About Broadband in the UK

Broadband is a fast connection to the Internet and has almost replaced dial-up access. Most broadband services in the UK offer speeds ranging from between 1Mbps (or 1024Kbps) to 20Mbps. A common package includes speeds of up to 8Mbps. Please note that speeds may also be shown with "M/bits per second" or just "Mb".

The broadband is via a Mobile Broadband, ADSL, or Cable package. Currently, the quickest way to get Internet access is by taking out a mobile broadband service from a mobile network providers, which works by plugging-in a small, portable USB Modem (or dongle) into your laptop or PC. Speeds at the moment are not as quick as a home-based connection such as through ADSL (a BT line) or a Cable line (Virgin Media), but they are likely to catch up in the future. However, For some users, a mobile broadband connection may in fact be quicker, if the user lives far from a telephone exchange or cannot get Cable.

There are a lot of benefits to using broadband, such as fast downloading of web pages, music and movie clips/movies, playing games online, cheap phone calls over the Internet, video conferencing and running home based private networks.

Small businesses can also benefit from broadband.  The ability to make phone calls over the Internet can help bring down communication costs as it is often cheaper or can free in some cases. A faster Internet connection generally allows employees to work more efficiently.  Many get the opportunity to work from home using their broadband connection, which helps to reduce travel costs and saves time. 

Broadband services in the UK:


ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) is the most common form of access in the UK for consumers and businesses, with around 99.6% coverage through BT's telephone network.  Its widespread availability and large range of suppliers makes it more popular than cable services.  The download speed is typically much less from the upload speed which is why it is called Asymmetric.  Most broadband providers offer download speeds of up to 8Mbps.  Some providers such as Sky and BE offer higher speeds than this through Local Loop Unbundling or LLU (see below for more information about LLU).

An ADSL connection allows you to have an Internet connection and a phone-line free at the same time. There are over 200 broadband providers to choose from in the UK so there are a range of good deals available.  Most packages are pay monthly. 

Often, broadband providers require a 12 or 18 month contract, but will normally provide a free modem/router and free activation (for new broadband users).  However, most monthly contract deals will require you to pay a BT activation fee if broadband is not active on your phone line.

You may have noticed that download speeds are quoted as "up to".  This is because real ADSL broadband speeds are dependant on many factors. The most important one is the distance from your house to the local BT exchange. Other factors include quality of phone wiring in the house or building.

In practice, this means that most users will never achieve the maximum possible line speed quoted, but most should be able to get around 2Mbps - 4Mbps. These kinds of speeds will probably be enough for most types of usage. If you are a heavy downloader or need a very fast connection, you should probably expect to pay more, and look beyond normal consumer packages. Many ISPs now provide guidelines for the type of usage their individual products are suitable for.

Most consumer ADSL broadband packages are contended services.  This means the users connection is shared by many users on the same telephone exchange.  This is another factor that can reduce download speeds, especially at peak usage hours.  Very heavy users may also find their connection gets throttled (download speeds reduced by the ISP) if they are consistently downloading large files and using up a lot of the bandwidth in order to keep it level for all users.  Most providers explain this in a so-called 'fair usage' policy. From this point of view, it is important to choose a package that is suitable for your usage pattern.

Broadband for small businesses

There are many packages that cater specifically for business users.  These tend to have a service level agreement (SLA) and offer better support.  Many also offer SDSL (Symmetric Digital Subscriber Line) services.  SDSL provides the same upload and download speeds. SDSL speeds tend to be much more consistent. However, you will need a dedicated phone line for this option since SDSL doesn't allow for the phone line to be free on the same line. Find out more about SDSL from BT here.

LLU (Local Loop Unbundling)

Many providers now offer broadband using the LLU process.  This is where a provider installs their own equipment in a phone exchange (called unbundling), so provides broadband through alternative means rather than use BT Wholesale like other ISPs.  The advantage of this, following the initial investment, is a cheaper rental cost to the consumer.  Many companies including Talk Talk and Sky offer broadband through this method.  Some of these providers also use ADSL2 technology, which allows for higher quoted speeds of up to 24Mbps. However in practice, due to the constraints mentioned previously, the speed you often receive will be lower.

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Cable Broadband

This is offered by the Virgin Media group.  Previously known as NTL and Telewest, it underwent a rebranding in early 2007.  Coverage is limited to areas with cable fitted in their area.  Virgin Media offer bundles of Broadband, Digital TV, a phone line and mobile.  These products are available individually or in various combinations.  Currently, Virgin Media can offer broadband speeds of up to 20Mbps.  However, trials are taking place for providing higher speeds of up to 50Mbps.  Unlike DSL, broadband speeds are not subject to as many limiting factors.  However, user contention and bandwidth throttling at peak usage times can still limit speeds.

Mobile Broadband

Broadband over the UK’s mobile networks has now become a viable alternative, using technologies such as 3G. The advantage of this is you do not have to use your BT landline. Currently, mobile broadband speeds range from 1 to 7.2 Mbps.  Many providers offer broadband by providing a small USB modem that is simply plugged into a laptop or PC.  Popular packages include T-Mobile Web n Walk and 3 Mobile Broadband. See our Mobile Broadband comparison page for further information.


This option requires a Satellite Dish to be installed. The options available are one-way and two-way. The former requires the use of a dialup modem and uses your phone line. Its good for general home use but has a slow upload speed. The latter offers a faster connection speed but costs more to install and run. Its coverage is very widespread but bad weather can cause problems with service and it can be costly to run. It is a good alternative for rural areas if you do not have a phone line or cable.


Some ISPs offer Internet access to wireless (WiFi) enabled devices such as laptops at so-called 'hotspots'. Typically, places such as cafes, airports and popular public locations provide wireless Internet access. Pipex (now Tiscali) is currently conducting trials for providing a long distance wireless services to the home using a technology called WiMax.

Further information