Charles Arthur On Technology

Here's an interesting prediction: by early summer, half of the people connected to the internet will do so via broadband.

Here's an interesting prediction: by early summer, half of the people connected to the internet will do so via broadband. That's an estimate based on figures produced last month by the Office for National Statistics, which showed a gradual but solid uptake of broadband, with between 1 and 2 per cent of people converting from dial-up to broadband each month. And as 37.7 per cent were using broadband by November 2004, well, the maths show that in July or August, depending on whether take-up is 1 or 2 per cent, we'll hit 50 per cent.

This is great news; broadband means, apart from anything else, that people will be able to talk on the phone more easily in the evenings, because the phone won't be tied up downloading spam. Parents rejoice!

What is more, last week, BT (still the UK's biggest broadband provider) announced that it will be doubling the speed of connections for no extra cost. Surfers rejoice! (But why wasn't BT providing those faster speeds already, if it was feasible?)

However, getting broadband installed isn't the end of it. For some, it can just be the start of problems that can mystify them (why can't the computer get online? Is it my fault or the network's?) and maddening support calls, some charged at premium rates. So, if you're considering getting broadband, how do you decide which operator to go with? First, decide what your requirements are. How many computers will be online at once? More than one means that you'll need a faster line, and that you're probably going to be downloading more than 1Gbyte of data per month. You might exceed the 1GB cap beyond which many providers charge extra, even if you only have one computer, if you're using it to view a lot of online films of TV programmes, or using file-sharing networks. Around half of broadband users download more than 1GB per month.

If you're thinking of shifting over, it is thus worth spending some time on www.adslguide.org.uk, which has news, forums and comparisons for quality of service, speed, and reliability. The comparison page gives some interesting results (although it will only let you compare six services at a time). In my tests, I found that Freedom2Surf's service had been rated most highly, although I had been pointed to it by another broadband ISP, PlusNet (which comes out above average, just not as far above as Freedom2Surf). I should point out that I have no direct experience of Freedom2Surf's service. PlusNet's point is that the records of bigger or better-known providers such as AOL, BT Yahoo! and Virgin are not as good as those of smaller ones - an interesting point that ADSLguide's data seems to bear out; the companies with the highest ratings are often the ones of which you've never heard.

But even after you have chosen a broadband provider with great download speeds, faultless service and top reliability, there are still a few stumbling-blocks along the way - and one, "contention", will get worse as more people broadband.

Here's how contention works. Your line to the local exchange, which is where the really hefty bandwidth is available, will usually get bundled together with the other lines in your street; in effect, only one big line goes from your street to the exchange. That limits the bandwidth that can come from the exchange to your home, because if everyone else in the street also has broadband (whether or not it's from the same provider; only that it comes from the same kit on the exchange), you all have to share what's coming from the exchange. True, you'll all be able to work at the same time, just as you can already download e-mail while you surf and do instant messaging - because your internet connection works by sending and receiving data "packets", and you can interweave them - but if 20 neighbours are watching internet TV, you'll notice the slowdown. So, as engineers would say, you'll all be in contention for the same bandwidth.

www.charlesarthur.com/blog

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
news
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions