Should you buy cheap broadband?

Posted by Ben Spector on 14-Feb-2013 12:32:21

There are more than a dozen ‘mainstream’ broadband providers in the UK offering cheap broadband. Alongside these ‘big names’ there is also a new ‘breed’ of companies trying to capitalise on the market. However, while we can now get broadband services for next to nothing is it really worth it? At SpecTronics, we will explore more about whether cheap broadband is actually offering a false economy.

Sky has recently announced that they have “run out of capacity in certain corners of the UK”. This means that using the Internet during peak hours is almost out of the question. An extensive advertisement campaign and promises of cheap (and sometimes even free) broadband have seemingly been the downfall of this major provider. In some of their most-recent adverts, Sky promised their customers that they would never slow down speeds at peak times, but this is a promise they have not been able to keep.

Sky is just one example of many providers offering cheap services that are struggling to fulfil their commitments. Consumers who were drawn to a particular broadband provider because they offered great prices alongside their other existing services like business telecoms are now being punished as they have purchased broadband that fails to work as well as one would expect.

In order to find out what type of speeds you can expect from a cheap broadband provider at peak times you need to take into account your contention ratio. Your contention ratio is the number of people in your area you will be ‘sharing’ your bandwidth with.  In a large majority of cases, the cheap broadband providers will have a contention ratio of 50:1. This means that you could be sharing your connection with 49 other households. What you find with cheap broadband is that contention ratios are often maxed out because dozens of local households have been drawn to the provider because of their cost.

With a reputable business broadband provider, the contention ratio is lower. Monthly costs might look expensive, but what you are paying for is a broadband that will offer preferable speeds in peak hours. If you are the owner of a company offering website services online, using Hosted VoIP or any other business that requires you to be on the Internet, you will need a connection with little risk of downtime and good speeds throughout the day. Therefore, the additional cost of a proper business package is worthwhile.

One other point that people forget when they are buying cheap broadband is the potential downtime you could face. The better business packages come with guaranteed fix times. This means that you can be sure you will be back online just a short while after you have reported a problem. A cheap broadband provider generally does not have any guarantee in place. Therefore, it could be days until your issues are fixed, and if that is the case you need to ask yourself if you can afford to be offline for that long.

Why is the headline “up to” speed not what I should consider when looking for broadband?

Just about all the mainstream providers try to ‘hook’ new customers in by claiming that they offer speeds of “up to” a certain figure. The reality is that you should take this figure with a pinch of salt. Even though the provider may have once reached their “up to” speed you can be sure that you will not get anywhere near that consistently. This figure is essentially an advertising ploy to get people’s attention.

A good broadband provider will make a point of advertising their guaranteed minimum speed. This is something cheap broadband providers simply will not offer because there is too much risk involved. Having a guaranteed minimum speed in place means that you can be sure if you drop below your speed you will have grounds for a complaint.

At SpecTronics, we want you to have a broadband service that you can rely upon. Therefore, if you do choose cheap broadband, you are now aware of some of the risks.

Topics: News

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