Broadband, for many has changed massively. Ten years ago, web sites were a lot simpler and you were lucky to find popular radio stations with an internet feed. Recent figures published by Ofcom reveal that the average monthly usage for fixed line broadband is 17 GigaBytes (GB) a month with mobile broadband users only managing 0.24 GB.

As always, averages can be misleading. The data average is based on information from the major providers and the average each one reported varied between 10 GB and 40 GB. This perhaps reflects that some providers have products that attract those who use their broadband extensively for work and entertainment, whereas for many others, broadband is simply a way to save money on bills and shopping.

So what has the average broadband user being doing? Let’s see how many hours of common tasks you need to do to use up 17GB.

  • 1,000 hours of web browsing or,
  • 500 hours of listening to internet radio or,
  • 68 hours of watching standard definition video or,
  • 250 hours using Skype or,
  • Renting two high definition videos or,
  • 1,000 hours of online gaming or,
  • 20 hours of new Onlive streamed game service or,
  • 47 hours of video conferencing.

I have included the amount of download and upload traffic in these examples, because many providers when measuring your broadband allowance include both directions in any allowance. Now the mixture of what people will do will vary, but you can get an idea from these figures that the year on year increases in how many data we all use is driven by video and the increasing level of quality this offers.

For example HD 1080p resolution material on YouTube eats through 2.25 GB an hour, and video rental services on the Xbox and PS3 games consoles have movies that are 8 GB in size.

Now take these numbers and consider the situation for someone who works from home or a small office with three or four staff, where perhaps they watch some video over the lunch break, or listen to the radio all day. In households with teenagers of course when they come home they will invariably watch TV shows they missed on their laptops, or leave webcams running while chatting with friends.

Some research has indicated that UK broadband users pay too much for their broadband, but we advise that you should be aware of how data much you use before committing to some of the cheapest deals, as they often come with very low usage limits of 2GB or 10GB.

Now for a one person household, that uses Facebook, a bit of twitter and online banking, these packages are ideal but always ensure that an upgrade path to a higher allowance is available while still inside the minimum contract. If your usage patterns change, you can find yourself with large bills for excess usage. Costs of £1 per GB are not uncommon.

Tracking how much data your broadband connection uses and the smart phones, VoIP handsets, laptops, games consoles use should be simple. If a provider has a usage allowance, they should offer an online tracking system, but many don’t and these are not infallible.

Therefore it is work looking at whether your broadband router keeps account of how much you have transferred, or alternatively install software on the various computers to monitor how much each computer uses.  One consideration that people who work from home should make, is whether having two broadband connections to the home would be better. This helps in several ways.

  1. Two connections adds backup in case one fails and takes a few days to fix
  2. Usage for business can be kept apart from home usage, avoiding arguments over who is slowing down things
  3. One line can be a business service, with static IP address, which some IT departments prefer when setting up VPN (Virtual Private Network) or remote access to resources.

The expense of two connections, perhaps with the need for two telephone line rentals looks high, but consider the cost equation for home many days you don’t need to commute to the office.

Interestingly the profile of internet usage is such, that even on the cheaper packages that can be very slow at peak time, people working from home can find the performance during the day is surprisingly good. It is usually once the school children and commuters arrive home that congestion starts to slow things down.

Inversely some small business services (but not all) can be very good during peak times, as the price may put off those looking for the cheapest deals. One warning – when shopping around be wary of small business services that are simply re-clothed consumer products or worse, the consumer product at a higher price with very little benefit.

A final recommendation, take a look at your broadband package, what you do with it and the service you receive every few months. Providers often launch new packages and it is easy to miss the upgrade offer email, or if outside your minimum contract term there may be faster, better allowance services available.