Editors Pick UK Best Broadband ISPs for 2011
Editors Pick - UK Best Broadband ISPs for 2011
By: Mark Jackson - January 5th, 2011 : Page 1 -of- 3
"This represents a shortlist of personal editor choices, using our own experiences of observing the market"

gold star Choosing the right broadband Internet Service Provider (ISP) in the UK can sometimes feel a little bit like walking through a minefield with a blindfold on, one wrong step is all it takes. This situation is not helped by big price comparison sites, which usually only list the largest / cheapest providers; Smaller ISPs, which often cost more but also offer better quality, are frequently shunned.

IMPORTANT: This article has now been superseded by the new 2017 edition - The Best Broadband ISPs for 2018.

As a result ISPreview.co.uk has taken a different approach by looking back at the performance of ISPs throughout 2010, irrespective of scale, and concluding a selection based on a balance of reliability, price and performance. This represents a shortlist of personal editor choices, using our own experiences of observing the market; selection should not be considered an award.

We have grouped our choices into two primary categories; one for a balance of price and performance and the second for pure quality. These selections are not posted in any particular order. Note: we only pick ISPs that have been listed on our website for several years and which show a strong degree of persistent reliability and high standards, at least in terms of the 'Quality' choices.

Readers should also 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' section can provide further details or links to related news articles. It's always wise to thoroughly investigate any choices before you sign-up.

Best UK ISPs for a Balance of Price and Performance (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

Reason: BE Broadband (including O2, which uses the same network) was the country’s first ‘up to’ 24Mbps (ADSL2+) offering broadband provider and once again makes our editors choice. It has continued to win high praise in various awards during 2010, not least for the real-world speed of its services and low pricing.

BE’s prices typically start at just £14.08 per month for an ‘up to’ 12Mbps service (rises to 24Mbps on other options), which comes with a 12 month contract and an 'Unlimited' usage allowance (flexible Fair Usage Policy applies). The service is only available in certain unbundled (LLU) areas. By contrast O2's prices start with a 20Mbps service from just £8.17 per month, albeit using a 20GB usage allowance (more flexible options available) and £25.53 connection fee (only payable if you don't have an O2 mobile contract). Both include a free wireless router/modem (connection hardware).

Both BE and O2 also offer phone calls and line rental services, although O2 tends to be a little cheaper in this department. In fact those with an O2 mobile phone contract will save additional cash, but only on O2 deals and not BE's. 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 often the primary cause of most negative opinions. O2’s other (Basics, All Rounder and Works) options are far better.

Pros:

  • Good to Excellent Performance
  • Price
  • Good Support

Cons:

  • O2's Home Access package could be a lot better, but it's not

Sky Broadband

Reason: Sky lacks the same quality as its more established counterpart(s) above, but it does have strong financial backing and reasonable (not perfect) customer support. It offers a neat range of broadband and phone packages, not to mention satellite TV services, and recently began allowing new customers to take its broadband and phone calls separately from the TV system (use to be mandatory).

Prices start at just £10 (£7.50 with Sky TV) for the truly unrestricted 'Sky Broadband Unlimited' package with 20Mbps download speeds and a free router, although it does require your phone calls (but not line rental) to be made through its Sky Talk Freetime service (Free evening & weekend UK landline calls). Luckily 'Freetime' doesn't cost anything extra per month. Sky also offers line rental too from £12.25, if required.

Existing Sky TV users pay a bit less for their broadband (as above) and can even get FREE 20Mbps broadband at no extra cost, although this is restricted to a 2GB usage allowance. Sadly those outside of Sky's unbundled (LLU) network coverage will only be able to choose their ‘Sky Broadband Connect’ package, which costs £17 per month and offers slower 8Mbps speeds and a respectable 40GB usage allowance. Most of the gripes against Sky relate to the performance of their 'Connect' package.

Pros:

  • Price
  • Reasonable to Good Performance
  • Reasonable Support
  • Don't need Sky TV to get broadband anymore!

Cons:

  • The 'Connect' package costs more and doesn't perform as well
  • Email support can be slow

Virgin Media

Reason: Virgin Media is one of the largest operators in the UK and, like Sky (above), it offers a variety of phone, TV, broadband and also mobile services. In addition, Virgin uses a unique cable and fibre optic (EuroDOCSIS3) network for most of its services, which allows it to offer the fastest and most reliable broadband speeds of any ISP (up to a staggering 100Mbps). Sadly its cable platform can only reach half of the country.

The strength of virgin's cable service, moderate prices and popular TV bundles are the primary reasons for our including them. However it is important to mention that, as an ISP choice, Virgin is by no means perfect. Those living outside of its cable coverage (half of the country) are only able to take its inferior 'Virgin National' (Virgin.net ADSL) packages, which use BT's older copper infrastructure and perform comparatively poorly. Likewise Virgin doesn't always have the best history in terms of customer support quality.

Despite those gripes, prices for broadband start from around £12.75 per month for a 10Mbps (L) cable connection with unlimited usage (Traffic Management) and a free wireless router (discounts/promos often make this even cheaper), when taken with Virgin phone line rental for an extra £12.24 per month. Various other bundles are also offered, often at significantly discounted prices. Package speeds go up to a whopping 100Mbps at just £35 per month.

Pros:

  • Price
  • Massive and reliable speeds (cable service)
  • Strong TV Bundles

Cons:

  • Support could be better
  • Virgin.net (Virgin National) options need further improvement
  • Traffic Management might feel restrictive, for some, on Virgin's cheaper packages
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