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Tips and Advice for UK Students Choosing a New Broadband ISP

Wednesday, Aug 17th, 2016 (1:03 am) - Score 10,852

Over the next few weeks students in higher education from across the United Kingdom will slowly begin returning to temporary accommodation, which is usually nearby to their chosen college or university. Some will get broadband by default (campus connection), but others will need to choose their own ISP.

Broadly speaking the needs of students often aren’t that different from those of a large family, particularly if you have to share the accommodation with others. In that sense there will often be a demand for premium TV services, superfast broadband speeds, affordability and unlimited usage.

On the other hand a normal consumer will often remain in the same property for several years, while students are usually only in the same place for around 8 or 9 months of any given year, which may create a problem since most big broadband ISPs sell services based on longer 12, 18 or even 24 month contract terms.

General Tips – Student Broadband

The good news is that today’s market is a lot more flexible and choice is abundant, but there are still a few things that you should consider before picking a provider.

  1. Prepare your details.
    Some student specific broadband packages may require you to have an official student email address, which often forms part of the order process. So make sure to get this sorted before you order a service, otherwise you could be left with a last minute stumbling block.
  2. Consider the TV options.
    In the old days if you wanted a premium TV service then you had to pick either Virgin Media or Sky TV (Sky Broadband), but today BT and TalkTalk also do TV. Alternatively you could potentially save money by opting for a streaming service, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime or the Sky-owned NOW TV product (note: they often impose a limit on the number of devices per account). Elsewhere BT’s broadband packages also include BTSport Lite, which offers live premier league football matches.
  3. The caveats of a 9 month contract.
    Both BT and Virgin Media tend to offer special 9 month contract terms for students (see latest examples further below), but these often contain some key caveats compared to normal packages. For example, you might find that you can’t benefit from the pre-paid annual Line Rental Saver discounts as this is often only available on longer 12 month terms and the same may be true of certain Pay TV options.
  4. Early leaving charges.
    If you try to save money by choosing a 12 month contract term, with the intention of cancelling before your contract is up, then pay close attention to the offer / package terms and conditions first. Some ISPs will sting you with a heavy leaving fee and may even require you to pay for the cost of that “free” wireless router they included, which will often be at a very inflated price.
  5. Post discount period price rises.
    If you choose a 12 or 18 month contract term because you expect to stay in the property for two years (long course etc.) then check the offer terms closely as some ISPs will impose a significantly higher price the moment their initial contract period is over, which might in the longer term end up costing you more.
  6. Big isn’t always best.
    Don’t just look at the big boys. A lot of smaller ISPs offer shorter contract terms (many even do monthly deals), which may also give you a better quality of support and service. Check out our UK ISP Listings for a bigger selection.
  7. The need for speed.
    The more people who share a property, the more speed you will need to avoid disturbing the usage of others. Often you may be limited by what is available in your area (e.g. ISPs on BT’s FTTC/VDSL “fibre broadband” network may deliver a slower top speed than those on Virgin’s cable platform, but experiences do vary), but if not then you might need to pick one of the faster packages. One approach is to assume that each person will need at least 10Mbps, which should be fine unless 4K streaming is likely to be popular (requires 20-30Mbps per stream). Faster upload speeds may also help, so be aware that a package with uploads of only 2Mbps might sometimes struggle with multiple users.
  8. Go mobile.
    Assuming you’re only a light Internet user and don’t plan to share accommodation then sometimes the cheapest option is to forget about a fixed line service entirely and just use a 4G Mobile Broadband SIM or even your existing Smartphone, which can usually be setup to act as a WiFi Hotspot (most modern Smartphones can do this with a single tap). But make sure that the signal is good enough and that your contract supports Tethering (check the small print). You must also have a suitable data allowance so as to limit any excess use charges.

Now let’s take a quick look at what two of the biggest providers offer specifically for students, but remember that there are smaller providers with shorter contract terms to be found too. Take note that most FTTC based “fibre broadband” packages also continue to come with a 12 month term no matter what ISP you choose and, much like BT, they usually need an existing phone line rental service to be installed in order for the broadband side to work. Check out our UK ISP Listings for the choices.

Example of Student Packages (BT and Virgin Media)

Firstly we have Virgin Media’s Student Deals, although these are only available to around 50% of UK premises (Virgin’s cable network keeps a tight focus on dense urban areas). Otherwise the packages appear to be a slightly more expensive version of the normal standalone broadband options (no phone line / voice calls), albeit on a 9 month instead of 12 month term.

A £9.99 activation fee also applies to each package and some new properties may also attract an installation fee of £40. Each package also includes unlimited usage (note: upload speeds suffer some traffic management) and an included SuperHub 3 wireless router.

Super 50 Fibre Broadband
* Speeds: up to 50Mbps Download / 3Mbps Upload

PRICE: £34 per month

VIVID 100 Fibre Broadband
* Speeds: up to 100Mbps Download / 6Mbps Upload

PRICE: £39 per month

* Speeds: up to 200Mbps Download / 12Mbps Upload

PRICE: £47 per month

By comparison BT’s Student Deals follow a similar approach and 9 month contract, although they also require customers pay for separate line rental, but this does at least include free UK weekend calls.

Where BT falls down is on the speed of their FTTC service (unless you’re in the lucky minority with access to one of their FTTP areas), with Virgin’s 200Mbps service coming in at a similar price to BT’s 76Mbps option. On top of that FTTC is well known to be more unreliable at delivering that top speed (you need to live very close to your local BT street cabinet), so you may have to opt for the slower of the two packages if your line can’t handle it.

Otherwise each package includes unlimited usage, access to BT’s UK network of public WiFi hotspots, free live BTSport Lite TV content (this one can be a big pull for Football loving students) and a £25 Costa voucher. We should add that there’s also a £7.95 router delivery charge.

Unlimited Infinity 1
* Up to 52Mbps download speed (9.5Mbps upload)
* Included SmartHub Wireless Router
* £49 one-off Fibre activation fee
* BT NetProtect Internet security for 2 devices
* 100GB of cloud storage

PRICE: £20 a month + £18.99 per month line rental (TOTAL = £38.99 per month)

Unlimited Infinity 2
* Up to 76Mbps download speed (19Mbps upload)
* Included SmartHub Wireless Router
* Free Fibre activation fee
* BT NetProtect Internet security for 15 devices
* 500GB of cloud storage

PRICE: £26 a month + £18.99 per month line rental (TOTAL = £44.99 per month)

Just remember that the order process for student deals is usually a bit different from the normal one. For example, BT won’t let you begin the process unless you have a student email address associated with your university or college membership. Usually some form of valid student ID or verification will be required.

Naturally this is designed to stop any old Joe or Jane from taking the special deals, but it’s also annoying as sometimes you won’t get such an address until later.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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