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.
IMPORTANT: This article has now been superseded by the new 2015 edition – The Best Broadband ISPs for 2015.
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: Quality – For those who don’t mind paying a bit extra to get a good service.
PAGE 3: General Commendations – For 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.
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.
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.
• Speed (on the superfast packages)
• Don’t expect stellar quality for such low prices.
• Some support woes in late 2013 but nothing major.
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.
• Price (especially the Sky TV bundles)
• Truly Unlimited Usage
• The old BT based ‘Connect’ package should be avoided
• Email support can be slow
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.
• Speeds (cable service)
• Strong TV Bundles (with TiVo)
• 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.
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.
• Truly Unlimited Usage Options
• BTSport TV Content
• Nice range of included extras
• Non-BTInfinity packages can be poor
• The TV products seem to attract a lot of complaints