By Matt Fernell, Editor-in-Chief at Finance.co.uk. Last updated 1st February 2023.
Broadband has become an essential part of our lives - whether you’re moving home or looking for a better price, this guide will help you get your head around broadband and how to find the right deal for you.
Broadband is how most of us will gain internet access in our homes. It became popular in the early 2000s, replacing dial-up to give people access to high-speed internet plus, it meant you could use your phone and computer simultaneously.
Since then, multiple types of broadband have emerged, each offering faster and more reliable internet connections.
There are several different types of broadband available nowadays, although some might not be available in your area yet.
Here are some of the most common types of broadband:
ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) is the most basic broadband and uses existing BT phone lines made up of copper wires to provide internet to houses up and down the UK.
ADSL broadband isn’t the fastest option, but it is pretty reliable. If you have ADSL broadband, your internet speed will depend mainly on the age and condition of the copper wires and how close you live to the telephone exchange.
Fibre optic broadband is a high-speed connection that uses cables made of fibre optical material.
There are two types of fibre broadband:
Satellite broadband is not a common choice and is mostly used in very rural areas where other forms of broadband aren’t yet available. It’s typically an expensive option, and you’ll need someone to come and install it for you.
However, if you don’t have access to other forms of broadband, satellite may be your only option.
4G and 5G, or mobile broadband, is a way to access the internet without using a land line. They use the same signal as your mobile phone, so if you know you don’t get good coverage on your mobile network, you might want to avoid it. You can check coverage online, to find which providers get the best signal in your area.
If you live in a rural area or somewhere where you can’t get a land line installed, mobile broadband may be a good option for you.
Most commonly provided by Virgin Media, cable broadband uses the same wiring as cable TV. Cable broadband is much faster than basic ADSL broadband, so if you can’t get fibre broadband or you’re looking to get cable TV, this could be a good choice.
You’ve probably heard the terms Wi-Fi and broadband used interchangeably, but technically, they are different. Broadband is the internet connection provided to your property by your provider. Wi-Fi, however, is the wireless signal from your router to your devices, like your laptop, mobile or TV.
Not all types of broadband are available everywhere, and whilst providers are trying to offer decent coverage all across the country, it may still be a while before ultrafast broadband is available everywhere.
Whilst most major towns and cities will have at least FTTC broadband, rural areas may still have to rely on ADSL or satellite broadband.
You can check what broadband is available in your area using the Ofcom broadband checker.
When looking for which broadband provider to go with, there are several things to research. Once you’ve found out what broadband is available in your area, you’ll also need to consider:
Many broadband providers use their speeds as the main selling point, all competing to offer the fastest connection.
Broadband speed is measured in Mbps, which stands for megabits per second. You may also see or hear it referred to as Mb or megs. It’s essentially a way to measure how many ‘bits’ of information can be downloaded or uploaded per second.
You may see different speeds advertised as ‘download’ ‘and ‘upload’. In most cases, your download speed is the one you’ll use most often, impacting things like streaming music and videos.
If you’re comparing deals online and only see one speed advertised, it will be the download speed.
The speed you need will depend on your general internet usage. If you live on your own, and only use one device at a time, lower speeds will be absolutely fine.
If you’re a heavy internet user, for example you play lots of online video games or you have a large family and there are several devices connected to your internet, it may be a good idea to go for a faster package if you can afford it.
It’s important to remember that you’re not guaranteed to receive the speeds advertised by providers. Their advertised speeds are typically only available to 50% of their customers, and your connection may be slower.
Don’t forget, the speed you get will also depend on what types of broadband available in your area. If you can only get an ADSL connection, you’re unlikely to get speeds above 11 Mbps. This is fine for everyday usage, but you may find it slow if you’re using multiple devices, do a lot of online gaming or streaming videos in 4K.
Sometimes, providers will set download limits. It’s more common for broadband providers to offer unlimited data packages nowadays, but they don’t always, so before signing up to a new deal, check what limits you have.
Before signing up for a broadband package, it’s a good idea to compare different providers, to find the most suitable for you.
Typically faster speeds means a higher price. You need to consider how much you can afford to spend on broadband each month as well as the speed you need.
Some providers may charge for installation, so it’s important to look at the overall cost because sometimes packages with a higher upfront fee may have a lower monthly payment and be cheaper overall.
The length of broadband contracts can vary, but are typically between 12 and 24 months, but you can also get monthly rolling deals.
Before you sign up to a deal, think about your circumstances, because being tied into a long term contract can make switching more difficult, so if you’re likely to move home, it’s a good idea to opt for a shorter contract.
However, if you’re likely to stay in the same place for a long time, opting for a longer contract could work out cheaper.
If you’re considering Sky, Virgin or BT TV packages it could be cheaper for you to bundle your TV and internet together.
Typically you’ll get land line rental included with most broadband packages, so if you’ll be using a landline phone, it’s a good idea to add an inclusive call plan to your broadband package. If you have a landline phone but don’t add a call plan, you’ll have to pay for any calls you make on top of your broadband package.
Sometimes providers will offer a free gift as part of a deal, such as vouchers, cashback or access to additional services. Pause to think about whether the gift is truly valuable to you - don’t be sucked in by a promotion and opt for a more expensive package to receive something you won’t actually use.
It can be tempting to choose the cheapest deal, but if it doesn’t suit your needs, it could end up costing you more in the long run.
Typically the cheapest deals come with the slowest speeds and some also have usage limits, so if you stream a lot of videos, play online games or simply have a large household with multiple devices connected to the internet, you might find your internet isn’t as reliable.
It’s important not to spend more than you can afford. When comparing broadband deals, it’s a good idea to look for the cheapest deal that meets your needs.
The information provided does not constitute financial advice, it’s always important to do your own research to ensure a financial product is right for your circumstances. If you’re unsure you should contact an independent financial advisor.