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 up-to-17Mb to superfast fibre or even next-generation ultra-fast at up to 300Mb.

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 - up-to-17Mb. These days this is the basic option.
  • Fast fibre-optic - up-to-38Mb or up-to-52Mb. This is delivered through more sophisticated glass or plastic wires.
  • Superfast fibre-optic - up-to-76Mb. This is the same fibre-optic technology as above, only faster.
  • Ultra-fast fibre-optic - usually up-to-300Mb 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

Try Broadband Unbundled, our new broadband tool

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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 of up to 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 up-to-300Mb 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 up-to-76Mb fibre. Though BT has the fastest standard fibre speeds of the that quartet at up to 52Mb. The others only go up to 38Mb.

Will I actually get these speeds?

Er... maybe. It's important to understand that these advertised headline speeds are 'up to' speeds, and in fact the rules say providers only have to give that top speed to a mere 10% of customers. So even if you're promised up-to-76Mb, you won't necessarily get the full whack.

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.

That said, most providers have now signed up to a code of practice promising to give you a personalised speed estimate before you sign up. If you get 'significantly under-performing' speeds take it up with your provider.

If they can't fix it you MAY be able to leave your contract penalty-free, though it's not clear-cut as technically 'significantly under-performing' is defined as a speed slower than 90% of the provider's customers on similar lines, so only the firm in question knows just how bad it is.

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 basic up-to-17Mb speed 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