There are four main types of broadband in the UK: ADSL, Wireless, Cable, and Fibre Optic. ADSL is the oldest form of broadband and uses standard landline cables, rendering it the slowest sort of broadband. Wireless broadband (commonly referred to as ‘mobile broadband’) is achievable without direct cable access and therefore is particularly suitable for rural areas that are a long way from the exchange.
Cable broadband uses special coaxial cables to connect to a local/regional fibre cabinet. This results in a service that is significantly faster than those using traditional copper phone line cables (so-called ‘superfast’ broadband).
Fibre Optic broadband is the fastest and most reliable type and is incredibly popular today’s digital world. It is important to note that fibre optic broadband isn’t available for every UK home/location.
There are a large number of providers when it comes to broadband packages but the main ones are BT, Sky, Virgin, and TalkTalk.
BT are the market leader when it comes to broadband with 33.6% of the market in 2021 . Their fibre broadband speeds average between 36Mbps and 300Mpbs and they have a ‘Stay Fast Guarantee’. BT utilises the Openreach fibre optic network and also offers a number of Broadband + Phone + TV packages.
Sky offer a wide range of broadband, phone and TV packages. Like BT, Sky use the Openreach fibre optic network and sell broadband-only packages as well as bundles.
Virgin Media have their own fibre optic network and, according to Ofcom, have been the fastest provider of broadband in the UK for the past 6 years. Even their most basic deal offers speeds of up to 54Mbps, and they offer a range of bundles, including mobile phones/devices.
TalkTalk has built a reputation as being affordable yet still delivering a good quality service. They offer broadband-only packages as well as bundles including TV and mobiles.
Internet and Broadband in the UK
Internet connectivity has become an increasingly essential part of modern-life in many countries including the UK. Figures estimate that 96% of households in the UK had Internet access as at the end of 2020  whereas in 2021, the percentage of households in the UK with access to a broadband connection (fixed or mobile) had reached 89% .
What kind of speeds can I reasonably expect?
Average home broadband download speeds have been increasing for a number of years, primarily thanks to the increased use of new fibre technology. In 2021, the median average download speed for UK homes was 50.4 Mbps and the mean average was 79.1Mbps, whilst the median average upload speed was 9.8 Mbps .
What might cause slow broadband speeds?
Firstly, before placing all the blame on your provider (and maybe looking at alternatives), if you are experiencing regular interruptions or issues with your broadband, it is important to first check that it is not due to the router/other equipment, your phone line, or the way you’ve set your home network up. These factors are effectively beyond the provider’s control. You may need an engineer to check some of these elements, notably the phone line.
Modems and routers need upgrading every few years and it is always worth investing in a quality modem. An old router/modem could potentially be one reason for your slow broadband. The location of your modem is another key factor. Wi-Fi signals can only travel a limited distance and some materials and other devices can affect your connection. The best place for your modem is a high central position. Ethernet cables should be used rather than Wi-Fi if possible as data travels faster and more reliably through these than it does via Wi-Fi.
Making sure all devices are updated with the latest software can also improve your broadband experience.
Checking your speeds
One of the key documents to refer back to is the initial confirmation of your contract – this could be letter or email. This document should outline the speeds that you were promised when you signed-up. If you cannot find this information, you should be able to just call your provider and ask them what speeds you should be receiving.
You can then check your actual speeds in order to compare against what you were promised, using a website such as https://www.speedtest.net/ or https://www.internetspeedtest.co.uk/. It is worth doing this several times during the day to get an average figure.
What are your provider’s responsibilities?
If you have checked everything mentioned above and have clear evidence that your speeds are below those that you were promised, it is important to know what you can do and what your provider must do. You are entitled to receive the level of service that you were promised. If you are not, your broadband service provider may well be in breach of contract. They may also be liable if you were miss-sold or misled at the time of purchase.
If the speeds are not meeting the minimum levels outlined in your contract, you can ask your provider to provide a permanent fix within a reasonable period of time (30 days is normal). If the issue can’t be fixed and they are still not meeting their minimum guaranteed speeds after this time, they must let you exit your contract penalty-free if you wish to do so.
Finding a new provider
If you have asked your provider to fix the issue but they have been unable to (or haven’t offered a solution such as upgrade to fibre optic), then you should be able to look elsewhere. Switching providers using Free Price Compare is a smooth and painless process that we have refined over a number of years.
Knowing what you need
Before getting too involved with looking at the myriad of options or committing to one option, it is important to take a moment to reflect and work out what you need in-terms of speeds, performance, devices and so forth and what budget you need to work to.
How you use the Internet as a household is a key determinant of the type of package/speeds you will need. If you live with lots of people, you will need enough bandwidth to cope with multiple devices streaming content simultaneously. The average household in the UK has at least 10 devices connected to the Internet . Insufficient bandwidth can lead to quality and reliability issues, lag and exaggerated buffering.
If there are gamers in the household, the major video console makers such as Nintendo and Sony suggest a minimum download speed of 3Mbps. For those into TVs/films, popular streaming service Netflix recommends a 5Mbps connection for one high-definition stream. Two simultaneous HD quality streams would therefore need around 10Mbps, and so on.
It is definitely worth having some ‘spare’ capacity but there is no real point in paying out for a super-expensive, high-bandwidth, high-speed connection if you are a light Internet user and the sole person in the household. Remember that a wired connection will always be much quicker than Wi-Fi.
Budgeting and finances
Cost is another key consideration when looking at a new provider/package. Although it can be tempting to go for the latest and most hi-tech option, it is crucial to know what you can afford and stick to your budget. If you are struggling with your bills (as many people currently are), there are a number of free useful resources available. These include Money Helper (https://www.moneyhelper.org.uk or 0800 138 7777), Citizens Advice (https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/ or 0800 144 8848), and The Money Advice Trust (https://www.moneyadvicetrust.org/ or 020 7489 7790), amongst others.
What about ‘bundles’?
Combined packages from one provider are known as bundles and are extremely convenient. Most broadband packages will come with a landline included as well, but you can also add mobile phones, TV services, or other extras. A bundle from one provider can work out cheaper than having separate services from different providers. It’s also much simpler than having to deal with more than one customer service team when you have a query, and you should receive a single monthly bill for everything. If you have a bundle already, it is fairly easy to switch broadband and TV at the same time.
The main UK broadband providers offer a range of different options when it comes to contracts and payments. Most contracts will range between twelve and twenty-four months and it is usually cheaper to pay monthly by Direct Debit. There are also some providers who offer monthly rolling contracts that allow you to cancel at any time. These are good options if you need flexibility or want to try out a few before committing to a longer-term contract.
How to switch broadband provider using Free Price Compare
Here at Free Price Compare, we have made comparison and switching hassle-free, and our interface is easy to use and intuitive. Get started with these simple steps:
Enter your postcode, and we’ll run a speed test for your street
We’ll then show you a list of recommended providers and exclusive deals for your specific area
Have a look at the deals and select your preferred choice
Select ‘buy now’, and we’ll then direct you to the provider’s website
They will take you through the set-up process and arrange a start date and installation
Why use us?
Free Price Compare is a 100% free, independent, and impartial comparison service and we have access to dozens of exclusive deals/prices. We have more than 10 years of experience in this field and we believe we can get you a great deal. You could save over £300 on a broadband and digital TV bundle, or up to £180 a year on broadband alone. If you have been wondering how to switch broadband providers, we have made it easy.
How we display our results
Our suggested packages are ranked primarily by the first-year cost. This is the total amount that you will pay in the first twelve months, including delivery, installation and any hardware costs. Any rewards, incentives or vouchers will be incorporated into the total first-year cost. We will then rank by popularity in your local area. You can also use our smart filter tool on the left-hand side of the page to filter on any specific criteria.
When can I switch?
You can switch at any point but many people wait until the end of their current contract in order to avoid any early exit fees. However, these fees should not apply if you are switching because your provider is failing to meet their minimum-speed guarantee.
How long does it take to switch broadband services?
It usually takes between 5 and 10 days to complete the switch between broadband providers, although it may take slightly longer if you need any engineering work done or someone to install cables or equipment. This doesn’t mean that you will be without internet for those days, however. Downtime should be only a few minutes.
Can I keep my existing landline phone number?
You can usually keep your existing landline number when you switch providers. The only possible exception is if you’re moving area at the same time as switching, you might not be able to keep your landline number as it will usually have a dedicated local area dialling code.
Benefits of switching
Having access to fast and reliable broadband is essential for most people nowadays. Switching providers can mean that you are able to access superfast speeds and utilise streaming services as well as potentially reducing your bills.
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