Why you should consider a cheap broadband deal
There's a lot more to choosing the cheapest broadband deal than just clicking on the one with the smallest number next to it. Cheap is cheap, but finding a deal that presents value for money? Well, that's another trick altogether...
It's a good way to lower your monthly bills
You can’t change the price of your water or your council tax, but most people in the UK are paying far too much for their broadband, and you could be among them.
Here are five reasons this is often the case. It may be that...
- You’re reluctant to switch because you perceive it as a hassle
- You’re happy with your existing provider
- You’re not aware you could be paying less
- You’re paying for more speed and usage than you need
- You think cheaper deals are inferior
And here’s the reality…
- Switching has never been easier – you don’t even need to call your existing provider
- You’ll likely be equally happy with a provider who also charges you less
- Well, you are now!
- Do you really need unlimited, superfast fibre? Perhaps it’s time to take stock
- Cheaper doesn’t mean worse – in a general sense, broadband is broadband
How to identify a cheap broadband internet deal
Broadband deals can be far more confusing than they need to be. After all, just take a look at the length of this guide. There really is that much to find out about.
Look at the ﬁrst-year cost
Broadband providers love confusion. No, really. Otherwise, why would they advertise a headline monthly cost for your broadband and phone, only to then add layer upon layer of complexity: Free for six months then a small fortune thereafter, line rental, one-oﬀ installation costs, postage for your router, optional internet security packages automatically added to your shopping basket, multiple call plans and add-ons – the list goes on.
What is certain is that you will be paying more than the price most providers advertise, and the only way to get a really good idea of what you’ll be paying in the long run is to look at the ﬁrst-year cost.
Happily, ﬁrst-year cost is something we calculate for you. Just don’t forget to hit the ‘Include line rental costs’ button to see the true picture. We don’t have this toggled on as standard. That’s so that if you see a deal you like the look of elsewhere (on the telly, say), you can easily ﬁnd it.
Ten quick and dirty tips for getting a cheaper broadband deal
We’ll be going into more detail about why these things are particularly important further down this guide. But, if patience is not your strong point and you just want the highlights, they are…
1. Beware line rental, consider a saver
Providers don’t like to talk about line rental. It makes their cheap broadband deals suddenly look rather expensive. However, line rental is a fact of life that there are few ways around.
One of those ways is to opt for a ‘line rental saver’. These plans invite you to pay a year up-front, but oﬀer you savings in return, typically between 10% and 30% of the total annual cost, had you paid monthly.
2. Always look at the ﬁrst-year cost
Knowing what you’re paying across the ﬁrst year, including line rental and stealth connection charges makes it easy to see who’s really cheap, and who’s a headline-price pretender.
Our broadband comparison pages (one of which you are on right now) allow you to include line rental (with the button at the top of the page), and to sort the entire list by ﬁrst-year cost, cheapest ﬁrst. For your convenience, they are listed in this order by default.
3. Think about contract length
What you ultimately pay is as much about how much you pay each month as it is about how long you’re tied into your contract.
Unlike your gas or electricity, you can’t just switch provider on a whim while still within the period of your contract. Some broadband providers will charge you a fee for leaving. Some will charge you the entire remainder of the lifetime cost of your contract. Some will even layer an early exit penalty on top of all that.
Depending on what you have and how much time is left on your contract, that can be a huge sum.
Long and short of it is, you need to be sure you’re going to want the deal you choose for the period of the contract. Even moving house won’t let you escape for free (unless you can’t get the service where you move to).
4. Establish your needs and budget
We’ve written a mini-guide within this guide, covering how to establish what you need. Scroll down to have a look if you’re not sure. In essence, though, the more people and devices in your household, the faster a broadband deal you’ll need, especially if those people stream or download movies, TV and/or games. Now think about your budget, but remember, you don’t have to spend it all. The very point of this buyer’s guide is, in fact, to help you save money on your broadband. That means spending less than you thought you’d have to. Otherwise, we’ve failed.
5. Opt for a usage cap if you're not a heavy user
If there’s only one or two of you in the house and you don’t spend night after night streaming box-sets like Game Of Thrones from Now TV, Netﬂix, Apple TV or Amazon Instant Video, you could be saving money by opting for a broadband deal with a usage cap.
Usage caps put a limit on the amount of data you can download, but reset each month. Deals with caps tend to cost less. But you need to be sure you won’t exceed it or you could end up paying more than any unlimited package is likely to cost you.
6. Look for rewards and freebies
Cheap broadband deals, especially those from the ‘prime’ UK providers (BT, Sky, Virgin and TalkTalk) often come with enticing rewards to tempt you in. Some of these are substantial.
For example, there are many deals that come with £100 of shopping vouchers from Marks & Spencer or Sainsbury’s, say. That could annihilate half the cost of a monthly family food shop and so should not be sniﬀed at. You can ﬁlter by oﬀers by clicking ‘oﬀers’ at the top of the page.
7. Don't dawdle
What was it they said about good things coming to those who wait? Forget that. It simply doesn’t apply to getting a cheap broadband deal. That’s because the cheapest deals tend not to hang around for long. Take it from us – we have to manually change the deals we display as they commence and expire. It’s not happening every now and then, it’s happening every day, every day.
If you see a deal you like, get it immediately because it might not be there tomorrow.
8. Check if you can get cheap broadband from your mobile provider
Both EE and Vodafone provide ﬁxed-line broadband for your home. While the deals they oﬀer certainly aren’t the cheapest on the market, they can get pretty close if you’re already with them as a mobile customer.
And, there is the added advantage that, unlike many ‘budget’ broadband providers, EE and Vodafone won’t skimp on the quality of the equipment. Bundling up with your mobile provider is a great way to save money, keep your billing simple and ensure you don’t sacriﬁce quality for budget.
9. Bundle up if you also want telly
If there’s even a slight chance you might want a TV deal to go with your budget broadband (you can add TV with Sky, Virgin, BT and TalkTalk), you should consider bundling the two together.
You’ll pay less for both services that way and keep all your bills in one place.
10. Choose the most basic call plan if you mainly use your mobile
Landlines, for most of us, are becoming somewhat surplus to requirements.
That’s because, according to Deloitte, 76% of the UK public own a smartphone, and more than half (56%) check their phone within ﬁve minutes of waking up.
Do that with a landline and people will think you’re nuts. That’s because landlines only do one thing, while for smartphones, that one thing is one of a thousand others it also does.
Whatever you choose broadband-wise, a landline is all but compulsory bar one or two (deﬁnitely not cheap) broadband-only options from Virgin Media. If you mainly use your mobile, you can save money on your broadband and phone by choosing the most basic landline package available.
How to make sure your broadband deal is as cheap as possible
Compare the ﬁrst-year cost of the contract, including line rental
On our comparison table above, pay close attention to the ﬁrst-year cost. Closer attention, in fact, than the ‘headline’ monthly price.
Broadband providers love oﬀering deals that seem so cheap they’re almost too good to be true. That’s because, more often than not, they are – stealth fees concealed beneath every stone.
Lucky for you we’ve gone to the trouble of reading through the small print and have included literally every penny you’ll pay in the ﬁrst year cost (found below the headline price in our listings).
Just make sure you click (or thumb) the ‘include line rental’ button at the top of the page to include that too.
Broadband is sometimes cheaper when you bundle it
Taking out additional services will sometimes reduce the cost you pay each month for your broadband. In fact, with the right wind behind you (deals change all the time) you might even ﬁnd a broadband deal that’s completely free. You just have to add TV or a mobile SIM.
The rarest beast of all is free broadband that doesn’t require you to take out some sort of bundle. Sky sometimes does this and before you think it’s gone stark raving mad, there is some method in its madness.
Cable’s own customer research shows that about half of UK broadband customers have never switched provider. Shame on them – they’re deﬁnitely going to be paying more than they have to – but, what that also shows is that if you can get the customer in the door, at least half of the time they become customers for life.
Standard broadband is sometimes cheaper than ﬁbre, though not always
Both standard broadband (sometimes referred to as ADSL, or ‘copper’) and ﬁbre broadband (often called ‘superfast’ or ﬁbre optic) can be found at the core of cheap broadband packages.
As little as a year ago, maybe two, there existed a marked diﬀerence between the cost of standard broadband and the cost of ﬁbre broadband. If you averaged the cost out across all packages on the UK market today you’d likely see a diﬀerence, but it would be slight.
And, on a package-to-package basis it’s not at all uncommon to see some ﬁbre deals out-cheaping some standard broadband deals. That’s why it’s so important to ﬁgure out your needs before you get start looking for the cheapest deals that suit them.
Look for cheap introductory (often called 'new customer') broadband deals
Whether you’re switching or taking up broadband anew, as a ‘new customer’ you have the world at your feet. Every broadband provider out there wants you as their customer and they’re willing to oﬀer you the moon and the stars to tempt you.
Consider a usage limit if you don't use the internet all that much
Living alone? As a couple? Just use the internet for surﬁng and Facebook? Then you’re precisely the sort of person who can make do with a ‘limited’ broadband deal. It’ll absolutely save you money, just so long as you’re certain you’re not going to go over the limit.
If it looks even a little bit likely that you will, go for a broadband deal with a higher usage limit or opt for an unlimited broadband deal instead. While you’ll pay a little more for unlimited broadband, it’s not a lot more, especially when you consider the peace of mind this will oﬀer.
Pay less for line rental with a line rental saver deal
Except the (not cheaper as one might expect) broadband-only deals from Virgin Media, all broadband deals, cheap or otherwise, in the UK, require you to have a working landline. And, many UK broadband providers also require that your landline contract also goes through them.
That’s because broadband, even so-called ‘ﬁbre’ (which is ﬁbre as far as those green little cabinets on street corners and copper the rest of the way) arrives in your living room through your old BT (Openreach) phone line.
Most providers oﬀer what’s called a ‘line rental saver’ plan. These plans allow you to pay for a year’s worth of line rental up front, but oﬀer substantial savings in return.
Understanding the introductory period of your broadband contract
Cheap broadband might not be so cheap after 6 or 12 months
It’s almost the standard these days for broadband deals to be advertised as cheaper than they actually are. The providers get around what are otherwise strict laws in other industries by advertising these prices, then adding in teeny-tiny small print ‘For the ﬁrst six months’ or wording to that eﬀect.
This is especially important because it means that what looks aﬀordable now may not be so aﬀordable in six or 12 months’ time when you’re paying full whack. Prices post-honeymoon period often don’t merely go up a little bit – sometimes they double.
Sometimes they even quadruple.
Check how soon after the introductory period you can switch
Pay attention now, 007, because we’re going to do a little broadband deal maths. We assure you, it’s simple and well worth your time.
Basically, you should take a look at when the introductory (low price) period ends, then deduct that from the total length of your contract. That’s how long you’re going to be stuck with it paying full price.
This is important, because if it’s a short period (low price for 12 months, full price for six) you only have six months paying top dollar, after which point you’re free again to switch, and to take advantage of another new customer deal from someone else.
Sky recently oﬀered a – somewhat brave! – broadband deal that was free for 12 months, while the term of the contract was also 12 months. That means, technically, you could take out free broadband for a year, then switch to another provider the moment Sky asks you to pay something.
Of course, Sky – or any other provider oﬀering this type of deal – hopes that by that time you’ll be so happy with the service you receive you’ll want to keep it, and with Sky’s reliability and service record, it’s probably right.
Keep in mind that you'll only ever be offered introductory pricing once
Another thing to bear in mind is that if you do become a frequent switcher and at some point return to a provider you have already been with, you’re no longer a new customer in their eyes.
Returning customers are generally not oﬀered the same cheap ‘new customer’ broadband deals. Providers argue that’s because you’ve already had them and, well, you kind of have.
How much you could save by switching to a cheaper deal
Switching to a cheap broadband deal could save you up to £252 per year
Why such a ludicrously high ﬁgure? You could buy a new telly for that. Or a new dog. Switch to a cheap broadband deal and at the end of the year treat yourself to a new dog? Yes.
Joking aside, the reason you could save so much is simple. It’s because so many of us are in the same broadband contract we’ve had for years. Broadband has gotten cheaper, and by not switching we’re failing to reap the beneﬁt.
Switch now. Get a free dog.
Most people in the UK are paying more than they have to
Back in May of 2015, Cable conducted a survey among 2,000 UK broadband customers. The aim was to ﬁnd out how many of us had switched broadband provider. The (somewhat shocking) ﬁndings were that more than half of us had never switched provider.
That means that there are literally millions of customers out there paying far, far more than they need to for their broadband, while at the same time missing out on exclusive oﬀers, rewards and freebies.
Nothing beats a cheap 'new customer' broadband internet deal
If there is one rule that never changes in the UK broadband market it’s that the best deals are always for new customers.
True, you can always haggle with your provider at the end of your contract to see what they will oﬀer you to stay, but some providers (naming no names, BT) are known for being mean in this respect, while others (naming no names, Virgin Media) would oﬀer you the earth if you will but stay.
Cheap broadband deals for ﬁrst-time broadband buyers
Because everything about them screams 'welcome' to ﬁrst-time broadband customers
Cheap introductory rates, free gifts, cashback, shopping vouchers, free installation, free equipment. If you’re coming to broadband for the ﬁrst time (and presumably, then, reading this on a friend’s tablet, phone or computer), you probably plump for the cheapest deal irrespective of limits, speeds and other factors.
Of course, that won’t be true if, as a ﬁrst-timer, your very intention is to get a cheap broadband deal so you can stream Game Of Thrones on Now TV or download the latest Call Of Duty from Playstation Network or Xbox Live. But, chances are, if you’ve never had broadband before, those things are going to be completely alien to you.
If you’ve never had broadband before, you probably just want to join Facebook and buy the odd bit or bob oﬀ Amazon. In which case, our advice stands.
One thing students are not known for is their ﬂuid ﬁnances. That’s why every penny should count. Cheap broadband deals then, especially in shared households, keep everyone plugged in while collectively costing almost nothing. Just be sure you get one fast enough for everyone if you don’t like the sight of blood.
A light user is just someone for whom the ﬁrst order of business each day is not to ﬁre up Netﬂix and binge-watch. A light user probably spends a fair bit of time on social media and surfs about a bit, but doesn’t download or stream videos or games.
People who are away a lot
Some people just spend too much time away from home for work or study to justify much more than the bare minimum. If you’re barely ever at home, take advantage and get the cheapest deal you can ﬁnd. Don’t be tempted by bankroll-busting premium deals, no matter how good they look on the telly.
Why it's almost always 'broadband and phone'
While scouting about looking for a cheap broadband deal you may have noticed that pretty much every single cheap broadband deal comes with a phone line, and thus with the additional sting of line rental.
Sadly, it’s unavoidable. If you’re getting broadband from anyone other than Virgin Media, it’s going through a phone line. If it’s going through a phone line, you’re going to need to pay rental on that, and since you’re paying the rental you might as well have a home phone attached to the line as well.
“Ah,” you say, “but Virgin Media oﬀers ‘broadband-only’ deals, so why don’t I just go with them and so avoid line rental?”
An excellent idea in theory, but actually Virgin Media charges through the nose for its broadband-only deals. You won’t end up saving any money by not having a phone line with them.
Equally, while some other providers (Plusnet, Origin, one or two others) also claim to oﬀer broadband-only deals, they only do so on the basis that you have an operational landline for which you’re paying the line rental to someone else.
How usage caps can make your broadband cheaper
On some deals, you may notice a number, followed by ‘GB’ in the spot where ‘unlimited’ is written for certain others. This denotes a ‘limited’ broadband deal, and what that limit exactly is.
A limit is basically a cap on the amount of data you can use in a month. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether your household’s usage will come in under the bar by the end of the month. As a rough guide, though, a 20GB limit will provide all the surﬁng, social media and emailing you could possibly achieve in a month, while a 40GB limit will also allow you to stream the odd movie or TV show here and there.
Those who stream or download a lot across the month should simply steer clear of limited deals altogether.
Less usage means paying less money
Limited broadband deals are cheaper on average than unlimited ones. However, that is not always the case at an individual package level.
Sometimes providers oﬀer cheap unlimited broadband deals to new customers that blow pretty much everything else out of the water, so keep your eyes peeled for the best deals available right now, and be prepared to jump without hesitation.
If you go over the limit, cheap limited broadband deals are a false economy
If you do opt for a cheap, capped broadband deal, just be sure you’re in no danger of going over the limit. Providers, like banks, tend to charge an arm and a leg for exceeding your limits – some even charge you per extra gigabyte used. Yikes!
Be aware, though, that providers will always notify you if you’re approaching your limit. BT, for example, will send you an email when you’ve used up 15GB of a 20GB limit. You can then plan how you intend to economise until the limit resets at the end of the month.
Voucher codes: What they are and whether you need to worry about them
You’ve probably heard of voucher codes and maybe you’re wondering if they can help you to get an even cheaper broadband deal. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but voucher codes are extremely rare in the UK broadband market.
What are voucher codes?
Voucher codes are codes supplied by third-party websites that can be typed into a special box at the point you buy your product to provide you with additional savings.
Can you get them for cheap broadband deals?
Sadly, it is almost impossible to ﬁnd voucher codes for cheap broadband deals. Though still extremely rare you can sometimes ﬁnd them for big, expensive bundles. That’s because cheap broadband tends already to be as cheap as a provider can make it without taking a loss.
Can I get one from Cable?
No. Cable does not provide voucher codes. Primarily, this is because they are rarer than a rainbow-coloured snow leopard, but also because Cable sometimes, though not always, makes a small commission if we manage to help you ﬁnd a cheap deal.
It’s these commissions that keep us up and running and able to continue to provide you with the best, most up-to-date broadband comparison tools in the business.
Do budget broadband deals offer rewards like cashback, vouchers and other freebies?
The short answer is they tend not to. Speciﬁcally, budget providers also tend to be smaller, and hence struggle to strike up long-running relationships with supermarkets and other outlets who could provide them with vouchers at a discount.
Budget broadband providers also have very low proﬁt margins – that’s why the cheapest broadband deals tend to oﬀer just the bare bones.
Choose a deal from a 'prime' provider
You can still get a really cheap broadband deal with cashback rewards, shopping vouchers or even free hardware, but if that’s what you want, you’re going to pretty much have to stick to Virgin Media, Sky, BT or TalkTalk, and we do not recommend TalkTalk due to their appalling record in both customer service and customer data loss.
TalkTalk deals are nevertheless included because we respect your right to choose.
Use our comparison tools to instantly see what offers are available
Once you’ve entered your postcode and been presented with a list of cheap broadband deals where you live, just click the word ‘Oﬀers’ at the head of the page. This will re-sort the list to favour deals that have vouchers, cashback and other types of reward.
Establishing what speed and/or limits will be enough
This is a question we are asked frequently at Cable. Even so, you’d be surprised how many folk end up buying far more broadband than they need. Hopefully, once you’ve followed this mini-guide, you’ll have a better idea of what speed you need and whether your household can cope with a really cheap broadband deal.
To determine what speed you need, ask yourself the following questions:
How many people are there with internet needs in the house? On average, you should allow for 3Mbps per person in your household. If one or more people in your household are known internet ﬁends and spend all their spare time streaming, downloading and gaming, you should probably multiply this by ten.
How many devices do they have?
Taking that average of 3Mbps, add one megabit (Mb) to each device that person has that might be used at the same time. So, for example, if your son or daughter has a games console, a smartphone and a tablet, add two megabits. You needn’t add three since it is unlikely they will be using their phone and tablet at the same time. However, lots of folk ﬁddle with their phones while streaming TV or movies.
What do they tend to do online?
If no one in the household streams from services like Netﬂix or BBC iPlayer, or downloads games to their console, tablet or smartphone, speed is not going to be an issue for you.
Standard, non-ﬁbre broadband deals average 10Mbps, which is plenty for people who mainly use the internet for browsing, and only stream one programme or movie at a time.
If, on the other hand, two or more people in your household like to stream video and/or download movies and games, you’ll need to think about getting yourself a cheap ﬁbre broadband deal.
Will they ever want to use it all at once?
There will always be the odd time when the whole family wants to do something online all at the same time. So long as these times are rare you shouldn’t worry too much and stick with standard broadband if it saves you money. However, if it’s likely there will be a 6-9pm internet traﬃc jam when everyone gets home from work or school, you should absolutely be looking at unlimited ﬁbre.
Does anyone stream TV?
It might be that no one in your household streams TV and movies from the internet. In fact, the TV oﬀerings from providers like Sky and Virgin Media are so comprehensive there’s often no need to.
And that’s another way to save money on your broadband. If you have 200+ channels of live TV from Sky or Virgin Media, you probably won’t need to invest quite so much in broadband speed, saving you money (on your broadband, at least).
Does anyone play games?
This is important, especially if anyone in your household owns a games console. The days of buying games on shiny discs from brick and mortar shops are coming to an end. You can still do that, sure, but games are moving in a similar direction to movies and music.
Not only can you download them straight from Xbox Live, PlayStation Store, Nintendo Shop or Steam, but you can also stream them the same way you can stream movies.
With the average retail game clocking in at a whopping 40GB and game streaming needing even more speed (and therefore data) than streaming HD movies, gaming is becoming increasingly reliant on a fast internet connection.
You can still get cheap broadband if you have a poor credit rating
Perhaps surprisingly, such is the value of new, potential lifetime customers in the ﬁercely competitive UK broadband market, many providers will oﬀer you a deal no matter how poor your credit rating is.
Policies vary and change over time, but there’s no reason to assume you won’t get a cheap deal from the provider you most desire. If you have a poor credit rating and need a nice, cheap broadband deal, you should choose the deal you want.
But you might have to try a few providers before you succeed
Of course, there is still some chance you might be turned down, but fret not. UK broadband providers only ever conduct what’s called a ‘soft search’ of your credit proﬁle. That means that no matter how many providers you apply to, your credit rating will not be aﬀected.