Aug 23

How to choose the best broadband for you

There are plenty of great broadband bargains to be had, it’s just a question of knowing which are right for you and where to find them. We’ve teamed up with Ofcom-regulated site Broadband Choices to run our own comparison service, and help you find the cheapest deal.

Read all our handy hints to get clued up on what sort of broadband package is right for you, then see our round up of all the best special offers and deals to choose your perfect broadband bundle.

First things first – what is broadband, and is it for me?

Broadband simply refers to a high speed internet connection. It’s often compared against the much older and slower ‘dial-up’ internet access. The difference between dial-up and broadband is that broadband will:

  • Access web pages much faster
  • Allow you to download large files quickly and easily (including music, films and photos)
  • Enable you to watch video or listen to music in real time online
  • Keep your phone line free while you’re surfing the web
  • Allow you to do things like video conferencing and online gaming
  • Give you internet access 24 hours a day, seven days a week
  • Charge you a flat monthly fee instead of individual call charges

If you want to benefit from these advantages, read on. We detail below exactly what you need to look for to get a package that will meet your needs (and your budget!)

What to look for in your broadband package

There are plenty of things you need to take into account when choosing a broadband package. It can seem complicated, but it’s not all that daunting if you break it down. The main points you need to take into account are:

  • Speed

This is the one detail that is shoved in your face in all broadband adverts. Technology is fast-paced, and speeds are always increasing. Unfortunately despite most providers advertising speeds of up to 20Mb, you rarely achieve those. In fact Ofcom found that 5.1Mb is the average download speed across the UK.

Their research found that customers on an up to 8Mb contract had average speeds of just 3.3Mb, while those on an up to 20Mb contract experienced average speeds of 6.5Mb. Only Virgin Media customers fared considerably better than these figures.

Click here for our tips on how to maximise your broadband speed without changing provider or spending a single penny.

  • Set-up fees

Because there are so many broadband providers, the market is very competitive. This is great for consumers as in order to sweeten their deals, the mainstream providers tend not to charge set-up fees.

If a provider does want to charge a set-up fee, it’s certainly worth being a bit suspicious. If they really won’t do it for free, but it’s a really good deal, even the most extreme technophobes shouldn’t find it too difficult to set up broadband themselves.

Also note that the Wi-Fi box is almost always free so again, don’t fork out unless it’s absolutely necessary. Any wireless router should be compatible with any connection, so if in doubt, pick up a cheap one on eBay.

  • Usage

Usage or download limits are something that you should keep an eye on. For general surfing, it’s unlikely you’ll be downloading even as much as 1GB per month (BT’s cheapest deal specifies a 10GB download limit).

However, if you’re thinking of doing some online gaming or downloading music or films using services such as the iTunes Music Store, you may want to seriously think about a package that offers unlimited usage.

N.B. Most high-quality program episodes available using the BBC iPlayer are around 400-500MB (half a GB). That means that just a few episodes of online television alone could push you over your download limit.

Remember! When an ISP says “unlimited download allowance”, they don’t really mean unlimited. The limits are very high, but for people who are always using their computers (especially for watching or downloading videos, or watching TV online) the limits might be reached.

If you go over the limit, you’ll get a warning letter. If you don’t take notice of that then they’ll cut down your download speed. If you still don’t take notice then they can cut you off completely without a refund. So if you’re a supremely high user, check out the fair usage policy before you sign up.

  • Contract length

As with mobile phones, many providers only supply broadband on a contract. This means that if you move house, or leave the country, you might have to pay early termination fees to get out of your contract. Market competition means that contract durations have got longer as providers are so desperate to hang on to you as a customer.

Competition also means extra ploys to get your business. One popular one is to offer a discounted price for the first three months, then a much higher one for the remaining length of the contract.

Although it will be cheap at first, it might cost you more in the long run to take a promotional deal like this – so check carefully how much you’ll be paying each month after the promotional period is over.

  • Technical help

An aspect of your broadband package that’s overlooked by many is the technical help service the supplier provides. Unless you’re an internet wizard, it’s likely you’ll be making a few calls to the tech guys. Companies can charge what they like for these calls (generally ranging from free to 50p per minute) so it’s worth checking up on.

A good site to check out before you call any helpline is saynoto0870. You can search for an alternative freephone or standard rate number to call instead of your provider’s premium rate one, so you don’t have to fork out just to get some technical help.

  • Line rental

Many broadband providers require that you have a BT landline and they don’t tell you this until you’re actually on the verge of ordering the service. So if you’re doing a bit of price comparison, check how much each deal will be costing you, including the price of the BT line rental, each month.

Remember! Even if you don’t need a BT landline, monthly prices for broadband are usually advertised without including the monthly line rental charge, so be sure to check how much that will be too.

  • Where you live

As yet not everyone is able to get the same broadband speeds and some suppliers are not able to service certain areas. All suppliers will check whether or not they can provide broadband to you before you set up, so it’s not something to worry about, but it may restrict your options.

Broadband Choices offers an online postcode checking service that tells you which suppliers can provide you with broadband.

Confused by any of the terms we’ve used? Check out our jargon buster to have them explained.

What type of user are you?

To help you out, here are three different types of user and a description of the sort of broadband deal each one would probably need.

Lightweight user who just wants to browse and email

Just want to surf the web to do a bit of shopping, check your emails and the like?

If so, you’ll be fine with Plusnet’s Value package, which – at just £6.49 a month – is the cheapest broadband deal we’ve found so far. If you live in one of Plusnet’s low-cost areas, you’ll pay this price every month – around 80% of the UK lives in a low cost area.

You can get a price confirmation by entering your telephone number and postcode to check. Line rental is £12.99/month, rising to £13.99/month from 28 October 2012.

You get up to 20Mb download speed (fast enough to have multiple users on one connection, view videos online or download music tracks) and a 10Gb monthly download limit (fine if you don’t need to download loads of films or lots of music).

Music shopper and online TV watcher

If you’re a fan of the iPlayer or plan to download films or music, you’ll be wanting to get a more substantial download limit. The Be Value deal gives you up to 12Mb download speed, but also unlimited downloads (subject to their fair use policy) for £17 a month on a 12 month contract. A wireless modem is included in the deal, as well as FREE 24 hour expert support service, so should anything go wrong in the early hours you can still get it fixed. Line rental is £10/month.

O2 also offer a 20Mb download speed with 20GB downloads for £8.50 a month if you’re with O2, £13.50 a month otherwise, plus they throw in a free wireless router. You also get the first three months of use for free, although you do have to sign-up to a 12-month contract. Head to the O2 website for more info. Line rental is £10.50/month.

Power user, online gamer and download addict

Let’s face it, if you’re someone who feels the internet is the best thing since sliced bread, you buy and download all of your music and films online and/or you dabble in online gaming, you’re going to need a more serious broadband deal.

The best option for you is probably Virgin Media’s XL Broadband with up to 30Mb speed and unlimited usage for £9.25 a month for six months, then £18.50 a month after that (as long as you have a Virgin phone line). The deal also includes free internet security as well as well as free wireless N router. Line rental is £13.90/month.

Who’s the best supplier?

Unfortunately, there’s no straight answer to this question. One of the main problems in working out the best supplier is that due to the nature of the broadband network across the country, different suppliers perform at different levels depending on where you live.

The Moneymagpie broadband comparison service powered by Broadband Choices and regulated by Ofcom, is one of the best places to start. It’s super quick;  just type in your postcode and you can compare deals by speed, first year cost, monthly cost and download limit. This means you’ll definitely find the right price for you.

As with almost everything in life, the trick to getting a good broadband deal is to haggle and barter until you really can’t get what you’re after any cheaper than the price being offered. Our key piece of advice would be to quote offers that you’ve received from other companies and ask if they can be matched.

Great value deals….

Perfect for students

Just about to embark on your university adventure? Then you’ll probably be needed a decent broadband connection. Luckily Virgin Media has a contract especially designed for students which lasts for 9 months – so no need to pay extra in the holidays when you won’t be using it.

You can get a simple broadband only package with no phone line required – £21 a month for 10Mb and unlimited downloads (subject to fair usage) or £28.50 for up to 30Mb and unlimited downloads. Plus there are various other options if you want phone and/or TV as well. See the selection of student deals  on their website. £1o/month line rental for the first year then £13.90/month from then on.

Excellent value for everyone

Plusnet’s fantastic new offer of 12 months half price broadband means that you can get up to 20Mb speed, 10 GB download allowance, and free evening and weekend calls to UK landlines (line rental is an additional £11.99 a month). Get this great deal here now, it won’t be around for long!

Alternatively there’s Talk Talk who are offering nine months half price with their essentials package, making it just £3.25 for the first nine months and £6.50 thereafter. Talk Talk promise ‘the fastest broadband we can provide you’ and have a speed checker so you can see what you’re likely to get. You also get 40GB download allowance and free evening and weekend calls to UK landlines including 0870 and 0845 numbers. Line rental starts at £9.50/month.

Or, you can get six months’ half price with their Plus package, making it just £7.25 for the first six months and £14.50 thereafter.You’ll get unlimited downloads subject to their fair usage policy and unlimited anytime calls to UK landlines including 0870 and 0845 numbers.

Jargon Buster

Broadband – Broadband is a high-speed type of internet connection that is used to carry the information contained on the World Wide Web (WWW) into your home/office. It uses fibreoptic technology rather than traditional phone lines. This means that it’s very fast compared to old-fashioned ways of connecting to the internet (namely dial-up, which just uses a normal telephone line).

Download speed – This is the speed at which the world wide web is delivered to your home. The faster your connection, the faster your computer will load webpages. The measurement of download speed normally used is ‘Mb/s’, ‘mbps’, ‘meg’ or just ‘Mb’ which stands for Megabits per second. You can think of this as being a bit like miles per hour. Sometimes you may see ‘Kb/s’, ‘kbps’ or just ‘Kb’. This is just a smaller measurement of download speed and stands for Kilobits per second. 1 megabit = 1000 kilobits.

Usage/download limit – Every webpage has a certain digital size depending on how much information it contains. If a page contains a lot of images, it will be considerably bigger than a page that just has text. The measurements used for this are gigabytes, megabytes and kilobytes. 1 gigabyte = 1000 megabytes, 1 megabyte = 1000 kilobytes.

Every time you use your computer to access the web and look at a webpage, your computer downloads the webpage to your computer. The same happens when you listen to music or watch videos on the web.

If the provider says that its usage/download limit is ‘unlimited’, it’s a bit like all-you-can-eat Chinese, whereas limited broadband is like a three course meal. Limited broadband should be a enough for the average user, but if you are going to be using the internet greedily, doing online gaming or lots of downloading, you’ll need unlimited downloads.

Wi-Fi box/router – This is a small device which does for your computer what a freeview or digital television box does for your television. It processes the information coming from your broadband line and sends it to your computer. The term. ‘Wi-Fi’ is a trade name for wireless technology which allows your computer to connect to the internet without being attached to the box/router.

ISP – This stands for Internet Service Provider. So it’s the company that is selling you the broadband (e.g. O2, BT etc.).

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Alan Holder

I signed up rightaway with plusnet and have been delighted with the result. Although I could not find out how much my conversation with their help line cost, and it took a long time to resolve my problem.

Alan Holder

I read the article on cheapest broadband and signed up rightaway with plusnet and have been delighted with the result. Although I could not find out how much my conversation with their help line cost, and it took a long time to resolve my problem.

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