Getting Started

How to choose a broadband service and provider

There are quite a few broadband providers and types of package to choose from on

In fact there are so many ISPs (Internet Service Providers) out there that the choice can get a bit overwhelming. And the sheer number of broadband packages, both standard and superfast, is vast.

Since contracts typically last for 12-18 months and usually incur a fee if you want to end the contract before its term expires, it’s good to be as informed as possible beforehand so you know exactly what you’re getting for your money.

Start by asking yourself a few questions.

What services are available in my area?

This obviously needs to be your first consideration. Fibre-Optic broadband sounds great, but has your local cabinet been connected yet?

Fortunately, this is becoming less and less of a concern as superfast broadband is rolled out in more areas; however, particularly if you live in a rural part of the country, you may still be out of luck.

The same applies to cable-based services such as Virgin Media. Virgin provides the current fastest broadband in the country, and you don’t need a BT phone line to take advantage of it. However its nationwide coverage is patchy at best, especially if you don’t live in a major town or city.

On the other hand, more than 99% of UK households can receive ADSL broadband with average speeds of around 10 Mbps (Megabytes per second) through their existing phone line. You should not, however, expect the same quality and speed of connection with regular broadband as you get with superfast.

What speeds are achievable in my area?

This is an important one to check. There is little point in paying a hefty monthly contract fee for ‘speeds up to 76 Mbps’ if the speeds in your area are typically half that.

Always bear in mind that every company is trying to sell you their product, and will make what they have to offer sound as fast, as problem-free and as overall attractive as possible.

The internet speeds advertised by ISPs are not the average, but the maximum for that particular service, and there is a good chance that those speeds will not apply to you.

What do I use the Internet for?

If you’re getting started on the Internet for the first time, or don’t bother with the Internet all that much, it’s quite likely that you aren’t a heavy user.

A bit of browsing, banking or shopping online isn’t going to eat up massive amounts of data and nor does it require loading websites to be near instantaneous.

In this case, a superfast connection may be unnecessary, and there are plenty of really cheap deals on regular broadband out there – some companies even offer it free with other products.

You could also consider a package with a download limit. If you’re confident that your internet usage falls into the ‘light/medium’ category then there’s really no use in paying extra for unlimited downloads that you simply won’t benefit from.

It’s a different story if you enjoy spending a lot of time online. If you stream online media – watching films/tv programmes (on Netflix, for example), listening to music, or playing games live on the web – then the chances are high that you will want a fast connection so that your internet doesn’t drop out or slow down so much.

In these cases, fibre optic could be the best option. And if you do these things a lot, then fibre with unlimited downloads may well be what you’re looking for.

If you download media to enjoy at your own leisure, then superfast may not be necessary as long as you don’t mind downloads taking longer. But for heavy downloaders, unlimited data is a must.

One final thing to consider is how many people in your household are likely to be using the internet at the same time.

Everything connected to the web in your home is using the same bandwidth and the same connection.

Consoles, PCs, laptops, tablets, mobiles, even tv services that rely on a broadband connection, can count towards any data limit, and can slow down your internet if you’re all on the web simultaneously.

Unlimited superfast becomes better value the more Internet you use and the more people using it.

How much data do I use?

Some of this was covered above. Basically, the more you do online, the more it’s worth looking seriously at unlimited and faster services from your provider.

Should you exceed agreed download limits you will get a notification from your provider. If exceeding your limits is something that persists, you could be charged for the extra data, have your internet speed slowed to a crawl whenever you go over your allowance, or even be upgraded automatically to the ISP’s next product tier with a higher monthly cost.

And even deals that offer unlimited downloads are often subject to a so-called ‘Fair Use’ policy. This means that at times when Internet traffic is heaviest, speeds can be much slower for everyone to prevent heavy downloaders/streamers from hogging all the available bandwidth. Parity at the cost of performance.

Different operators interpret Fair Use differently though, and a few claim not to throttle your speeds at all, whatever the time/your internet activity, so it’s worth checking out.

How much can I afford to pay?

Fibre broadband isn’t all that cheap. Families and individuals on a budget need to carefully weigh up the cost/value ratio. There are budget providers aplenty, but many of them strictly cap downloads and speed.

Things to think about include contract length and how much it will set you back to buy yourself out of your contract if you decide the product isn’t for you. TalkTalk offers a monthly contract with optional paid extras – maybe worth thinking about if you don’t quite know what you want or for how long.

Does the package you’re considering come with any extras? Sky and John Lewis broadband for instance come with free Internet protection, while many providers offer bundles that include phone calls and possibly television.

Don’t forget about line rental. Providers never mention this outside of the small print, it’s never included in the price of your package, and yet costs as much as £16.99 per month, and we almost all have to pay it. So you need to add that to the advertised cost every month.

BT offers the chance to pay line saver a year in advance, which brings the price down a bit, and Virgin offers the only fixed-line superfast broadband service that doesn’t require a phone line at all.

Finally, there are activation fees for new customers, and a small delivery charge for your router.

Are special offers and deals always that special?

No. This is where comparing the deals out there becomes really important. One deal may seem cheaper, but has more limits in place than other, only slightly more expensive offers. Another promotion may look a bit pricier, but comes with inclusive phone calls, a shorter contract and free installation.

Look carefully at what the promotion costs, what’s included in it and for how long. There’s no point signing up for a deal that seems cheap and loaded with extras because it’s half price for six months, only to discover half a year later that you’re now paying full whack for services you don’t use and you still have another year left on your contract.

You need to work out first what you want from your Internet package and then find the deals that suit those needs.

What is a bundle?

Bundles are becoming increasing popular. It means that you get some or all of your telecoms from the same provider. Triple-play packages offer internet, phone and television; while the recent quad-play packs add mobile to that as well.

You can also get packages that just give you phone and broadband, as well as single products if you don’t want anything other than internet.

What else do I need to get started?

The main thing you need is a router or hub for your internet access. Most providers will send you one free of charge minus a delivery fee.

A BT phone line (except if you’re with Virgin) is also necessary. Most of us have one of these anyway, and it doesn’t mean you have to use BT as your provider.

If you are on standard broadband, you will also need a microfilter – a small box that fits to your master phone socket and allows you to go online and make phone calls at the same time. Again, most providers will send a couple out – it’s worth asking if they don’t mention it. They’re also very cheap to buy.