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The UK Best Broadband ISPs for Homes – 2021 Editors Pick

Monday, January 11th, 2021 (12:01 am) - Score 32,832

Sometimes finding a new ISP can be like walking through a minefield. Consumers in the UK face a confusing choice of different broadband providers and networks, which is getting worse as a growing number of new entrants enter the market. But this guide aims to help by delivering a simplified overview of the top options.

We always start by reminding readers that service performance on an ISP 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, local network congestion or poor wiring) can also end up being wrongfully conflated with your broadband ISP.

All of this means that choosing any ISP, even highly rated ones, will carry some risk of poor performance. Put another way, even large poorly rated providers can still deliver an excellent service, but the ratio of dissatisfied to satisfied customers will often be higher than with smaller providers (i.e. you stand a bigger chance of getting burnt, but it might be worth the risk if saving money is your goal).

In keeping with the above, 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.

We ask that readers always thoroughly investigate any ISP before joining and check our Broadband Technology page to learn about the different connectivity methods. The Awards and Special Offer categories in our news section are also useful for keeping track of industry achievements 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 network delivery.

A Quick Market Overview

At present approximately 97% of UK premises should be within reach of a 24Mbps+ capable “superfast” broadband service (96% for 30Mbps+), which drops to 37% for gigabit-capable lines (mix of full fibre FTTP and hybrid fibre coax via DOCSIS 3.1) – details. The vast majority of premises are served by ISPs that use Openreach’s (OR) network and 54% can also access Virgin Media’s cable DOCSIS 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 FTTC and ultrafast G.fast or gigabit FTTP). On the flip side, Virgin’s cable network (Hybrid Fibre Coax DOCSIS + FTTP) is closed to other ISPs 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 8 million premises with FTTP by 2025 or later), Hyperoptic (5 million with FTTP/B by 2024) and KCOM (220,000+ with FTTP in Hull). See our ‘Summary of Full Fibre Build Progress‘ for more.

NOTE: We advise avoiding Satellite due to high costs, restrictive data caps and slow latency, but this may change as the new LEO networks from SpaceX (Starlink) and OneWeb become available in 2021/22.

Finally, switching ISPs on Openreach’s network is just a matter of informing the new provider that you want to join them (i.e. place an order), but sadly other networks may require you to separately order a brand-new line and then cancel your old service. Ofcom plan to extend their Gaining Provider Led (GPL) switching system to alternative networks, but it won’t be implemented until late 2022 (here).

We recommend that readers check out our Summary of Consumer Rules and Laws because there are a lot of rules that are designed to protect you, such as the one for Automatic Compensation (here and here), the Broadband Speed Code of Practice (here) and End-of-Contract Notifications (here).

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 vs 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 show both post-contract prices and discount prices). Take note that if you need a brand-new line installed then the upfront fee may be larger than some of those stated below (one-off costs for this can vary up to c.£100).

On top of that we only show packages with unlimited usage and wide national availability (excluding altnets on PAGE 3), which are the most common and easiest to compare. The following is an unordered list of ISPs (not ranked) and this year we’ll only focus on superfast and ultrafast packages (speeds are displayed as peak-time averages).

NOTE: The prices (PM = Monthly) below were recorded in December 2020 and discounts only tend to last for the first contract term (usually 12-24 months). We now exclude ISPs with no ultrafast packages. OR = Openreach.
Virgin Media (VMO2)
Setup: £35 Network Type: FTTP / HFC DOCSIS

Package Examples

Cheapest: 108Mbps DL (10Mbps UL) – £45 PM (discounts may cut this to c.£30)

Fastest: 1104Mbps DL (52Mbps UL) – £62 PM

Supports 2019 Speed Code: Yes
Ofcom Automatic Compensation: Yes

Virgin’s key advantage is that their network can deliver speeds of up to 636Mbps to more than half of the UK (rising to 1Gbps by 2021). The provider has won lots of praise for their performance too and they also have a strong Pay TV platform, as well as a decent Vodafone powered mobile service. But the operator will go through a major change the future as part of Virgin’s deal to merge with mobile giant O2 (here) – a closer integration of fixed and mobile networks can be expected.

Admittedly it’s not all roses. The provider’s customer support and billing department has continued to attracted a fair few gripes. On top of that their HUB 3.0 router, which comes attached to most of their packages, has had more than its fair share of problems – although the new HUB 4.0 device is a nice improvement, but its availability is still limited.

The operator is also a little more expensive than some of the others below. Contract terms tend to run for 12 or 18 months, which is standard.

Pros:
• Excellent speeds that are widely available
• 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

Cons:
• Coverage is mostly urban focused (cities and big towns)
• Pricier than others, albeit perhaps deservedly so
• Support quality is variable
• We see a fair few gripes about unstable latency, often from online gamers

Setup: £0 – £9.99 Network Type: OR FTTC/P + Cityfibre FTTP

Package Examples

Cheapest: 35Mbps DL (9Mbps UL) – £22 PM (-£3 for existing mobile users)

Fastest: 900Mbps DL (900Mbps UL) – £60 PM (-£3 for existing mobile users)

Supports 2019 Speed Code: No
Ofcom Automatic Compensation: No

Voda remains one of the cheapest FTTC broadband ISPs on Openreach’s network, although their service and support quality has suffered and they continue to attract a higher level of complaints than many of their major rivals (here). On the flip side their Cityfibre based 1Gbps FTTP service is considerably better (here) and they’ve launched similar FTTP packages via Openreach, but the coverage of both is still limited.

Sadly, there’s no Pay TV option from Vodafone, but they are one of the UK’s strongest national mobile networks for 4G and 5G services (existing mobile customers can often save extra money off their broadband plan).

Pros:
• Good quality router (the latest model, not the original FTTC/ADSL one)
• Price
• Good choice of 4G and 5G Mobile plans
• Speeds on FTTP network, coverage allowing
• Reasonable Apple TV 4K service, albeit pricey

Cons:
• Service quality and support needs improvement
• Long 24-month contracts

Setup: £9.95 – £19.95 Network Type: OR FTTC/P, G.fast

Package Examples

Cheapest: 59Mbps DL (18Mbps UL) – £33 PM (discounts may cut this to c.£28)

Fastest: 145Mbps DL (27Mbps UL) – £40 PM (discounts may cut this to c.£35)

Supports 2019 Speed Code: No
Ofcom Automatic Compensation: Yes

Sky generally attracts a fair level of customer satisfaction and they’ve consistently received some of the fewest consumer complaints of all the major ISPs (here), which is partly down to having a reasonably good customer support team and network. The addition of new “ultrafast broadband” packages via Openreach’s FTTP network has been another plus point in 2020 (they also offer G.fast on the same tier).

On top of that Sky has one of the best Pay TV platforms in the UK and their unique twist on an O2 MVNO powered mobile service is interesting, albeit not as attractive as the options offered by some of their rivals (depends on what you’re looking for). Customers also benefit from Sky’s 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 content
• Decent ultrafast packages
• Attracts fewer complaints than all of the other big ISPs

Cons:
• Cheaper streaming rivals make Sky TV feel expensive, and it’s still tied to Satellite
• Coverage of ultrafast services is limited, but that’s not Sky’s fault
• Sky’s latest SR203/204 router has had quite a few bugs in 2020

Setup: £9.95 – £49.90 Network Type: OR FTTC + OFNL FTTP

Package Examples

Cheapest: 35Mbps DL (9Mbps UL) – £29.95 PM (discounts may cut this to c.£25)

Fastest: 300Mbps DL (30Mbps UL) – £53.95 PM

Supports 2019 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 FTTP packages only in limited OFNL network areas

Setup: £0 – £10 Network Type: OR ADSL, FTTC

Package Examples

Cheapest: 36Mbps DL (9Mbps UL) – £36.52 PM (discounts may cut this to c.£23)

Fastest: 66Mbps DL (18Mbps UL) – £41.59 PM (discounts may cut this to c.£25)

Supports 2019 Speed Code: Yes
Ofcom Automatic Compensation: No

This is one of BT’s sibling ISPs, which tends to focus more on providing basic low cost packages and there’s also a range of 4G Mobile plans (EE MVNO); the latter could do with bigger data allowances, but they do still do some reasonable offers on these.

However, customer service and support quality has declined in recent years and we’ve yet to see them fully recover from that. On top of that they’ve yet to launch any ultrafast broadband packages, which is a bit of a surprise given that their bigger rivals have all had G.fast or FTTP for a while now.

Pros:
• Moderately cheap

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

Setup: £0 Network Type: OR ADSL, FTTC/P, G.fast + Cityfibre FTTP

Package Examples

Cheapest: 38Mbps DL (9Mbps UL) – £29.95 PM (discounts may cut this to c.£22)

Fastest: 500Mbps DL (75Mbps UL) – £44.95 PM (discounts may cut this to c.£35)

Supports 2019 Speed Code: Yes
Ofcom Automatic Compensation: Yes

As a provider TalkTalk has always styled itself on being the low-cost option, although in recent years Vodafone has stolen that particular role. Despite this the ISP does seem to have improved their service and support quality over the past year or so, but they’re still attracting a fair few complaints (here). On top of that they’ve made various commitments toward consumer fairness (here), but recent changes have called some of those into question (here).

At present the ISP sells Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) based ultrafast broadband products via Cityfibre, Freedom Fibre and Openreach’s network in different parts of the UK. On top of that they also have an affordable Pay TV service using the YouView (IPTV) platform, but this lacks the same choice of premium content as arch rivals BT, Sky and Virgin.

Overall, the ISP seems to be improving on the connectivity front, but they rarely come out on top for service performance and quality. The provider has also been taken over by Toscafund in a £1.1bn deal, which makes its future seem a little uncertain.

Pros:
• Cheap, albeit not always the cheapest
• The WiFi Hub router is a capable device

Cons:
• No mobile plans anymore
• Support quality is patchy
• Weaker Pay TV experience than others

BT
Setup: £9.99 – £19.99 Network Type: OR ADSL, FTTC/P, G.fast

Package Examples

Cheapest: 36Mbps DL (9Mbps UL) – £33.99 PM (discounts may cut this to c.£28)

Fastest: 900Mbps+ DL (110Mbps UL) – £67.99 PM (discounts may cut this to c.£60)

Supports 2019 Speed Code: Yes
Ofcom Automatic Compensation: Yes

As the market’s largest ISP BT is also 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 masses of WiFi hotspots, speed guarantees, online cloud storage, a decent wireless router and nuisance call blocking etc.) and their ultrafast packages are much more affordable.

The primary reason for including BT here, aside from being a useful comparison with the others above, is thus because their ultrafast broadband packages (G.fast / FTTP) are better value for money. On top of that they have a strong selection of Mobile plans (EE’s network) and Pay TV packages via he YouView (IPTV) platform.

The provider also offers a number of premium HALO 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 service is also the first step in BT’s ambition to adopt an integrated all-IP network, which aims to seamlessly bring their fixed line broadband and mobile networks together (here and here).

We should add that BT has seen complaints against their service fall significantly over the past couple of years, which is partly because they moved customer support back to the UK.

Pros:
• Lots of premium extras
• Good SmartHub routers
• UK based support
• Affordable FTTP and G.fast plans
• Decent Pay TV and Mobile plans

Cons:
• Standard (ADSL) and Superfast (FTTC) packages are expensive, especially post-contract!
• Service quality can be quite variable
• 5G has been removed from their mobile plans

NOTE: Readers should pick a separate provider for web and email hosting, so you can easily switch ISP without fear of losing those.

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 (capacity), 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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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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