What does it mean?
In its simplest terms, Broadband speed is how long it takes to download or upload data from the internet to your computer and is measured in megabits per second or mbps.
Data can be anything from viewing a web page, to uploading your holiday photos onto Facebook, downloading a music track from iTunes or watching an episode of EastEnders on BBC iPlayer.
The higher the speed of your connection, the faster you are able to navigate around the web and also get data to and from your computer. A faster connection can also help if you have more than one person using the internet in your household at the same time or if you are 'streaming' lots of data by watching TV or playing video games online.
What broadband speed do you need?
When deciding which speed to go for, it is best to first consider how you use the internet in your household. Even the most basic broadband packages now offer advertised speeds of between 7 and 8 mbps. This should be more than capable for doing everything from streaming TV and video games to downloading large amounts of data like audio and video files.
The upper realms of the broadband universe, where superfast broadband deals are now being advertised, might seem attractive for those searching for the ultimate internet experience. However, for most people they offer little improvement on what can be achieved with an 8 mbps connection.
High speed broadband offering speeds of 20mb and over is really only worth considering if you live in a household where multiple users are all downloading files, streaming TV and playing online games at the same time.
Before you buy a broadband package
Like many things in life, with broadband speeds you don't always get what it says on the tin. Despite the way providers band their internet speeds (8 mbps, 20 mbps etc.) you should be aware that the average achievable broadband speed in the UK is only 3.6 mbps.
Since April, 2012, there has been a minimum "10% availability criteria" for advertised broadband speed, which means 10% of users must receive a certain speed before ISPs can advertise a package at that speed. This headline speed must also be supplemented with information about the average speed customers can expect.
They also have to advertise a minimum guaranteed access line speed. If your connection is regularly slower than this, they have to let you cancel the contract.
Although there is no guarantee that your internet will achieve the advertised speed, you can use the more detailed information to compare providers' speeds in your local area.
Advertised broadband speeds can be significantly reduced by a number of factors by the time they reach your house. Things like the distance from your house to the telephone exchange, copper wires or bandwidth management at peak hours can all slow your broadband connection down.
Paying extra for a broadband speed that you will never be able achieve could be a waste of money. To avoid this, it is always a very good idea to check what your maximum speed is before signing up for a broadband package.
Checking your broadband speed is easy to do online and all that you will require is your postcode.
If you do already have broadband and are frustrated with its speed, don't go rushing out to upgrade your existing package in the quest for higher speed just yet.
There are many factors that could already be affecting your broadband's speed. Even something as mundane as the position of your router can reduce your broadband speed. Try following these few simple tips first to see if it improves your broadband's performance - it could save you a lot of money.
Know your limits
Broadband packages are not just broken down by the speed of the connection. Look at a broadband comparison table and you will soon notice that there is a monthly limit placed by providers on the amount of data that you can download.
You tend to find that the size of these limits is tied-in with the download speed being offered. The thinking behind this is that someone choosing a lower speed connection, say 8 mbps, will download less data than someone with an 20 mbps connection.
As with download speed, the higher the download limit, the more expensive the package. You should always think about your download limit carefully when you sign up for a broadband package. Go too low and you could find yourself being penalised if you exceed it - go too high and you could end up paying for usage that you don't need.
The key to getting the broadband speed that's right for you lies in understanding exactly how you use the internet. Get it wrong and you could end up paying a lot of money for something that you don't really need.
If it helps, try thinking of your broadband speed in terms of driving a car: if you're just looking at getting from A to B as safely and steadily as possible then it makes little sense shelling out for a Ferrari!
Find out more in our guide: The Secret to Finding Cheap Broadband Deals.