How to pick a broadband deal
I GOT A LETTER FROM XXXX, saying they’d guarantee to beat the price of my current broadband provider. I doubt it. It’s my next door neighbour. That’s how the Jack Dee joke goes, anyway.
For everyone else, this guide looks at the questions you need to ask when picking a new broadband deal.
The cheapest deals aren’t always the best, so the first thing you’ll need to think about is what you want from your internet connection. With the rise of tablets, smartphone and on-demand television, most people will need a generous data package – particularly if you have several people streaming video at the same time.
Even if you’re happy with your existing deal, the broadband market in the UK is very competitive, so shopping around and switching can give you substantial savings.
uSwitch.com’s broadband expert Ewan Taylor- Gibson says: “Switch as often as you can. Broadband providers are fighting hard for new customers and there is always some kind of voucher or other incentive on offer.”
BROADBAND OR FIBRE?
Broadband is broadband, right? Wrong. Broadband connections come in two types, ADSL and fibre.
ADSL is the more common of the two. It runs through your existing phone line. Fibre, also known as cable, uses optical cables rather than the standard copper phone network, and this is much, much quicker. It’s not available everywhere, but uSwitch estimates the majority of households can get access and providers continue to expand their networks.
The extra speed available via cable connections mean they’re much better if you’re expecting several people in your household to be streaming simultaneously.
Fibre deals are typically a bit more expensive but cheap deals can be found as providers push their new products, according to Duncan Heaney, who writes for Broadbandchoices.co.uk.
For example, Talk Talk has a fibre deal that’s £5 a month plus line rental (usually in the region of £17 a month) for the first year, though it will rise to £10 monthly for the next six months, before settling at £17.70 a month.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT SPEED YOU’LL GET?
If you opt for a cable deal, your connection speed should be quick enough for even the most intensive users.
On an ADSL connection, providing you can get speeds of more than 17 megabits per second (Mbps), most households should be fine.
It’s hardly worth looking at the ‘up to’ speeds advertised by broadband providers, as only 10% of users actually get these. For ADSL connections, you’ll find speeds between providers are much of a muchness in your area because providers typically use the same infrastructure.
One exception is Virgin Media’s cable connection, as it’s an independent network. As such, you’ll find the speeds they offer are much closer to those advertised, if they’re available in your area.
Connection speeds depend on a number of things, including how far you are from your telephone exchange, how many other people are online in your area and whether you’re connecting to your router by wi-fi or a physical cable.
Comparison sites such as Broadbandchoices.co.uk will be able to estimate the connection speeds you’ll receive, based on your postcode.
Better yet, once you have a deal in mind, contact the supplier to ask what connection speed you’ll get. This will give you more protection, as if you consistently receive slower speeds than promised, you’ll be able to leave your contract without penalty.
HOW MUCH DATA DO YOU NEED?
Do you want limited or unlimited downloads?
Restricted downloads are becoming less common but can be cheaper if you’re a light user, so make sure you think carefully about your usage. A 15 Gigabyte monthly connection might sound like a lot, particularly when compared to mobile phone data allowances but a couple of high-definition films on Netflix could wipe out your allowance.
If you choose an unlimited deal, be aware they’re not all the same. ADSL providers will advertise deals as either ‘unlimited’ or ‘truly unlimited’. The weaker offers may throttle some types of access at peak times, so you could be frustrated by a slower connection and buffering videos when there’s a lot of people online in your area. Truly unlimited means there’s no download limit and your connection shouldn’t slow down at busy times.
TO BUNDLE OR NOT TO BUNDLE?
Broadband connections are often lumped in with TV or phone deals, and ‘quad play’ deals, which include mobile phone contracts, are also becoming more common. Providing you’re buying additional services you’d get anyway, bundled deals are usually much cheaper. Film or sports packages will usually cost more than basic TV packages.
Sports fans will want either Sky Sports or BT Sport.
Sky’s got cricket, golf, F1 and the most football games but BT has the Champions League and Rugby, and is rapidly growing.
Sky Sports can be added to Virgin, Talk Talk and BT packages, and BT sports is available through Sky or Virgin Media, but it’ll cost you more.
If you’re after films, BT, Virgin and TalkTalk offer pay- per-view services. Go with Sky and you could access 11 Sky Movies channels but these premium packages will also cost more.
HOW TO GET THE BEST PRICE
Comparison sites such as Broadbandchoices.co.uk, uSwitch.com or Moneywise.co.uk/compare will let you search for deals based on the package you want.
When comparing prices, don’t forget to factor in line rental as it can be the most expensive part of your contract. Taylor-Gibson says there’s a £70 difference a year between the cheapest and most expensive.
“TalkTalk, BT and Plusnet offer a discount if you can pay your line rental for the whole year up front, so it’s worth considering this if you can take the hit,” he adds.
Make sure you look at the overall cost of the contract, rather than the initial monthly rate. These can often hide sharp increases after the introductory offer, particularly for contracts that are longer than 12 months.
Also, like when buying insurance, don’t assume looking at just one comparison site will get you the best deal. Sites may not include all providers, and sometimes offer exclusive offers meaning buying through a particular channel will give you an extra discount, cashback, or freebies.
Once you know what package you want, check on a couple of comparison sites to make sure you’re getting the best deal going. For example, uSwitch has some exclusive rates, and GoCompare.com offers vouchers or cashback deals on some packages.