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Switching your broadband provider

By Dan Howdle | Friday, August 20th 2021

Switching broadband providers is much easier than most people assume. Ofcom, the UK telecoms regulator, has put in place rules that make switching broadband almost as frictionless as switching your electricity provider. The tricky bit is choosing a new broadband deal that’s suited to you.

Below you’ll find a step by step guide to switching broadband – and if you’re moving house, there’s a guide for that, too.

1. Find out whether your broadband contract has ended

Most broadband contracts last for between 12 months and 24 months. To find out whether you’re still in your contract period, you can either check through your provider’s online portal or give them a call.

If you’re still in your current contract, it’s likely that there will be a fee for leaving early. This is often the entire sum of the remaining monthly payments on your contract, although it can be less. Head this way for a guide on what happens at the end of your broadband contract.

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2. Work out what broadband speed you need

Do you need something faster than your current broadband, or is the speed you already have just fine? If you need faster broadband, there’s an easy way to work out what internet speed you might need.

Allow 10Mbps for every household member who regularly uses the internet, but up that to 20Mbps for any person who regularly plays video games or who streams movies and TV shows in 4K resolution. The total should give you a rough idea of the internet speed you might need, but for a more in-depth guide to internet speeds, take a look at this guide.

3. Decide whether you want limited or unlimited broadband

The vast majority of broadband packages are unlimited – in other words, there is no cap on the amount of data you use every month. But there are still one or two capped packages available, and you could potentially save a few pounds per month by choosing one of these.

However, you should only opt for limited broadband packages if your household uses very little data each month: in other words, you don’t stream movies and TV, and don’t download games and apps. Many households use more data than they think!

4. Set a budget that fits your needs

When you factor in broadband, TV and phone bundles it’s is possible to end up spending a lot of money every month. When you’re picking out a broadband deal, have a maximum monthly cost in mind, and avoid packages that provide expensive services or ultrafast internet speeds that you will rarely use in your household. If money is tight, take a look at our guide to broadband for low income families.

5. Check which services are available at your address

Not all broadband packages are available everywhere. Broadband providers on the Openreach network (which includes almost all of them) provide services to almost all of the UK, whereas Virgin Media, which has its own network, is available to around 60% of UK homes.

Type in your postcode below to check what’s available at your address – it’s quite safe, we don’t store this information.

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6. Decide whether to bundle your broadband with TV and mobile

Think carefully before choosing a broadband deal on its own. There are often deals that will provide you with a subscription TV service at a discounted or even negligible additional cost, which could work out a lot cheaper than paying for TV separately. Some companies also offer bundles with discounted mobile SIMs, which again could work out cheaper than paying for a phone separately.

Note that if you’re switching broadband providers, you will almost certainly have to change your landline provider at the same time, although there are exceptions. However, you will be able to keep your existing phone number if you switch.

7. Take advantage of discounts, gifts, vouchers and other offers

In a crowded telecoms marketplace, broadband providers are falling over themselves to offer the best enticements to sign up. These range from ultra-cheap monthly payments to gift vouchers (anything from £25 to £275) or free gifts such as a smart speaker, TV or games console.

Things such as gifts should be the next most important factor after you’ve decided on speed, budget and the services you want. Head this way to see what free gifts are currently being offered.

8. Contact your existing broadband provider – although you might not have to

A couple of years ago, Ofcom changed the rules so that you don’t have to call your existing provider to tell them you’re leaving, as long as your old provider and your new provider are on the same network. There are just two broadband networks in the UK: Virgin Media, and everyone else. So, if you’re switching from or to Virgin Media you’re going to need to contact your new provider. With any other combination, you don’t have to.

9. Wait for your installation date – or do it yourself

Now that you’ve chosen a deal you’re happy with, all you need to do is wait for the installation to take place. Typically this will mean an engineer visit on the day of the switch, which is often around two weeks after the date you signed up. Usually you won’t be without a connection for anything more than a few hours at most, and often the process is totally seamless.

Earlier this year, most broadband providers were delaying engineer visits owing to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but are now offering visits again some, but with health and safety precautions in place. Check with your individual provider on how to arrange an engineer visit, and which safety and social distancing measures they're putting in place for home visits. If self-installation is an option, check out this guide on how to set up your Wi-Fi router.

Frequently asked questions

Will I be without broadband during the switch?

No. Or at least, not for very long. Unless there is some kind of fault (and this is rare), the most you will be without broadband will be for an hour or two. More commonly the process is totally seamless.

When can I switch to a new broadband supplier?

Two options: either when your current contract runs out, or when there are few enough months that you don’t mind paying a small amount in exit fees – or if your exit fees will be covered by your new provider. You can also switch at any time in your contract with no exit fees if your provider fails to deliver the service it promises. See Ofcom for more details.

Can I keep my existing phone number?

Yes. If you’re switching broadband providers, chances are you’re switching your landline provider along with it – there are very few ways to avoid this. You will keep your existing landline number unless you specifically request a new one.

How long does it take to switch broadband provider?

The whole process will take you around 10-15 minutes to compare and find the deal you want, followed by a wait of a couple of weeks for installation and maybe an hour at home while the engineer does the work, depending on who you switch from and to.

I’m confused: which is the best broadband provider?

How long is a piece of string? Vodafone is often the cheapest, Plusnet has won the most awards for its customer service. Virgin Media is by magnitudes the fastest, Sky offers the best subscription TV to bundle in with your broadband. There is no overall ‘best’ as it depends entirely on what is most important to you.

Can I keep my email address if I switch?

TalkTalk will allow you to keep it for a year, then delete it. For Virgin Media, you get to keep it for 90 days. Plusnet will let you keep it, but you will have to continue paying the provider a small amount to do so, while BT and Sky let you keep your email address indefinitely whether you switch or not, as long as you use it occasionally.

Are there any hidden costs or exit charges I should be aware of?

Only early exit fees if you’re leaving before the end of your contract.

What if my new broadband service is slow, broken or otherwise terrible?

If you sign up to a new provider and the service you’re getting is not what was advertised (you’re getting a fraction of the speed), and you’ve given your new provider ample opportunity to fix it with no joy, you can leave free of charge. You can also leave for free if your provider raises its prices – when it does so, you’ll have a 30-day window either to jump ship or stay put.

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