How to switch your broadband provider

Dan Howdle | January 17th, 2024

Woman using a laptop

Some things in life seem like they're going to be more work and more hassle than they actually turn out to be. That couldn't be more true of switching broadband provider. It's easy, straightforward and relatively painless.

But more importantly, it could save you a lot of money. And in this guide we'll aim to alleviate your worries and take you through the process so you know exactly what to expect at every step along the way as well as any pitfalls to avoid along the way.

Broadband switching checklist

Hold your horses. Before you get started switching to a new broadband deal you'll need to ensure you're in the best position to do so. To be in the best position to switch you'll need to be know the following:

  • That you're out of contract with your current provider – This means the initial contract term you signed up for (12, 18 or 24 months usually) has come to an end
  • Which broadband network you're currently on – Virgin Media or Openreach (almost everyone else; Sky, BT and so on) cover about 99% of all UK broadband customers. There are some discrete 'altnets' that operate locally on their own network, but the same rules apply to them as to Virgin Media, and we'll cover all of that further down the guide
  • What speed you need or want – Are you happy with the speed you have and are looking for similar, or are you looking to upgrade/downgrade
  • What constitutes your main reason for switching – Need something faster? Cheaper? Not happy with your current provider? This obviously has a bearing on what you switch to
  • Who owns your current equipment/router – Some providers will want their router back, some won't. Good to know in advance how that will work

Why are these things important?

Knowing, and being sure of these things before moving to the next stage (choosing a new broadband deal) are important because:

You will be charged for exiting your contract early

This should be quite easy to establish. If you're unsure, refer to the paperwork you were posted or emailed when you signed up to your current deal. If those aren't to hand you can speak to your provider to make sure your current contract has expired.

This is important, because most broadband providers will charge you everything remaining on your current contract if you leave before it naturally comes to an end. For example if your current broadband deal costs £35 per month and you have six months remaining on your contract, you could have to pay £210 (6 x £35) to exit early.

Switching between an Openreach provider and Virgin Media (or an altnet provider) is different to switching between two Openreach providers

Every provider used the Openreach network except Virgin Media and some local 'altnet' providers. If you're on an altnet, you're a broadband nerd most likely and already know what you're doing. But if you're switching to or from Virgin Media you'll need to tell your existing provider you're leaving as well as your new provider that you're joining. If you're switching between two Openreach providers (for example TalkTalk to Sky or BT to Vodafone) you only need to sign up to your new deal and your new provider will take care of the rest.

Faster is usually better, even if you want to save money

If you're happy with your current speed and want similar, that's fair enough. But bear in mind the amount of download speed taken up by things like streaming and gaming are forever increasing. Add to that that most people will be able to get something faster for less than what they're already paying means you could have the best of both worlds.

Cheapest isn't always best

We'll cover special offer deals in the next section. In the meantime we will say this: Opting for the cheapest possible deal isn't always the best choice. The more premium providers tend to offer better routers and support. For example, if you're with BT and have a Smart Hub 2, and you switch to an ultra-budget provider you could find your wifi is no longer up to the task, making the few quid a month you saved a rather false economy.

Choosing a new broadband deal

This is the fun part: Choosing a shiny new broadband deal. Now, obviously there are a lot of considerations to cover here. So in this section we're going highlight the things we think you should be considering, show you how to pick a provider and a speed, and even how we can take all of the hassle out of that with our 'Help me choose' tool. Here are the things you should consider when choosing a new deal and provider:

  • Speed – The fastest you can afford for your budget is the best advice, but we'll cover this in a bit more detail further down
  • Technology – There are quite a few types of broadband available, and what you can get will depend on which are available in your street
  • Price – Cheapest isn't always best and, annoyingly, neither is most expensive. Knowing how much you want to spend is a good place to start
  • Contract length – How long do you want to be tied in before you can switch again?
  • Provider reputation – More important than most people give credit for. Stellar customer service is always going to come in useful at some point
  • Router, whole home wifi, and wifi guarantees – Some providers are working much harder these days to ensure you have reliable wifi that reaches every part of your home, others not so much
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How to choose the right broadband speed

It's not an exact science, but the requirements put upon home broadband connections these days, especially for things like streaming and gaming, are on the increase. It's already to the point where we cannot possibly recommend standard broadband (ADSL – typically offering about 10Mbps) to any household except in cases where that's all you can get.

In fact, providers are no longer allowing customers to take out ADSL broadband deals if they're able to get faster 'fibre' broadband. And from our perspective, we'd even go as far as to say your typical 36Mbps or 63Mbps standard fibre deals are beginning to look rather slow. This handy chart gives you a good, rough idea of what to aim for:

Broadband users Type of broadband Speeds
1-2 people ADSL 30Mbps
3-4 people Fibre 60-250Mbps
5+ people Fibre 100-500Mbps
Gamers or streamers Fibre 60-1000Mbps

And if you're still not sure what sort of speed you're aiming for, you can use our help me choose tool, which will also only recommend reliable providers with great technology and a good reputation for customer service.

Help me choose

Let us help guide you to your new broadband deal. We'll check speeds and providers at your home, saving you time and money.

Technology: ADSL, Superfast Fibre, Full Fibre and cable broadband

This section could be labelled 'nerdy, but necessary'. There are currently four available broadband technologies running through the streets of Britain. Some streets will have just one, some will have all four and everything in between. The technologies available will have a profound effect on the broadband speeds, packages and providers available to you. Here's an overview:

Technology Network Speed range Availability
ADSL Openreach 3-17Mbps 100%
Superfast Fibre Openreach 35-73Mbps 99.8%
Full Fibre Openreach 50-900Mbps 25%
Cable broadband Virgin Media 132-1130Mbps 60%

Price: Sticking to a budget

Here at the start of 2024, money couldn't be tighter for many households. Pricing is perhaps more of a factor for many than it has ever previously been. Knowing your budget as well as the speed you're aiming for is therefore going to be crucial going in. Only you will know what you can afford, so we have limited advice when it comes to budgeting. What we will say though, is that the difference between a good deal and a bad deal can often be the difference between paying one amount with one provider or double with another for essentially the same services.

Once you have a budget in mind, you can either compare the deals within your price range using our broadband comparison tools.

Contract length: How long do you want to be tied in?

It used to be that most broadband contracts were either 12 months or 18 months, and while those deals still do exist, providers like BT, EE and others are increasingly standardising their contract length to two years. We're not a fan of a two-year contract because it limits your ability to switch and find a better deal for a very long time.

While we don't think it should be a deal-breaker if you find just the right broadband deal and it happens to be on a two-year (24 month) contract, it should certainly be a consideration.

Customer service reputation matters

If you manage to get through an 18 month contract without your broadband dying at least once, you're in a very small and lucky group. Most of us will face issues with our broadband at some point – it's just the nature of the beast. And at that point we're going to have to deal with customer services. At this point, customer service matters.

Luckily, we have a complete report on how UK providers fare in this regard, according to their own customers.

Router, whole home wifi and wifi guarantees

This is one of those areas you don't know you need to look out for till it's too late. Most of the biggest providers (Sky, BT, Virgin Media, TalkTalk and so on) now offer some sort of whole home wifi solution. That is, beyond the router you'll be given with your package, they offer an option to extend your wifi network to 'mesh' devices they will also supply you on request that extend the range of your wifi to cover the whole house. If you need it.

With that, many of them how offer a 'wifi guarantee' whose terms vary, but broadly offer some sort of financial compensation if you can't get decent wifi in every room of your home within a certain threshold. Here's an overview of the most popular of such schemes:

Virgin WiFi Max Sky WiFi Max BT Complete WiFi
Upgraded router No Sky Max Hub No
Router required Hub 3, 4 or 5 Sky Max Hub BT Smart Hub 2
Free with Gig1 or Volt None None
WiFi Guarantee 30Mbps 3Mbps Strong' wifi signal, every room
Equipment Up to three Max Pods Up to three Max Pods Up to 3 'Discs'
Price £8 p/m £7.50 p/m £10 p/m
Free anytime engineer visits No Yes No
Guarantee £100 bill credit 1 month free £100 cashback

You will only see these sorts of guarantees and additional equipment from the big providers.

Installation: How long and what to expect

Choosing your new deal is the hard bit. If you've made it through the process this far and are happy with your choice you are 90% of the way there. Still, it's good to know what to expect when it comes to getting your new broadband package up and running. So without too much fuss, here is the process:

  • Wait two weeks – Almost every provider requires about two weeks to get your new broadband installed from the time you order it
  • Engineer visit (or not) – Depending on what cables you already have coming into your home you may or may not require an engineer visit on the day you go up and running. When you sign up your new provider will inform you whether you do
  • Send back your old gear – Most providers will now ask for their old router back. They tend to send you the packaging and labels you need to do it but it's always worth finding out what the process is. Some providers will charge you for not returning old gear
  • Wait for cooling off period to end – Your cancellation or cooling off period (the time during which you can back out of your broadband deal) is usually two weeks beyond the day your new connection is functioning
  • Claim any cashback or reward cards – The reason you'll need to be aware of the cooling off period is that any deal offering cashback or reward cards will require you to manually claim them within a window following this period. If you get a deal with bill credit though, you won't need to do this as it will automatically come off your first bill or two

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