While dial-up used to be the only way to browse the web, today, broadband has changed the way we access and use the internet. Thanks to its faster speeds and round the clock connections, it's perfect for everything from shopping and chatting to friends to keeping up with your finances or your favourite TV.
A matter of speed
But while the internet providers are constantly touting ever faster broadband speeds, it's worth considering how much speed you really need - there's no point paying extra if you're not going to use it.
The way you use the internet will determine how fast a connection you need. Everything you do online requires some data to be downloaded but even the slowest broadband packages will be adequate for activities such as checking emails, shopping and even streaming TV. As an example, BBC iPlayer programmes stream at up to 2.8 Megabits per second (Mbps) depending on the quality, which is well within most broadband deals.
Some activities are more data intensive so you might benefit from more bandwidth. These can include downloading TV or films or uploading large files or videos, where a faster speed will ensure these tasks are completed much quicker. Similarly, if you use video-calling services such as Skype or you play video games online, you might find a bit more speed makes your experience more enjoyable
On top of this, if your house is full of people accessing the internet, you might want to invest in a faster broadband connection. It could save arguments over who gets online next.
Getting the best deal
Although we can't live without it, broadband packages aren't cheap. Even the entry level packages can set you back more than £20 a month once you've added in line rental so it's essential to get the best deal.
First make sure you know what you want in terms of connection speed and monthly data limits. Getting these right will ensure you're not paying for stuff you won't use, or being asked to pay extra if you bust the data limit each month.
To help you get an idea of how much data you'll use each month, check out the table below or use one of the online calculators. If you do underestimate, don't worry as your provider will allow you to upgrade your package to one that fits your usage.
Consider bundling too. By adding in a TV package, your landline or your mobile, the bundled price is likely to be lower than if you paid for each element separately.
It's also worth haggling with your existing provider. Competition is fierce so many will offer a better deal if you tell them you're thinking about leaving. To give yourself a bit more clout, check out what other deals are available across the market and see if your provider will match - or better - these.
Also think about how you pay for your broadband, as this can help save you a bit of cash. If you've included line rental, you might be able to take advantage of a cheaper deal if you pay for a year's rental in advance.
Future of broadband
The future for broadband is fibre optic. With this, rather than the copper wire which is used for traditional ADSL broadband, the cables are made of glass or plastic which allows data to be transmitted much faster. As an example, while ADSL broadband is around 17Mbps to 38Mbps, a fibre optic service could be up to 200Mbps.
This makes it great if you need a fast internet connection for streaming music or watching TV or films. In addition, as data speed falls the further it has to travel on copper wires, fibre optic broadband could be worth considering if you live a long way from the exchange.
Know your data limits
|Send an email||0.5Mb|
|Browse the internet for an hour||10-25Mb|
|Download a song||4-5Mb|
|Chat on Skype for 30 minutes
|Watch Eastenders on BBC iPlayer||25-175MB|
|Watch a movie||700Mb-4Gb|
Sam Barrett is an award-winning freelance personal finance journalist covering everything from the cost of having a baby to pension options at retirement. Her work regularly appears in a variety of consumer and trade publications including Money Observer and Moneywise.