A decade or so ago broadband and the Internet was far less important in our studies than it is today. When I attended university and pursued my Master’s degree, I spent more time in the library reading books than I did on the Internet. Although books still have a major part to play, we’re spending more and more time as students looking through online journals and Internet resources in order to get the most up-to-date information about our subjects.
The Student Lifestyle
On top of this, of course, broadband provides lifestyle enhancements in today’s world. Being able to get online provides the opportunity to stream movies, download music from iTunes, play games, and interact with our families wherever they are around the world. Broadband is less an option than a necessity for students these days. The problem comes when one tries to decide what type of broadband to go for.
Mobile or Fixed Broadband
The fundamental decision is to determine whether to go for mobile broadband or fixed line broadband. If we’re in halls of residence, the likelihood is that we’ll have access to some fixed broadband solutions, whether they are wireless or through an Ethernet cable in our room. However, if we are living off campus, we will have to find our own solutions.
Fixed broadband comes with its own problems as a student; you have to have a telephone line in most situations, and you have to split the bill between the people sharing the house. Normally, you can only have one or two names on the bill, and so not everyone is represented and therefore liable for issues if the bill is not paid. Coordinating broadband is a hassle on its own and that is quite apart from deciding between the different providers and the different packages available, and agreeing on what is best.
Mobile broadband is far simpler; you buy your dongle and you are ready to go on the plan that you purchased. You can even choose to stay light on your feet by getting a PAYG contract. This isn’t great if you want to do intensive Internet activities, but it will suffice for browsing and doing most of your college work.
It already appears that mobile broadband is the best solution. However, data is more expensive, speeds are generally lower, and stability and reliability can be an issue. In most student houses today, you will find a fixed broadband solution of some description.
Contract or PAYG
With fixed broadband, it’s possible to get rolling monthly contracts and even student offerings. Virgin has a 9-month contract that is ideal for those moving in September and moving out the following summer. It means that you only pay for the time that you are actually in your accommodation as a household. PlusNet Broadband and BT also offer 12-month contracts, which minimize waste in most situations too, as students tend to spend either 1 year or 2 years in student properties. It is important that we choose the right contract length for the duration of our stay.
If we are on mobile broadband, then normally PAYG ends up being quite expensive and a contract provides higher data allowances at cheaper prices.
Do a Coverage Check
When you’re choosing broadband for your student home one of the first things you should be do is to conduct a coverage check of your area. There are a number of services online that feed from broadband speed tests done by existing users and graphically display on a map the speed obtainable through different networks. It may be that from this you can work out that on your street BT Broadband performs extremely well, whereas TalkTalk does not. This can narrow your search options down.
As well as the speed, you should be looking at the data limits, the costs, the Fair Usage policy, and traffic management. Student houses normally have a number of gamers in them. The new XBOX is reported to require a constant Internet connection. Being online is part of playing games in today’s world, and so it is important to have broadband that is appropriate for this activity as well. This means low latency times and stability in connectivity.
Watch Out for Broadband Marketing
It’s easy to get pulled in by broadband marketing. These days, there seems to be a smoke and mirrors approach to headline speeds, usage allowances, and prices. Unlimited broadband is not always unlimited, and in a media-hungry, music streaming, online TV-watching household, the cap limits of certain unlimited broadband providers can be reached within days and weeks. Make sure that you choose a provider that has enough data allowance in their unlimited packages to provide you with sufficient data for all users.
Mobile Broadband Coverage Checkers
If you go for mobile broadband, either as your main solution or as a backup to the fixed line solution, you’ll have increased mobility with your broadband and also increased control. It’s important that you do coverage checks. There are comparison sites on which you can compare different providers, or you can go into individual providers, pop in a postcode, and find out what the coverage is like in the areas in which you use your broadband.
Mobile broadband can provide the opportunity to get online in the pub, in the library, in the home, or even in the train. The coverage checkers won’t show you the exact connection speed you’re likely to get, but they will give you a good idea of the level of coverage the different providers can offer in different areas. It’s worth watching out for student deals from different providers as well, as sometimes they do come up, particularly at the beginning of the academic year. A con of mobile broadband is the fact that most of our smart phones these days are able to get online and it’s possible to tether our phones and use them as a mobile hotspot.
Tethering the Smart Phone
It really can be useful to turn your smart phone into a modem in order to get online on your laptop. This means that you may not require another mobile broadband service, especially if you have a sufficient data contract on your mobile phone. With Android, you can download an app that makes the process very easy and it’s a similar process on iPhones, Windows Phones, and Blackberries. You can connect up either through your microUSB cable, through Bluetooth, or wirelessly.
The process for different phones and different operating systems varies but essentially, your phone receives the signal and broadcasts it through wireless or wired networking and your laptop connects to the signal. Make sure that, if you’re connecting wirelessly, you do so securely so that people can’t jump on to your connection and eat your data.
When Phil Turner‘s son went to university, Phil advised him to consider both landline and mobile broadband options. They searched online for great deals using the uSwitch price comparison site.
Photo Credit: Brad Flickinger