Broadband performance – explained

Good broadband performance isn’t just about speed – it depends how you use it.
 
  • Woman and girl on computer
    Hannah Bouckley
    Last updated: 29 August 2013, 13:11 BST

    When choosing a broadband provider it’s tempting just to focus on the download speed, but download speed alone doesn’t necessarily mean your will have the broadband performance you need.

    There are numerous other factors to consider, including Latency, Packet Loss, DNS resolution, DNS failure and Jitter.

    These sound like technical terms, but each has an impact on everyday broadband activities, including gaming, web browsing and video calls.

     

    Is broadband speed important?

    Yes, broadband speed is important and luckily here in the UK it’s getting faster.

    According to Ofcom, the average actual fixed-line broadband speed in May 2013 was 14.7Mbit/s, an increase from 12Mbit/s in November 2012, 9Mbit/s in May 2012 and 7.6Mbit/s in November 2011.

    Those with superfast broadband advertised as 30Mbit/s and higher, actually got an average speed of 45.3Mbit/s

    Broadband upload speed refers to how fast you can share content. 

    Sharing is something we all do, even if we’re casual internet users. This can be anything – from adding photos to an email, to uploading photos to Facebook and Twitter or videos to YouTube.

    The speed content uploads to the web depends on your broadband package. With Superfast broadband (such as BT Infinity) you can upload 10 photos within 24 seconds, or a 30-minute video in 30 seconds. These times increase with standard broadband packages.

    Broadband download speeds refer to how quickly you get content from the internet.  

    This includes everyday things like how quickly a web page loads or how fast you download new music from Amazon or iTunes to your computer - or movies to your hard drive.

    The faster the connection, the quicker you can enjoy the content you choose.

     

    What about playing games online?

    If you play using Xbox Live or PlayStation Network, latency is important. 

    Everything you see and hear is made up of packets. Latency refers to the time it takes for a packet of data to travel to a third-party server (such as Microsoft’s Xbox gaming service) and come back.

    The lower the latency level, the faster gaming response times are.

    In Call of Duty you rely on quick reactions – whether it’s dodging a bullet or targeting the enemy. Being faster than rivals - even by a split second - could give you the advantage.

    Latency can vary during the day. Sometimes in the evening when more people are online it gets higher, slowing response time, which can be frustrating.

    Latency is also important if you stream videos - perhaps from BBC iPlayer or Netflix. Low latency means videos start more quickly.

     

    Is there anything else I need to be aware of when streaming movies or gaming online?

    Packet loss, according to Ofcom, is when some data packets are lost in transmission over a web connection before reaching their destination.

    The higher the packet loss the more glitches there are, leading to a choppy picture. Buffering levels increase too which can be very frustrating – and something that anyone who streams movies can attest too.

    Lower packet loss means a complete picture and less delay waiting for on-demand services and games to start.

     

    How about video calls?

    Video calling using free web-based services like Skype is a cheap way of keeping in touch with friends and family all over the world.

    For the optimum experience, you want the video to be clear and stable and interference free.

    Low latency is important for reducing those awkward conversation delays, while low packet loss ensures the connection is more stable.

    There’s one more factor – Jitter.

    Jitter refers to the level of interference, this is when the picture appears corrupt and horizontal lines appear randomly.

    ‘Jitter upstream’ is anything you send using the internet - such as the video of you that the person you are talking to sees. ‘Jitter downstream’ is anything sent to you using internet, such as the video you see.

    The lower the jitter speed in milliseconds, the less likely you are to lose elements of the conversation and the more stable the video call will be.

     

    What about if I only use my computer to browse the web?

    Whether it’s flicking through the latest news or looking for a recipe, many broadband customers spend a lot of time browsing the internet.

    When you load a web page, different elements - such as pictures, text and HTML code – arrive on the page.

    As we’ve already mentioned, download speeds are important, but it’s also worth being aware of Domain Name System System (DNS) resolution.

    Faster DNS resolution means web pages load more quickly, so you can swap between them without waiting for them to load. DNS failure occurs when you keep hitting the refresh button and the page still doesn’t load.

     

    See what broadband products BT can offer you here.

    Hannah Bouckley
    Last updated: 29 August 2013, 13:11 BST

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