Broadband for streaming

Streaming requires a strong internet connection for seamless binge-watching. Find out how you can get the most out of your broadband when streaming.


Key points

What is streaming?

In essence, streaming means watching or listening to online multimedia on demand over the internet.

There are several different ways to stream online content. One of the most popular is by watching videos on websites such as YouTube.

Another example is SoundCloud, which allows users to share and listen to recorded audio. This mostly includes songs, but podcasts and other audio files can also be streamed here.

There are also streaming apps such as Netflix and Spotify, which allow you to watch TV or movies and listen to music, respectively.  YouTube is also available as an app.

Unlike web-based streaming services, apps are downloaded to your device in order to access their video or audio content. You often pay a subscription to have unlimited access, although some apps offer free versions funded by adverts, for instance All 4 and ITV Player. Student discounts are usually available, too.


Streaming versus downloading

You need an internet connection to watch (stream) online content, as it is stored on a remote internet server, not your device.

You don't need an internet connection to access content you have downloaded, as it would have already been transferred from the internet server to your device. However, you'll need an internet connection when downloading the file initially, and if you have a slow connection this could take longer. On Spotify, for instance, you can play your downloaded playlists if you are not connected to the internet, but you cannot play songs that aren’t downloaded unless you connect back to the internet.

You can even stream or download multimedia without a broadband connection using 3G, 4G or 5G internet on our mobile devices - just watch out for your data limits. Streaming takes up a lot of data, and you may be charged extra if you exceed your plan’s allowance.

Some games can also be streamed too, which means you don’t have to download them before playing, and have them taking up space on your device.

 

Do you need a TV licence for streaming?

Not always. Most on demand services - like Netflix, Amazon Video, All 4 and YouTube - don't require you to have a TV licence.

But if you’re using your device to stream television programmes as they are being broadcast (also known as live streaming), then you're legally required to buy a TV licence. Watching programmes on BBC iPlayer is also illegal if you don’t have a TV licence, even if you're watching them after they've been broadcast.


How to avoid buffering

Buffering refers to the time it takes your song or video to load. You’ll need a good internet connection and a high speed to make it buffer quickly and play seamlessly. If your connection is unreliable or your broadband speed too slow, it’ll take longer to buffer.  This can interrupt your experience with prolonged pauses or stuttering.

Stuttering happens when you catch up to what has already been buffered. The more megabits per second (Mbps) your broadband offers, the faster your content should load, allowing you to watch or listen without interruption.

Remember that advertised speed can differ to the actual speed you get. The top speed will be outlined on your broadband package, but this doesn't mean that your connection will reach this on an average day.

 

Broadband you need for streaming

If you’re not the type of person that streams regularly, you don't necessarily need superfast broadband in order to enjoy music, TV shows and films online.

Speeds as low as 2.8Mbps still allow you to watch standard definition content on services such as BBC iPlayer and Netflix. If you're an occasional streamer, look for broadband packages offering between 10 and 25Mbps.

You'll want to invest in something quicker if you plan on getting the most out of streaming. For example, Netflix recommends at least 5Mbps for HD and 25Mbps for Ultra HD.

Multiple people streaming at once means your content will buffer slower, so a faster broadband might be worthwhile.

If you're a regular streamer, or live in a house where others may be streaming at the same time as you, a superfast service between 25 and 100Mbps should be enough to keep everyone happy.

 

Whatever your needs, it’s worth comparing broadband deals to find one that suits you.