So the festive season is upon us, and for those who work the daily grind of nine to five it is often the only time of the year you are at home for an extended period and really put your broadband connection to the test. Christmas 2012 was really the first year when the tablet made it into many households, and on our thinkbroadband forums we have seen a steady increase in people asking how to extend their wireless coverage to all the rooms in their home.
So what will this Christmas and New Year bring for our broadband connections? With new budget tablets being offered by Tesco and Aldi, as well as a range aimed at children, many households are now buying devices for the whole family. The good news is that all this extra strain won't make your router explode (as in one Toy Story inspired advert from Sky this year), but the broadband connection entering the home is still going to struggle during times of peak demand. If you only have a four or five Mg connection, you might need to toss a coin to find out who gets to stream a film on their tablet, or else put up with constant buffering.
This year was a very busy time for developments in broadband in the UK and looking ahead, 2014 will follow suit. For those wanting fast speeds, Virgin Media is launching its 152 Mbps cable broadband service, intended to help the company retain its crown as the fasted provider against the cabinet-based services sold by BT, Sky, TalkTalk and others.
In 2013, the coverage of faster than ADSL2+ type services rose to 73 percent of UK households, with around a third of the UK having a choice of two fibre based services - either Virgin Media or the Openreach-based services. Government funded improvements are also starting to be visible, reaching some 100,000 homes so far a week and adding another 10,000 every week now. While this sounds small in the grand scheme of things, we are expecting that number to rise rapidly during 2014, to around 25,000 per week by the end of Spring. While there are on-going discussions about value for money (as always with a Government project), the main area of public concern is when they can order a superfast service. The smaller full fibre operators such as Gigaclear and Hyperoptic are also going to continue expanding, giving more parts of the UK access to speeds of one Gigabit per second (1000 Mbps) and at an affordable price.
The fact that more areas are getting faster broadband may not sound that exciting, but if you are one of those in a slow area and use your broadband a lot, it can be a huge change to your everyday life. We are also starting to see landlords learn that good broadband is important, and one managed property firm letting flats in the old Olympic Athlete's Village is throwing in a free 20 Mbps service since the Hyperoptic 1 Gbps connection became available for just an extra £20 per month.
Openreach, the division within BT that is rolling out their fibre based services, will hopefully expand its vectoring trials beyond the couple of locations. This should start to see the services pushing speeds of 120 to 130 Mbps for those within 150m of the familiar green street cabinet, and also provide decent speed boosts for other people.
For people ordering the Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) based service, there will also now be the choice of having an engineer to install it, or choosing the DIY route. This means avoiding taking a day off work waiting for the engineer to visit, and as it will be £50 cheaper for the provider, it may mean lower prices as well.
Another big development for broadband is the continued rollout of 4G mobile broadband. The problem for early adaptors has been that while 4G has the speed to watch a movie in decent quality while on the bus, the price of usage allowance packages means it can only be done once a month or so. Anyone who has visited a large train station with a 3G device knows the problems of just connecting, let alone video streaming. 4G is meant to cope better with lots of people and have more capacity to let more of us watch video. 2014 is going to be the year we find out whether these marketing promises are real or just another myth to get us to upgrade to the latest handsets.
As a final thought, with a rise in mobile devices and high-speed internet connections, it's no surprise that 'selfie' has been named the Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year. On that note, I'm off to make sure my Christmas jumper is nice and clean for my Christmas Day #selfie