Plug It In: A Beginner's Guide to the latest broadband services
Megabits and megabytes – how do I know what I really need?
What's the difference between 100 megabits per second (Mbs) and one megabit per second? If you just wanted to write and receive email, browse the web and do a little social media, a service offering a reliable 2Mbs or 3Mbs will suffice. If you want to do a little more, such as watch Netflix movies online, you will be better off with something over 5Mbs. If there is more than one person in the house using the web and you want to use wi-fi, you should be aiming for 10Mbs or more.
DSL This is the most common type of broadband in Ireland. It comes over a normal telephone landline. The speeds vary quite a lot, but they usually deliver enough (at least 2Mbs) for hassle-free web browsing, email, social media and other basic services. (Without getting too technical, the speed and quality depends on how close your house is to a streetside Eircom 'cabinet' box or an Eircom 'exchange'.) Others offering broadband include Sky, Vodafone, Imagine and Magnet.
Cost: From €30 per month
Fibre 'Fibre' generally means a thicker cable under the ground that can carry faster broadband connections. Generally, it offers speeds of around 10 times what normal landlines can deliver. At the moment, there are two main companies that offer 'fibre' broadband to Irish companies. One is UPC, which has the fastest speeds. The other is Eircom, which has speeds about half as fast as UPC. Eircom's fibre service is still delivered over its landline (technically, the fibre only goes as far as Eircom's streetside cabinet boxes) but you still get much faster speeds.
Cost: UPC (from €44 per month with phone); Eircom (from €45 per month with phone); Vodafone At Home (from €27 per month).
Availability: All cities, most large towns.
'Fixed' Wireless broadband When companies talk about selling 'wireless' broadband, they often mean 'fixed wireless' broadband. This basically means installing an antenna on your roof which communicates with a large transmitter a couple of kilometres away.
This is a popular form of broadband delivery in small towns and communities where the Eircom landline service is poor and there's no fibre or decent alternative internet service. It usually only delivers basic speeds or around 3Mbs.
Cost: From €30 per month
Availability: Urban areas and small towns.
Wi-Fi Wi-fi is a wireless broadband signal that happens when you connect your broadband box to a plug-in 'wi-fi router' box. This 'router' then beams out a wireless broadband signal throughout the house. This means that a laptop or a tablet PC (such as an iPad) can pick up the broadband signal. You need to be mindful that a broadband signal deteriorates a bit over wi-fi. For example, a 10Mbs connection in your living room will probably only deliver 6Mbs when picked up wirelessly on your home wi-fi signal in the kitchen or bedroom.
Cost: Free with home broadband service, router box sometimes costs from €30.
'Mobile' Broadband This refers to broadband using a mobile phone network, such as Vodafone, O2 or Meteor. Usually, you get it through buying a 'dongle', which is a small white stick that you plug into a laptop or a PC. The dongle has a mobile sim card in it – this is how it connects to the mobile phone network. Dongles don't just come in the laptop-plug-in variety: there are new ones that are free-standing and can connect two or more laptops, PCs or tablets to the internet at the same time. These are usually called 'mi-fi' dongles.
Cost: From €15 per month.
Availability: Nationwide (anywhere there's a 3G or 4G signal).
4G The latest development in mobile broadband is 4G, which stands for fourth generation mobile technology. In a nutshell, it's just a mobile phone signal that can deliver broadband speeds much faster than ordinary mobile broadband. At the moment, only Meteor and Vodafone offer 4G broadband, with O2 and 3 Ireland set to follow in coming months.
Cost: From €30 per month.
Availability: Dublin, Cork, other selected locations. Rolling out in cities and large towns at present.