What do broadband speeds mean?

Broadband speeds are often expressed in terms of megabits per second, usually shortened to 'mbps'. A megabit per second is a measure of how much data (megabits) can be transferred in a given time (seconds). The more data which can be transferred every second, the higher the speed.

The size of files is often expressed in megabytes, usually shortened to 'mb'. One megabyte is equal to eight megabits. So for example, if you want to download a file that is 1mb in size and your broadband speed is 1mbps, it will take about eight seconds to download it.

This table explains what you should be able to do with different broadband speeds:

Download speed
Suitable for
Speeds up to 2mbps
Web browsing
Online shopping
Voice telephone calls (e.g. Skype)
Burglar alarms
Telehealth systems (transmission of health information e.g. blood pressure readings)
Streaming music or internet radio
Speed between 2mbps and 10mbps
Online gaming
File sharing
Working from home
Internet-connected TV
Standard definition video streaming
Video on demand e.g. Netflix, LoveFilm
Speeds above 10mbps
Distance learning
HD video streaming
Telecare (remote monitoring and care of patients in their own home)
Video conferencing

The table below shows how long it could take to download a typical music file or HD film at different speeds:

Download speed
Time to download a music file
Time to download an HD film
80 seconds
45 hours 31 minutes
20 seconds
11 hours 23 minutes
5 seconds
2 hours 50 minutes
1.7 seconds
57 minutes
0.4 seconds
14 minutes

If you have more than one device using your broadband, they all share your capacity (bandwidth). This doesn’t matter if you only use one device at a time, but most households or businesses may use multiple devices at the same time.

If you are browsing the internet or reading email, you only use bandwidth when you are opening webpages or emails; you aren’t using bandwidth when you are reading from the screen. But if two people are opening webpages or watching online videos at the same time and your broadband is not fast enough to cope with this then they will affect how fast the other works at. So, multiple devices may need more bandwidth than a single device.