Choosing tips for Broadband

The high availability of broadband services in the UK means there are a wide range of packages for consumers and businesses to choose from.

Broadband can be bought standalone, or as part of a bundle. Standalone packages cost from around £10 per month to up to £40 per month.  In a bundle, broadband is offered alongside other services such as TV, telephone or mobile. This can offer broadband at a relatively cheap price (or often free) compared to broadband only packages. If you plan to buy broadband as part of a package, take a look at our choosing a bundle page.

What to bear in mind when choosing broadband

  • The Contract Length – Would you be happy with a 12-24 month contract?

    Some broadband providers offer a one month contract, but most offer a 12 to 18 month contract. Most one month contracts generally have a higher set-up cost. Figure out what's more important to you.

    The longer term contracts will cost you less in the long run, but remember that you are tied into that provider's service for the minimum contract length. Taking a minimum contract package is common, but make sure you check over the terms and conditions of the contract so you are fully aware of what you are signing-up for.

  • Set up fee

    If you're getting ADSL broadband activated for the first time on the phone line, you may be charged the fee that the provider has to pay BT for activation of ADSL. With the larger providers, this is often free as they normally have a 12 or 18 month contract. It is normally cheaper or free to migrate from one provider to another once you have broadband activated on your phone line.

    Virgin Media normally has a set-up fee for new cable customers. However, mobile broadband normally has no set-up fee on monthly contract packages. There may be a one-off charge for the USB Modem / Dongle device on no contract, pay as you go type deals however.

  • Usage Limits and Maximum speeds – How much will you use the Internet?

    Most providers provide usage limit on the amount of information you can download in a month. This is measured in Gigabytes (GB). On average, a limit of 2 to 10 GB is suitable for the majority of users.  This could include some downloading of music and a few short film clips.

    If you plan to use the internet heavily for (legally) downloading music or movies, use the BBC iPlayer frequently, or engage in peer to peer (file sharing) activities then you will need a larger usage limit or unlimited usage, and a package that is more suited to heavy users. Most providers apply traffic management or 'throttle' the broadband connection of certain users that may be downloading large amounts of data at peak times when the network is at its busiest . This is why you should choose a package that is more suited to your intended usage pattern, offers a large download limit and perhaps limits traffic management. If usage is unlimited, beware that it still might not be suitable for heavy downloading. Our broadband comparison service allows you to search for providers based on your intended usage pattern.
  • Get an idea of broadband speeds available to you with a speed tester (for phone-line ADSL only)

    Get an idea of how much speed your line can support as it is influenced by several factors (see below).  See the Tools section at the bottom to use BT's official speed tester. It is worth seeing what the estimated speed is so that you can choose a package appropriate to this. For example, if your maximum line speed appears to be around 1 to 2Mbps (Megabits per second) then there is no point in looking at up to 8 Meg broadband packages. The following factors affect speed:

    • Distance from local exchange (xDSL only): The further away you are from your local exchange, the lower the actual line speed. The is the main indicator of the sort of line speed you will receive.
    • Quality of the phoneline (xDSL only):  A poor quality line affects the speed. The quality of the wiring in the house can also have an effect.
    • Contention Ratio. Most standard broadband packages offer a contention ratio of 50:1. This means that you may be sharing your connection with up to 49 people at once. At peak times this is more likely. This also means you will be sharing the connection speed with them. However, you may not notice the difference unless you use broadband for bandwidth heavy applications, such as file sharing.

  • The quality and cost of support

    What level of support does the broadband provider give with the package and what are the charges for phone support? Most providers offer online support for free, but if you think you will be calling them for help with set-up and troubleshooting, choose a provider with reasonable charges or freephone technical support.

  • Check for a free broadband modem / router

    It's a good idea to get a free modem or router from them as you know it’s supported by the provider.

  • Consider bundled services that include Broadband

    Many operators now offer broadband along with other services such as a telephone line. This can work out cheaper than having the services individually.  The only snag is that you will normally be tied in for at least 12 - 18 months. The broadband packages are normally aimed at light to medium surfers and not intended for heavy users or those who may rely on the connection for business purposes. See our choosing a bundle section for further advice.

  • Free phone call packages

    Many providers offer free phone calls with their packages. Some offer VoIP services that allow you to make phone calls over the Internet using your broadband connection.

  • Web space and Email

    Broadband providers offer a varying amount of free email addresses. Free web space may also be provided.  This is suitable for personal websites. If you have any specific website hosting requirements, you should speak to the provider or consider a stand-alone web-hosting service.

  • Security

    See if the packages offer any of the following:

  • Virus protection / Firewall / Spyware software

    The latest security software may be provided with broadband packages. Their network may also benefit from further security from email spam and virus threats before they get to your inbox. For example, BT provides online virus checking on their network before it reaches your PC.

  • Parental controls

    This allows you to block inappropriate web content being accessed by people using your computer, as well controlling your children's email accounts.  This may be offered through security software or their own software.

  • Anti-phishing

    This is to protect against fake websites that pose as online institutions such as a bank. They normally send fake emails, and ask a user to go to a faked website looking like the bank's own website to enter or confirm their login and password details. Just to make it clear, banks never send emails to you asking you to visit their website to login. Do not fall for this trick.   Hit the delete button on the email instead.

You can use our impartial broadband price comparison service to help you choose a package. This includes a range of large and small broadband providers catering for different types of users.

Further information