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How to choose the best student broadband

Monday, March 17th 2014

A comprehensive broadband deal is probably not the first, most important expenditure if you’re studying at Uni.

If our memories of it are anything to go by, questions like ‘Where is my next beans on toast coming from?’ tended to supersede the luxuries. The top providers have finally cottoned on, and now offer broadband packages with both price and contact length geared especially towards students. Here’s everything you need to know.

BT, Sky and Virgin Media – it's a three-horse race

There's a wide range of broadband packages available for students, each with different traffic management policies, varying speeds and download limits. Whether you're looking for a basic broadband deal for infrequent online research, a faster connection to help you video-call back home, or the fastest possible fibre optic speeds for gaming, streaming and peer-to-peer file sharing, there's a deal out there for you.

It’s almost impossible to imagine studying away from home without access to a fast, reliable broadband internet connection.

As a student you’ll be relying on the internet to research your assignments, to email tutors and friends, to download coursework, to keep in touch with loved ones back home - and to arrange the occasional bit of socialising of course.

There are plenty of great options for you to consider when selecting your student broadband provider, with features and special offers specifically aimed at academics.

In fact, there are so many options that you may find it difficult knowing where to start. So, let us take you through all the different things you need to consider when comparing a broadband package.

2013/14 update - student specific deals

Before we launch into our detailed guide, here's the latest on which broadband providers promote deals specifically aimed at students. We've found that both BT and Virgin Media offer nine month contracts designed to cover the duration of the 2013/14 academic year, intended to start in October and end in June.

If you're a fresher, this may not give you complete coverage for your slightly longer first year of study, but if you're a returning undergraduate, the nine month deal should keep you online for the duration of the academic year.

BT

BT's nine month deals include line-rental and unlimited weekend landline calls from midnight on Friday until midnight on Sunday. This means you can call numbers that begin with 01, 02 & 03 and talk for an hour before charges are applied. As long as you hang up before 60 minutes have passed, your call will stay free. If you want to bundle BT TV with your broadband and landline, you're out of luck - the minimum contract period for BT's set-top box is 12 months.

Virgin Media

Unlike BT, Virgin Media do give you the option of taking their nine month student-friendly broadband with their cable TV, a landline or in a contract that combines all three. If you're only after a stand-alone broadband connection and don't want to bundle it with other services, you can do that too - so as far as your options go, you're getting more choice from Virgin Media.

Student broadband availability

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1. Choose the right contract length

One of the differences between student broadband packages and other home broadband packages is the contract length. ISPs know that students tend to move home for the summer and move to new accommodation for their second and subsequent years, so the broadband packages they offer to students usually have shorter contracts than their standard packages. This can be great news, as it means that you don’t have to pay for a 12-month broadband package that you won’t be using if you’re away over the summer.

However, just because you're a student, it doesn’t mean that you have to opt for a short-contract broadband deal. If you’ll definitely be living in the same student house for more than a single academic year then you can save money by choosing a package or bundle with a 12 or 18-month contract, especially if you're staying there over the summer.

Some providers offer broadband packages on short contracts that last the 9 months of an academic year. Others offer 3 month contracts for greater flexibility and some even offer 1 month deals. As a rule, you’ll pay a slightly higher monthly cost for a shorter contract but, in the long run, it could save you having to pay a hefty fine at the end of your studies.

When you buy broadband you’re entering into a legally binding contract to keep that service for at least as long as the stated “minimum term”. If you terminate the contract before this initial period is up there’s a good chance that the provider will charge you an early disconnection fee. And to make matters worse they’ll probably multiple that charge by however many months remain of the minimum term too. This is why it’s so crucial to buy broadband with an appropriate contract length, as early disconnection fees can run into the hundreds of pounds.

2. Shared connections

It’s very important that you consider how many people will regularly be sharing your broadband connection. Broadband packages have a monthly download allowance that you need to take into account, and a download speed that decreases as the number of users increases.

Download speed

The top speed you’ll get from your broadband service is determined by a number of factors such as the package you choose, the distance from your local exchange and – crucially - how many people will be using the connection at any given time.

If you’ll be living on your own then a slower package of up to 10Mb should be fine, especially if you’ll only be using your connection for light browsing and emailing. There should be plenty of budget packages to choose from wherever you live, and the connection should be fast enough for your needs.

Shared student houses

If you’ll be living in a shared house with a few friends then you'll need a fast connection. If one housemate is streaming music upstairs and another is playing online games while you're trying to get that coursework done it may lead to bottlenecks - and arguments.

With a group of you splitting the monthly cost of student broadband you should be able to afford a fast connection. In fact, faster packages usually don't cost that much more; so don’t be tempted to scrimp on the cost of a higher download speed.

Broadband contracts tend to be in one name only, and the responsibility for paying the bill will fall to that person. Work out between you who’s going to be responsible for the broadband package or bundle and make sure that they have the funds in their account to cover the bill when it comes.

Some providers may allow you to put multiple names on the bill so give serious consideration to doing that if it’s an option; otherwise it may lead to problems if one or more people move out before they’ve settled their share of the bills.

Fibre optic broadband

If you live in a cable area you can get fibre optic broadband, which usually delivers actual download speeds much closer to those advertised than traditional broadband can.

In many of the UK’s most popular student towns and cities fibre optic broadband is now widely available at speeds up to 152Mbps – which is more than fast enough to keep up with the demands of even the biggest and most web-addicted student house.

Monthly download allowance

The monthly download allowance, or usage limit, is of paramount importance when choosing your student broadband package.

You can of course get a cheap broadband package with a low fixed monthly download allowance if you'll the only one using the connection – just make sure to keep video streaming and downloads to a minimum.

Don't fall for false economy

If you’ll be living in a crowded house full of ardent web surfers then you really should get an unlimited broadband package. A bargain basement package may seem attractive but may well end up being a textbook example of false economy.

With six students all on Facebook, YouTube and Spotify at all hours of the day and night you’ll soon eat through a low usage allowance. Do the smart thing and pay the extra for a package with a high or unlimited usage allowance to avoid any penalties or, worse, disconnection at a critical time.

3. Broadband without a phone line

Virgin Media

If you live in a Virgin Media area then you have the option to sign up for broadband without a phone line. This can save you some significant money over the course of your student years as you won’t have to pay line rental, which can add as much as £15.99 a month onto the cost of your broadband.

Mobile broadband as an alternative

If you don’t live in a Virgin Media area you may like to consider mobile broadband, although be prepared for much lower download speeds. You can choose from a range of contract lengths or Pay As You Go, and you’ll be able to take your broadband with you wherever you go. Plus, if you sign up for mobile broadband from your existing mobile phone provider you may also qualify for a discount.

4. Consider broadband bundles

By opting for a bundle instead of a broadband only package you can get one or more extra services from your chosen provider, such as a digital TV package or an inclusive calls plan. 

By bundling services in this way you’ll usually be able to make some savings compared to taking each service from a different provider and you’ll have the convenience of a combined bill for all your services at the end of the month.

In Virgin Media cable areas you can get a Virgin Media student bundle with unlimited fibre optic broadband, inclusive weekend calls and your choice of TV packages, and all on a short 9-month contract. However, these bundles aren’t always made available all year round, so you may need to place your order early in the autumn term.

More widely available are bundles from Sky and BT. Both providers offer a range of broadband, TV and phone bundles that allow you to select the specific level of each service that suits your needs. Currently neither BT nor Sky is offering short contracts, preferring instead to offer their bundles on standard contracts of between 12 and 18 months. 

Save money with a longer contract bundle

Will you definitely be staying in the same accommodation for 18 months? If so you may well be able to save even more money by signing up for a longer contract, and have more providers to choose from. And if you’re splitting the cost amongst a group of housemates then you’ll be getting all of these services for just a few pounds each per week.

5. Don't forget extras

Make sure you take into account the extras and freebies on offer when choosing your student broadband deal. It’s often the case that if you opt for the very cheapest deal you won’t get as many perks as you would if you’re willing to pay just a few pounds extra each month.

These freebies can include a free wireless router worth £50 or more, brand-name online security software to protect your precious coursework, and unlimited Wi-Fi minutes, so you can continue your browsing in any of the millions of public “Hotspots”. Consider whether opting for a cheap package with no extras will end up costing you more in the long run - and choose carefully.

6. Compare student broadband deals

Now you’ve got a better idea of what to look out for when selecting your student broadband package you're now ready to compare student broadband deals. Keep these things in mind as you do and you’ll be able to find the right deal in no time at all:

  • Which student broadband deals are available in your area?
  • What will you be using your broadband connection for?
  • How many people are going to be using your connection?
  • Would you benefit from other bundled services, such as digital TV or inclusive calls?
  • Do you live in a fibre optic broadband area?
  • Will you be in your property long enough to avoid the higher cost of a shorter contract?
  • Will a bundle work out to be more cost-effective for you?
  • Will you be splitting the bill with housemates?

Comments (1)

17th February 2014

Students,

As part of National Student Money Week we're running a survey on the cost and speed of student broadband. If you can spare 5 minutes pop over to the survey page and tell us what you think of your current connection.

Your response is much appreciated.

Hannah - Cable.co.uk

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