online gaming. 


Watching a video in high definition on a single device can use as little as 5 to 10Mbps, though for a more stable connection, or if you want to stream in 4K, you may want speeds of 25 to 35Mbps.

 

And the more people streaming videos on different devices at the same time, the faster you will need your connection to be.

Frequently asked questions about broadband speed tests

If you aren’t happy with your broadband speed, you should contact your provider and see if they can help. Based on Ofcom’s Broadband Speeds Code of Practice, if your service doesn’t match the speeds you were promised, it’s the provider’s fault, and they can’t fix it within 30 days, you may be entitled to leave your contract without paying an exit fee.

Some providers may also have their own minimum speed guarantees, where you’re entitled to a refund if your speed repeatedly drops below that guarantee. 

If your unhappiness with your speed persists, you could consider switching to a new broadband provider.

Before switching to a provider that can offer very fast download speeds, it’s worth considering whether you actually need them. Unless your household will be using several different devices that are connected to the wifi at the same time, with each device performing tasks that require a decent download speed – for example, one device that is running a video game and perhaps two others streaming films, it’s unlikely that you’ll actually need broadband that offers speeds of up to 900Mbps or 1.6Gbps. 

If you have a larger home and will be using devices in rooms that are far away from where your router is placed, you could also consider purchasing a booster, a second router, or even a mesh network to ensure every room in your house can benefit from the fast download speeds you’re paying for. A second router or wifi booster is often included or offered as an add-on when purchasing a broadband plan with faster download speeds.

There are a number of steps you can take to try and improve your broadband speed, including:

  • Using a wired connection via an ethernet cable, rather than connecting to the internet via wifi
  • Moving your router to a more central location, or near an open doorway, to avoid wall interference
  • Purchasing a wifi range extender or booster device 
  • Updating your internet browser to the latest version
  • Updating your router to a more recent model

Connor Campbell

Finance Writer

Connor Campbell is an experienced personal and business finance writer who has been producing online content for almost a decade. 

Connor is the personal finance expert for Independent Advisor, guiding readers through everything they need to know about car insurance and home insurance. From how much it costs to the best insurance providers in the UK, he’s here to help you find the right policy for your needs. 

In his capacity as writer and spokesperson at NerdWallet, Connor explored a number of topics close to his heart, such as the impact of our increasingly cashless society, and the hardships and heroics of British entrepreneurs. His commentary was featured in sites such as The Mirror, the Daily Express and Business Insider

At financial trading firm Spreadex, meanwhile, his market commentary was featured in outlets such as The Guardian, BBC, Reuters and the Evening Standard

Connor is a voracious reader with an MA in English, and is dedicated to making life’s financial decisions a little bit easier by doing away with jargon and needless complexity.

Gemma Ryles

Home Tech Writer

Gemma Ryles is a BJTC and PPA-accredited journalist with three years of experience writing across various publications. As a home tech expert at Independent Advisor, Gemma tests, researches and writes about broadband and home security. 

Previously, Gemma reviewed and curated lists about consumer technology at Trusted Reviews, where she honed her skills in creating buying guides and features to help customers make informed decisions. She has previously worked at Yorkshire Post, BBC Yorkshire, Glitterbeam Radio and Bonus Stage. 

Gemma has a BA in Journalism and in her free time can be found writing short stories, gaming and crocheting. 

Molly Dyson

Editor

After growing up with a passion for writing, Molly studied journalism and creative writing at university in her home country of the United States.

She has written for a variety of print and online publications, from small town newspapers to international magazines. Most of her 10-year career since relocating to the UK has been spent in business journalism, writing and editing for admin professionals at PA Life magazine and business travel managers at Business Travel News Europe and representing those titles at conferences around the world.

Now an Editor at the Independent Advisor, Molly is an expert in a broad range of consumer topics, that include solar panels and renewables, home improvements and home insurance, and consumer technology such as home security and VPNs.

In her free time, Molly can usually be found exploring the outdoors with her husband and their young son or gardening.