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Superfast broadband: a must-have for 2011

BroadbandWhether you regularly download music and films, enjoy gaming or simply want a better surfing experience, a superfast broadband package could bring your internet connection up to speed.

You don’t have to be a geek to benefit from a superfast broadband connection. In fact, the biggest benefits will be seen by families and large households that all want to get online, according to Neil Berkett, CEO at Virgin Media, the UK’s third biggest broadband provider.

Running at full speed, Virgin Media’s new 100Mbits/sec service will allow users to download an entire music album in as little as five seconds; a TV show in around 30 seconds, a high-quality movie in just 1½ minutes and a high definition movie in as little as seven minutes. However Virgin Media research suggests the service will “truly come into its own when more than one person in a household is using the service at the same time.”

BT is also getting in on the act, launching its up to 40Mbits/sec fibre broadband this year. It says: “Whether you're big on social networking, gaming, streaming, uploading or downloading, prepare to have your life transformed with our most powerful broadband ever.”

Fibre optic broadband vs old-style broadband

The vast majority of UK broadband connections use old copper wire telephone lines to get you online, but the country is slowly coming round to the faster speeds offered by fibre. Households using broadband over the copper wire network receive just 45 percent of their advertised broadband speed, according to telecoms regulator Ofcom when it studied ISPs’ speed claims in July 2010.

Virgin Media fared much better in the Ofcom research, with customers enjoying an average of 15.7Mbits/sec on the provider’s 20Mb package. Its 50Mb package managed to deliver average speeds of 46Mbits/sec in the study - and this is all down to the advanced cable network it uses.

The vast majority of BT’s Infinity network will use fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) technology, where fibre cables are run to your streetside telephone cabinet, but copper wires then take over, carrying the connection on its “last leg” to your home. This type of service offers speeds of up to 40Mbits/sec and very fast uploads at up to 10Mbits/sec. Be warned though, these connections are still subject to distance from your street cabinet and the quality of your copper wires, both of which can slow you down.

Other ISPs will also be using this network, as BT is offering access to its cables on a wholesale basis. TalkTalk has plans to launch a Fibre Optic Broadband Boost from January, while a number of smaller suppliers like Zen Internet are already offering broadband packages through the BT fibre network.

While we all welcome the news of ever faster download speeds, these packages can only really make a difference if you can actually sign up to them.

Michael Phillips, product director at Broadbandchoices.co.uk, said: “At the moment, the best way to find out if you can get a superfast broadband connection in your area is to run a postcode search - this will tell you what’s available and when.”

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