TalkTalk UK Broadband ISP Interview - ISPreview
Editors Pick - Best UK Broadband ISPs for 2010
By: Mark Jackson - January 4th, 2010 : Page 1 -of- 3
"There are certainly plenty of low-cost ISP solutions around but most of them seem to sacrifice service quality for a lower price point"

gold star Choosing a new ISP is anything but easy and sadly no amount of prior research can fully prepare you for how a particular choice might ultimately perform when connected in your own street. Indeed sometimes even the best providers with the highest ratings can fall on their swords; performance in particular varies from place to place and is easily hampered by local infrastructure problems.

IMPORTANT: This article has now been superseded by the new 2017 edition - The Best Broadband ISPs for 2018.

ISPreview has consequently looked back over the performance of ISPs throughout 2009 and managed to conclude a small selection based on a balance of reliability, price and performance. This represents a short list of personal editor choices based on our own experiences and consumer opinions while observing the market; selection should not be considered an award.

We have grouped our selections into two primary categories; one for a balance of price and performance and the second for pure quality. The selections are not posted in any particular order. Readers should also check out our ‘Broadband Technology’ page to learn about the differences, advantages and disadvantages of different broadband types. The ‘Broadband Coverage Checker’ is also handy to check which ISPs operate in your area.

We only pick ISPs that have been on our website for a few years and, in terms of the ‘Quality’ (Page 2) selection at least, shown a strong degree of persistent reliability and high standards. Unlike most of the big price comparison sites we also give equal respect to the smallest providers and do not just promote the largest players.

Best Balance of Price & Performance ISPs (Consumer)

There are certainly plenty of low-cost ISP solutions around but most of them seem to sacrifice service quality for a lower price point, which can lead to inferior support and frustrating performance woes. Paying less is not always a good idea but if you have to and still require a good balance of performance then we can’t really think of any better choices than those listed below:

BE Broadband and O2 (Type: Unbundled ADSL2+ Broadband)
Reason: BE Broadband (including O2’s service, which uses the same network) made a name for itself by launching the country’s first ‘up to’ 24Mbps ADSL2+ based broadband service and once again makes our editors choice. It has continued to win high praise in various awards during 2009, not least for the real-world speed of its services and low pricing.

BE’s prices typically start at just £7.50 per month for an ‘up to’ 8Mbps service (1.3Mbps upload), which comes with a 12 month contract and a strong 40GB usage allowance. The service is only available in certain unbundled (LLU) areas. Those with an O2 mobile phone contract should also consider O2’s comparable packages, which can be a lot cheaper for existing mobile customers.

Both Be Broadband and O2 also offer faster ‘up to’ 20 to 24Mbps broadband packages for equally low pricing, though according to readers Be Broadband is better for customer support than its O2 counterpart. However we suggest avoiding O2’s Home Access (BT based) package, which is not run from BE’s network and is the primary cause of many negative opinions. O2’s other Standard, Premium and Pro options are far better.

Sky Broadband (Type: Unbundled and BT based ADSL2+/ADSL Broadband)
Reason: Sky is perhaps a slightly greater gamble than its more established counterpart(s) above, but it does have strong financial backing and reasonable (definitely not perfect) customer support. Despite a rocky start Sky has now carved out a good section of the market for itself and performs better than most of the big players.

Prices technically start at £0 per month (when taken with Sky Talk Freetime, otherwise £5) for the Sky Broadband Base package, which offers speeds of up to 2Mbps, a 2GB monthly data usage allowance, free wireless router and basic e-mail. Those wanting more can pick from two additional packages with faster speeds and much bigger usage allowances (including a £10 ‘Unlimited’ option). Naturally there’s a catch, with subscribers needing to be existing customers of the Sky TV service to benefit, which starts at an additional £18 per month.

Most of Sky’s broadband services are for unbundled (LLU) lines, though they do offer a deeply inferior ‘Connect’ package for customers only covered by BT’s network. This costs £17 per month, offers 8Mbps connection speeds and a 40GB usage allowance plus the usual wireless router and basic email services. Line rental and other voice call packages are also available. Sky may not offer a standalone service but they’re still one of the best value broadband providers around and a lot of people have Sky.

Virgin Media (Type: Cable Modem and BT/Unbundled based ADSL2+/ADSL Broadband)
Reason: Virgin Media (VM), the merged cable hybrid of ntl and Telewest, is literally one of the largest operators in the country and like Sky it offers a variety of phone, TV, broadband and also mobile services. However it is important to mention here that, as an ISP choice, Virgin is by no means perfect.

VM does not have the best history of customer support quality and as the largest provider in our selection it is also likely to host proportionally more annoyed customers than its smaller above rivals, which is to be expected from any big ISP. On top of this we cannot recommend the Virgin National (Virgin.net ADSL) side of its service, which is offered to those not covered by their cable platform, due to a history of problems.

Despite these aspects making VM somewhat of a wildcard choice, its primary Cable Modem broadband platform (especially the ex-Telewest side) usually performs quite well. Speeds of up to 50Mbps are already possible and the "slowest" 10Mbps (L) package prices start at just £12.50 per month without a discount (+£15 for a one-off Quickstart self-install), although you do have to take a Virgin Phone line for an extra £11. Bundled services are VM’s major strength.

Overall Virgin Media, while probably the least well rated of our three choices (note that most of the negative reviews refer to the Virgin.net ADSL services, while the cable platform receives higher praise), is still a better gamble than many of its rivals; assuming you want a bundle and can receive the services of their cable broadband packages. Just don’t expect impeccable customer support and there is a Traffic Management policy in place that kicks in if you download too much within a given timeframe.

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