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The internet has transformed our lives and the way we communicate. Today, we’re able to access a vast sum of knowledge and it’s right at our finger tips all day, every day. So, it’s understandable that having a slow internet connection can be irritating, and it’s even more annoying when you consider our ability to communicate to satellites and space probes flying through the depths of space.

With that in mind, we’ve prepared a guide to help you better understand your broadband, along with a few useful tips on how to speed it up.

What is broadband?

Broadband is a term used to describe one of the most common ways of connecting to the internet, used to connect most household to the world-wide web. Broadband connections replaced their predecessor, ‘the dial up’ connection, which will not be missed (or unfortunately forgotten).

Typically, users pay a monthly fee, but download limits can cause this to raise if you’re not careful, unless you have access to an unlimited data plan. Most households and businesses will access their broadband package via a fixed-line telephone service. When we mention fixed-line connections, the term relates to all wired networks, encompassing ADSL, copper cable and fibre optics. These fixed-line connections receive their internet connections from traditional BT Openreach telephone lines or Virgin Media network connections.

1 megabyte = 8 megabits

Broadband speed definitions, bytes and bits explained

Broadband speed terms can be confusing with terms varying between Mbps, Mb, and MB/s.

Typically, broadband speed is measured in megabits per second, which can be written as Mbps or just Mb.

To confuse the matter, you also have megabytes. Which is how computers measure file size, in bytes rather than bits. Megabytes tend to be written as MB, MB/s or MB/sec.

There are 8 bits to 1 byte, 1024 bytes to the kilobyte and 1024 kilobytes to the megabyte.

This means that there are 1,048,576 bytes or 8,388,608 bits in a megabyte.

Which means a 20Mb fibre broadband connection can only download a file at 2.5MB/s.

Maximum broadband speed

The speed you’ll see on any advertisement is the maximum speed, which is called the headline speed. Headline speeds refer to the fastest download and upload speeds that the connection can achieve between a router and equipment in the exchange in ideal circumstances.


It’s important to note that the speed you experience when using the internet can be anything up to the maximum speeds offered by your broadband package and can be affected by a number of factors, with the distance from the exchange being one of the largest.

Time of use is also an important factor, typically there’s a peak time of use between 7pm and 11pm.

The national average broadband speed as measured by Ofcom is 28.9Mbit/s You can check your own download speed by using the Which? Broadband Speed Checker Tool.

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