When it comes to getting broadband, it can be a confusing time. There are so many different options available on the market, and consumers are left wondering whether to go for one of the main Internet service providers or for one of the SMEs.
This article will explain a bit about what to look out for when you are choosing between Internet service providers and it will examine some of the main players in the industry and their relative pros and cons.
Types of Broadband
It’s important to understand the types of different broadband in order to make an informed choice.
ADSL is the most common form of broadband. It’s passed through the BT copper lines and comes into your house through your telephone socket. It has reasonable speeds of up to 16MBPS. But the further you are away from a telephone exchange the poorer the quality of the Internet.
ADSL LLU is also passed through the BT telecoms networks, but is much better because the Internet service providers have installed their own equipment into the telephone exchanges. You tend to get faster broadband with LLU than with standard ADSL.
Fibre Optic Broadband
Fibre has been laid throughout the country in order to provide quality high-speed broadband. The Government goal is that over 90% of the population is able to get 24MBPS or more in the next few years.
Providers such as BT cable, PlusNet, and Sky have their own high-speed Internet offerings. Virgin and BT currently have around 50 or 60 per cent UK coverage and are looking to expand this further.
It’s important to understand how much usage of Internet your home will consume in order to get the right package. If you are a light user, mainly downloading email and browsing, you may get away with 10GB per month. However, if there are multiple users browsing, streaming and downloading, then you may well need an unlimited package. Get some advice in store or online to find out what profile you are best suited to.
Fair Usage Policies
Even with unlimited broadband it is important to understand the actual data limits. If you’re a particularly media-hungry home that’s going to be doing an awful lot of streaming and downloading, then don’t get caught in the limited unlimited trap. Providers such as TalkTalk and Tesco don’t have truly unlimited broadband, but set a Fair Usage limit of 40 and 100 gigabytes per month respectively. Understanding the Fair Usage policies of the different providers will help you make a better choice that is appropriate for your household.
A Look at Some of the Main Players
Now we’ll have a look at some of the main players in the ISP market including Sky, PlusNet, Virgin, and BT.
A survey by Ofcom in 2012 found that Sky’s fixed line broadband has the lowest level of customer complaints in the big 5 providers. Sky is a cash-rich business and offers the opportunity to get bundles to include TV packages and phone. Prices of Sky Broadband are very reasonable starting at £7.50 to £10 a month and unlimited packages are truly unlimited. You can get typical download speeds of around 30MBPS on Fibre. You normally get free weekend phone calls and there are lots of extras. It is possible to get on fibre to the cabinet broadband for around £20 a month, although this is limited and isn’t available everywhere.
Positives of Sky
The price is very competitive, the speeds are good, and the Internet is truly unlimited.
The Negatives of Sky
The connect package can be quite expensive and is very slow, and the email support provided by the company isn’t the best.
PlusNet is recognized for top customer service. They’ve won a number of awards, which is a really impressive accomplishment considering the fact that they are among the cheapest offerings on the market. Speeds and quality aren’t necessarily up there with the absolute top providers, but they are a terrific value for money provider. They have an FTTC offering from around £15.99 a month, which is, again, good value. Their budget broadband packages start from around £6 a month, and are appropriate for light user profiles. Contracts are available on short terms.
The Positives of PlusNet
On the really fast packages, the speeds are very good, the prices are competitive across the range, and the support provided by the customer care teams is excellent.
Don’t expect the best Internet service in the world, although it is definitely getting better and better.
Virgin runs a cable fibre optic network, which is unique. They deliver their phone, TV, and broadband through the cables they’ve laid to around 60% of the country. Ofcom surveys have found that typically their super-fast broadband achieves 90% of the advertised rate, and has even been found that some of their packages run faster than the advertised rate. They are a real alternative to the Sky bundles with excellent TV offerings as well. Broadband prices start from £14.50 per month for 30MBPS unlimited usage. But watch out for the traffic management policies of Virgin, as they can be restrictive. Back in 2012, there were some sporadic problems with the network as well, although they seem to have sorted this out now.
The Positives of Virgin
The pricing is very competitive even with the bundles, the speeds on the cable service are the fastest in the industry, and the TV bundles with Tivo are excellent.
The Negatives of Virgin
The customer support team at Virgin is not the best. Their traffic management policies and shaping are restrictive and can cause a real hassle for heavy users. The latency on their cables is also higher than on non-cabled offerings, thereby causing gaming and VoIP problems.
BT has recently reduced the impact that their user and traffic management policies have on their users. However, traditionally, they have been very restrictive thus causing problems and complaints. They’ve been particularly hard on P2P and online video services. Their support has been greatly criticized and complaints have gone unheeded while problems have been escalated slowly.
With their new FTTC offering, BT Infinity, they have got a completely unlimited package that is much better than many of the other offerings. They also have a TV offering now, YouView, which is pretty good, and overall, their bundles are competitive.
The Positives of BT
The broadband is fast; they now have unlimited, flexible deals with very good TV bundles.
The Negatives of BT
Although BT Infinity is good, the other packages can fall down quite quickly and should be avoided. The customer support is not always very good with BT either.
Choosing Your Provider
When choosing your provider it is important to understand the positives and negatives, as well as your consumer profile. If you are really struggling to choose, then find out what people in your area are using and how their performance is. There are also services into which you can put your postcode and then find the top performing Internet providers close to you. One such service is available on uSwitch. Do a bit of research and don’t just go for the first offering made available to you.
Photo credit: Ed Yourdon