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The Best Broadband ISPs for 2014 – ISPreview UK Editors Pick

Posted Monday, January 6th, 2014 (1:59 am) by Mark Jackson (Score 60,126)
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It’s no fun having to walk the United Kingdom’s minefield of often confusing broadband ISP choices, where internet speeds can vary due to a multitude of often opaque factors and service quality frequently fails to match expectations. So here’s our annual editors pick to help out.

As usual ISPreview.co.uk has looked back at the performance of fixed line ISPs throughout the past year (those with national availability = 50% coverage or more), irrespective of subscriber size, and concluded a selection based on three simple category types.

ISPreview.co.uk Editors Choice Categories

PAGE 1: Price – For the budget conscious.

PAGE 2: QualityFor those who don’t mind paying a bit extra to get a good service.

PAGE 3: General CommendationsFor smaller niche ISPs and those who didn’t quite make it but are still worthy of a mention.

The results effectively represent a summary of unordered personal editor choices, using our own experiences of observing the market, and thus selection should not be considered an award. It’s also important to say that we generally only pick ISPs that have been listed on our site for several years and tend to favour fully independent providers over vISPs and resellers.

On top of all this we have also written a useful guide to help you understand the market (just in case you don’t already) – How to Choose a Broadband Internet Provider – and readers should similarly check out our Broadband Technology page in order to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of different connectivity types.

Elsewhere the Broadband Coverage Checker is handy to find which ISPs and networks operate in your area and our Top UK ISP Listings database can provide further details (ISP comparison) or links to related content for specific ISPs. We also recommend looking at the Awards and Special Offers article categories, which keeps track of related news from third party awards and price promotions. You should always thoroughly investigate any choices before signing-up.

Best UK Consumer ISPs for Price

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 decent performance then the following tend to fit that bill.

PlusNet

Not many budget conscious ISPs have won as many awards as PlusNet and their haul during 2013 appears to have been no less strong than in previous years (examples here, here, here and here), although they’re by no means perfect and the autumn months of 2013 saw a few gripes surrounding support quality. Similarly you shouldn’t necessarily expect the best speed or quality from cheaper providers, yet they still do a reasonable job.

Prices tend to start at just £5.99 a month for their entry-level standard 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 free weekend calls or various other call options can also be bundled from £10.99 extra a month (cheaper bundle deals are often offered). But the unlimited broadband options start at only £9.99 and are thus much more attractive.

On top of that they have a superfast broadband (FTTC) service and prices for that start at £15.99 a month with a 40GB usage allowance and 18 month contract. It’s worth nothing that PlusNet also offers a variety of packages that include unlimited usage at an extra cost (from £19.99) and more expensive 1 month contract options are available alongside their standard broadband deals.

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

Cons:
• Don’t expect stellar quality for such low prices.
• Some support woes in late 2013 but nothing major.

Sky Broadband

Sky is perhaps more the choice for consumers that want to bundle in a good quality TV service with their broadband and phone package. But on top of that they’re also quite affordable and appear to have a better reputation than the other big ISPs, with Ofcom’s quarterly summary of consumer gripes persistently rating them alongside Virgin as having the lowest level of complaints (here).

In terms of price, Sky offers a FREE broadband connection with a tiny 2GB usage allowance if you take their TV service. But most people tend to prefer their broadband unlimited package that costs from £7.50 to £10 a month (£7.50 with Sky TV), which includes “truly unlimited usage”, typical download speeds of up to 16Mbps, free UK weekend phone calls, a free SkyHub wireless router and free wifi hotspot access (The Cloud). Take note that Sky Line Rental must also be taken from the equivalent of £11.70 a month (when paid 12 months in advance).

Sky also sells a superfast Fibre Unlimited (FTTC) package that offers download speeds of up to 38Mbps with unlimited usage from just £20 a month or £30 if you want the 76Mbps “Pro” package. The features are otherwise the same as their standard unlimited option above.

Pros:
• Price (especially the Sky TV bundles)
• Speed
• Truly Unlimited Usage

Cons:
• The old BT based ‘Connect’ package should be avoided
• Email support can be slow

Virgin Media

Virgin’s hybrid fibre optic / coax cable (EuroDOCSIS3) network covers roughly half of the UK and is mostly only available in urban areas where it can offer Internet download speeds of up to 120Mbps and a rich selection of premium TV services. It’s quite well rated for service speed and, as with Sky above, tends to receive fewer consumer complaints than most of the other big ISPs (here).

Admittedly Virgin are by no means perfect and those living outside of their cable network would be well advised to avoid their Virgin.net / Virgin National (ADSL2+) services, which offer poor performance next to their cable platform. The quality of customer support can also be very patchy.

Prices for their entry-level 30Mbps broadband and phone bundle start at £15.50 a month for unlimited downloads (Traffic Management) and a free wireless router, which has to be taken alongside their Virgin Phone Line service from an extra £10.66 per month (when paid 12 months in advance); this includes free UK weekend calls. Note that you can also take broadband as standalone but it will cost from £25 a month. Various other bundles are also offered, often at significantly discounted prices.

Generally Virgin’s strength is with its triple-play TV bundles and, unlike Sky, they also have a mobile service that’s £5 a month cheaper if you’re already one of their Virgin Broadband, TV or home phone customers.

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

Cons:
• Support
• Virgin.net (Virgin National) performance
• Confusing Traffic Management Policy
• Latency is a little higher than some of their rivals
• Upload speeds aren’t quite as good as the top FTTC services.

BTInfinity

Sadly BT’s standard broadband (ADSL2+) packages are somewhat of a mixed bag and they do receive a fair amount of complaints, although their Infinity superfast broadband (FTTC) options appear to represent an improvement. Just remember that BT might be one of the cheaper FTTC ISPs but the quality of their customer support often represents more of a risk than some of the above options.

Otherwise prices start from £15 a month for their up to 38Mbps package with a 20GB usage allowance and free UK weekend calls, which also includes unlimited BT wifi hotspot access, a free HomeHub5 router, 2GB of online storage, SmartTalk, free BTSport TV content (live football matches etc.) and more. Customers who want truly unlimited downloads will have to pay from £23 per month (£26 for their 76Mbps option). In all cases you also have to pay from £11.75 a month for Line Rental (when paid 12 months in advance).

BT also has quite a reasonable range of TV (IPTV) products, which is in no small part down to their adoption of the YouView platform and the free BTSport content that has given both Sky and Virgin a serious run for their money. But we do see more complaints against their TV service than for their rivals so be careful.

Pros:
• Speed
• Truly Unlimited Usage Options
• BTSport TV Content
• Nice range of included extras

Cons:
• Non-BTInfinity packages can be poor
• Support
• The TV products seem to attract a lot of complaints

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15 Responses
  1. Bob2002

    Have to disagree about speed and quality from Plusnet. My speedtests(around 73 Mb/s with a profile of about 77Mb) have been consistent since I had FTTC installed back last Easter. And the quality of the connection is fine as well, hasn’t missed a beat under heavy use.

  2. FibreFred

    How come Virgin has support listed as a Con? I thought they did generally well in this area and I seem to remember a few articles on this site to back that up, mention of awards etc

    • Most of the gripes that pass through my inbox about Virgin Media tend to stem from problems with customer support, such as staff that fail to acknowledge that a problem even exists until several days later or which suggest silly solutions when the line is totally dead (e.g. replacing the router).

      Slow service status updates, poor communication between departments and other issues along those lines seemed quite common. I think they’ve improved a fair bit in the last few months of 2013 but we still see a fair few gripes and I can’t ignore that feedback.

      But you’ll note that most of the ‘value’ picks have support as a negative so it’s not uncommon :). Smaller ISPs just tend to do much better on that front.

    • FibreFred

      I see, thanks for that

    • CrazyLazy

      Also with Virgin i think you will find the customer call centre you have to phone if you have issues differs depending on if you are an Virgin.net (ADSL) customer or Virgin cable. Or that at least used to be the case. Obviously the cable service given its awards this year does better. Maybe they do not see as many complaints as the cable product?

    • CrazyLazy

      Opps that should obviously read “Maybe they do not see as many complaints WITH the cable product?”

  3. dragoneast

    I’ve used IDNet for my landline broadband for a couple of years now. Regrettably over the last 6 months or so customers around the country both on VDSL and ADSL connections are reporting regular working day daytime/evening packet loss of up to 5% or so on their forum, and variable throughput speeds. They’ve increased capacity but don’t seem yet to have sorted it. There might be a suspicion that home users are being affected by some “excessive” business use of the odd major commercial customer. I only mention it since it’s looking like a “general” issue. It doesn’t show up in the same way on other ISPs (as far as I can gather). And may not matter unless QoS is critical.

  4. Peter

    The Plus.Net 40GB FTTC offering (up to 38 Mbps) has the same ‘unmetered overnight’ as the lower speed service.

    I still think 40 GB a bit limiting (and as they offer unlimited data for 9.99/month on ADSL, not sure how the costs stack up from Openreach), but for people out at work on the 9 to 5 grind, it may be fine.

  5. MinusNet

    Took me 3 months against PlusNet to get things resolved. They agreed to port my phone number over but it didn’t happen on day of transfer. No honest answer when I asked why this wasn’t done after countless phone calls and raising job tickets. Just one excuse after the other. Caught them out lying when they blamed it on my phone supplier who hadn’t even received a transfer request from Plusnet. I know because I checked.

    After 8 weeks of fake promises to look into it, I used CISAS and suddenly they paid attention and got their finger out to do the work.

    You get what you get for. Pay more for a company that provides decent support.

  6. cyclope

    Not with plusnet but was considering them, but reading their forums is a little off putting, they don’t seem to be able to support their customer base in a timely fashion anymore, there are issues with online gaming /peering too, as well as peak time slow downs and from the looks of some of the ping monitor graphs, lets say i wouldn’t be a happy bunny if they where of my connection

  7. Michael Bradbrook

    I moved over to Plusnet in October I had problems with them. They changed my telephone to a new number without me knowing, but I wasn’t bothered, but since getting FTTC with Plusnet and everything has been fine. I have not had a problem with them once and my speed hasn’t dropped below 74meg.

  8. supercasual

    I am a member of plusnet. in the last year they have become pathetic. Speed has drifted down. Service has dropped off a cliff and support has become sparse and worse over time.

    I am not impressed. Having in the past refered others to this company i am now going to leave as they have time and time again failed to provide support or information for weeks on end.

  9. pauld

    why does this website not discuss contract lengths, i think a thumbs up should be given for shorter contract lengths

  10. Mmouse

    sky are censoring my web site visits – despite not rewuesting sky shield they have cut off visits to certain sites – I am way over 21 and resent being censored by n organisation that has been in court and in front of MPs for perjury and hacking!

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