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How to switch broadband providers

By Dan Howdle
Tuesday, December 11th 2018

Decided to switch broadband provider but not sure where to start? No problem. We're going to guide you through the process, showing you what to do, and how to avoid the pitfalls.

Thanks to increasingly consumer-friendly rules imposed by Ofcom (the UK telecoms regulator), it has literally never been easier to switch your broadband provider and save a bundle or find a better, speedier connection – or both.

Switching broadband provider step by step

Take a few moments to read through this section and the likelihood of you finding the best deal for your household will skyrocket.

Check your current broadband contract is up

While there are deals out there for a one-month rolling contract – typically at an elevated price and with a higher set-up cost – most people sign up to a longer contract. These can span anything from 12 months to two years, depending on the provider and individual package.

If you're still in your current contract, it is likely there will be a fee for leaving early. This is often the entire sum of the remaining monthly payments on your contract, though it can be less. If you're not certain whether you're still in your contract period, you can either check through your provider's online portal or give them a call.

Note that some providers (Sky, for example) offer help paying off the remaining months of your contract if you sitch to them, so you shouldn't necessarily be deterred from switching if there is still time to serve. If you're through your contract period, however, you don't need to worry – you can switch with impunity and incur no additional costs.

Calculate what broadband speed you need

This is an easier question to answer if you're switching your broadband from an existing deal – was the speed you already had adequate or too slow? If what you had was fine and you never ran into any streaming/buffering problems or frustrating waits for things to download or update, look for deals offered at a similar speed.

gamers at home

If, however, you do commonly find yourself waiting for things to load, download or buffer you might want to do you and your household a favour and plump for something a bit faster. But how much faster?

A general rule of thumb is to allow 10Mb/s for each member of your household who uses the internet, and to triple that for each person who is a gamer or watches streamed content such as Netflix or Amazon at 4K (UHD) resolution (so has a 4K TV). Tot those numbers up and you'll have a sensible number to aim for that allows plenty of headroom.

Limited or unlimited?

Quick side-note: although the vast majority of broadband deals available are unlimited – in other words, there is no cap on the amount of data you use every month – there are still one or two capped packages floating about. If your household uses very little data each month (doesn't stream movies and TV and doesn't download games and apps) then you may be able to save a few pounds by opting for a limited package.

Our advice, however, is to avoid them. Most households use more data than they assume.

Set yourself a budget

Like any product with a wide range of pricing available, it's easy to get carried away if you don't set in mind a figure you'd ideally like to pay each month. It'll make finding the right deal easier, and you're less likely to get carried away paying for hundreds of megabits you're not actually going to use.

When you factor in broadband, TV and phone bundles it really is possible to spend a lot of money. Have a figure in mind and try not to get carried away. A broadband package delivering 200Mbps to a household whose maximum usage never goes above 50Mbps is about as useful to you as a pair of trousers with an extra leg.

Check availability and compare

Not all broadband providers are available at every address. Providers on the Openreach network (pretty much everyone except Virgin Media) are available almost everywhere, while Virgin Media, which has its own network, is available to around 60% of UK homes.

You can use your postcode to check what's available at your address using the tool below. It's quite safe – we don't store this information.

Broadband postcode checker

Your information is safe with us. We won't share your postcode with anyone. See our privacy policy.

Line rental means you will usually have a home phone too

Quick side-note: if you're changing broadband provider, you will almost certainly have to change your landline provider at the same time. There are exceptions, but nine times out of ten this will be the case since broadband and line provision are tied together. Don't worry, you will be able to keep your existing phone number.

Save big on broadband bundles

Most of us are familiar with the concept of bulk purchases – the more you buy, the less you pay per item. And the same is true when it comes to broadband, both in terms of the speed you choose (cost per megabit goes down the faster your package) and in terms of taking out more than one service with a provider.

Think carefully before choosing a broadband deal on its own. There are often deals out there that will provide you with a subscription TV service at a discounted or even (at certain times of year) negligible additional cost. Some providers even allow you to bundle discounted mobile SIMs.

Take advantage of discounts, gifts, vouchers and other offers

This is crucial. In a crowded (many would say healthy) telecoms marketplace, 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.

What you get thrown in should be the next most important factor after you've decided on speed, budget and the services you want to take out. Opting for a slightly cheaper deal when there's one with £200 cashback available is obviously a false economy.

Broadband with gifts and vouchers

Contact your existing broadband provider – or not

A couple of years back Ofcom changed the rules so 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. Any other combination, you don't have to.

Wait for your installation date

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 usually around two weeks after the date you signed up. It can be a little longer than that or it can be a bit quicker, but this is a good rule-of-thumb average.

Don't worry, you won't be without a connection for anything more than a few hours at most, and often the process is totally seamless.

Pros and cons of switching broadband provider

  • Pay less for a better deal
  • Get cashback or gifts
  • Bundle TV and mobile and save
  • May need engineer visit
  • Some deals have upfront costs
  • You'll need to return existing equipment

Simply put: people who have been on the same deal for more than a year are paying too much and would be better served choosing a new deal – especially if it offers cashback, gifts or an ultra-low offer price.

That said, there are perfectly valid reasons as to why not everyone switches provider at every opportunity. If you're subscribed to Virgin TV or Sky TV as well as their broadband, you might be quite attached to your set-top box and the potentially hundreds of hours of programmes you've recorded.

If that's the case, we recommend you call your existing provider to tell them you're thinking of leaving and see if they are willing to move on price. Haggle, essentially. You'd be surprised how often it works.

Switching broadband and TV

If you have both broadband and TV services from a single provider and you want to switch broadband, that shouldn't be a problem. If you are with Sky or Virgin, you can switch broadband without switching TV if you're determined to keep the service, and equipment, you currently have.

However, bear in mind that switching both will allow you to take better advantage of bundle offers available from your new provider. If you do switch both, remember the provider you're leaving will want their set-top box back, unless it's one you bought outright.

Compare broadband and TV

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 provider, 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 thr 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?

Post Office broadband will delete your email address immediately when you 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?

No. 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.

Compare broadband where you live

Why do we need your postcode?

Once you enter your postcode, Cable.co.uk will perform a live lookup and check all the available providers in your area.

This ensures you receive accurate information on the availability of providers and packages in your area.

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