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Connection speeds Getting online and searching the web

There are two popular methods of getting on line: broadband (delivered either by the phone system or over cable TV connections) and mobile (over the 4G or 5G mobile phone network). Some people get very good broadband speeds (sometimes called bandwidth) while others have to make do with much slower connections.

Broadband is delivered by an internet service provider (ISP), while a mobile phone company supplies the online data network alongside the facility for voice calls. Broadband is delivered through a box known as a modem. The mobile network is reached either through a phone or by one of several types of dedicated device. Your computer is connected to the modem either with a cable or wirelessly, using WiFi.

You can check the speed you’re getting by searching online for an internet speed test.

  • If you’re getting more than 2 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speed you shouldn’t have many problems using current OU systems, providing you don’t have to share that bandwidth with too many other users at home.
  • If you’re getting less than 2Mbps it’s worth talking to neighbours to check whether your experience is typical. If it isn’t it might indicate a fault in the telephone wiring in your house.

A slow connection means you have to wait longer for photos and videos to download, and you may have problems with online rooms. But email, forums and simple web browsing, that together make up the majority of online tasks carried out by students, continue to work even with a very slow connection


A microfilter is a small white plastic box that’s inserted between a phone socket and a phone, supplied with your modem or by your broadband provider. You should check whether you need microfilters in your telephone sockets. See the BT help article Why do I need ADSL filters (microfilters) and where do they go? If you do need microfilters, all telephone sockets should have one fitted, not just the one you plug your broadband in to.

Mobile connections

For a few people, a mobile connection might outperform a poor broadband connection, but usually locations that get poor broadband also get poor mobile connections. In areas of good 4G mobile phone reception download speeds can reach 20Mbps, but the average is a lot less. Setting up a computer to use a mobile phone’s connection (known as tethering) may be more difficult and less reliable than plugging it into a broadband modem.

Less fiddly are dongles, small devices that plug in to your computer and act as modems on the mobile phone networks. Whichever method you use to connect to the mobile network there are serious cost considerations: if you exceed the data download allowance in your monthly plan you can be liable for steep excess charges.

Last updated 3 months ago