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#General Tech

Choosing Your First ISP – ADSL or Cable?

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When looking for an Internet Service Provider (ISP), sometimes our first reaction is to go with what’s familiar. In the last few years, broadband has expanded in the UK so much that even supermarkets and large chain stores can offer their own particular ‘brand’ of net access. There are also the mobile phone tariffs and nationally familiar names like BT and Virgin Media. Broadband isn’t a one size fits all medium though, and you can save both money and effort from a little bit of research before signing your first contract.

Types of Broadband

Like most other products, there are a few different types of broadband. It might all sound a little intimidating and technical to a first time consumer but once you get past the jargon you’ll be well on your way to making an informed decision. The reason you have to understand and consider the type of broadband is because what you can get is based on where you live, and will dictate just about everything about your connection. So what are your options?

ADSL: Currently covering around 98% of the UK, ‘Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line’ or ADSL comes in many different flavours. Depending on the type of ADSL you can receive and your distance from the exchange speeds can vary from 512kbps (about 10 times faster than dialup) to 24Mbit. It’s the most popular form of internet in the UK.

Cable: Cable covers around half of the UK. Chances are if you live in a town you’ll probably have access to cable, although this isn’t always the case. Currently, Virgin Media are the only providers of cable in the country so don’t have the choice of service that ADSL provides. Cable is the faster than ADSL on average, with speeds of up to 50MBit available depending on where you live.

Satellite: Satellite is an expensive and impractical option, so we won’t be covering it in detail in this guide. It allows for fast download but you can’t send any information back without using a dial-up service. For example, you can view web pages but you can’t upload pictures or send email attachments. Unfortunately, it may be the only option for some UK users who are still without access to ADSL.

If it still sounds complicated, don’t panic! There are a few tests you can do on both the BT website and Virgin Media’s site that will tell you with a high degree of accuracy if you can receive either service. BT should also be able to tell you what kind of speed your line will support, based on the quality of the line and your distance from the local exchange. Your options will likely be more limited the more ‘rural’ your location but chances are, you’ll be covered by one or the other. If you don’t have a phone line installed in your property yet, both sites can use postcodes instead.

If you can receive both, which is best? Both types of connection have advantages and disadvantages, so take a look at Virgin Media’s price plan. Speed is usually much higher and more consistent with cable broadband, and you won’t have a slower connection just because you are further away from a phone exchange. ADSL is a far more competitive market, so you’ve got a better chance of finding a good deal, it’s also very easy to set up providing you’ve already got a phone line. Either way, it pays to compare broadband deals

The differences between Cable and ADSL can sometimes seem a little vague – after all, both offer potentially cheap broadband connections that let you access a wealth of content from the web at great speeds. However, just like with any purchase it’s a good bet to make the decision once you fully understand what each option involves, and how you can get the most out of your provider.