Choosing a new broadband ISP is harder than picking a supplier for Gas or Electricity, not least because the quality of service and performance can vary hugely depending upon where you live and which provider you pick. But with any luck our annual editors pick might help to simplify the options.
Generally there are two major fixed line broadband networks in the United Kingdom, a closed Hybrid Fibre Coax (DOCSIS/FTTP) platform operated only by Virgin Media in predominantly urban areas and Openreach’s (BT) national mix of slow pure copper (ADSL) or faster fibre optic based (FTTC or FTTP) services. Openreach is also open access (i.e. available via lots of ISPs).
A growing number of small Alternative Network (altnet) providers also use a mix of different technologies (wireless, fibre optic etc.) to cater for specific parts of the UK. Sadly few can use altnets and there is very little feedback for them, thus we mostly focus our guide upon those with national availability. NOTE: We do not recommend Satellite providers due to the high cost of data / meagre allowances, slow latency times and general concerns about service quality.
In keeping with that we have concluded a selection of ISPs by organising the options into three different categories (detailed below), which are separated to reflect the best picks for those seeking to save money or those who would rather pay extra for better quality.
ISPreview.co.uk Editor’s Pick Categories
PAGE 1: Price – For the budget conscious, with a possible reduction of quality.
PAGE 2: Quality – For those who don’t mind paying extra to get the best service.
PAGE 3: Commendations – Smaller niche and altnets ISPs who deserve praise.
Remember, it’s important to thoroughly investigate any ISP before you sign-up as there’s always a risk of bad service. This is true of even the highest quality providers, not least because many problems will not be within your ISPs ability to directly control (e.g. a fault or capacity issue on BTOpenreach’s platform may affect all ISPs or only those in a specific area).
The past year has also seen some major changes in the UK market, not least in terms of how broadband ISPs price and promote their services (here). As such this year’s update will give a total monthly price (broadband + line rental) and our full UK ISP Listings and Comparison service does the same.
Elsewhere switching ISP is usually as easy as simply ordering a service from your new provider and they will then handle the rest through a Gaining Provider Led (GPL) migration system, but there are some caveats to this and so we recommend reading our Guide to Switching Broadband ISP. Ofcom are currently working to fix some of the flaws (here).
Finally, we advise readers to check our Broadband Technology page in order to learn about the different connectivity methods. The Awards and Special Offer categories in our news system are also useful for keeping track of third-party ISP awards and price promotions, but take note that those in remote rural areas may sometimes pay higher prices due to the lack of local competition.
The UK is one of the cheapest countries in the world for broadband, so it’s not hard to find a low cost package. On the other hand the less you pay, the less you get (i.e. sacrificing service quality, performance or support), but if you don’t mind taking the risk then these options might help. NOTE: Most of the ISPs below will tie you into a standard 12 or 18 month contract.
All of the prices we display include VAT, line rental and we do not show special offers as those change far too often (standard prices are shown), although our ISP Listings will give you the latest prices with discounts applied. Plus we only show packages with unlimited usage as these are the most popular and easiest to compare. The following is an unordered list.
Sky sometimes attracts criticism due to its hold over Pay TV and the general dislike of a certain Rupert Murdoch, but the broadband side of their business receives some of the fewest consumer complaints (here) and highest customer satisfaction (here); at least among the big ISPs. On top of that they’re also one of the first among the major ISPs to adopt the new IPv6 standard.
Recently the operator has also launched a new Sky Q Hub router (here), which if you can get it is a big step up from their old and slow Sky Hub SR102 kit. The only downside is that Sky has yet to supply the new Sky Q Hub as standard, which means that customers will often have to pay a little extra to get it unless they take an expensive Sky Q bundle.
Sky of course also benefits from a strong selection of TV packages (note: Sky Q Silver includes 4K Ultra HD) support and if you only make limited use of the Internet then they can even throw in a basic broadband product with a 12GB usage allowance for free (here). A new O2 based Sky Mobile service has also just been introduced.
NOTE: There’s a £9.95 one-off router delivery fee.
• Low price
• New Sky Q Hub (router) is an improvement
• Speed (Fibre Broadband)
• Truly Unlimited Usage
• Reasonable support quality for a major ISP
• Wide-scale roll-out of IPv6
• Sky’s older BT-based ‘Connect’ package is expensive and slow
• Most users will still get the rubbish Sky Hub router (lacks 5GHz WiFi and Gigabit LAN)
• Sky enables Internet censorship by default (here), but it can be turned off
Virgin, much like Sky above, also receives some of the fewest consumer complaints (here) and high customer satisfaction scores (here) among the biggest ISPs. On top of that they’re currently going through a major expansion, which will extend their 300Mbps capable Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) based DOCSIS network to another 4 million premises by 2019 (roughly 60-65% UK coverage) and 2 million of those will be use pure fibre optic FTTP/H technology.
Outside of that the ISP is perhaps best known for their strong download speeds (their slowest entry-level package starts at 50Mbps), which regularly top various third-party awards, and a wide selection of pay TV and mobile (EE MVNO) bundles. Furthermore they’re also working to expand their UK network of public WiFi hotspots and recently introduced a fairly strong SuperHub v3 router with good wireless performance.
• Download speeds
• Strong TV bundles
• Good 4G Mobile tariffs (quad play bundle)
• Broadband can be purchased standalone (as above) or with a phone / voice service
• Coverage is mostly in urban areas (cities and big towns)
• Complicated Traffic Management Policy (mostly affects uploads)
• Upload speeds could be better
• Still awaiting IPv6 support
Plus.net are perhaps one of the cheapest providers in the market, at least as cheap as we can recommend going before you hit the troubled waters of TalkTalk (not included here due to too many recent mishaps and complaints). The ISP appears to be reasonably well rated for customer support, but at these low prices you shouldn’t really expect the best service speeds and quality.
Elsewhere the provider also offers a bog standard Pay TV product using YouView (IPTV) technology and a BTSport add-on is also available for their broadband customers, plus they’ve recently launched a new Mobile service via EE’s national 4G network. So if you want a cheaper service then Plusnet should cover the basics.
• Low FTTC (Fibre) prices
• UK support
• Don’t expect stellar quality service speeds for such low prices
• Some recent criticism for slow telephone support
• Standard broadband users get a very low spec router
• Prices for their ADSL packages are oddly similar to FTTC
As the largest ISP in the UK it’s fair to say that BT can attract a lot of complaints and as such we tend to preach more caution than we would with the aforementioned providers, which is also partly why we’ve chosen to highlight their superfast broadband BTInfinity (FTTC/P) packages (BT’s slower ADSL based packages usually attract the majority of complaints).
On the other hand BT are seeking to improve support quality by moving most of their agents back to the UK (here) and they also bundle free premium BTSport live TV content with all of their broadband packages (e.g. Premier League Football and Rugby). Subscribers also benefit from access to BT’s large UK network of public WiFi hotspots and the merger with EE has given them a good selection of Mobile tariffs.
On top of that BT recently introduced their new Smart Hub (Home Hub 6) wireless router, which is currently one of the most advanced bundled ISP routers in the market, and their entry-level FTTC “Infinity Fibre” package comes with a speed of ‘up to’ 52Mbps (most other ISPs still offer ‘up to’ 38Mbps).
In other words, BT’s attraction is all the extras it throws in rather than their price or service quality. Indeed they tend to cost more than all of the other major players’, although this is often masked by some heavily discounted first year price reductions (annoyingly you have to read the small print to find their post contract prices).
• Free BTSport TV content
• Access to BT’s large network of Public WiFi Hotspots
• Strong SmartHub router
• Customer support will soon be over 80% based in the UK
• 52Mbps (9.5Mbps upload) is their entry-level FTTC / Infinity speed
• Basic broadband (ADSL) packages have a shaky history
• Price is higher than some rivals, partly due to all the extras
• Post-contract prices still being hidden behind convoluted small print
• BT attracts a lot of complaints, although they are the biggest ISP
Origin started life as an ISP for South Yorkshire, but they’ve since expanded to cover the rest of the United Kingdom. Most recently they’ve also re-branded and slashed their prices, which puts them into the same ultra-cheap category as TalkTalk and a few others. But ultra-cheap ISPs tend to be very poorly rated and yet Origin receives a balance of mixed feedback (Origin Reviews).
At this stage it’s too early to tell if Origin will be able to maintain their current pricing and quality over the longer term (unlimited broadband and line rental for £17.99 per month must be cutting close to the bone), but on the value front it’s hard to knock them. You also get an included router and UK support. But if you choose Origin, do so with caution.
• UK Support
• Included ASUS DSL-N16 router
• Claims to have no hidden set-up or delivery charges
• Maybe too cheap?
• Closure of Digital Region network hit Origin customers hard, but service has improved
NOTE: Most of the above ISPs will also offer plenty of paid extras (add-ons), such as Anytime UK calls, mobile plans or enhanced TV bundles. In addition, providers that use Openreach’s UK telecoms network still have a lot of control to differentiate themselves in terms of features, network quality and performance, so don’t treat them all as the same.
Now on to summarise the best providers for service quality..