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Broadband: how fast do you need?

getting the fastest broadband service you can

A decade ago, if you wanted internet access at home, you'd have had to sign up to a dial-up provider. This may have been for a monthly subscription, but usually the amount you paid would just have related to the amount of time you spent online. Service was slow - pages could take several minutes to upload, your phone bill may have rocketed, and your phone was out of action while you were online.
Since then, however, there's been a complete change. Broadband internet service is now the order of the day, with millions of people connected to fast reliable services. But what kind of broadband connection do you need?
Before you can make your decision, it's worth checking what's available in your area. You can do a broadband speed test to see what you already have, and what you could get with a different package or provider. It's also worth checking the download limits that some providers have - if you're going to be online a lot, you will probably want to get a more generous monthly limit. Then you need to decide what kind of user you are:
Light user: If you mainly go online to send and receive emails, and browse the odd page, then the speed of your connection is not likely to be such an issue. Any reliable broadband package will probably meet your needs, so going for a low use package will generally save you money. But it's worth checking that your usage may not go up - have a look around the internet to see what's available - you might be missing out!
Medium user: The internet's a regular part of your life, and you spend plenty of time online, but it's mainly browsing sites. If this is the case, then your connection speed will be important, but if you have to wait a few extra seconds for a page to be ready, then it's not really the end of the world. The issue is really if you upload or download any data, like photos, music files or videos. With a slower broadband connection, this could be quite frustrating.
Multiple users: If your home has several users who are all likely to be online at the same time, then both broadband speed and data allowances could prove important. Because you're all sharing the same connection, the amount of data that has to be transmitted is likely to increase.
Heavy user: If your computer is also your entertainment centre, you're going to want the fastest connection possible, and also the largest data allowance. While millions now upload photos to the web, and download music tracks, it is increasingly being used to download videos - which use a lot of memory. And if you like playing games online, you'll want to make sure your connection allows you to react as fast as possible.
The future: The internet is evolving so quickly, and technology improving so fast, that no-one really knows what's around the corner. But it's likely to require faster speeds and higher data allowances than ever. So it may be worth future-proofing as much as possible by getting the fastest broadband service as you can.