Broadband is a method of connecting to the Internet. It is called broadband as it provides a high-speed Internet connection when compared with older methods of connecting which were generally termed narrowband.
The benefits of broadband are mainly related to the speed of the connection. If you're used to using dial-up Internet access, you will know that webpages generally take 10 seconds or more to load and downloading e-mails can take a few minutes.
With a broadband internet connection all these things happen much more quickly! You will be able to do many things at once with broadband. It is even fast enough to allow several people to use the same Internet connection at once if you have more than one computer and they are networked together.
The faster speed allows you to enjoy many of the more feature rich areas of the Internet such as streaming media including live TV, and radio. Online gamers will generally find their ping is much lower!
The speed of the connection varies based on many different things including where you live and what broadband provider you use. Generally the speed will be in the region of between 512k (512 Kbps) and 10 meg (meg is an abreviation used to mean Mbps - Megabits per second), although faster connections are possible in some areas.
If you have used a 56k dial-up connection, 512k is nearly 10 times faster. 10 meg is about 180 times faster! You might like to think of it as driving to the shops in a Ferrari (within the speed limit we'd hope!) rather than walking.
The first step to getting broadband is to see what is available to you. The most common technology used for a broadband connection in the UK is ADSL (a form of DSL) which is provided using the BT telephone network. This is available to 99.9% of premises in the UK, so you'll more than likely be able to get it. You do not have to sign up with BT to get broadband using ADSL though- more on this in the Broadband Service Providres section. Cable modems are also quite popular as an alternative in areas where Virgin Media have rolled out their TV network.
* Some implementations of 3G aren't really broadband. We regard broadband as any service over 500 Kbps.
If you have a BT phone line, you receive TV or telephone from Virgin Media, or you've got a phone line from Kingston Communications in Hull, you've got the starting blocks. The next step is to choose a service provider.
On the thinkbroadband website we list many broadband providers- in the industry they are called Internet Service Providers or ISP's for short. We have a list of many on our website here. To make it easier to pick one, we also have a search page. The search page asks you some questions which should aid in choosing a provider.
The place to start is to work out what is most important to you. If price is a deciding factor, you may find you can get a cheaper service by going with a supplier you already use. For example, Sky and Orange may be able to offer you a cheaper or free service if you have a TV or mobile phone contract with them already.
Unlike dial-up, broadband is very rarely charged based on the amount of time online. There are two main types of charging schemes used. The first are generally fixed-speed services that are based on the speed of the connection. The other is usage based charging, where you are charged by the amount of data you transfer.
Be aware that different broadband providers offer a different quality of service. The adage, "you get what you pay for" is often true, as low cost providers may put minimal investment into providing the service. We try and list as much information as possible about ISPs. Where they offer premium rate support numbers, this is shown on our site, and you may wish to bear in mind that this will add to the cost when you need support, whether because of a fault on their network or a problem on your computer.
It's worth checking the ratings on our site using the "Compare" feature to see how different providers rank month to month. We also have a forum section where many users of the different providers talk to each other about the service or problems they've been having. These are often worth looking at to see how happy the current customers are. We also have forums where you can ask questions about which ISP to pick, modems and routers and also get more advice on how to get broadband if you're totally lost! No provider has a perfect record, and this will often be more evident with larger providers where there will always be some level of negative feedback.
If you have only a Virgin Media service or are living in the Hull area, you are limited to using Virgin Media or Kingston Communications (or Karoo) respectively as your broadband provider unless you get a BT phone line installed.
Our search allows you to select a usage profile. If you are new to broadband you will most likely be a light or medium user. If a few people in your household share the connection then you may be better off with a medium-usage connection. Downloading lots of music or viewing a lot of video content will increase your usage.
The amount of data you transfer depends on what you do. Video is probably one of the main causes of high usage on the Internet. This includes watching movie trailers (or even entire movies), home movies posted on websites like YouTube, or viewing TV over the Internet. Peer-to-peer (P2P) programs such as eDonkey, Kazaa, and BitTorrent can also be high bandwidth utilisers.
A modem or router is required to connect to the Internet.
A modem is a device that connects your computer to the Internet usually using a phone line. A router allows several computers to connect at the same time. If you have several computers you may wish to consider a router or wireless-router depending on your requirements. Broadband usually co-exists with the current telephone service so you can still make and receive phone calls whilst using the Internet.
If you signup with Virgin Media they will provide a cable modem for you. Other providers may offer a free modem/router or allow you to buy one from them. Alternatively computer retailers such as PC World or online computer stores usually sell them. Some have different features and are easier to setup than others.
If the ISP you choose offers a modem or router, it might be recommended to get one from them as they can usually assist in configuring the device to work with their service. Check with them to see what level of support they offer before signing up.
If you are using broadband over a phone line (ADSL), you will also need a microfilter for each device plugged into a phone socket (This includes fax machines, sky box, everything!). This is a small device that plugs into the phone socket and filters the broadband signal from the telephone signal so that you can use both the phone and broadband at the same time.
Sign up! You may wish to check further on the broadband providers website to see if they have any special offers or changes to the information we don't yet show. If you prefer, many providers allow you to sign up over the phone.