The first is easy to answer for home broadband (ie internet access delivered through a phone socket or coax-cable socket in your wall at home). These days very few internet service providers limit your total data use per month to a specific ration, so this is not an issue that need worry you.
But the opposite is true if you have no wired-in internet at your house and you are depending on a 3G or 4G smart phone for your internet access: phone contracts normally have strict limits of total data use and the cost of exceeding that limit can be very high. In that case it is important to have some idea of what your typical internet use might require in terms of data.
Streaming an HD movie might use about 3 to 4 GB per hour. A Zoom multi-user call might use about 1 GB per hour. By the way, a gigabyte (GB) is one thousand megabytes (MB) or 8 thousand megabits (Mb). So two one-hour Zoom calls and two two-hour movies per week might consume over 50 GB of data in a month — far more than a typical mobile phone contract will supply inclusively (many have as little as 0.5 GB per month). Though some do: GiffGaff currently has an 80GB/month SIM-only contract for £20/month and an unlimited data SIM-only contract for £25/month. SIM-only means that you must own the phone — the company only supplies you with a SIM card and allowances for calls, texts and data.
Thus, if you have no home broadband internet, you might consider using your mobile phone data on 3G or 4G for your internet access if you have the right contract with the right supplier.
Pretty much all home broadband delivered through a socket in your wall should be fast enough to support a single user running Zoom or Netflix or similar. You only need consider higher speeds if there are likely to be several simultaneous users in your house. Just for reference, bear in mind that 10 MBps is the average speed needed for an HD movie, and 2.5 Mbps is a typical average speed of a multi-user Zoom call.
Broadly speaking, there are three speed groups in the UK: slowest at around 10 to 15 Mbps is Openreach Standard (also called ADSL). This uses existing BT phone wires for the data journey to and from your house. It typically costs around £23 per month, but this includes the home phone-line rental, so it might work out at only about £7 a month more than your current landline home phone rental charge. All of the Openreach suppliers offer this option, including Sky, BT, TalkTalk, PlusNet, Now, Vodaphone, EE, Origin and iTalk. Not Virgin — they are not an Openreach supplier.
Faster is the Openreach Fibre offering (same suppliers). This typically offers 30 to 40 Mbps. How is the higher speed achieved? By routing most of the data journey over optical fibre instead of copper wire. Only the last mile (or less) of the cabling to your house uses conventional phone lines. The swap from fibre to phone line occurs in the green or grey street cabinets that you see usually against walls on the inside edge of pavements. The broadband enters your house via your existing BT phone socket, just as for Openreach Standard ADSL. Openreach Fibre typically costs around £30 per month, including the phone-line rental.
Fastest is Virgin, at upwards of 100 Mbps. They have all their own network, not using any BT equipment or BT wires. It’s fibre to the street cabinet (their own cabinet — they don’t share with Openreach) then high-speed coaxial cable to your house. They don’t use your phone socket; they add their own coax-cable socket. This means that if you want a landline home phone then you will be charged an extra monthly fee. Without the phone extra you might pay around £40 a month.
When you sign up, only Virgin will require access to your house. That is because, unlike Openreach, it doesn’t use your standard BT phone socket to deliver the signal. Remember, Virgin can also install a home phone connection, but that is at an extra monthly cost.
All other suppliers use the standard BT phone socket in your house and their modem/router boxes are delivered by post, together with simple instructions on how to install them. They’re often small enough to slip through your letterbox. In short, you need to remove your phone plug from the BT socket and insert the plug attached to a little splitter/filter device that they supply that allows both your existing phone and the modem/router to be plugged in at the same time, sharing the phone socket.
The modem/router box is really two devices in one. The modem part has the job of translating the high-frequency network internet signal into the standard device-oriented internet protocol that the various devices in your home (smart phone, laptop, tablet, smart TV, etc) can recognise. The router part has the job of distributing that signal to and from the various devices and recognising which signal should go to which device and routing it appropriately. For nearly everyone, it will do that by short-range wireless signal (WiFi), but it can also use cables if you wish it or need it.
Sky Q is a bit different. It is a sort of Sky TV plus. Sky TV by itself is nothing to do with the internet: it is a satellite TV system. But Sky Q not only has the satellite dish and box; it also includes multiple boxes so that you can watch satellite TV in several rooms. It uses a router in your house to transmit the TV signal by WiFi, and the router connects to the outside internet via a modem to access further features of the Sky Q service. In principle, you can run a slightly cut down version of Sky Q without internet access, but hardly anyone does that. Sky Q doesn’t care who supplies your internet, although most customers will use Sky/Openreach.
On a related matter, Sky is gradually rolling out over the UK a much faster version of phone-line internet that approaches Virgin speeds.
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