Where can I get the fastest broadband?

Are you old enough to remember that crackly and squeaky dial-up tone before the snail-like 1990s and early 2000s internet connections? That's all a thing of the past and you can now get online pretty instantly and get lightning fast speeds.

But broadband speeds can still vary hugely these days, from the standard with average speeds around 11Mb to superfast fibre or even next-generation ultra-fast with max speeds of 350Mb.

The quicker the speed the more you pay, so think carefully before taking the plunge with fibre. But if you've the need for speed - let's say if you do loads of streaming or downloading, or lots of you use the web at the same time in your home - it's worth knowing which providers offer the fastest connections.

What's the fastest broadband speed I can get?

Broadband speeds are measured in megabits per second (Mb), and there are four main categories:

  • Standard speed - with max speeds of 17Mb. These days this is the basic option.
  • Fast fibre-optic - top speeds of 38Mb or 52Mb. This is delivered through more sophisticated glass or plastic wires.
  • Superfast fibre-optic - max speeds of 76Mb. This is the same fibre-optic technology as above, only faster.
  • Ultra-fast fibre-optic - usually with top speeds of 350Mb but sometimes even quicker. This isn't yet widely available, and requires even more sophisticated wiring.

The top speed you'll be able to get will depend on where you live and what connection there is to your home. Generally speaking, urban areas offer the quickest speeds.

To see which speeds you can get in your area and what it costs, compare broadband, phone and TV packages

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Which providers offer the fastest speeds?

Here's an overview:

  • A handful of providers offer the next-generation ultra-fast speeds with max speeds of 1GB - that's a whopping 1,000Mb. But availability is extremely limited and most people can't get it. Examples include Sky and TalkTalk, which are trialling UltraFibreOptic in some parts of York, and small provider Hyperoptic.
  • Virgin Media offers the fastest more widely available ultra-fast fibre-optic - its fastest package runs at top speeds of 350Mb but the majority of homes still cannot get this.
  • Below that, the other major providers such as BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Plusnet - and many more - offer fibre with max speeds of 76Mb. Though BT has the fastest standard fibre speeds of that quartet with top speeds of 52Mb. The others only top out at 38Mb.

Will I actually get these speeds?

Er... maybe. It's important to understand that these advertised speeds are based on the average speed received by at least 50% of a provider's current customer base between 8pm and 10pm - when most people are online.

However, you should still only use it as an indication of the speeds you may get. If you want to know the speed you're most likely to get to your home, the best way is to check before committing to a contract.

Most major providers adhere to Ofcom's voluntary code of practice, which means you will be shown a personalised speed estimate before you sign up - based on the speeds of other customers with a similar connection.

The closer you live to your local exchange - the hub through which broadband is delivered to homes in that area - the better your speed is likely to be, though you may need to look up where your exchange is as it may not be that obvious.

Do you REALLY need faster speeds?

While a lightning-quick package may sound tempting, it'll come at a premium, so make sure you really need the extra speed.

If you're a heavy user - so if you do lots of streaming, online gaming or downloading, or have multiple users in your home - you may find it's well worth it, as doing lots at the same time slows you down.

Yet fibre-optic is very much a luxury for most, so weigh up if you really need it. If you just use the web for basic tasks such as emails and the odd bit of browsing then standard with average speeds of around 11Mb should be fine.

How can I check my speed?

The easiest way to check is to do a broadband speed test - see our Broadband Speed Test guide for the full info and how to do it.

To see which speeds you can get in your area and what it costs, compare broadband, phone and TV packages

Try Broadband Unbundled, our new broadband tool

Compare now