How to find the best broadband offer for you
By Dan Howdle | Friday, October 5th 2018
Find the sheer choice of broadband deals on offer a little daunting? Remember, getting the best deal is all about learning what works for your needs and household. Read on for a few tips.
What broadband speed does my household need?
The more megabits you can download per second, the faster the connection. Working out the Internet speed you need is easier than it sounds. Grab a pen and paper, answer a few simple questions and do a bit of maths – it really is that easy.
Before you begin: You don't need to 'stack' megabits here for a household member who does more than one of these things, as they are not likely to be doing more than one of them at the same time. A household member that streams movies and downloads games, for example, is still allocated 20Mbps (for the more demanding activity) rather than 10Mbps for streaming plus 20Mbps for gaming.
How many people in your household use the Internet?
Allocate 5Mbps for each person.
Do they stream or download movies or TV shows?
Allocate 10Mbps for each person.
Does anyone download video games on a regular basis?
Allocate 20Mbps for each person.
Are any of your TVs 4K ultra-HD?
Allocate 30Mbps for those who regularly watch 4K content via Amazon, Netflix, Apple TV, Rakuten or YouTube.
Add about 20% to your final figure to give yourself a comfortable ceiling during the busiest times of the day, and round up to the nearest speed available.
Broadband speed examples:
Household of four, one movie/TV streamer, no gamers, no 4K:
Here you would simply add together the three basic users (three times 5Mbps), plus the one streamer (one times 10Mbps), giving you 25Mbps.
Add the 20% safety margin and you'll arrive at 30Mbps.
There aren’t any 30Mbps packages, so you'd need to round up to the first available speed, which means you'll need a package with an average speed of 35Mbps or 36Mbps.
Household of five, three movie/TV streamers (two of whom use the same TV, one of whom is a gamer), one 4K TV:
This one's a little more complex. Two household members are basic users, so let's add those together (two times 5Mbps).
Next we have three streamers, but one is a gamer and there is one 4K TV in the house. So for the basic streamer add 10Mbps, the gamer 20Mbps and the other streamer 30Mbps, assuming at least one uses the 4K TV. This totals 75Mbps.
Add 20% for safety to reach 90Mbps. Round up to the nearest available package and you'll need a 100Mbps broadband connection – currently only available from Virgin.
There’s some flexibility. The final numbers from these examples could probably be reduced a little, but the chances of hitting those speed limits and experiencing problems like stream-buffering (where your TV show stops playing as it loads the next bit) are high without the safety margin.
Likewise, if your calculation comes out above 67Mbps (the highest speed offered by most providers apart from Virgin Media) and you can't get Virgin Media (it's only available to around 60% of UK households), don't panic. Just opt for the highest speed you can get – you'll be fine most of the time.
What types of broadband are there?
All providers except Virgin Media offer old-fashioned ADSL broadband, which delivers average speeds of 10Mbps. There’s also fibre broadband, which delivers so-called 'superfast' speeds averaging around 65Mbps. Both arrive through your existing landline and differ only in the technology they use beyond the green cabinet on your street corner.
When would I need superfast broadband?
Probably never. Take Virgin Media: they only offer fibre, and its speeds start at a 'superfast' 50Mbps, up to an absolutely dizzying 'ultrafast' 350Mbps. To give you a quick idea of how insane that top speed is, you could watch fifty different HD movies on fifty different TVs all at the same time. Useful for downloading very large files quickly, but not much else then…
Which broadband providers include TV in their packages?
If you’d like a bundle including subscription TV, your Internet provider options become a little limited.
Only Sky, Virgin Media, BT, TalkTalk, Plusnet and EE offer TV services, and of those only Sky, Virgin Media and BT do so with much to offer beyond basic Freeview.
If you're just after all the Freeview channels with some premium stuff thrown in, and with the option to add Sky Cinema and Sky Sports, BT TV will be enough. If you really need 400+ channels, however, we recommend either Virgin or Sky.
Here’s a little more info about each:
TV from Sky
Up until around the start of 2017, Sky was in a league of its own when it came to TV. However, Virgin Media has caught up and has in some ways surpassed Sky (Virgin TV has a better set-top box and doesn't need a satellite dish).
We still reckon Sky is about equal top-dog when it comes to TV though. Its Sky Q box isn't quite as capable as Virgin TV's V6 (unless you pay an additional £200 upfront for the posh version of the Q). It offers superior catch-up and on-demand boxset services as well as Sky Atlantic – which you can't get on any other TV service.
TV from Virgin Media
Virgin Media offers a number of different 'levels' of TV in its bundles. Unlike Sky, this will come through the same cable as your broadband connection (with Sky you need a dish). As mentioned above, Virgin TV's (free) set-top box is better than Sky's, and you’re free to bolt on Sky Sports, BT Sport and Sky Cinema.
In the top packages, Virgin TV's channel count is vast, so it's worth doing a little research on the channels you need and which package delivers them before taking the plunge.
TV from BT
Some way behind the front runners is BT TV. Its best offering is still a long way short of both Sky and Virgin's, but it's relatively new by comparison and adding new channels all the time.
BT TV's YouView boxes aren’t bad and they even offer a 4K version to go with BT Sport's 4K sport channel.
When’s the best time to switch broadband providers?
When they're offering free stuff. Take advantage of free gifts, rewards cards, vouchers and cashback to get the best value deal.
If you compare the deals above you can see which deals are offering various bits and pieces on top of the basic broadband or broadband and TV bundle. These can really make a difference to the overall value.
In the case of cashback and reward cards, it's worth remembering that you may have to manually claim these yourself after your services have been installed, and that providers generally quite like it when you forget.
Do I need a phone line with my broadband deal?
Choosing not to have one could complicate things, as most broadband deals come with a phone line. The broadband comes down your phone line, ergo you need a phone line, ergo why not have a phone?
How many landline calls you make in the average week (and when you make them) will influence which 'calling package' is best for you.
Calling packages generally come in four self-explanatory flavours:
- Pay as you go (PAYG)
- Free weekends
- Free evenings and weekends
- Free anytime calls
What if I want a broadband-only deal?
Plenty of providers claim to offer 'broadband-only'. Realistically, the primary reason anyone would choose this option is to pay less for the overall package. The bad news is, this isn’t possible.
The part of your bill you pay for the phone line (still called line rental, but no longer separated out) is exactly that – line rental. You're still renting the line, albeit just for your broadband, so you’ll still need to be pay line rental whether you have a landline hooked up or not.
Only Virgin Media offers 'true' broadband-only. This is broadband with truly no number or landline attached, but thanks to the line rental, you'll be lucky to be paying just £1 less a month. We've even seen times when broadband-only is more expensive. So it’s probably not worth the hassle.