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The UK Best Broadband ISPs for 2013 – ISPreview Editors Pick

Posted Monday, January 7th, 2013 (1:27 am) by Mark Jackson (Score 125,536)
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Choosing the right broadband ISP for your needs isn’t easy, especially in the United Kingdom’s aggressively competitive market that bombards consumers with a confusing array of different options and where performance varies based on a multitude of often opaque factors. So here’s our editors pick for 2013, which we hope will make your life a little easier.

IMPORTANT: This article has now been superseded by the new 2014 editionThe Best Broadband ISPs for 2014.

ISPreview.co.uk has looked back at the performance of ISPs throughout the past year, irrespective of scale, and concluded a selection based on a balance of reliability, affordability and performance. This list represents a shortlist of personal editor choices, using our own experiences of observing the market, and as a result selection should not be considered an award.

To make life simpler we’ve grouped our choices into two unordered primary categories. The first focuses on ISPs that offer a balance of price and performance, while the second is more quality orientated; unlike big price comparison sites we also include smaller providers.

We usually only pick ISPs that have either been listed on our site for several years or which show a strong degree of persistent reliability (i.e. the ‘Quality’ choices). On top of that we have also written a useful guide to help you understand the market (just in case you don’t already).

* GUIDE How to Choose a Broadband Internet Provider

Readers should similarly check out our ‘Broadband Technology‘ page to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of different broadband types. The ‘Broadband Coverage Checker‘ is handy to check which ISPs operate in your area and our ‘Top UK ISP Listings‘ database can provide further details or links to related news articles. As usual you should thoroughly investigate any choices before signing-up.

Best UK Consumer ISPs – Balance of Price and Performance

There are plenty of affordable ISP solutions around but most of them seem to sacrifice service quality for a lower price point, which can result in inferior support and slow speeds. Paying less is not always a good idea but if you have to and still require a good balance of performance then the following tend to fit that bill.

Sky Broadband

According to Ofcom’s Q3-2012 data, Sky’s fixed line broadband service receives the fewest customer complaints out of the biggest five ISPs. Sky also has strong financial backing, is very affordable and offers one of the strongest TV packages on the market that can also be bundled with an entry-level FREE broadband service (2GB usage allowance).

Prices for the main Sky Broadband Unlimited package start at just £7.50 to £10 a month, which includes “truly unlimited usage”, typical download speeds of 14Mbps, free UK weekend phone calls, a free SkyHub wireless router and free wifi hotspot access via The Cloud. However Sky Line Rental must also be taken from £14.50 a month.

On top of that those wanting a superfast broadband (FTTC) service can take the Sky Fibre Unlimited package, which includes all of the above but with download speeds of up to 38Mbps (an even faster Pro service is also available) from £20 a month.

Sadly if you don’t live within Sky’s unbundled (LLU) network (covers around 85% of the UK) then the BT-based Sky Broadband Connect service is your only option and this is best avoided. It’s restrictive, more likely to suffer from problems and is also fairly expensive. Most of the gripes against Sky relate to this package.

Pros:
• Price (especially if bundled with Sky TV)
• Speed
• Truly Unlimited Usage

Cons:
• The ‘Connect’ package is slow and costly
• Email support could be faster

PlusNet

PlusNet has won several separate awards for customer service and support this year, which is an impressive feat for one of the markets cheapest providers. You can’t necessarily expect the best speeds or quality but they have built a good reputation for budget services and even offer an affordable selection of FTTC based superfast broadband packages (from £15.99 a month), which deliver speeds from 38Mbps and faster.

Prices start at just £5.99 a month for their budget broadband package, which includes a 10GB usage allowance (unlimited overnight usage), free wireless router, free connection and 12 month contract (shorter contract options available). A Home Phone (line rental) service with various free call options can also be bundled from £10.49 extra a month (cheaper bundle deals are often offered).

Pros:
• Speed (on the superfast packages)
• Price
• Support

Cons:
• Don’t expect stellar quality for such low prices but they still do a fairly good job of it.

Virgin Media

Virgin Media uses a unique hybrid cable coax and fibre optic (EuroDOCSIS3) network, with some copper, to deliver a variety of phone, TV, broadband and also mobile services. It claims to offer some of the fastest and most reliable broadband speeds of any ISP (up to a staggering 120Mbps) but its service can only reach half of the country.

The strength of virgin’s cable service, moderate prices and popular TV bundles are the primary reason for our including them. But Virgin is by no means perfect. Those living outside of its cable coverage are only able to take their inferior ‘Virgin National’ (Virgin.net ADSL) packages, which use BT’s older copper lines and aren’t well rated for performance. Virgin’s customer support quality could also do with some improvement.

Prices for broadband start at around £14.50 per month for a superfast 30Mbps cable service with unlimited usage (Traffic Management) and a free wireless router, which applies when taken alongside Virgin phone line rental (unlimited weekend calls) for an extra £14.99 a month. Various other bundles are also offered, often at significantly discounted prices.

NOTE: In the last 2-3 months of 2012 Virgin’s cable platform has suffered a lot of sporadic video buffering, peering and related high latency problems. Not enough to impact their inclusion this year but next year’s report could be different.

Pros:
• Price
• Speeds (cable service)
• Strong TV Bundles (with TiVo)

Cons:
• Support
• Virgin.net (Virgin National) performance
• Traffic Management can feel restrictive on Virgin’s cheaper packages
• Latency can be higher than non-cable based rivals (i.e. not ideal for multiplayer gaming)

BTInfinity

BT’s standard broadband packages typically receive a lot of complaints, which is often due to the operators stiff Traffic Management policy (can hit the performance of P2P based and online video streaming services quite hard). Support isn’t the best either but they do offer a strong range of additional services, such as unlimited public wifi access, a free router, free connection and 5GB of free online storage.

But the operators new FTTC based superfast broadband service, BTInfinity, especially its “unlimited” package, is significantly better and actually deserves some praise for being able to deliver typical download speeds of up to 38Mbps and good service flexibility. Prices for this tend to start at just £18 a month (or £26 for the unlimited 76Mbps package) and usually includes free UK evening and weekend calls (cheaper discounts are often offered).

On top of that BT now has quite a strong TV solution that can be bundled with its broadband and phone deals. This is powered by the YouView (IPTV) platform and appears to be quite well priced vs similar offers from Sky and Virgin. Line Rental is also required for BT’s bundles and costs from around £10.75 a month.

Pros:
• Speed
• Flexible Usage (on the “unlimited” deal)
• Good TV Bundles

Cons:
• Only Recommended for BTInfinity, the other packages can be poor
• Support

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22 Responses
  1. adslmax

    Virgin Media local congestion is fairly widespread. They wouldn’t make my list of the best ISPs. :p

    • DTMark

      It is really “fairly widespread”, though… until they get around to finishing off their upgrades it’s probably just as well that the 100Meg package isn’t that popular, but even that averages higher speeds than the best FTTC connections as it is now.

      Oh, the choice between inadequate segment backhaul and ancient last-mile tech ;)

  2. Mehuge

    PlusNet is not so good in my experience, though both experiences were in areas where there was only old style adsl (up to 8 meg) coverage. They are dishonest, emailing you telling you your getting faster speeds than you are. They also don’t always deliver when they are supposed to.

    Glad to see Sky there at the top.

    Virgin Media – their throttling means I would never touch them as an ISP. Funny how their based on better technology but can’t deliver the services as well as others.

    Virgin Media is for those that like the thought of a high performance ISP but wouldn’t know one if it smacked them in the face.

  3. A

    i honestly dont know how plusnet got mentioned they say your speed will be same as you are on but cheaper sounds great then when you sign up and try its not all that as you were told so basically lies . customer support and telephone service is good but broadband is a definately no as speed is no where near what i should be getting so good old BT capping the speeds thats not a shock to me they always do .

  4. hmm

    This must be by number of customers ISP because Sky Broadband plusenet virgin BT are main stream ISP which on the whole are crap

  5. Ben

    I haven’t had any issues with the VM XXL package (recently upgraded to 120mb download), then again I’m using the “superhub” in modem mode only (connected to an asus router). All the horror stories I read about VM are more to do with the supplied router than the actual connection.

    http://speedtest.net/result/2374929905.png

  6. Sledgehammer

    I escaped from SKY last April and moved to IDnet. Have had a solid 14meg D/L 0.85 U/L since day one, no problems what so ever. It just works.

    The only way they will get me on FTTC is by doing it as a freebie when BT get round to upgrading my cab, me being the last one on ADSL2+

  7. Sgt_Bilko

    I’m always amazed when hearing that Xilo score highly for support. Try calling them any evening or during the weekend if you have a problem… Monday to Friday from 10.00am to 5.00pm is not much consolation when you lose your internet on Friday evening.

    • Matt

      I appreciate your comments. Many of our customers are aware of this before they signup for service.

      Customers can also contact us via their account and a large majority of people have smart phones where they can do this, or even dongles where we do answer tickets 24/7. Even maybe to extremes of asking a friend to contact us and we are more than happy to call customers back, if only to explain we’ve raised a fault for them and expected response times.

      If you’ve opted for Enhanced or Premium care, we do have a 24/7 contact number as 24/7 coverage is provided as part of the add-on paid and opted for. Normal “standard” service means that although we may be able to raise at any point over the weekend, the supplier is unlikely to start investigating until the first working day.

      Matt

  8. cyclope

    BE/O2 wouldn’t of been in my list of good ISP’s they may at some time been worthy of that title, but over the recent past they are far from good,I have been fortunate enough to have expreienced better to know that they aren’t what some say they are, Whilst it’s true that they are an improvement on BT retail and some other mass market ISP’s, Which TBH doen’t take an awful lot to be better than

  9. arum_lily

    Today I was informed that Telefonica are selling BE to Sky unfortunately. BE is great so I don`t want to lose it. Any recommendations of an ISP that is similar to BE would be gratefully received. With BE I am able to download as much as I want without any restrictions, so different to other ISPs. Most of the ISPs you`ve mentioned such as Sky, Virgin, Plusnet etc are appalling. I need help. I was going to transfer my phone line to BE but not now. I was with 02, also part of Telefonica, was so bad. They phoned me to tell me to cut my usage. 02 are also being sold to the dreaded Sky.

  10. Comit-Storm

    BT
    Where do I start, they not got a clue what the left hand is doing to the right, had an appointment between 1pm-6pm, went out in morning came back to a garbled message from my daughter who said they was not coming, rang to confirm this was the fact got told no engineer is definitely coming out waited in all day 17:30 rang again found order had been change to another day, totally not impressed.
    Now cancelled order this is 2nd time they have let me down in two years, now leaving them.

  11. LeTete

    Sky=Murdoch Lying Zionist who lies to MP’s, Hacks voicemails of celebrity’s and Millie Dowler, try’s to plant mes in Gov….Coulson and knows scum like the Rebecca and Charlie Brooks who use innocents to destroy evidence for them, add some police bribery and you wanna advertise to make this man richer.

    BT first company to start spying on their customers ‘Phorm’ and only just stopped all the traffic shaping so they say but still block access to some sites. They all suck the big heartless companies, sucking up our money for sub standard service and half the speed promised and advertised! The exploit, consume, polute and furnish the greed of the few that benefit! Remember get a VPN your being watched and whether you have anything to hide or not you deserve privacy as google collecting your every search term doesn’t benefit you only them as they don’t pay you a cut for that valuable info! Most US sites now pass info to Gov agency’s Microsoft, Hotmail, Facebook and so on in fact use any old details to register! You would be a fool to register for anything using your real details. You could have your identity stolen by hackers as none if the big sites take adequate precautions…..Sony Anybody! They can’t be trusted therefore protect your information. They make money from it, better targeting their audience that’s your info helping them where’s your cut? Precisely

    • tinux

      Spot on. The trouble is who do you trust? you still some tunnels to walk through and most are full of spiders and you still pay for the privilige.

  12. Chris

    I was with BT until feb this year, had the total Bb option 1, was an absolutely crap service we received from them. Was constantly on the phone kicking off because wifi dropping off & speed issues + was getting charged for over usage. So now moved to sky unlimited 7.50 pm. Tell you what it’s great! Getting 12mbps d/l 1.4 u/l no wifi issues & the cloud is boss. So even if I did have a problem, I can still get online via the local pub just over the road from my house! Spot on. Thanks sky

  13. Z

    I’d just like to add my experiences to the mix.

    I’ve had experience with Virgin, TalkTalk and Sky as a domestic customer in London and Bristol. Below are my thoughts on all three.

    TalkTalk: The service provided used to be on the lower-quality side, relatively average speeds and poor router performance. Within the last year, however, service has improved and the newest router provided seems to be working reasonably well. Download speeds are decent over ADSL, with at least 13 Mbps down and 1 up – nothing stellar, but sufficient for the low price. Customer service is average. In London, I can say this is a good budget offering to go with.

    Virgin Media: Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Yes, the company offers the fastest speeds in the land, and this is only true when it works. A lot of the time it doesn’t. The speeds are sometimes unstable, especially when it comes to video streaming. The latency is erratic – 30 ms one moment, 1000 ms the next. The Super Hub has terrible WiFi performance and range, and suffers from regular DNS issues. There was a time when the line to the local cabinet was overloaded and I saw speeds below 100 kbps, with Virgin being completely clueless about it, sticking to their scripts and generally doing nothing to fix it. In the end I was told it was the fault of planning permission by a senior network admin. Customer support takes a long time to be connected to, and through the staff are friendly, they often lack the knowledge to fix problems. Need I mention they never quoted any terms and conditions, nor did they send me that in written form as promised, and kept charging me after my contract was supposed to have ended. Please avoid unless you know your neighbours are getting good service and nobody else offers acceptable speeds.

    Sky: I am pretty happy with Sky’s Unlimited package. Speeds are very good for ADSL, with at least 17 Mbps down and 1 up, even at peak times. No traffic management whatsoever means downloads are consistently quick. The customer support has also been excellent and, despite a couple of minor glitches from the Sagemcom router, service has on the whole been pretty decent, with good latency (sub 30 ms). The only downside is that, unless you can haggle a good deal, you’ll have to pay £50 up front to upgrade your line to Sky Fibre.

  14. philip

    BT Infinity is also poor in my experience – I cant wait to leave.

  15. Goestoshow

    Some interesting comments from those who have experience of these companies. Like the website, broadbandchoices, perhaps words like affiliate, partner, vendorid that feature in the links to various companies from company names above, revealed the true reason for the results. Shame on you ispreview!

    • We don’t make a secret of the fact that affiliate links are used; it’s the same on Thinkbroadband and other sites. It’s how we’re able to fund the sites continued operation and expansion. The difference is here is that we list and cover all legal ISPs in the same way regardless of whether there is an affiliate relationship.

      You will also note that BT, Sky and others with affiliate links are treated just the same in the news and articles, where we have covered plenty of their faults at great length. I doubt many people would view ISPr as a pro-big ISP site lol. We openly tend to favour smaller providers for their quality.

      The editor’s choice is also split into a balance of “price” (cheaper) or “quality” choices. Readers are clearly warned above that the cheaper solutions we highlight may “sacrifice service quality for a lower price point, which can result in inferior support and slow speeds”.

      You will note that not one of the ISPs we recommend for Quality have any kind of affiliate or other promotional relationship with us. Affiliate links are automatically applied to only a small number of supporting ISPs.

      Anyway you don’t need me to tell you this, just ask any of our long time readers that have seen how we report and give fair coverage to all. It’s not just something I say.. history speaks for itself.. 13 years of it. Take the time to look back through our archives and you’ll see.

  16. ben

    Does anyone know who is the best provider in the uk for gaming.
    I enjoy playing my ps3 however i have virgin media broadband 60meg. I find this great for downloading however, i feel that when gaming i get alot of lagg. This is so bad at times that when playing games online i do not even see some peoples sprite untill they have shot me.
    For example. I can be shot by someone b4 i see them come round the corner. This is made more apparent when playing with snippers.
    If anyone elae has this issue or has solved it please message me.

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