Are you helping a family member or friend to get connected?
Some people find the array of advice, options and available services confusing and quite disconcerting. We aim to provide some simple advice to make the process a little clearer and to outline all the options.
The first thing to do is decide how you would like to get online. Traditionally this means buying a PC or a laptop and setting it up at home with an internet connection, but this isn’t the only option now.
1. Decide what device you’d like to use to access the internet:
- Computer - PC, laptop, Apple Mac or MacBook
- Tablet – e.g. iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab
2. Decide how you will connect to the internet:
- Home broadband via phone line or cable
- Mobile broadband (3G) through a pay monthly or pay as you go dongle
- Mobile broadband (3G) with tablet computer or a smartphone (requires a SIM card like that used in mobile phones)
Common types of broadband connection
ADSL (phone line)
Broadband via a phone line is called ADSL. You need to be within 6 kilometres of a broadband-enabled exchange to receive it. It is the most common form of broadband.
Connection speeds vary, depending on how far you are from the exchange, the type of phone line used and if lots of other people in the area are also using the same lines for broadband at the same time.
Although the phone lines belong to BT, you can register with other companies who will look after your account, such as Sky or Orange. Enter your postcode at Broadband Checker to see who provides a broadband service in your area www.broadbandchecker.co.uk (external website).
To receive broadband on your phone line your internet service provider (ISP) will provide you with filters to plug into the phone socket which stop broadband interfering with voice calls. They will also provide an internet modem.
The modem will allow you to connect a device either by an Ethernet cable which plugs into the modem and your computer, or by a wireless signal if your computer is WiFi-enabled (i.e. can receive a wireless broadband signal).
Your ISP will provide information on how to set up your wireless connection and add a password to make it secure.
Cable broadband is provided through high speed fibre optic cables. These are the same cables used for cable TV, such as Virgin Media, hence the ability to get bundled packages for TV, broadband and phone. You don’t need a BT phone line as well as cable as your home phone is included.
Although the distance from the exchange will not affect download or upload speeds with cable broadband, as with ASDL the number of people using the same line will slow it down.
Cable is not as widely available as ASDL so if you live in a rural area you may only be able to receive broadband via your phone line.
ASDL and cable broadband usually come on a contract basis. The contract could run for 12 or 18 months and will usually include a cost if you end the contract early. Expect to pay between zero (as part of a TV, phone, broadband package deal) to about £28 monthly for broadband.
3G (3rd generation mobile telecommunications) provides wireless voice telephone, mobile internet access, video calls and mobile TV. However, it does not cover the whole of the UK and is particularly patchy in rural and/or hilly areas.
If you live in a rural area where cable broadband is not available and you are more than 6 kilometres from a broadband-enabled phone line exchange, 3G is another way you might be able to receive a broadband connection.
However, those areas mentioned above are often areas that are not likely to get good 3G reception either.
3G is also affected by, for example, buildings with thick walls. You may find you can get reception near a window or on one side of the building but not the other.
You can buy a small stick called a dongle that plugs into a USB port on your computer and receives 3G to connect to mobile broadband. You can also connect using a tablet that is 3G-enabled, or using the vast majority of smartphones.
You will need either a pay-as-you-go or a monthly contract for 3G as it requires a SIM card to receive it, just like running a mobile phone. Your monthly data limit will depend on the price you pay. Expect to pay £10 to £15 a month for a low-to-medium level use contract or £2 per day, £5 per week or £15 per month for pay-as-you-go.
Check the UK’s 3G coverage (external website) of the main mobile broadband service providers. This will help you choose which network (service provider e.g. Orange) to use.
If you have a 3G-enabled device you will be able to connect to mobile broadband anywhere in the UK where it is available, not just at home. Although 3G is more suitable for light broadband users – surfing the web, sending emails etc. Slower speeds and a low download limit make it unsuitable for watching films or downloading TV shows.
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The Welsh Government's Rural Broadband Support Service aims to ensure that businesses and homes in Wales have access to affordable, basic broadband. If you cannot get broadband you can register your details on the Broadband Notspot Registration Wales (external link) website. You may also qualify for the Broadband Support Scheme (external website) through which you can claim up to £1000 towards the cost of getting a broadband solution installed.
Age UK have advice (external website) on finding the best broadband, TV or phone deal for someone you know or phone Simplifydigital on 0800 090 1302
BBC Webwise – getting connected (external website)
Communities 2.0 'How to...' series of guides, toolkits, videos and useful websites help you help other people get online and learn about technology.