Whether you're ordering broadband for the first time or considering switching provider, our helpful buyers guide below details the main factors you need to consider when comparing broadband packages.
To kick off though, we thought it would be useful to provide some background information on broadband access and usage in the UK.
Broadband Access And Usage In The UK
According to a recent study by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 84% of households in the UK (22 million homes) had Internet access in 2014, up from 57% in 2006.
Around 45% of these UK households used super-fast fibre optic broadband or cable to access the Internet, up from 30% in 2012.
Of the 4 million households without Internet access, 53% said they 'did not need it', while 32% indicated they did not have the 'skills' to use it.
With the increased availability and reliability of mobile broadband and Wi-Fi networks, Mobile Internet access is now being used by more people than ever before. In fact, 68% of UK adults in 2014 accessed the internet on the go using either a smartphone, portable computer or other handheld device.
The Factors To Consider When Comparing And Buying Broadband
We've detailed below the main factors you need to consider when comparing and buying broadband. These are cost per month, first year cost, speed, download limit, package combinations (Broadband, Phone and TV bundles) and contract length.
It's important for you to read this information so you can establish in your own mind what your main purchase criteria is - for example, is it more important for you to sign up with an ISP that offers a shorter contract period as opposed to a provider which offers the lowest cost per month but with an 18 month contract?
1. Cost Per Month And Any One Off Fees
Your broadband subscription will be a fixed monthly fee, plus in some instances, a one off fee for activation or installation. Most suppliers offer a free wireless router and recover the cost in the monthly fee you pay. Cable and fibre optic providers like Virgin Media and BT (and their resellers) may charge an installation fee as an engineer will be required to visit your home.
Your fixed monthly fee may increase if you choose a package with a monthly download usage limit and you go over that limit during the month. If so, you'll be charged for the additional kilobytes that you have downloaded. Please see 3. below for more information.
2. First Year Costs
As some ISP's offer incentives such as 6 month free or a discounted price for the first 3 or 6 months, it's worth considering what the total cost will be for your first year if cost is your number one purchase criteria.
3. Broadband Speed - Up to 'xMb'
The term 'up to xMb' where 'x' is a number, refers to the maximum download speed of the broadband package on offer. Upload speeds are slower but have become more important due to the popularity of uploading pictures and video to social network sites, plus precious files and photos to online storage sites like DropBox and Apple's iCloud.
With fibre optic broadband coverage in the UK increasing, up to 38Mb fibre speeds are becoming standard in the marketplace. These faster speeds with optimum performance are suitable for those households where there are multiple users accessing the Internet to watch catch-up TV, download films, play games and social network. Speeds up to 17Mb remain for ADSL copper broadband and are probably best suited for those households where general internet shopping, emailing & downloading some music and videos is common.
If your telephone line won't support up to, say, 38Mb, your chosen ISP will offer you the best available speed that your line will support.
It's worth noting that as ISP's upgrade their copper of fibre broadband speeds, it's also likely that they'll upgrade your broadband speed aswell - and in some instances for free or for a discounted price.
4. Monthly Download Usage Limits
Some broadband providers offer unlimited monthly download usage whilst others impose a download usage cap or limit. If you don't download or stream too much, it's not really something to consider. However, if you're a heavy downloader of large music and video files and regularly use catch-up and on-demand TV services, it's worth considering the monthly usage limits that apply as you may be charged per kilobyte if you go over the limit. In that case, you're best going for an unlimited monthly download usage package so you know exactly what you're going to be paying each month.
5. Package Combinations (Bundles)
Bundles have become a common feature with broadband packages. Many of the providers like BT and TalkTalk are now offering a single price per month for Broadband, Calls and Digital TV. Some like TalkTalk and Virgin Media are offering a mobile SIM card bundled in aswell - all at an an attractive cost per month and all on one bill.
You'll need to look at the costs you pay to different providers for services like your phone line rental, phone calls, broadband, pay TV and mobile and compare the total cost with these new bundled offerings. In most cases there will be savings to be made but it's worth keeping an eye on the small print.
6. Contract Length
Most ISP's like to tie you into a 12 or 18 month contract to help offset the costs of offering you incentives such a reduced cost per month for an initial period. Naturally, they also use this time to try to up sell and cross sell you their other services.
12 or 18 month contract periods are fine for most people, though its worth reading their terms and conditions to find out what their termination penalty is should you wish to cancel before the end of the contractual term.
If you're after some flexibility, there are some providers like Plusnet who offer broadband without a contract when you switch to them and bring with you your own wireless router. Some set up fees may apply, so again, check the small print.
What Do I Do Next?
Hopefully you'll now have an idea of what your most important purchase criteria is (e.g. speed, cost per month etc). The next step is to visit our broadband comparison homepage where you'll be able to search for and find a comprehensive list of the UK's broadband provider packages available in your postcode area. Here, you'll be able to compare speeds, download limits, contract lengths, costs per month and first year costs for all their packages and bundles.