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ISP Review’s 2018 Choice of the Best UK Home Broadband Providers

Monday, January 8th, 2018 (1:02 am) - Score 8,549
Editor\'s choice uk best broadband providers

Picking a new broadband provider (ISP) for your home is far from easy. Consumers face a bombardment of confusing choices, each advertising different speeds, features, prices and network availability. On this front our aim is to simplify the options and make the process a little easier.

The quality of service and performance can vary hugely depending upon where you live and which networks are available. Most providers in the residential market also share their network capacity between many users in order to make the service affordable, which means that even some of the best ISPs can suffer a loss of speed during busy periods.

Generally there are two primary national networks in the UK – Openreach (BT) and Virgin Media. Openreach is open access (used by lots of ISPs) and supports a mix of different technologies (e.g. slow ADSL, superfast hybrid fibre FTTC and ultrafast G.fast or “full fibreFTTP). Meanwhile Virgin’s ultrafast Cable (HFC DOCSIS + some FTTP) network is closed to other ISPs and mostly only available in urban areas.

All of the networks mentioned above have different levels of coverage, although most homes should be covered by ADSL, FTTC or Cable (DOCSIS). Some areas also have access to Alternative Network (AltNet) providers, which use a mix of different technologies (wireless, FTTP etc.) to cater for specific areas (see PAGE 3). NOTE: We don’t recommend Satellite ISPs due to problems with high costs, small data allowances and slow latency.

In keeping with that introduction, ISPreview.co.uk has put together a selection of ISPs by organising the options into three different categories, which are separated to reflect the best picks for those seeking to save money or those who would rather pay extra for a chance at better quality.

Editor’s Pick Categories

PAGE 1: Price – For the budget conscious, albeit possibly sacrificing quality.

PAGE 2: Quality – For those who will pay a bit extra to get the best service.

PAGE 3: Commendations – Alternative network ISPs that deserve praise.

It’s important to thoroughly investigate any ISP before you sign-up, although there’s always a risk of bad service and this is true for even the highest quality providers. One reason for this is that the majority of ISPs use Openreach’s national network and as a result there are a lot of problems that can exist outside of your provider’s direct ability to control (e.g. local network faults / capacity issues, poor home wiring).

Otherwise 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.

A Brief Year in Review

The coverage of “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) capable networks has increased from an estimated 91% at the end of 2016 to around 95% at the end of 2017, with much of the increase coming from rural areas. Despite this most of the talk during 2017 was focused on the roll-out of ultrafast “full fibre” (FTTP/H) and G.fast networks, although at present most people cannot access these (this will change over the next few years).

Highlights from 2017 (Consumer Developments)

* The Advertising Standards Authority has introduced new guidelines, which requires ISPs to stop advertising the broadband speeds that only the top fastest 10% of customers can receive and to instead promote “average” speeds (a median measured at peak time). The change is due to be introduced from 23rd May 2018 (details).

* Ofcom is updating their Voluntary Code of Practice for Broadband Speeds, which requires member ISPs to give more details for your personal estimate of broadband speed as part of the sign-up process (here).

* A new system is to be introduced that will require ISPs to offer automatic compensation (cash or bill credits) for a total loss of broadband connectivity or missed engineer appointment, albeit only under certain circumstances (e.g. the outage must last longer than 2 working days). Further Details.

* The government are still trying to finalise their design for a new Universal Service Obligation (USO), which aims to ensure that everybody should be able to get a minimum broadband download speed of 10Mbps by 2020 (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 more due to the lack of local competition and higher cost of service delivery.

Price – The Best Low Cost Broadband ISPs

Finding a cheap broadband package in the UK isn’t difficult. Nevertheless it’s worth remembering that a low cost ISP may have less money to reinvest into their services (i.e. the quality of service, performance or support may suffer), but if you don’t mind taking the risk then the options below might suit. NOTE: Most of these ISPs will tie you into a standard 12 or 18 month contract.

All of the prices we display include VAT and line rental. We do not show special offers as those change far too often (post-contract prices are shown), although our UK ISP Listings will give you the latest prices with discounts applied. Plus we only show packages with unlimited usage and wide national availability (except on PAGE 3), which are the most popular and easiest to compare. The following is an unordered list.

REMINDER: The packages below only display post-contract prices so that you can see the real service cost, although these ISPs will usually charge significantly less than the stated prices for the first 12-18 months.

* Virgin Media

  Setup: £20 – £40 | UK Coverage: 50%+ | Fastest Package: 350Mbps
Cheapest Superfast Broadband
Cheapest Ultrafast Broadband
Speed: 50Mbps DL / 3Mbps UL
Usage: Unlimited (FUP)
Voice Calls: n/a (Standalone)
Contract: 12 Months
Extras: Parental Controls, Free Virgin WiFi Hotspots, Email, Router (SuperHub 2AC or 3)
Speed: 100Mbps DL / 6Mbps UL
Usage: Unlimited (FUP)
Voice Calls: n/a (Standalone)
Contract: 12 Months
Extras: Parental Controls, Free Virgin WiFi Hotspots, Email, Router (SuperHub 2AC or 3)
PRICE: £33 per month
PRICE: £38 per month

As a Cable operator Virgin Media uses a mix of DOCSIS based Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC) and “full fibre” FTTP/H broadband technology to deliver fairly strong ultrafast service speeds of up to 350Mbps, although they only tend to cover urban areas and are aiming to reach 60-65% of UK premises by 2019 (currently over 50%). Unsurprisingly they’ve also won a few awards for service performance (e.g. here and here).

Virgin Media also came out on top in Ofcom’s annual survey of consumer satisfaction (here) and they tend to receive fewer consumer complaints than most of the other big ISPs (here). Furthermore the operator benefits from a strong Pay TV selection, as well as an EE powered 4G Mobile platform that helps to support some attractive quad-play bundles and a growing network of public WiFi hotspots.

However some areas on Virgin Media’s network are known to be suffering from “over-utilization issues” (i.e. too many customers trying to use the same limited capacity) and their SuperHub routers tend to be a mixed bag in quality terms, although such complaints can occur on all of the major ISPs. We expect improvements when the new DOCSIS 3.1 network upgrade begins.

Pros:
• Download speeds
• Strong TV bundles
• Strong 4G Mobile tariffs (quad play bundle)
• Option of a 30 day contract, at extra cost
• Good value standalone broadband packages
• Future DOCSIS 3.1 upgrade should improve network speeds / quality

Cons:
• Coverage is mostly only in urban areas (cities and big towns)
• Complicated Traffic Management Policy (only affects uploads)
• Upload speeds could be faster
• Switching ISP isn’t seamless as Virgin are the only national Cable operator

* Sky Broadband

  Setup: £19.95 – £59.95 | UK Coverage: 90%+ | Fastest Package: 76Mbps
Cheapest Standard Broadband
Cheapest Superfast Broadband
Speed: up to 17Mbps DL / 1Mbps UL
Usage: Unlimited
Voice Calls: Standard Rates
Contract: 12 Months
Extras: Parental Controls, Free WiFi Hotspots (The Cloud), Nuisance Call Blocking, Email, Router (Sky Hub), IPv6
Speed: up to 38Mbps DL / 9.5Mbps UL
Usage: Unlimited
Voice Calls: Standard Rates
Contract: 18 Months
Extras: Parental Controls, Free WiFi Hotspots (The Cloud), Nuisance Call Blocking, Email, Router (Sky Q Hub), IPv6
PRICE: £28.99 per month
PRICE: £38.99 per month

The services offered by Sky haven’t changed all that much since last year, while Ofcom reports that they continue to attract fewer complaints than any of the other major broadband and phone providers in the UK (here). On top of that the regulator also finds that the ISP delivers a good level of consumer satisfaction (here) and their pricing is clearer than some of the others on this page.

The price of Sky’s packages are about average for the bigger providers, although they often shave -£10 a month off their services as part of big discounts and so it’s worth keeping an eye out for those. Sky also benefits from a strong selection of Pay TV content (especially if you like Sport) and they have a Mobile service too, although their Mobile tariffs lack flexible data allowances and only really offer a good discount when bundled with Sky TV.

SIDE NOTE: Check out Sky’s sibling NOW TV for some similarly cheap and shorter contract broadband, phone and TV bundles.

Pros:
• Sky Q Hub (router) is reasonably good
• Speed (Fibre Broadband)
• Truly Unlimited Usage
• Reasonable support + service quality for a major ISP
• Network is upgraded for IPv6

Cons:
• Sky’s older ‘Connect’ package (for those outside their network) is slow and expensive
• Sky lock their routers, making it hard to use a better third-party device
• Older Sky Hub routers are rubbish (lack 5GHz WiFi and Gigabit Ethernet)
• Sky enables Internet censorship by default (here), but it can be disabled
• New 4G Mobile plans aren’t attractive for non-Sky TV users

* Vodafone

  Setup: £0 – £49 | UK Coverage: 90%+ | Fastest Package: 76Mbps
Cheapest Standard Broadband
Cheapest Superfast Broadband
Speed: up to 17Mbps DL / 1Mbps UL
Usage: Unlimited
Voice Calls: Standard Rates
Contract: 18 Months
Extras: Parental Controls, Free Router
Speed: up to 38Mbps DL / 9.5Mbps UL
Usage: Unlimited
Voice Calls: Standard Rates
Contract: 18 Months
Extras: Parental Controls, Free Router
PRICE: £25 per month
PRICE: £25 per month

It’s easy to forget that Vodafone only recently re-entered the UK Home Broadband market in 2015/16 and as a result we haven’t seen a lot of feedback for their service, although equally we haven’t seen any big complaints. The key reason for including the ISP this year is due to their incredibly cheap and clear pricing, which undercuts almost every other FTTC “fibre” provider in the same class.

The ISP also bundles a fairly capable router (802.11ac WiFi, Gigabit Ethernet etc.) and being Vodafone there’s also plenty of 4G Mobile tariffs to choose from. On the other hand there’s a risk that Vodafone could end up sacrificing quality for price, which might cause problems further down the road. The provider has also failed to launch a Pay TV product and that puts them at a disadvantage.

Pros:
• Capable wireless router
• Very cheap
• Truly unlimited usage
• Good choice of 4G Mobile plans

Cons:
• Service at risk of being too cheap, leaving little profit to invest in good quality/support
• Like Sky, Vodafone lock their routers but you can request the password via support (provided the third-party router you wish to use is an approved model – ask first).
• No Pay TV service
• Hard to judge quality due to lack of feedback (still a minnow among the bigger ISPs)

* Plusnet

  Setup: £10 – £25 | UK Coverage: 90%+ | Fastest Package: 76Mbps
Cheapest Standard Broadband
Cheapest Superfast Broadband
Speed: up to 17Mbps DL / 1Mbps UL
Usage: Unlimited
Voice Calls: Standard Rates
Contract: 18 Months
Extras: Parental Controls, Router, UK Support
Speed: up to 38Mbps DL / 9.5Mbps UL
Usage: Unlimited
Voice Calls: Standard Rates
Contract: 18 Months
Extras: Parental Controls, Router, UK Support
PRICE: £28.98 per month
PRICE: £33.98 per month

Over the past couple of years Plusnet has taken a bit of a hit and is no longer as well known for good customer support as it used to be, although they remain one of the cheapest broadband providers in the market and often run special offers that cut a lot of money off their packages. However super cheap ISPs don’t always deliver the best service speeds or quality, but if you just want a basic connection then they should deliver.

On top of that Plusnet also offer some basic EE powered 4G Mobile plans and a bog standard Pay TV product using YouView (IPTV) technology. The latter costs from £5 per month extra and includes BTSport, as well as 20 other premium channels (SyFy, Discover etc.). Some other advantages with Plusnet are that they do a short 30 day contract option and can also offer broadband as a semi-standalone product (i.e. you buy line rental from another provider).

Pros:
• Cheap (especially FTTC)
• UK support
• Basic but cheap Pay TV solution

Cons:
• Service quality and support have dipped in recent years
• Low spec router for standard broadband (17Mbps) users
• 4G Mobile plans need bigger data allowances

* TalkTalk

  Setup: £0 | UK Coverage: 90%+ | Fastest Package: 76Mbps (940Mbps in York)
Cheapest Standard Broadband
Cheapest Superfast Broadband
Speed: up to 17Mbps DL / 1Mbps UL
Usage: Unlimited
Voice Calls: Standard Rates
Contract: 12 Months
Extras: Parental Controls, Router, Nuisance Call Blocking, Internet Security
Speed: up to 38Mbps DL / 9.5Mbps UL
Usage: Unlimited
Voice Calls: Standard Rates
Contract: 18 Months
Extras: Parental Controls, Router, Nuisance Call Blocking, Internet Security
PRICE: £27 per month
PRICE: £33.50 per month

It’s been a few years since we included TalkTalk into our summary and that’s largely due to the many problems that they’ve suffered (e.g. cyber-attacks, high complaint levels), although things have improved a fair bit in the past 12-18 months but we’d still recommending treating them as a greater risk than most.

However it’s important not to overlook that they do offer a cheap range of “guaranteed” fixed price plans with optional contract periods from 12 to 24 months (i.e. they won’t increase your price mid-contract for the first term). Customers also benefit from all of the extras listed above and TalkTalk runs a reasonably good Pay TV service.

Pros:
• Cheap (especially “Fibre” FTTC)
• Decent Pay TV options
• “Guaranteed” fixed price plans for your contract term (no mid-term hikes)

Cons:
• One of the riskiest ISPs with a shaky history
• Customer support has gained a bad reputation

* BT

  Setup: £9.99 to £59.99 | UK Coverage: 90%+ (2% FTTP) | Fastest Package: 314Mbps
Cheapest Standard Broadband
Cheapest Superfast Broadband
Speed: up to 17Mbps DL / 1Mbps UL
Usage: Unlimited
Voice Calls: Free Weekend Calls
Contract: 18 Months
Extras: Parental Controls, Free WiFi Hotspot Access, Router (HomeHub 4), 200GB Cloud Storage, Nuisance Call Blocking, Anti-Virus, Email
Speed: up to 52Mbps DL / 9.5Mbps UL
Usage: Unlimited
Voice Calls: Free Weekend Calls
Contract: 18 Months
Extras: Parental Controls, Free WiFi Hotspot Access, Router (SmartHub), 200GB Cloud Storage, Nuisance Call Blocking, Anti-Virus, Email
PRICE: £42.99 per month
PRICE: £41.99 per month

The main attraction of BT’s service has to be all the extras they include (see above), which seems to cover everything from a huge online backup service (200-1000GB) to free weekend calls and free access to a huge network of public WiFi hotspots. The ISP also has a strong Pay TV setup and their deal with EE gives them a good range of 4G Mobile tariffs and handsets. BT’s prices may be higher than some but they do give a lot for your money.

However as the UK’s largest ISP it’s also true to say that BT attract far too many complaints, albeit mostly for their standard broadband (up to 17Mbps) package that we don’t recommend. On the flip side their BTInfinity (Fibre) packages are a better bet and they’re also one of the few ISPs to offer a 52Mbps tier via FTTC technology (most others start at 38Mbps).

Pros:
• Lots of included extras (public WiFi, Cloud storage etc.)
• Strong SmartHub router
• More than 80% of their customer support is UK based
• 52Mbps (9.5Mbps upload) FTTC package

Cons:
• Standard broadband (17Mbps ADSL) packages are probably best avoided
• Price is higher than some rivals, partly due to all the extras
• BT attracts a lot of complaints, although they are the biggest ISP

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 the best providers for service quality..

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
14 Responses
  1. Matthew

    Thought plus net now offered 40/10 to all customers?

  2. Negan's Lover

    Vodafone now offer broadband login details upon request so a third party router can be used. Unlike previously where it was almost impossible to get this from VF.

    • I’ve had mixed feedback on that, it seems to depend partly on which support agent you contact. Likewise they only allow routers that have been approved by Openreach, which is tricky since we only have BT Wholesale’s list of approved devices and many of the more recent routers don’t appear on that.

    • @ Mark Jackson

      They do but only under certain circumstances.

      Their change in stance was a direct result of a joint effort by members of the kitz forum managing to hack into their HHG2500. A lot of the credit goes to member bishbashbosh who eventually managed to obtain login info. At the same time he discovered a potential security bug so did the correct thing and advised Vodafone. VF were given time to patch any potential flaws and we had about 5 VF techs (that I know of) looking at this.
      The end result was they agreed to give out login info if the EU was using an MCT based modem. We usually suggest they use one of the several Zyxels we frequently recommend as VF are aware of those particular models being MCT approved.

      The whole thread can be seen here, but as it is only visible to logged in members, I shall quote the summary.
      http://forum.kitz.co.uk/index.php/topic,18911.375.html

      [quote]
      I’ve now re-assembled this thread and put back all the useful information provided by bishbashbosh and many others.

      It has served it’s purpose and given vodafone time to patch any flaws.
      The outcome has been good and as a result vodafone have changed their stance on providing information so that users may now use their own routers 🙂
      All-in-all, it was a long journey but the end result was good.
      [/quote]

  3. Wow, thanks Mark! 😀
    Nearly all our new business comes through recommedations, so this is very much appreciated.
    We’re all now super chuffed.

  4. occasionally factual

    A con to add to Plusnet is that in Telephone Exchange Market A they will charge you £7.50 a month more for ADSL/FTTC/FTTP (Unlike John Lewis Broadband which is, of course, a Plusnet white label so maybe cheaper for any potential Plusnet customer)

  5. eM

    I disagree that Vodafone make it hard to use a 3rd party router. Now, they give out the password no problem – when I switched, all I had to do is input my new password into my Lede.

  6. 3G Infinity (now 4G going on 5G)

    Can you do the same for business/SME offerings?

    • I’m not sure if it’s possible to produce such a report for business connectivity due to the lack of feedback (a lot of businesses won’t wish to upset their suppliers) and all sorts of other reasons with testing / verification. But I will see what I can do to rectify that, although it might be awhile before I have the time to focus on it.

  7. Johnson

    Buy passports, driver’s licenses, id cards, resident permits, green cards e.t.c of very high quality and other products for all countries. DIRECT CONTACT: mrdocu2015@gmail.com

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