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Everything you need to know about home broadband

From gaming to streaming to working from home, every household needs something different from their broadband. Here’s how to get the connection you need.

Guest Author
Words by: Torri Mundell

Senior Editor, Virgin Media

When you’re looking for a new home, you might not put fast, stable broadband at the top of your property wish list.

But if you’ve ever crashed out of a video conference meeting mid-presentation or had your family movie night interrupted by Puss in Boots constantly buffering, you’ll know that broadband quality can impact your home life in lots of ways.

So what kind of broadband does your household need?

At Virgin Media, we know it can be challenging to establish a seamless online experience at home.

That’s why we’ve prepared a guide to answer your most frequently asked questions about broadband, what kind of provider you need and how to boost your WiFi connection at home.

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How do I check the broadband speed in my area?

Whether you’re at home or visiting somewhere new, you can check the broadband speed by using Virgin Media's speed test tool, a reliable and convenient option that will provide you with a reading in moments.

For the most accurate results, remember to disconnect any devices connected to the hub before you run the test.

What broadband speed do I actually need?

The most important factors to consider when you’re choosing a broadband provider are the size of your household and whether there are likely to be multiple people online at once.

Broadband speed is measured in download speeds, or Mbps (megabits per second). The higher the number, the breezier you’ll find your online experience.

Virgin Media’s M125 Fibre Broadband, for instance, averages download speeds of 132Mbps – enough to provide internet for casual browsing, streaming and video calls. 

For larger, more digitally active households, you’ll need broadband with download speeds closer to 500Mbps, such as our M500 Fibre Broadband.

With this, you and your family, friends and guests can take video calls, play games and stream films all at once.

If someone in your household needs to download huge files, can’t get enough high-definition telly or is a serious gamer, it’s worth looking into a 4K-friendly broadband package like our Gig1 Fibre Broadband, with a download speed of 1,130Mbps.

This provides oodles of lightning-quick, reliable broadband in every room of the house, even when everyone’s online at the same time.

You can find all of our broadband speeds explained here.

How else can I increase my broadband speed?

Upgrading your broadband package is the first step towards a speedier online experience, but there are some tried-and-tested tricks that can also perk up your internet connection.

  • Find the ideal position for your router or hub. Instead of tucking your hub behind cabinet doors, leave it out in the open and at least one metre away from other electrics such as baby monitors or cordless phones – they can interfere with the WiFi signal.

  • Make sure your browser isn’t slowing you down. We hate to mention it, but having 50 tabs open at once will reduce your browser’s effectiveness. If your device is still lagging after you’ve closed most of them, double-check that you’re working with the most up-to-date version of your browser; many now include built-in speed optimisations. See how to update your browser here.

  • Clear your caches and cookies. Our devices save a huge volume of browsing data to make it quicker and easier to revisit our favourite sites. But over time, all this data can overload your device and make your online experience feel sluggish. Let that be your cue for a digital clear-out. If you don’t know how, go here for a step-by-step tutorial. 

What is a broadband extender?

Many households contend with a “dead zone” – a room or corner where the WiFi signal is consistently weak.

There are lots of reasons for a dead zone: it might be too far from the hub, there might be thick walls or floors separating the two, or there might be unavoidable interference with other electrical appliances.

Thankfully, there are a few options that will help you make your hub’s signal stretch further.

A broadband extender is a device that will increase your hub’s wireless signal for a better connection throughout more of your home.

Some extenders can be linked through a wired port using an Ethernet cable, while others can be plugged into your home’s electrics to transmit the signal. The great news? They’re both super-easy to install. 

Even more effective is a Mesh WiFi system, the latest in broadband booster technology. Virgin Media’s version works via the strategic placement of wireless WiFi Pods to bounce the signal into every corner of your home and provide the whole area with a network of strong, fast WiFi coverage.

What kinds of broadband are there?

There are several kinds of broadband in use across the UK, each offering different speeds, strengths and levels of reliability. 

  • ADSL (or Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) is a common and affordable option, connecting your home to the internet via underground copper wires and offering speeds between 8Mbps and 24Mbps. The downside? Your broadband speed will be affected by your home’s distance from the telephone exchange.

  • Cable broadband is delivered via an underground fibre and “coaxial” cable network, delivering speeds of up to 152Mbps, no matter where your home is situated.

  • Fibre broadband uses a complex network of ultra-thin plastic or glass cables to transmit data via beams of light and pipe a fibre optic connection directly into your home. It’s the speediest type of broadband out there.

  • Mobile broadband is totally cable-free. You can connect your laptop or tablet to a mobile broadband network using a mobile broadband dongle, a data-only SIM card, a “portable hotspot” (or personal WiFi device) or an in-car WiFi device that broadcasts your mobile phone’s data signal for other passengers to use. They’re all brilliant options when you’re on the move or if you’re struggling with reception. But because they’re often dependent on your mobile and the local network and coverage, they’re not a replacement for good home broadband connection.

  • Satellite broadband is beamed from space, via radio wave transmission, to reach a satellite dish that’s installed on your property and hooked up to a WiFi router or hub in your home. It’s an emerging technology and not widely available, but as these networks develop, they’re likely to become speedier and are a brilliant option for those who live in remote locations where fibre optic cables have not yet been laid.

Do you need a landline for broadband?

In the past, the only way to establish a broadband connection at home was through a phone line, but today most providers offer broadband-only packages.

Now that home phones are being used less and less, there’s no requirement to bundle your broadband packages with your TV or phone line rental – but you can if you prefer making and receiving calls from a landline.

We try to make sure that the information here is accurate at the time of publishing. But the property market moves fast and some information may now be out of date. Zoopla Property Group accepts no responsibility or liability for any decisions you make based on the information provided.