Broadband package reviews: Features explained
Broadband is now - to many people - as essential a service as electricity or water. According to Ofcom's 2011 State of the Communications Nation report, there are 18 million homes in the UK with a broadband connection. And, we are now using an average of 17GB of data a month. That's the equivalent of streaming 12 hours of BBC iPlayer high definition (HD) video.
It's never been so important to ensure you have the right broadband deal with the usage that you need. Not sure how much you use each month? Use the Which? broadband usage calculator to find out what broadband usage limit you need and get package recommendations in just a few easy steps.
'Compare features & prices' tool
We don't want you to get any nasty surprises when you come to sign up for your chosen broadband deal, so the price we show for each package always represents the minimum price you must pay to get that specific deal.
This means that where the broadband package is a 'standalone' deal, the price given is the amount you must pay the ISP to get just broadband and doesn't take into account the cost of paying another provider for phone line rental or calls. Bear in mind that in order to get fixed-line broadband, you must almost always have a working phone line. The only exception is Virgin Media's cable broadband. Phone line rental typically costs around £13 to £15 a month depending on the provider.
Where you can only get the broadband package if you also have another service with the same provider such as line rental, phone calls or pay TV - a 'bundled' broadband deal - we give the total package price including the cost of additional services that you must take in order to get the broadband.
Types of home broadband
The speed and price of your broadband will depend on the way it is delivered.
Most homes can access broadband through BT's copper-wire phone network. This type of broadband is known as ADSL broadband (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line). ADSL broadband is available to more than 99% of UK households, though the broadband speed you'll be able to get will vary depending on where you live – take a look at Which? advice on how to increase your broadband speed for more information.
You don’t have to use BT's landline service to get ADSL broadband, many other home phone line rental providers such as the Post Office also use BT's broadband network.
In the Hull area, the phone line network is provided by Kingston Communications rather than BT, and at the moment, no broadband provider other than Kingston Communications (Karoo) offers broadband services on this network.
Local loop unbundled (LLU) ADSL broadband
This is a type of ADSL broadband where ISPs install their own broadband equipment in BT telephone exchanges. Though the broadband ISPs still use BT wires, they add their own broadband equipment to the exchanges. LLU broadband availability is limited to around 80% of UK households, often in more populated areas.
Providers can generally offer cheaper and faster deals in their LLU areas. If you fall outside of these areas, unfortunately you may have to pay more and may not be able to get the headline speed.
The process for switching between LLU broadband providers can cause problems. Customers who have a full LLU deal (on both phone and broadband) can find, when they want to switch, that because their phone line is LLU, it no longer counts as a BT line so it's not possible to switch easily.
Fibre & cable broadband
Broadband delivered over fibre cables is capable of delivering much faster speeds than ADSL broadband over copper wires, and where you live doesn't have an impact on the speed you will receive. However, fibre broadband availability is much more limited than ADSL broadband.
Virgin Media's cable broadband is the most well-established fibre broadband network and is available to about half of UK homes, mostly in urban areas.
BT is also rolling out a fibre broadband network across the UK, which should be available to 8 million homes and businesses by the end of March 2012. Other providers - TalkTalk, Zen Internet, Plusnet and Eclipse - offer their own fibre packages over the same network. Currently these most commonly offer speeds of up to 40Mbps but BT has announced a 100Mbps service that is planned to be rolled out further.
Mobile broadband services let you access broadband on your laptop or PC wherever there's a 3G mobile signal – at home or when you're out and about. Mobile broadband technology depends on there being a 3G signal, but may offer hope to anyone who can't get broadband via ADSL or cable.
Because mobile broadband operates in a different way from normal, fixed-line home broadband, we haven't included it in this product comparison.
Satellite broadband and local wireless networks
If you can't get the main types of home broadband in your area, there are a couple of alternatives.
Satellite broadband is delivered via a dish attached to your house, similar to Sky TV. But it's extremely expensive – AVC broadband charges £69 a month for 0.5Mbps speeds, plus more than £1,000 for equipment and installation.
Another option is one of the wireless broadband providers, such as W3Z, which serve localised areas. Radio masts send a broadband signal to antennae attached to houses. No home phone line is required.
'Free' broadband and broadband bundles
Some broadband providers, such as Sky, offer 'free' home broadband. To get it though, you have to be a Sky TV customer so what's on offer is an inclusive bundle for a single fee rather than a 'free' home broadband service. Many other providers, including TalkTalk and Virgin Media, offer deals on their home broadband services if you take them as part of a bundle with other home phone, TV or other services. You can find out more about which providers offer the best bundle options in the Which? review of phone, internet and TV packages.