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The UK Best Home Broadband ISP Options for 2020 by ISPreview

Monday, January 6th, 2020 (12:01 am) - Score 10,857

Trouble finding a new home broadband ISP? You’re not alone. Consumers in the UK face a bewildering choice of different providers and networks, which is only going to get worse as a growing number of new entrants enter the market. Our annual editors pick aims to highlight some of the top options for quality or affordability.

Before we get started it’s important to note that service performance can vary from location to location and is affected by many different factors, such as the length of your line, capacity at the exchange and the type of line itself (copper or fibre optic etc.). Problems within your home (e.g. slow WiFi, a bad configuration, home network congestion or poor wiring) could also make you wrongfully think that an ISP is at fault for poor performance.

All of this means that choosing any ISP will carry some risk of a poor outcome (including highly rated ones). Put another way, even large poorly rated providers can still deliver an excellent service, but the ratio of dissatisfied to satisfied customers will be far higher (i.e. you stand a bigger chance of getting burnt but it might be a risk worth taking if you want to save money).

In keeping with that we’ve put together a selection of providers, which are organised into several categories to reflect the best picks for those seeking to save money or pay extra for more quality.

NOTE: We pick ISPs based on a mix of reader feedback, Ofcom quality / complaint scores, third-party awards, reviews (multiple sites), history, product and price selection.

The 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.

Please thoroughly investigate any ISP before joining and check our Broadband Technology page in order to learn about the different connectivity methods. The Awards and Special Offer categories in our news section are also useful for keeping track of third-party ISP awards, surveys and price promotions. Finally, don’t forget to view our UK ISP Listings system for a price benchmarked comparison of around 200 providers.

NOTE: People in remote rural areas may sometimes pay more due to the lack of local competition and the higher cost of service delivery.

A Quick Market Summary

At present it’s estimated that over 96% of UK premises should be within reach of a 24Mbps+superfast” capable fixed broadband service (via a mix of different technologies), which drops to nearly 60% for 100Mbps+ultrafast” speeds. The vast majority of premises are served by ISPs that use Openreach’s network and around 52% can access Virgin Media’s cable network (mostly in urban areas).

Openreach is an open access platform (used by lots of ISPs) and supports several different technologies (e.g. slow ADSL, superfast hybrid fibre FTTC and ultrafast G.fast or “full fibre” FTTP). Meanwhile Virgin’s ultrafast Cable (Hybrid Fibre Coax DOCSIS + FTTP) network is closed to other ISPs (expected to change soon) and mostly only available in urban areas.

On top of that there’s a rapidly growing market for smaller alternative networks (altnet). Some of the biggest are Cityfibre (aiming to cover 5 million premises with FTTP by 2025), Hyperoptic (5 million with FTTP/B by 2024), KCOM (200,000 with FTTP in Hull), Gigaclear (350,000 with FTTP by 2021) and TalkTalk / FibreNation (c.100,000 by around mid-2020). See our ‘Summary of Full Fibre Plans‘ for more.

NOTE: We advise avoiding Satellite ISPs due to problems with high costs, small data caps and slow latency.

We also recommend that readers check out our Summary of Consumer Rules and Laws because there are a lot of regulations that are designed to help protect you. In 2019 alone we’ve also seen the introduction of Ofcom’s new Automatic Compensation scheme (here), an improved Broadband Speed Code of Practice (here) and a new system for End-of-Contract Notifications is due to follow (here).

Finally, switching ISP is usually just a simple matter of ordering a service from your new provider and they then handle the rest, but there are some caveats (e.g. installation fees and possibly some downtime when changing to a completely separate network). We suggest reading our Guide to Switching. A new switching system is currently being developed to include alternative networks.

Price – The Lowest Cost Broadband ISPs

The UK broadband market is full of cheap deals but there are more risks involved if you opt for savings over service quality. Cheaper ISPs may have less money to reinvest into future improvements (i.e. quality and support may suffer) and in most cases the discounts will only last for your first contract term (i.e. beware big post-contract price hikes).

Nevertheless if you don’t mind taking a risk then the options below may suit. All of the prices include VAT and line rental. We do not show special offers as those change far too often (post-contract prices are shown) but we have included a range of common discounts for each package as an example. Otherwise our UK ISP Listings will give you the prices with the latest known discounts applied.

Furthermore 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 and most of these ISPs will also tie you into a standard 12 or 18 month contract term. Discounts only tend to last for the first contract term. This year we’ll only focus on superfast and ultrafast packages.

Take note that if you need a brand new line installed then the upfront fee may be larger than those stated below (one-off costs for this can vary up to c.£100).

Reminder: We define “superfast” broadband as starting at 24Mbps+, while “ultrafast” is 100Mbps+ and “gigabit” begins 1Gbps+ (1000Mbps+). OR = Openreach.
Setup: £35 Type: Virgin FTTP / HFC DOCSIS Top Plan: 1104Mbps

Entry-Level Package Examples

Ultrafast: Average Speed 108Mbps (Download) – £42 a month (discounts sometimes reduce this to c.£30)

Supports 2018 Speed Code: Yes
Ofcom Automatic Compensation: Yes

Virgin has somewhat of an advantage over their competitors in that their network can already deliver ultrafast speeds and soon even 1Gbps to a significant portion of the country by 2021. The provider has won plenty of praise for their performance and they usually receive a smaller volume of complaints than most of the big ISPs (here). On top of that they have a strong Pay TV service and a decent enough EE powered mobile platform (this is now being changed to Vodafone).

Admittedly it’s not all roses and the ISPs Hub 3.0 has certainly had a few problems, although the latest replacement (Hub 4.0 / Gigabit Connect Box) is a better piece of kit but not everybody will be receiving that. The operator is a little more expensive than some of the others below. One other key change in 2019 has been a much needed boost to upload speeds.

Pros:
• Widely available Ultrafast Speeds
• Good TV bundles
• Good 4G Mobile tariffs (e.g. quad play bundle and an unlimited data option)
• Option of a 30 day contract on some packages, at extra cost
• Good value broadband packages for the speed, but not the cheapest

Cons:
• Coverage is mostly in urban areas (cities and big towns)
• Pricier than others, albeit perhaps deservedly so
• Support has a tendency to blame everything except their own network for faults

Setup: £0 – £9.99 Type: OR FTTC / Cityfibre FTTH Top Plan: 900Mbps+

Entry-Level Package Examples

Superfast: Average Speed 35Mbps (Download) – £23 a month (£2 discount for existing Mobile customers)

Ultrafast: Average Speed 100Mbps – £27 a month (£2 discount for existing Mobile customers)

Supports 2018 Speed Code: No
Ofcom Automatic Compensation: Yes

This is easily one of the cheapest FTTC broadband ISPs on Openreach’s network and that’s because they’re fighting aggressively to attract customers, although as a result their service quality has appeared to suffer (we had a fair few gripes about speeds and support during H1 2019 but these have reduced a bit in H2). On top of that they offer a capable 4G network and some early 5G services.

On top of that Vodafone has teamed up to support Cityfibre’s £2.5bn deployment of a new 1Gbps Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) ultrafast broadband network, which is aiming to cover 1 million homes by 2021 and possibly up to 5 million in 60 towns and cities by 2025 (approximately 20% of the current UK broadband market) – more details.

The new full fibre network is extremely fast and comes with a good quality router but UK coverage is still limited (available to parts of around 12 cities). We should point out that Vodafone are now making their Gigafast router available on the cheaper FTTC packages too.

Pros:
• Good quality router
• Price
• Good choice of 4G Mobile plans
• Speeds on FTTH network, coverage allowing
• Reasonable Apple TV 4K service, albeit pricey

Cons:
• Service quality and support have suffered during 2019

Setup: £9.95 – £19.95 Type: OR FTTC, G.fast, FTTP Top Plan: 145Mbps

Entry-Level Package Examples

Superfast: Average Speed 59Mbps (Download) – £32 a month (discounts sometimes reduce this to c.£25-30)

Ultrafast: Average Speed 145Mbps (Download) – £44 a month (discounts sometimes reduce this to c.£35-40)

Supports 2018 Speed Code: Yes
Ofcom Automatic Compensation: Yes

Customer satisfaction ratings for Sky tend to be mixed but this has to be weighed against the fact that they receive the fewest complaints of all the big ISPs (here), which is partly down to having a reasonably good customer support team and network. The recent introduction of a much more capable SkyBroadband Hub router (SR203 and SR204) and their new “ultrafast broadband” package (G.fast with FTTP to follow) has also given them a boost.

On top of that Sky has one of the best Pay TV platforms and their 4G Mobile (O2 MVNO) plans have improved with bigger data allowances since last year, albeit not as affordable as some others. Customers also benefit from competitively priced broadband services and extra features, such as parental controls (website filtering etc.) and nuisance call blocking.

Pros:
• Reasonable support for a major ISP
• Good Pay TV services
• New router and ultrafast packages are a nice improvement
• Attracts fewer complaints than all of the other big ISPs

Cons:
• Customer satisfaction seems mixed
• In a world of cheap streaming services, Sky TV can feel expensive
• Pay TV service still hobbled by need for a Satellite dish
• Coverage of ultrafast services is limited

Setup: £0 Type: OR FTTC, ADSL Top Plan: 63Mbps

Entry-Level Package Examples

Superfast: Average Speed 35Mbps – £29.99 a month (discounts sometimes reduce this to c.£24)

Supports 2018 Speed Code: No
Ofcom Automatic Compensation: No

Despite being an energy provider Shell Energy (formerly First Utility) also do a fairly cheap broadband and phone service too, which pledges that it “won’t hike your broadband prices up at the end of your contract” like other ISPs. On top of that they also boast fairly good UK based support, don’t charge any upfront fees and offer petrol discounts (at Shell stations) to their customers.

Pros:
• Cheap
• Commitment not to increase prices
• Good support
• Discounts for energy customers

Cons:
• No Mobile plans or Pay TV
• Broadband quality seems to be fairly average
• No ultrafast broadband packages

Setup: £0 – £49.90 Type: OR FTTC / OFNL FTTP Top Plan: 300Mbps

Entry-Level Package Examples

Superfast: Average Speed 35Mbps – £29.95 a month (discounts sometimes reduce this to c.£23)

Ultrafast: Average Speed 220Mbps – £49.95 a month

Supports 2018 Speed Code: No
Ofcom Automatic Compensation: No

As an ISP this is one of the cheapest providers on Openreach’s network and on top of that they also have an “ultrafast broadband” service with speeds of up to 300Mbps, although at present the latter is only available to new build homes covered by Open Fibre Networks Limited (OFNL / GTC / BUUK) FTTP network.

On the downside we’ve had a few gripes about their customer support and service quality, while others have remarked about the mediocre wireless router they bundle. Nevertheless if your aim is to save money and you’re not too fussed about quality then this is another option to consider.

Pros:
• Cheap

Cons:
• Some concerns about service quality
• No Mobile plans or Pay TV
• Ultrafast packages only in limited OFNL network areas

Setup: £0 – £10 Type: OR ADSL, FTTC Top Plan: 66Mbps

Entry-Level Package Examples

Superfast: Average Speed 35Mbps – £35.98 a month (discounts sometimes reduce this to c.£25)

Supports 2018 Speed Code: Yes
Ofcom Automatic Compensation: Yes

As an ISP Plusnet tends to focused more on providing basic low cost packages, although they do also sell some limited Pay TV services using the YouView (IPTV) platform and offer a range of 4G Mobile plans (EE MVNO), although the latter could do with bigger data allowances. The provider also offers 30 day contract options on their broadband packages (similar to Virgin Media), albeit at extra cost.

However customer service and support quality has taken somewhat of a hit over the past year due to the fallout from a problematic upgrade of their billing platform. On top of that they’ve yet to launch any ultrafast broadband packages, which is a bit of a surprise seeing as they’re a sibling of BT. Long waiting times to reach support via phone is another issue.

Pros:
• Cheap
• 30 day contract options

Cons:
• Bundled routers are a bit dated
• 4G Mobile plans need bigger data allowances
• Support is UK based but has declined in quality due to billing issues
• Still no ultrafast broadband packages

Setup: £0 Type: OR ADSL, FTTC, G.fast / TalkTalk FTTP Top Plan: 900Mbps+

Entry-Level Package Examples

Superfast: Average Speed 38Mbps – £36 a month (discounts sometimes reduce this to c.£22-£25)

Ultrafast: Average Speed 145Mbps – £40 a month (discounts sometimes reduce this to c.£28-£35)

Supports 2018 Speed Code: Yes
Ofcom Automatic Compensation: Yes

Over the past year or so TalkTalk has moved to introduce a number of consumer friendly features, such as a pledge toward no mid-contract price rises, a 30 day connection guarantee (easier to leave if you’re unhappy) and their latest Wi-Fi Hub router is much improved over previous models.

On top of that they’re also building their own Gigabit FTTP network in some parts of the UK (York, Dwsbury, Harrogate, Knaresborough and Ripon) and are selling ultrafast services (G.fast) from Openreach too (here). Despite this they still have a tendency to attract a lot of consumer complaints but remain one of the cheapest providers in the market.

Pros:
• Cheap, albeit not always the cheapest
• Reasonable Pay TV service
• The WiFi Hub router is a fairly capable device

Cons:
• No mobile plans
• Support is not best
• Ultrafast services on their own network have very limited coverage

Setup: £9.99 – £19.99 Type: OR ADSL, FTTC, G.fast, FTTP Top Plan: 300Mbps

Entry-Level Package Examples

Superfast: Average Speed 36Mbps – £34.99 a month (discounts sometimes reduce this to c.£25-£30)

Ultrafast: Average Speed 145Mbps – £47.99 a month (discounts sometimes reduce this to c.£40)

Supports 2018 Speed Code: Yes
Ofcom Automatic Compensation: Yes

As an ISP BT generally tends to be one of the more expensive providers (especially post contract) but this is largely due to all of the premium extras they include (e.g. access to lots of UK WiFi hotspots, speed guarantee, online cloud storage, a decent wireless router – Smart Hub 2 – and nuisance call blocking etc.). However, as the market’s biggest broadband provider, they also tend to attract a lot of complaints.

The primary reason for including BT here, aside from being a useful comparison with the others above, is because their ultrafast broadband packages (G.fast / FTTP) are comparatively cheap. On top of that they have a strong selection of EE based Mobile 4G / 5G plans and Pay TV packages using the YouView (IPTV) platform. But they’re definitely NOT among the cheapest for ADSL and FTTC (VDSL2) packages.

The provider also offers a number of premium ‘Plus‘ packages, which include extra protection if your service goes down (“Keep Connected Promise“), better support and extra mobile data at the fastest speeds. The HALO package is also the first step in BT’s ambition to adopt an integrated all-IP network by 2020, which will aim to seamlessly bring their fixed line broadband and mobile networks together (here and here).

Pros:
• Lots of premium extras
• Good SmartHub 1 and 2 router (similar specs)
• Mostly UK based support
• Cheap FTTP and G.fast ultrafast broadband plans
• Decent Pay TV and Mobile plans

Cons:
• Standard and Superfast packages are expensive, especially post-contract!
• BT attracts a lot of complaints, although they are the biggest ISP
• Ultrafast services currently have limited coverage

NOTE: We advise readers to pick a separate provider for web and email hosting, so you can easily switch ISP without fear of losing the service.

Take note that most of the above ISPs will also offer plenty of add-ons at an optional extra cost, such as Anytime UK calls, mobile plans or enhanced TV bundles. In addition, providers that use Openreach’s UK network still have a lot of control to differentiate themselves in terms of features, network quality and performance, so don’t treat them as all the same (some will perform better than others).

Please continue on Page 2 to view the best ISPs 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 also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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