Whether you’re working from home, streaming music to smart speakers, watching on-demand TV or simply keeping in touch with friends and family, you need to be online. So how do you know which broadband provider to choose and whether you’ll be happy with their service?
With so many options, it can be tempting to choose a broadband provider based on price alone, but this might not cover all your needs. Before you make your mind up, here are some key things to consider.
1. Do you have a need for speed?
For many of us, the most important thing about a broadband package is its speed. You’ll be tearing your hair out if it’s not fast enough, but if it’s delivering more than you need you’ll be shelling out for a service you don’t require.
The first thing to look at is what download and upload speeds are being offered by a provider. This is measured in megabits per second (Mbps). And recent regulations state from May 2018 broadband providers must always advertise the average speed of their network, rather than the fastest. This means you’ll be better placed to make an educated decision on the best option for you.
Download speeds are the rate at which data is delivered to your home. The speed you require depends on how you use your broadband: if you’re streaming video, for example, a faster connection will prevent it pausing to load every few seconds. Upload speeds are the rate data is transferred back to the internet, so this determines how quickly you can send emails, post photos to Facebook and so on.
According to a recent report by the BBC, Ofcom defines decent broadband as download speeds of around 10Mbps and upload speeds of 1 Mbps.
2. ADSL versus cable
The next thing to look at is what type of connection you need.
ADSL – otherwise known as standard broadband – is delivered through existing copper phone lines and accessible by over 99% of the UK. It’s the slowest option, with download speed up to 17Mbps - although that can vary considerably depending on where you are. Upload speeds tend to sit around 1Mbps. These are fast enough to do most things, such as browsing the web, shopping, online banking or watching Netflix. However, it’s worth knowing the speed you’ll receive depends on how far you are from your local telephone exchange.
Although not as readily available as ADSL, you may also be able to get cable in your area. This is significantly faster than standard broadband because it uses fibre optic cables to transfer high-speed data across greater distances. It also tends to have more reliable connectivity, with fewer drop-outs.
There are two options here: fibre optic broadband, which uses fibre optic cables as far as your local street cabinet, then hooks up to your home using the existing copper phone wires; and cable broadband, which uses coaxial cables instead of the copper phone lines for that final bit of the connection. Cable broadband is the fastest, with Virgin Media now offering superfast download speeds of up to 300Mbps, plus upload speeds up to 20Mbps.
3. How much data do you need?
Although many broadband providers now offer unlimited downloads, some plans have a capped data allowance. If you’re using the internet relatively infrequently you might not need much, but if you go over your allowance it could prove costly.
If you stream a lot of video you should look for a generous or unlimited data allowance. Netflix standard definition videos use about 1Gb of data per hour of streaming, while it’s 3Gb per hour for HD videos.
Also, the constant evolution of technology means we will be using increasingly more data, so it’s worth planning ahead as your usage may go up during the term of your contract.
4. Standalone versus combined packages
Standalone packages – broadband only – are the cheapest options on the market. Requiring just a phone line to set up, you’ll be charged a flat fee (unless you go over a capped data plan). However, if you need them, it can be cheaper to combine your broadband with a TV package and phone contract. This often brings cost savings and makes managing your finances easier as you’re paying one provider for everything.
5. Shop around and choose wisely
Make sure you know the length of the contract you’re signing up for and any penalties for early exit. You should also ensure you budget for any additional costs such as installation, activation or set up. However, most broadband providers will supply a wireless router for free.
6. What to do if you’re not happy with your service
You have the right to complain if you’re not happy with your service. For example, you may believe you’re being overcharged, not getting the service you signed up for, have been misled by advertising, or sent faulty hardware. If this is the case, talk to your provider in the first instance, and contact an independent body such as Citizens Advice Bureau or Ofcom if the matter isn’t resolved. All broadband providers are signed up to an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme, which acts as an independent middleman when a complaint cannot be resolved.
If you’re looking for a new broadband package, it’s important to make sure you choose an option that suits both your needs and your household budget. And don’t forget to set a reminder to see what offers are on the market towards the end of the contract, otherwise you might find yourself on a monthly rolling contract which could prove much more expensive.