How to compare broadband deals
By Dan Howdle | Friday, March 27th 2020
In this guide
- How do I choose the right broadband deal?
- What types broadband deals are there?
- Which broadband providers are the best for broadband deals?
- Broadband with bundles and add-ons
- Broadband speeds explained
- Limited vs unlimited broadband
- What else do I need to know?
- Frequently asked questions
The UK broadband market is healthy indeed, with many providers to choose from, each offering several – sometimes even dozens – of packages. It's hard to know where to even start. Luckily, we're here to provide you with everything you need to find the best broadband deals for you and your household.
How do I choose the right broadband deal?
The things you should consider when looking for a broadband deal suited to your home:
- Speed – How many megabits per second (Mbps) you need to keep the house running smoothly
- Availability – Where you live affects the speed you can receive and the connection you can get. Use our postcode checker to find out what's available near you.
- Usage – Most deals are unlimited, but some households with low usage could save a little money on a limited package
- Price – How much can you afford? What up-front charges will you have to pay?
- Contract length – How long will you be tied in with your new provider?
- Offers – It's almost always better to pick a deal that's offering cashback, gifts or other rewards
- Bundles – The best TV providers by far are Sky and Virgin Media
- Terms – There are some good reasons why it's a good idea to know the basics of your contract
You can use the filtering tools on the left of the page to dial in your preferences for all of the things we've just mentioned. If money is your main concern, we have a dedicated page rounding up the cheapest broadband deals available.
What types broadband deals are there?
There are three types of broadband available in the UK right now:
ADSL is broadband that uses copper telephone wire throughout its entire journey between your house and the telephone exchange. Copper is less ideal for carrying a broadband signal than fibre optic cable, providing a maximum speed of around 18Mbps. ADSL is fast enough for a small household of 1-2 people, but it may struggle with three or more people using the internet at the same time.
The term 'superfast' is defined by Ofcom (the UK telecoms regulator) as (fibre) broadband with a speed between 30Mbps and 299Mbps. Currently, most fibre broadband deals widely available in the UK offer speeds in this range. Superfast broadband is enough for most households, with basic superfast packages enough for households of up to four internet users. Faster packages are recommended if there are gamers in the house or you have a 4K TV.
Ultrafast broadband is defined as any broadband connection with a speed of 300Mbps or greater. Gigabit broadband refers to a connection with a speed of 1,000Mbps, so while you might call a gigabit connection 'ultrafast', not all ultrafast connections are a gigabit. Virgin Media is the only widely available provider to offer speeds in this range. However, there are very few cases where such speeds are necessary.
Which broadband providers are the best for broadband deals?
Choosing a broadband provider can often come down to whoever's offering the best deal, or offering exactly what we're looking for. To help you make that choice here are our most popular providers, along with what separates them from the crowd:
- Virgin Media: Virgin Media offers the fastest and most reliable broadband in the UK, but only to around 60% of households. so you'll have to check if you can get it. It also offers some of the best equipment and some exceptional TV packages
- BT: BT broadband is certainly not the cheapest, but it can be very competitive when it has a sale on or is offering cashback. It also offers a great router, a premium service and decent, if not amazing, bundled TV options
- Sky: Sky can't match Virgin Media's broadband for speed, but it arguably beats it when it comes to bundled TV options. If you love TV, are looking for a bundle, and don't need Virgin Media's upper speeds, Sky is a good choice
- TalkTalk: Of the bigger, more popular providers TalkTalk is the one most aimed at those on a budget. It's not always the cheapest, and you won't find many frills, but if you're after a no-fuss connection that just works it is worth considering
- Plusnet: Yorkshire-based Plusnet is best known for its customer service, for which it has won a mountain of awards. It also offers broadband, broadband-only and basic broadband and TV bundle deals
To find out more about the other providers featured on Cable.co.uk, take a look out our broadband providers page.
Broadband with bundles and add-ons
Some of the larger providers will allow you to bundle in a TV package or even a mobile SIM or two, often saving you a lot of money. Here are a few definitions of the types of deal available:
- Broadband only deals – With one of these, just like it says, you'll get broadband and nothing else. Not even a phone line. Be aware, though that you will need a phone line with a calling contract from another provider in most cases. Virgin Media is the exception – it offers true broadband-only in the sense you do not even need a phone line
- TV and broadband bundles – Some providers will let you bundle a TV package with your broadband. These commonly offer hundreds of additional TV channels. The best TV offerings are from Sky and Virgin Media, with BT a fairly distant third place. Other providers mostly offer Freeview channels with a few bolt-ons, their main draw being the set-top box they offer. These allow you to pause, rewind and record live TV
- Broadband and phone deals – You'll find few broadband deals where the broadband is all you get (so-called 'broadband-only'). At the very least you will usually get a landline with the deal, to which you can almost always add a calling package (free weekend calls, evenings and so on)
- No contract broadband deals – Some broadband providers will allow you to sign up to a one-month rolling contract that won't tie you in for a year or more as is generally the norm. Beware, though that such deals often come with higher up-front costs than broadband deals with contracts
Broadband speeds explained
What is broadband speed?
The number of 'megabits per second', represented by a number followed by either 'Mb' or the full 'Mbps' determine how fast you can move information from the internet to the devices in your home. The more Mbps, the faster you can do it.
The speed you choose matters a great deal. If you choose a deal that's not fast enough you're going to experience problems when everyone in your household wants to be online. Too fast, and you're probably paying more than you need to.
To check what broadband speed you're getting right now, you can use our broadband speed checker tool.
What broadband speed do I need?
An easy rule of thumb is to allow 10Mbps for every internet user in your household, doubling it to 20Mbps for each person who is a gamer, has a 4K TV and streams 4K content. This will give you a decent ballpark figure to work to.
Read our What broadband speed do I need? guide.
What do the advertised 'average' broadband speeds mean?
Depending on where you live, the connection supplied may be faster or slower than the advertised average. This number is the overall average measured by the provider from a large number of customers spread around the country,
Why do the broadband speeds offered vary?
The speed you ultimately get may depend on your distance from your nearest cabinet and telephone exchange, and the state of the cables connecting you. Averages vary due to the mix of customer locations they are worked out from.
Limited vs unlimited broadband
A limited broadband deal sets a limit on the amount of data you can download to the devices in your home each month. We're used to seeing data limits on our mobiles, but limited data broadband deals are rare.
An unlimited broadband deal sets no such limit. You can use the internet as much as you like. Our advice is to avoid limited plans and choose an unlimited deal. That way you'll simply never have to worry about it.
Activities with the greatest impact on your broadband usage
- Streaming video (Netflix, iPlayer etc.): A modern high definition TV requires between 5-8Mbps to stream in its preferred resolution (HD). A very new 4K TV needs 20-25Mbps to stream at 4K resolution
- Large family or shared accommodation: The more people sharing the same broadband connection, the faster it's going to need to be to keep up
- Gaming: Playing games online actually requires very little in terms of internet speed. But downloading and updating can take up your whole connection for significant periods of time
- Multiple devices: If people in your household all have their own mobile, smart TV, computer, tablet, games console and so on, all these devices each require their own chunk of the available speed
- Video calls: Video calling apps such as Facetime and Skype will generally use the best quality video they can unless told otherwise. This can take up a sizeable chunk of your internet connection
If you want the best bang for your buck you need look no further than our roundup of cheap broadband deals.
What else do I need to know?
Here's a quick round up of the leftover bits and bobs you may need to help you choose the right broadband deal:
Contract length can be important, especially if you enjoy switching broadband to find a better deal. Most broadband contracts – outside of no-contract deals – are at least a year, so bear in mind that if you want to leave during that time you're going to incur a penalty. This often means paying off every remaining monthly payment on the contract.
Freebies and offers
The best time to sign up to a new broadband deal is pretty much always going to be when the provider is offering you something extra. Enticements to new customers come in the form of cashback, shopping vouchers (E.G. Marks & Spencer, Amazon and so on), free gifts (usually a games console, TV, smart home device or something similar), or simply a sizeable reduction in the monthly cost of the broadband.
Choose a deal whose freebies appeal to you the most, but if at all possible avoid deals that offer you no incentive for signing up.
Depending on whether you already have a phone line installed, some providers will charge a sizeable chunk to get you connected. If you'd rather avoid up-front installation costs look for deals marked with either a low (£5-£10) or non-existent (zero) set-up cost.
Read our provider reviews
If you've seen a deal you fancy, but you're not sure how good the provider is, have a look at our broadband provider reviews where we weigh up all of the pros and cons.
Frequently asked questions
What's the best broadband deal?
Generally, the best broadband deal at any given time will be the one which represents the best speeds for the least money. But you may have your own criteria – fastest for example. Luckily, our broadband comparison tools allow you to find the best deal according to your own preference.
Who’s the best broadband provider?
Virgin Media. Thanks to the fact it operates on its own network, using a different cabling technology to all the other providers, Virgin Media broadband is more reliable and offers packages whose top speeds are multiples faster than the nearest competition.
What broadband speed do I need?
To be on the safe side, to work out what speed you need you should allow 10Mbps for each household member that uses the internet. If there are gamers or household members who streams 4K (ultra high-definition) films and TV shows, you should double their allowance.
Can I get broadband without a landline?
Yes. However, you will still have to pay line rental, which is the most common reason most seek to opt out. Most providers offering 'broadband only' will install a landline, but put in place no calling packages. Only Virgin Media broadband offers the option of no landline whatsoever.
What is the best broadband?
The best broadband you can get is fibre broadband – especially fibre broadband to the home (FTTH) or premises (FTTP). Fibre connections are reliable and very fast.