How to compare and buy broadband
Whether you’re switching providers, moving house or looking for your very first broadband service, it helps to look at as many deals as possible to find the right one. Our compare broadband page enables you to do just that, providing quick and clear comparison by price, speed and usage limit.
Choosing the right broadband package
What type of user broadband user are you?
There are broadband packages to suit every type of internet user, whether you send the occasional email or spend hours watching catch up TV. It’s important to choose the right package from the outset to avoid paying for more than you need, or incurring extra charges if the service is insufficient.
The right broadband package for you will be determined by:
- What broadband is available in your area
- What you like to do online
- How many other people will share your connection
- Your budget
What important considerations are there?
Is broadband available in your area?
The broadband options available to you will depend on where you live. Standard broadband is available to up to 99% of UK homes and businesses, whereas the newer and faster alternative, fibre broadband, is still in rollout phase with approximately 50-60% UK coverage (depending on the provider). It’s easy to check availability using our postcode checker, which will help to narrow down your options and show what kind of speeds you can expect.
What do the advertised speeds mean?
All online activity uses a portion of electronic data and broadband speed indicates the time it takes to send this data to and from your computer. It is measured in megabits per second (Mbps, Mbit/s or just Mb) and providers currently market download speeds from 14Mbps to 152Mbps. Broadband speeds are advertised ‘up to’ a certain level because the actual speed you can receive varies throughout the country.
How much speed you need depends both on what you use it for and how many users there are in your household. A house full of people who regularly stream or download movies and TV, for example, demands the fastest package you can afford, while at the other end of the scale, simply browsing the web from time to time will see you get by with very little.
How much should you spend?
Broadband has never been cheaper and there’s a deal to suit every budget. Prices start from just a few pounds a month but you’ll need to factor in the additional cost of line rental, which averages £16 per month. As you’d expect, basic no-frills packages are the cheapest and the monthly cost increases as you opt for faster packages with unlimited downloads and extra perks. It’s also important to look at set-up costs when comparing deals by price.
Do you need an unlimited broadband deal, or will a capped package suffice?
Broadband services come with a usage allowance that determines what you can do online throughout the month. The choices are generally 10GB, 20GB, 100GB and unlimited. If you exceed your limit, you might incur penalties such as extra charges or a reduction in speed, so heavy users are advised to opt for unlimited plans. However, even unlimited plans can come with restrictions, such as a ‘fair usage’ cap in the small print, or traffic management policy. To avoid this, look out for truly unlimited services.
What is meant by 'traffic management'?
Broadband networks can get congested at peak times (evenings and weekends) so some providers operate policies to control the flow of traffic. Policies vary but the general goal is to limit the actions of excessive users to ensure optimum internet performance for everyone else. Restrictions can involve speeds being throttled for one to two hours, or even until the next billing period.
Which extra features should you look for?
Basic broadband is great for those of us on a budget but if you’re happy to spend a little more, there are premium services that offer some useful extra features. These include unlimited free wi-fi at public hotspots, internet security software, parental controls and provider exclusives, such as BT Sport.
What if you need to cancel a contract?
Most broadband plans require you to sign up to a contract and lengths vary from 12 to 24 months. Make sure you pick the right one for your circumstances, as you’re likely to face charges if you cancel before the end. If you move house during the contract period and the provider doesn’t cover your new address, you could also face cancellation fees.
When should you consider a bundle?
Bundles often work out cheaper if you need broadband, phone and TV
If you’re considering a subscription TV service it makes sense to take a broadband, TV and phone package from the same provider. It’s often cheaper than buying separately, with the added benefits of one bill and a single point of contact to fix any problems.
You should check the bundled home phone options
The vast majority of broadband packages include a home phone service and require you to pay line rental each month. You’ll often get a basic weekend calls package as standard, and have the option to upgrade to include evenings, anytime or international calls. Virgin Media is the only provider that offers broadband without a phone line.
All about speed – what those numbers mean to you
What speed do you need?
The faster your broadband connection, the faster web pages will load and the quicker you’ll be able to download files like movies, music and photos. A fast connection leads to a more seamless online experience but top speeds are not necessary for everyone.
The heavier your internet use, the more Mbps you need
If you’re only going to be using your broadband for browsing the web and using sites like Facebook you probably won’t see a huge benefit from spending more on a faster package. However, if you’re going to be downloading large files such as movies and HD content or sharing your broadband with family or housemates you should look for the faster options in your area.
Upload speeds increasingly matter, especially if you store files in the cloud
Providers heavily market their download speeds as we all consume more data than we share, but upload speeds are increasingly important too. If you regularly share videos and photos online, play multi-player games and VoIP call (eg. Skype), pay close attention to upload speeds when comparing deals. The average upload speed is currently 2.3Mbps, according to Ofcom.
Further, if you use cloud storage utilities such as Dropbox or iCloud, a decent upload speed is essential. Slower uploads will mean having to wait an age for your file transfers to complete.
What kind of user are you?
Light users tend to browse and not much else
Those who browse websites occasionally for research, online shopping and catching up with emails and social media will find a low usage allowance around 10GB to 20GB sufficient for your needs.
Medium users also watch TV and movies from time to time
If you browse the web every day and stream on demand TV shows and download music every week then a medium usage allowance around 100GB would probably suit you better.
Heavy users download and stream – often in HD – every day
If you regularly download HD movies and large game files, or if you’re going to be sharing your broadband connection with family or housemates then an unlimited usage allowance may prove to be essential.
How much is 1GB of data?
To help you work out the right usage allowance, consider that each GB of your usage allowance will let you download roughly...
- 1 movie in Standard Definition
- 1-1.5 hours of BBC iPlayer shows
- 200-250 MP3 music files
- 1,000 photographs
What's the difference between ADSL and fibre broadband?
ADSL is delivered via your standard, copper phone wire
Standard ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line) broadband is delivered via copper telephone lines and download speeds average 8.7Mbps, according to Ofcom. It is the widest available broadband option in the country but speeds reduce the further you live from your local exchange.
Fibre optic is much, much faster, but not everyone can get it
Fibre broadband meanwhile, delivers broadband through fibre optic cables and averages download speeds of 47Mbps. Distance is less of an issue, but since the fibre networks are still in development, limited availability means not everyone can get it yet. It’s also more expensive than ADSL broadband.
How to switch from your existing provider
In most cases you just need to sign up to a new provider
Most of the time, switching broadband providers is as easy as signing up to a package with a new provider. They’ll get in touch with your current supplier to let them know you’re leaving and will handle the entire transfer process on your behalf.
Once the switching process is underway, both your old and new provider will send you a confirmation and notify you of any important details such as outstanding charges that need to be settled.
Unless you’re switching to or from Virgin Media
If you want to leave or join Virgin Media broadband, you’ll have to contact your current provider yourself in order to cancel your existing services. You can sign up to the new provider of your choice whenever you’re ready.
Six essential questions before you buy
We're nearly there
Now you’re almost ready to compare broadband deals, ask yourself these quick questions so you’re fully armed with all the facts to make an informed decision.
- What can you get in your area?
- How much do you want to spend?
- Are you comfortable switching to a new provider?
- How much data do you use in a month?
- How much is line rental on the new package?
- What call plan is included with the package?