A beginner's guide to broadband | moneyfacts.co.uk

nigel woollsey

Nigel Woollsey

Online Writer
Published: 28/07/2020

At a glance

  • Broadband is used to describe any fast internet connection that is permanently on
  • The broadband market is highly competitive but not all areas of the UK can take advantage of the highest speeds and availability
  • Often, broadband packages can include things such as streaming TV, a free set-top box, free landline calls and even mobile phone offers.

Modern life and business are as connected now as never before. The growth of the internet into nearly every area of our lives means that having an internet connection is now considered to be a necessary utility – much like electricity, gas and water – rather than the luxury it was once considered to be.
Nowadays, most people in the UK access the internet via broadband and just as with any utility, there are a range of providers who are all clamouring for your custom. Our short guide outlines the important broadband basics you need to know about, as well as some of the best deals from top-class broadband providers out there.

What is broadband?

Broadband is the general term used these days for a high-speed internet connection. In the early days of the ‘information superhighway’, most people had to access the internet using narrowband dial-up connections via a normal telephone line. Unfortunately, these tended to be slow, with long waits for a website page to load. In addition, as it tied up the phone line, it meant you couldn’t make or receive phone calls if you were accessing the ‘net’.


Today, this has been largely replaced with broadband, which is much faster and more convenient. As well as being much faster, one of the great advantages of broadband is the fact that it is permanently ‘on’ – meaning that you don’t have to connect and log off every time you wish to access the internet. In addition, broadband allows you to make and take phone calls with no restrictions while you are connected to the internet.

Why do I need broadband?

The advantages of broadband internet access have been amply demonstrated by the recent global Coronavirus pandemic. With entire countries being ‘locked down’, with only the most essential of travel allowed, many people (especially many older people who were actively shielding themselves from social contacts) came to rely on ordering groceries and essential medicines online. Broadband connections made it possible for people to keep in contact with family and friends through video conferencing and enabled some businesses to keep running even with a workforce who were all at home.


Broadband internet access is now used for a wide range of purposes: It enables us to enjoy TV streaming services, purchase nearly any kind of item and service, video-call our friends and loved ones – even do our banking online – all from the comfort of our own sofas. Mobile broadband coverage and a smartphone also allow us to access these services when we’re out and about – they even help us to find the best routes to our destinations when travelling.

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Provider

Key features

Find out more

BT

  • Broadband speeds ranging from 10Mb to 900Mb (subject to availability), starting from £26.99 per month.
  • Fibre 1 (50Mb average speed) for £26.99 a month plus a free £70 BT Reward Card – Offer ends 6th August
  • Fibre 2 (67Mb average speed) for £31.99 a month plus a free £110 BT Reward Card – Offer ends 6th August
  • BT Broadband offers one of most comprehensive broadband packages yet seen in the UK.

 

Virgin Media

  • Broadband Only or Broadband and Phone packages available.
  • Up to 7x faster.
  • Offers M100, M200, M350 and M500 packages (from 108mbps to 516mbps).
  • Packages from £28/month.
  • Free of charge servicing and repairs.
  • Three easy installation options.
  • 14 day money back guarantee.

 

Plusnet

  • Packages from £23.99/month.
  • £50 or £75 Reward Card and no activation fee - limited time only.
  • Unlimited Broadband, Unlimited Fibre and Unlimited Fibre Plus  (from 10mbps to 66mpbs.
  • Account reviews and end of contract reminders to keep you on the best deal.
  • Your broadband and line rental price is fixed for the length of your contract.
  • Online security and parental controls available with all our deals.
  • Exclusive BT Sport deals after you've signed up.

 

John Lewis

  • Free e-gift card worth up to £40 with unlimited Broadband.
  • Packages from £19/month.
  • Unlimited Broadband, Fibre and Fibre Extra (from 10mbps to 66mpbs.
  • No set up fees for activation, inclusive router and no P&P
  • Evening and Weekend call plan included
  • 24/7 Freephone UK customer support

 

EE

  • EE pay monthly customers get 10% off broadband bill.
  • Packages from £22.50/month.
  • Broadband, Fibre, Fibre Plus, Fibre Max, and 4G options available (from 10mbps to 300mpbs.
  • Boost your mobile data. If you've got an EE pay monthly plan we'll also boost its monthly data allowance.
  • £50 Early Cancellation Credit. If you're charged for leaving your current broadband provider early to switch to EE broadband, we'll give you a £50 credit. 

 

Shell Energy

  • Packages from £19.99/month.
  • Fast Broadband, Superfast Fibre Broadband and Superfast Fibre Plus Broadband (from 11mbps to 63mbps).
  • No end-of-contract price rises.
  • No activation charge.
  • Exclusive rewards inc. Savings on fuel at Shell service stations, plus personalised offers and other surprises.

 

Vodafone

  • Packages from £21/month.
  • Superfast 1 and Superfast 2 options available (from 35mbps to 65mbps).
  • 4G and 5G plans available.
  • Save up to £3 a month on your broadband when you add a Pay monthly mobile plan to your account.
  • Control and customise your WiFi with the Vodafone Broadband app.
  • Apple 4K TV packages available.

 

TalkTalk

  • Packages from £22.95/month.
  • Unlimited Broadband, Fibre and Fibre Large (from 11mbps to 900mbps).
  • No set-up fee.
  • Let customers know when nearing the end of contract.
  • Give everyone 30 days to try fibre broadband, with no penalty for leaving.
  • Absolutely no mid-contract broadband price rises. Guaranteed.

 

 

What types of broadband service are there?

There are several different types of broadband available, all of which have differing performance levels and costs. Generally, broadband providers will offer you a choice of service packages, most of which are rated by speed and usage limits. The types given below are just to give you an idea of the most common methods of accessing broadband.

ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line)

The original broadband method, delivered via a standard BT phone line. This tends to lose signal with increasing distance, so if your property is a long way from the nearest phone junction box, then both speeds and service could be affected. It has now largely been replaced by cable or fibre optic, but is still a viable choice for those in areas where cable and fibre optic have not been rolled out yet.

Cable

Unlike ADSL, this does not lose performance over distance, providing a fast and more reliable method of accessing broadband internet.

Fibre optic

This utilises fibre optic cables to deliver the broadband service to your property. Like coaxial cable, fibre optic cables do not lose signal over distance. As they transmit signals using light, these can deliver very fast speeds and are ideal for those who have a high broadband usage.

Mobile

Often referred to as 3G or 4G cover. This is internet access provided by the mobile signal to your mobile phone. 3G is slower than 4G but is available in areas where mobile phone signals are bad. The UK is currently rolling out 5G – offering faster speeds and better connectivity – across the country. However, this will take several years to complete.

Satellite

The only option for those who live in areas with no telephone hardline or mobile phone signal. Only the truly most isolated spots in the UK need to use this method, which provides a broadband service using a dish to link to geostationary satellites in orbit. Unsurprisingly, this is an expensive option but the speeds available are actually quite good.

What are the important factors to think about when choosing a broadband service?

Choosing a broadband service that suits you is an important decision. In addition, cost and performance can vary widely. So, before you go looking for an ISP (internet service provider) for your broadband service, consider the following points:

Your location

Generally speaking, the closer you are to an urban centre, then the better your chances of being able to access the best broadband networks and fastest speeds. Those in rural areas may find that they cannot access the speeds available to those in towns and cities. However, some providers are making great strides in making the best and fastest cable and fibre optic networks available to those in the countryside, so check carefully to find the ISP who can provide the best service and speeds for your location.

Speed

While it may be tempting to choose the very fastest speeds for broadband service, these are the ones that cost the most too and not everyone needs a super-fast broadband connection. If you intend to use your broadband to access emails, do the weekly shop, browse the internet and occasionally video call with friends or family, then you’ll likely be perfectly happy with lower speeds (and lower costs). However, if you have a house full of internet hungry people who will all be streaming TV services at once, while also communicating with their friends through a tablet or phone, then you’re going to need those faster speeds.

Download limits

Some providers and/or packages set limits on how much data you can download in a month. Again, this is closely tied to the kind of usage your broadband is going to see. A set limit will cost less but is no good for high demand download services such as streaming TV. If you are a data-hungry household, it’s best to go for an unlimited package.

Cost

As with so many things, the better the package (i.e. fasters speeds, larger or unlimited downloads), the more it will cost. So, be prepared to do a bit of homework – shop around and find the best deal for your budget and don’t allow yourself to be ‘upsold’ if you really don’t need the top package on offer.

Contract terms

This is less about the terms and conditions (which of course you should pay attention to anyway) and more to do with the length of time you’ll be signing up to your broadband provider for. Here, ISPs can offer you a fixed monthly fee for anything from a year to 18 months (sometimes a little longer). Often deals with a longer contract period will be cheaper, but balance this carefully between getting a good deal and locking yourself into a deal for a long period.

Additional services, bolt-ons and extras

Many broadband providers will be keen to offer you additional services, such as streaming TV, free phone calls and even mobile phone contracts along with their broadband. While you should be wary of taking on any service that you doubt you’ll use, in some instances, an ISP will offer you a cheaper deal for a multimedia package than for just a straightforward broadband connection. Some broadband providers will only offer you a package with extras included. Don’t be put off by this – the broadband market is highly competitive and providers know they have to offer more to attract customers – a situation that you can profit from.

Measuring the speed of your broadband service

When it comes to broadband, speed is everything. Often the faster the broadband connection, the more it will cost. Hence, it's always a good idea to occassionally check your broadband speed to make sure your are getting the speed you've been promised.

Doing this is easy and there are a number of free websites and smartphone apps which will do this for you.

To find out more see our How to check your broadband speed guide. 

Moneyfacts tip

Moneyfacts tip nigel woollsey

Some broadband providers will offer a ‘discount’ on the price for the period of your contract. However, when your contract ends, you can find your monthly fee becomes much more expensive! Use coming to the end of your contract to your advantage by negotiating a better deal with your current provider or moving to another broadband supplier.

Disclaimer: This information is intended solely to provide guidance and is not financial advice. Moneyfacts will not be liable for any loss arising from your use or reliance on this information. If you are in any doubt, Moneyfacts recommends you obtain independent financial advice.

At a glance

  • Broadband is used to describe any fast internet connection that is permanently on
  • The broadband market is highly competitive but not all areas of the UK can take advantage of the highest speeds and availability
  • Often, broadband packages can include things such as streaming TV, a free set-top box, free landline calls and even mobile phone offers.

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