Airband broadband review: Is it any good?

Dan Howdle | March 7th, 2024

Airband logo

Airband is an altnet broadband provider offering full fibre broadband speeds of up to 900Mbps. Like all altnets, it's not available country-wide, with Airband found primarily in the West Midlands, Wales and the South West. Unlike other altnets, Airband also strives to bring 'fixed line wireless' broadband – a line-of-sight radio wave solution – to rural locations that are otherwise unreachable by the UK's primary fibre networks. Let's take a closer look.

Key features

Here’s a quick look at what you can expect to find in a Airband broadband deal:

Download speeds 40Mbps, 150Mbps, 300Mbps, 600Mbps, 900Mbps
Upload speeds 10Mbps, 50Mbps, 75Mbps, 100Mbps, 200Mbps
Broadband FTTP, fixed wireless
Home Phone VoIP
Packages available Broadband
Router Linksys Velop MX4000 Series WiFi 6
Contract lengths 18 months
Prices from £25 per month

Is Airband broadband any good?

Reasons to buy

  • Fast broadband
  • Fixed wireless tech is unique
  • Very good router
  • No installation fees

Reasons to avoid

  • Pricier than the average altnet
  • No symmetrical speeds
  • Inflexible contracts
  • No wifi guarantee

Against a background of other altnet (alternative network) providers, Airband has a lot going for it – it's doing quite a bit that's unique and unusual. Sure, you'll see so-called 'gigabit' speeds at the top end of it's offering, no mid-contract price rises, a good WiFi 6 router, and the option to add additional mesh routers to your home network (albeit at extra cost on packages of 300Mbps or less). But Airband, as its name suggests, also offers broadband over the airwaves, and not via a 4G or 5G mobile network, but via line-of-sight radio signal.

Primarily, this latter technology is aimed at easily serving remote village communities for whom fast fibre broadband remains the stuff of myth. Basically, you have a receiver fitted to the exterior of your home, pointed at the transmitter, which can be a telegraph poll, or in some examples of this technology, a church spire or other tall, manmade structure. The speeds you'll get over what Airband refers to as 'fixed wireless' broadband aren't exactly earth-shattering at up to 40Mbps, but for some remote communities 40Mbps may constitue a hundred times faster than they can currently get.

In terms of its own full-fibre network, as with many altnets, Airband used Openreach/BT's ducts and polls to reach customers, but doesn't use any of its cables or tech. That means getting a new line to you will never mean digging up your street.

On the downside, we do think Airband is rather expensive compared to other altnets and even compared to Virgin Media, which offers faster broadband for less money. But ultimately, it all comes down to what you can get. If you can't get Virgin, but you can get Airband, you're going to rightly grab it with both hands. So where can you get it exactly?

Availability

Airband is the only altnet we've reviewed where we've uncovered no feasible means of knowing exactly which locations can get it. Airband does provide a 'blob' map that roughly shows the areas across which it's broadly available, but even if you live within the blob there's still going to be a strong chance you can't get it. The only reliable way to know if it's available to you is to visit Airband's website and enter your postcode.

Broadly, Airband is available in parts of:

  • Devon
  • Cheshire
  • Gloucestershire
  • Herefordshire
  • Oxfordshire
  • Shropshire
  • Somerset
  • Wales
  • Warwickshire
  • Worcestershire

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Broadband speeds

Our look at Airband's offering is a mixed bag. We're not huge fans of any altnet provider (which offers full fibre only) offering more than three speeds. Your mileage may vary and you may prefer more choice, which is why we're not marking Airband down for this, but for us there's no need to be as granular as Airband is being here. Simple is best, and in our opinion, five speeds is too many. Here's how they break down:

Fibre 40/Broadband Unlimited: Fibre 40 and Broadband Unlimited are two different packages, both running at 40Mbps. The former is a pure fibre connection, the latter the aforementioned fixed wireless technology. We don't actually see the point of having a full fibre broadband line put into your home then taking out a package that's slower than typical FTTC – but maybe that's just us.

Fibre 150: 150Mbps is fast enough for most households. Streaming in 4K – one of the heaviest use cases for home broadband – will only take up between 15Mbps (Amazon Prime Video) and 40Mbps (Apple TV+/iTunes), so even if you're doing that you'll have plenty of bandwidth to spare. This package comes with one router though, which is something to consider if you have a particularly large and/or sturdy home where wifi signal typically struggles to reach every corner.

Fibre 300: Twice as fast as Fibre 150, we're now into the zone where there's nothing extra you can do here that you couldn't do with the slower speed, but your download times will be cut in half. Something to consider, especially if you're a gamer. Fibre 300 also comes with one router so the same advice applies as with Fibre 150.

Fibre 600: Twice as fast again. And again it's just your download times that'll benefit. If you're a gamer especially, this means new games and updates will download very fast indeed. At this speed or greater, Airband supplies you with two routers, so even if you don't feel you need 600Mbps it may be worth considering this package if you have a large home and you want peace of mind.

Fibre 900: Same deal as Fibre 600. Even faster downloads. Also comes with two routers for wider wifi coverage of your home.

Not sure which package to pick? Our guide to deciding what broadband speed you need has all the answers.

Upload speeds

This is quite disappointing for an altnet pure fibre provider. Almost every altnet we've come across offers symmetrical speeds – that is, upload speeds of that same data rate as their upload speeds. Now, Airband does offer symmetrical speeds, but only on its business broadband offering – and that's another review altogether.

What we will say is that most home users really don't need a fast upload speed, and that its top-speed package (Fibre 900) still offers upload speeds that are twice that of Virgin Media's fastest package (Gig1). So it's all relative really, and in this case the lack of symmetrical speeds for home users only seems odd next to other altnets, while 99% of customers won't feel the difference. So a minor quibble. Here are Airband's upload speeds:

Package Download Upload
Broadband Unlimited (fixed wireless) 40Mbps 10Mbps
Fibre 40 40Mbps 10Mbps
Fibre 150 150Mbps 50Mbps
Fibre 300 300Mbps 75Mbps
Fibre 600 600Mbps 100Mbps
Fibre 900 900Mbps 200Mbps
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Landline calling packages

Most altnets don't provide a phoneline. They feed into your home over their own wire, so there's nothing stopping their customers from maintaining a landline with another provider. And quite apart from that landlines are on their way out. If you've seen a graph of landline usage over the last five years or so it's really quite astonishing. It's fallen off a cliff. So why provide a service very few people want or need?

We commend Airband then for doing it anyway. It doesn't offer a traditional analogue phone line, but is does offer a VoIP (digital) line if you want one. If you want or need a landline and you want or need it from Airband, just talk to them about it when you sign up.

Routers and installation

Airband has gone a slightly unusual route. Typically, an altnet will offer a capable WiFi 6 router, along with some optional mesh devices, which tend to be smaller, cut-down offspring of the main router – cheaper, smaller, but less capable. Airband on the other hand will just give you two powerful routers, provided you take out a package of 600Mbps or faster. If you go for one of the slower packages you can still add a router, but it'll cost you extra and you'll have to work out whether that's worth it versus just paying a bit extra for a faster package. The router offered by Airband is the Linksys Velop MX4000 Series WiFi 6.

Linksys Velop MX4000 Series WiFi 6 technical specifications:

Specification Details
Wireless Standard 802.11ax
Wireless Bands Tri-band
Spatial Streams Eight Spatial Streams
OFDMA Technology Next-generation Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) technology
Processor 1.4 GHz quad-core processor
Mesh Technology Intelligent Mesh™
Setup Easy Setup
MU-MIMO Yes
Security WiFi security
Guest Network Yes
Parental Controls Yes
Channel Support Supports 20 MHz, 40 MHz, and 80 MHz wide channels
Coverage Coverage of up to 2,700 sq ft per node

Installation

Airband installation will depend on the technology you're having installed. Full fibre is a fairly typical affair, with Airband bringing the network to your home either via under-street ducts that already exist, or via telegraph polls. The specifics of that will vary from home to home, but from the customer's point of view it amounts to something akin to what you're likely used to: You sign up, schedule an installation day, and make sure you're home for the engineer.

The big difference with Airband comes when you're somewhere you can get its fixed wireless broadband. Installation will then involved fitting a receiver to the side of your home, and from that receiver running a cable through your wall to your router. The functional differences are small, but you will end up with sonething akin to a Sky satellite dish on the side of your home. Just something to bear in mind.

Customer service

Broadband providers with less than 1.5% market share aren't included in Ofcom's annual customer service reporting. However, you can see how it's doing on Trustpilot.

Although Airband's Trustpilot score averages 4.2 out of five stars, that actually makes it the lowest scoring altnet provider we've thus far reviewed, with only two thirds of its customers willing to give it top marks and a wince-inducing one in five customers giving the provider a paltry one star.

When things go smoothly, Airband's customers couldn't be happier. But when technical issues manifest, a lot of the complaints appear to be about how Airband dealt with them, both in terms of speed and efficacy. A common perception among complainants is that there simply aren't enough support staff to deal with the growing number of customers on its expanding network.

Our verdict: Average

There's nothing technically wrong with the service Airband offers. The router's good, the speeds are largely good, and the fixed wireless technology it's able to offer homes that can't get fast fibre broadband is to be commended. And it has a lot of happy customers. But that's where the praise ends.

We do feel that across the board it's quite expensive compared to other altnets we've reviewed. For example, if you can get Virgin Media, you can get broadband that's quicker than Airband's top speed for less money. And at the end of the day one of the reasons customers might choose an altnet besides lack of availability of other providers is the aggressive pricing they usually offer. £55 per month for 900Mbps may not seem like the end of the world, but there are altnets offering those speeds for half the money.

You won't find any flex in the contract lengths either. It's 18 months or nowt. And the fact that one in five of Airband's customers gives the provider one star out of five, well, that's really not great is it? If Airband is the only way you can get fast broadband to your home, go for it, but as things are we reckon most folk will be able to find broadband that's cheaper and less likely to cause them customer service headaches.

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