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Regular Broadband-related news and comment from the team.

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Broadband-related features and articles.

Wi-Fi router being plugged in

What you need to know about broadband installation

Posted by Andy Betts on in Features

If you're thinking of switching broadband suppliers, one factor you'll probably be thinking about is the installation process.

Will you have to take a day off work? Will you lose internet access while it happens? And how long does the whole thing take?

The answers to all these questions and more depend on which providers you're switching to and from. So let's take a look.

Openreach providers

Most of us have broadband from a supplier that uses the BT-owned Openreach network. These include the likes of Sky, BT, Plusnet, TalkTalk, Vodafone and most other major brands.

If you move from one Openreach provider to another you'll be able to self-install your broadband. And there's nothing to it:

  1. Your new supplier will send you a new router and inform you of the activation date.
  2. When the day comes, plug the new router into the master phone socket and turn it on.
  3. Wait for it to be connected.

And that's about it. You might lose your internet signal for an hour or so while the switchover happens, and you will have to connect all your devices to the new router with the new password. But beyond that, it really couldn't be easier.

The only caveat here is that you do need to have a live BT phone line in your home. If you're already with an Openreach-based provider then you've obviously already got one.

But if you aren't, you can check to see if you've got a master socket in your house. It's usually a small white box with a BT logo and a couple of phone ports on it. If you find one (and you don't already use it), it's likely a disconnected line that may be re-connected remotely.

If you haven't got one, you'll need an engineer to visit to install a new line. This can take anywhere up to three weeks to arrange. Though you'll have to pay for it, the price will vary depending on which provider you're going with.

Virgin Media installation

Switching to Virgin Media requires a more involved installation process unless your home has been connected to Virgin previously.

Because Virgin Media use their own cable network infrastructure, your home needs to be hooked up to their network for you to connect. If it already has been - either because you're a previous customer or someone who lived in your home before you was - then you can use the Virgin Media QuickStart installation to get going.

This is a self-install system that gives you a box containing all the gear you need, along with an app to walk you through the process of plugging the cables into the right ports, along with anything else you need to know. You can be up and running in as little as four days if you choose this option.

But if your home hasn't been connected to the Virgin network before you will need an engineer to come and get you connected:

  • You get to choose the day and time for installation when you place your order, and you need to be in when it happens.
  • During installation, the engineer will run a cable from the pavement to a wall box they'll mount on the outside of your house. This may go underground or beneath your lawn, but they'll decide on the best route after consulting you.
  • The engineer will then install further cables to entry points inside your home, which will require them to drill a small hole in your wall.
  • They'll then complete the setup to ensure it's all up and running as you expect.
  • The process should take between 30 minutes and two hours.

If you're renting you might need to get permission from your landlord before you go ahead with the install.

Full fibre installation

Unless your home is already equipped with a full fibre connection, you'll need an engineer to visit to install it for you. The process - as well as the setup fee - varies slightly depending on which provider you're using, but the basics are as follows:

  1. The engineer will run a fibre cable from the access point on the pavement outside your home through a hole they'll drill in your outside wall. (Some areas might use overhead cables instead.)
  2. This hole will typically be up to 1cm in diameter and often positioned near your front door.
  3. They'll then install a fibre socket inside. Both your fibre cable and Wi-Fi router will be plugged into this.
  4. Finally, they'll complete the setup to make sure it's all working. The installation should take around an hour.

While installation is one of the factors you need to consider when thinking about switching broadband providers, you shouldn't be put off by the prospect. Even if you need an engineer to install it for you the process will usually only take a couple of hours at most. In a lot of cases, you'll be able to do it yourself with almost no trouble at all. Some providers do charge a setup or installation fee, but we've published all the deals without any upfront costs.

Are you ready to shop for a new broadband provider? Use our postcode checker to find the best deals on fibre, cable and full fibre broadband available in your street today.


Man using a laptop

What's the difference between fibre and full fibre broadband?

Posted by Andy Betts on in Features

Have you considered switching to full fibre broadband? If not, what's stopping you?

When Ofcom carried out some research into these questions earlier in the year, one thing came through loud and clear: people find the whole thing very confusing.

After all, do you really need full fibre if you've already got fibre? Aren't they the same thing? And if not, how are they different?

Let's clear up what you need to know.

Fibre vs full fibre

On the most basic level, fibre broadband simply refers to a specific type of technology in which the broadband signal travels over fibre optic cables, as opposed to copper wires, coaxial cables, cellular networks, or anything else. In that context, full fibre is indeed a form of fibre broadband.

But in practice, the terms are more commonly used to describe different speeds of internet service.

Fibre broadband is often used as a generic name for the type of broadband that most of us still have - one more accurately known as fibre-to-the-cabinet broadband. Here, the fibre cables only go as far as your nearest street cabinet. The final part of the connection from the cabinet to your home uses the copper wires from the old telephone network.

These are slow and inefficient, and the further your house is from that street cabinet the more copper is used in your connection, and the slower it gets. That's the reason why a house at one end of the street can have very different broadband speeds to a house at the other end.

This type of fibre broadband, then, could be more accurately called "part fibre". And that helps to give you an idea of what we mean by full fibre.

Full fibre is also known as fibre-to-the-home or fibre-to-the-premises because it doesn't include that last stretch over the copper wires. Fibre cables are so much more efficient, so your broadband speeds can be typically 10 to 15 times faster than you'll get from the other type of service.

And that's all there is to it. Fibre broadband refers to services with download speeds that have an average top download speed of around 67Mb. Full fibre describes the much faster services with speeds up to 1Gb.

As full fibre becomes commonplace over the next five years, we'll likely end up referring to it simply as fibre, as the older technology disappears.

What about gigabit-capable broadband?

There's one most potential point of confusion that's worth clearing up.

During the last election, the government announced its intention to rapidly upgrade the country's broadband infrastructure to full fibre. When the industry made it clear that this might not be possible, they pivoted to talking about "gigabit-capable" broadband instead.

This is another technology-neutral term that refers to broadband services that can deliver download speeds of 1Gb. It includes full fibre, along with things like Virgin Media's part-cable/part-fibre network, and 5G. Does the difference matter? Probably not, and most areas will eventually be able to access more than one type of service anyway.

Are you thinking of upgrading to full fibre? Use our postcode checker to discover all the best broadband deals available in your area.


Laptop in incognito mode

What does Incognito Mode actually do?

Posted by Andy Betts on in Features

All web browsers come with a private browsing mode - an Incognito mode, as it's often called. Whenever you want some privacy online, switching this on is a no-brainer.

Except it turns out that there are some pretty major misconceptions about what it actually does. A lot of people massively over-estimate its powers.

So do you know what Incognito mode is for, and what it will or will not protect you against? Let's take a look.

What is Incognito Mode?

All browsers come with support for private browsing. In Chrome it's called Incognito mode; in Edge, it's InPrivate mode; and in Safari and Firefox, it's plain old Private Browsing. You can access it via the File menu, or by using the Ctrl + Shift + N keyboard shortcut. You can get it on your phone, too.

When you switch to Incognito mode, you launch a privacy-focused browser window. It helps you cover your tracks online, but only to a certain extent.

Incognito mode still gives you access to your bookmarks and browser settings, but it does not access or save cookies, nor does it save your browsing history or anything you type into web forms.

Cookies are small text files that websites store on your computer that can you either help you - or help them. They save any settings you've changed on a site and keep you logged in to your favourite services. Private browsing, then, means you'll be logged out of all your favourite sites. This is an inconvenience in some cases, but it also makes it harder for the likes of Google and Facebook to see where you're going online.

Advertisers also use cookies to follow you around the internet and build up a profile of your interests so they can show you targeted ads. Incognito mode helps to prevent this. Advertisers can't access your existing cookies, and while new ones may be saved during your private browsing session, they'll be deleted as soon as you close the browser window.

The other thing that gets deleted when you shut the window is your recent browsing history. In fact, this isn't saved at all, beyond allowing you to hit the Back button to return to your previous page. This ensures that anyone who shares your computer will not be able to see what sites you've visited, or what you've been searching for.

What Incognito mode doesn't do

Incognito mode is great for stopping advertisers and the tech giants from following you around the web, and it ensures privacy on your computer itself. But that's as far as it goes.

When you're in private browsing mode, your ISP can still see and log the sites you visit.

Websites themselves can also see your IP address, the number that identifies your computer on the internet. And although it cannot identify you personally from this (not easily, anyway) it can see certain important information, such as your location.

There's also a growing issue with something called "fingerprinting". This is where sites use the various bit of information they routinely access when you connect to them, like your browser and device settings, to generate a unique ID for you that is independent of cookies and user accounts. It makes it even easier to identify you online.

And that's not all. If you've got any extensions set up on your browser, they might not notice your switch to private mode. They might still be able to track your online activities.

So if you've been using Incognito mode in the belief that it helps keep you anonymous online, you're wrong. It gives you a basic level of privacy, but that's all. If you want to be truly anonymous you need to use it in conjunction with a VPN, which encrypts your internet traffic so that no other body, including your broadband provider, can see it.

Are you looking for a new broadband deal? Use our postcode checker to discover the best broadband offers available in your street today!


Hands typing on a laptop

7 myths about UK broadband busted

Posted by Andy Betts on in FeaturesCuckooVirgin MediaNOW BroadbandBTSkyVodafoneTalkTalk

There are so many well established ideas about broadband and switching broadband providers that get repeated again and again.

The trouble is, many of them are wrong - and they're costing you money.

Switching suppliers can easily save you a hundred pounds or more every year, and if you're stuck on a slow internet package when you need something much faster, it doesn't have to cost you a fortune to upgrade.

So here are some of the biggest myths about broadband, and the truth that you need to know.

"Fibre is fibre - all fibre broadband is the same"

While fibre broadband is used as a catch-all term, it encompasses very different things.

Most of us are using something called fibre-to-the-cabinet broadband. This is where the ultrafast fibre cables carry your broadband signal as far as your nearest street cabinet - that green box down the end of your road. The connection from the cabinet to you house is over the old copper telephone cables. These are a lot slower, and the signal degrades the further it has to travel, which is why a house on one of the street can get very different performance levels to one at the other end.

There's now a big push to roll out "full fibre" broadband, which is also known as fibre-to-the-home. Here, the fibre cables run right up to your house. The result is that the speeds are much, much faster and the service is more reliable.

"There's no benefit to upgrading to ultrafast broadband"

A recent survey found that one of the main things that stopped people from upgrading to ultrafast or full fibre broadband was the belief that it didn't really offer any benefits. But there are many.

The main one, obviously, is that you get much faster download speeds. Our internet use is skyrocketing - Ofcom's recent Communications Market Report shows that the average household now burns through 429GB of data each month, an increase of 36% on the previous year. Even if you think you don't need faster speeds right now, you will do soon.

On top of that, you get vastly quicker upload speeds, which will be essential if the working from home revolution continues. The service should be more reliable, too, as you won't have to deal with line faults on the old telephone cables.

And it's also better value for money: currently, you pay the same price for your broadband as your neighbour down the street, yet you could be receiving a much slower service. That's far less of an issue with full fibre.

"It's too much hassle to switch providers"

By now it's well established that those of us who are willing to switch providers will get a better and cheaper deal than those who stick with the same provider for a long time.

Why don't more people switch? Because it's seen as too much hassle. But it really isn't.

If you move between two providers on the Openreach network - which includes almost all the main providers, including BT, TalkTalk, Sky, Vodafone, Plusnet and so on - then the one you are moving to will handle the entire switchover process for you. You won't have to do anything, and the whole process should be done within a couple of weeks.

Granted, it is a little more complicated to switch to or from a provider that uses a different infrastructure, like Virgin Media, as you may need an engineer to come and install it. But these companies are now set up to make even this part as easy as possible.

"You'll lose internet access when you switch"

Another reason people are reluctant to switch is that they assume they'll be left without internet access while it happens. This is another myth.

Generally speaking, your old service gets turned off as your new service gets switched on and you might be disconnected for a few minutes in between, but nothing more dramatic than that. If you're switching to or from Virgin Media, you can even arrange an overlap where your new service is connected before your old one is turned off.

"You always have to sign a long contract"

Something that puts off a lot of people when they're looking at broadband deals is the prospect of having to commit to a long contract.

In fact, you don't have to. NOW Broadband, Virgin Media, and newcomer Cuckoo are among the providers that offer no-contract deals. You have to pay a little more on the activation fee up front, but this might be worth it for the flexibility of being able to cancel at any time. These deals can be especially worth it for students or anyone who's planning to move house in the near future.

Most suppliers offer 12 month contract options as well. And keep in mind that if your reluctance to sign a long deal is through the worry that you'll be stuck with something you aren't happy with, then there are ways you can quit a contract without charge. If your broadband speed constantly underperforms, for example, and your supplier cannot fix it, or if they put your prices up by more than the amount in agreed in your contract.

"It's too complicated to find a better deal"

There are a lot broadband suppliers in the UK, and they offer a lot of deals between them. Trying to figure out the differences can be tricky, especially if you aren't that tech savvy.

But it needn't be that complicated. We make it easy for you to compare all the latest broadband deals, and you can filter them based on whatever you want most. So, you can see the cheapest deals, or the fastest deals, or just the fibre packages, or those that offer broadband without a contract.

And if you then sort them further by speed or first year cost, you'll very quickly narrow your list of options down to just a few packages.

"Faster broadband always costs more"

While it's natural to assume that upgrading to faster broadband will cost you more, it isn't necessarily so.

If you're in a coverage area, you can get full fibre from Hyperoptic (at the slower 30Mb speed) at a rate normally reserved for the old, standard broadband deals; you can upgrade to a faster 67Mb plan from OneStream for just £22.50 a month; or you can burst through the 100Mb barrier with Vodafone for just £26 a month. These are some pretty keen prices, that make faster broadband more accessible than you might have expected.

So, now you know the truth about broadband and how to upgrade, are you ready to start shopping? Use our postcode checker to discover the best broadband deals available where you live.


Woman with a laptop holding a credit card

Are you paying too much for your broadband?

Posted by Andy Betts on in Features

Are you paying too much for your broadband? If you haven't taken out a new deal recently, or if you're on a plan that isn't right for you, then there's a good chance you are.

And we're not just talking about a few quid a month - in some cases you can wind up paying hundreds extra every year.

So how can you tell, and what can you do about it? Let's take a look.

What do you need?

Before you can work out if you're paying too much for your broadband you need to figure out exactly what kind of broadband you need.

What do you and the others in your household use the internet for? Is it for non-stop streaming and gaming? Is it essential for work? Or do you use it mostly just for a little browsing and shopping?

Once you sort this out you can decide what sort of speed of service you need, and see if what you've got is appropriate.

The trick is to find the right speed, whatever it is. You don't have to pay for something faster and flashier just because you assume it's better, even if you don't need it. But equally, don't skimp on a package that's too slow, or you'll be in for a frustrating time.

Compare prices

Now you know what you're after, you can compare the prices on all the latest broadband deals.

If you're already on the right speed broadband, you can check to see if there are any options available that are much cheaper than you're currently paying. Or if you want to upgrade - or downgrade - in future, you can see how the price will compare to your bill right now.

Are you still in contract?

The main reason why anyone finds themselves paying too much for their broadband is that the minimum contract period on their deal has ended. The price will always go up when this happens - sometimes by as much as 80% or more. And it'll rise by an above average amount every year on top of that.

Changes to Ofcom rules mean that ISPs should be proactive in letting you know what your situation is and what your options are. Where they would have once been happy to keep you on an old deal for years they should now tell you when your deal is up, and point you towards the better prices than can offer you.

If you're on your supplier's books as being a vulnerable customer - which can cover anything from disability to unemployment or money troubles - then they should also avoid hitting you with the big price rises when your deal ends. So make sure you inform them if your circumstances change.

But that's as far as it goes. Most of us still have to make the effort to find a new deal. Do nothing and it can very expensive very quickly.

In short, if you've been out of contract for a while, we can say with certainty that you are paying more than you should be. The good news is that with no contact tying you down, you can find a new deal and slash your monthly bill in just a few minutes.

Are you a new customer or a loyal one?

The other big reason why people pay more than they should is that they're too loyal.

It's long been known that businesses keep their best deals to attract new customers. Ofcom have taken steps to encourage broadband providers to make the better deals available to those who are renewing, but the fact remains that there are still a lot of benefits to be had in switching providers.

It isn't just the promise of better deals and lower prices, but rewards, gifts and other incentives, too. Many suppliers offer free money, or cashback that's equivalent to one or two free months of internet access. Make sure you factor in the value of these when you're comparing prices.

But while free money is great, obviously, don't be seduced by the promise of free gifts. Remember, you're only making a saving there if you would have bought the product anyway!

Has your price gone up?

The price you signed up to isn't necessarily the price you'll pay throughout your entire deal. Most plans allow for annual increase in line with inflation; the BT-owned brands specify in their contracts a price rise of inflation plus an extra 3.9%.

As long as these increases are in your contract there's nothing you can do - just be sure to read the terms of your deal properly before you sign up in the first place.

But if the price has gone up at a level that you didn't agree to, Ofcom rules say that you can quit your contract without penalty so long as you give notice within 30 days of your provider telling you they're raising their prices.

You must act quickly, then, but don't jump the gun. If you were on a particularly good deal before, it may still be competitive even after the increase. Compare the prices first to make sure - you'll be annoyed at a mid-contract price hike, but that isn't a good enough reason on its own to quit.

Do you need bundles?

Bundles including premium TV or mobile coverage can save you a lot of money, but they're also an easy way for a provider to upsell you things you don't necessarily need. They bring an element of lock-in as well, since the more services you get from one company, the harder it seems to switch.

When taking out a bundle, make sure you only sign up to the things you want - the TV channels you actually watch, the data allowance you will use.

This applies to landline call bundles too. They can be tempting as they seem like an easy way to save money. Just make sure you actually use your landline as much as you think (nowadays, there's a good chance you don't!).

Are you willing to switch?

So many people get stuck on bad deals because they think that switching providers is too much hassle. It really isn't. The process is a lot easier than you probably realise.

In fact, if you're switching between two providers that use the Openreach network - which includes the likes of BT, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk, and many more - then your new supplier will take care of the whole process for you.

And if you really don't want to switch, at least get in touch with your current provider to see if you can negotiate a lower price. If you're at or near the end of your contract they'll often be more than willing to do you a deal.

Are you ready to start shopping for a better value broadband deal? Use our postcode checker to find the best plans available where you live, or call us for some free, impartial advice.


Laptop with a picture of fast city lights on the screen

Is it time to upgrade to ultrafast broadband?

Posted by Andy Betts on in FeaturesTrueSpeedSkyEEVirgin MediaVodafoneCommunity FibreGigaclear

With the upgrade to our broadband infrastructure being accelerated, ultrafast broadband is becoming more accessible with each passing day.

So you might now be wondering, is it time to upgrade to a faster deal? But what exactly do you get, and what are the benefits to ultrafast broadband? Let's take a look.

What is ultrafast broadband?

Anything with a download speed over 100Mb can be classified as ultrafast.

There are a lot of different technologies that are able to deliver these faster speeds, including upgraded street cabinets that use the technology, Virgin Media's cable and fibre network, and the growing number of full fibre, or fibre-to-the-home, services that are being rolled out across the country.

Coverage is still quite patchy, but a majority of UK homes can get an ultrafast service from at least one provider, with as many as 59% able to get speeds of at least 300Mb.

Do you need ultrafast broadband?

While faster is very much better, the normal fibre broadband connections that most of us still use are extremely capable.

A 67Mb connection is good enough to allow you watch Netflix or Amazon Prime in 4K, and can download a 1GB file in just a touch over two minutes. You shouldn't experience too much in the way of problems, even with a fairly busy household.

But remember, your available bandwidth is divided between all the devices connected to your network. The more devices you add, the more likely you are to experience slowdowns on some of your tasks - your videos drop to a lower resolution, your downloads take longer, and so on. Ultrafast broadband reduces the chances of this happening, and the faster your connection, the less likely it gets. It allows you to connect more devices, and more people, without putting any limits on what they can do.

So while you might not have a desperate need for ultrafast, right now, there are lots of good reasons why it will benefit you.

  • Your browsing in general will speed up. You'll notice it especially with complex web apps like Google Docs, or photo heavy sites. You get a shorter ping rate, too, which means better online gaming.
  • You will experience much faster downloads. This isn't just files you're actively downloading on your laptop, but other things like those Windows 10 updates that happen in the background, video game downloads, and even Ultra HD movies you load on your Sky Q box. For reference, a 5GB file will take over 10 minutes to download on a 67Mb connection, and just 42 seconds with gigabit broadband.
  • Along with faster downloads, you also get much faster uploads. Full fibre broadband is symmetric, which means the upload and download speeds are the same. If you work from home, especially, this could be a huge benefit.
  • Ultrafast broadband is future-proof. Internet use on the Openreach network, which covers most UK broadband suppliers, more than doubled throughout 2020. Yes, it was driven in part by lockdown, but it was also the continuation of a long established trend that's unlikely to change any time soon.
  • In some cases, ultrafast broadband might also be your best option. Lots of rural areas, as well as new build homes, have frankly terrible options when it comes to fibre-to-the-cabinet broadband - and some don't have it at all. But full fibre is independent of the old copper-based network, so you might increasingly find that it's your best, and maybe, only choice.

Can you get ultrafast broadband?

The provider with the widest ultrafast broadband coverage throughout the country is Virgin Media. They're available to approaching two-thirds of the UK and they offer speeds up to an average 630Mb. Vodafone, EE and Sky are among the other big providers that can offer ultrafast broadband at varying speeds.

There's also a big growth in the number of specialist full fibre providers, some focussing on specific regions. These include Community Fibre in parts of London and TrueSpeed in the South West, while Gigaclear target rural areas in 22 counties across the Midlands and south of England. Coverage is improving all the time, as are the range of options available to everyone.

Are you ready to upgrade to ultrafast broadband? Use our postcode checker to find out if it's available in your street already.


A couple watching TV

What broadband speed do you need for your smart TV?

Posted by Andy Betts on in FeaturesSkyBTTalkTalkPlusnetVirgin MediaVodafone

If you're splashing out on a big screen smart TV, perhaps to watch the Euros or to build your dream Home Cinema experience, it's worth also checking to make sure that your broadband package is up to scratch.

It's not really a big deal if you've gone for a smaller set, but if you're rocking a 65 inch screen or more, you want the best resolution you can get. 4K streaming is a must.

So what exactly do you need? When it comes to broadband for TV streaming, how fast is fast enough? Let's take a look.

What speeds do you need?

First, load up our speed test tool, go and stand next to your telly and run it a couple of times. This will give you an idea of the speeds your TV is able to get.

Now, you can compare the results to the speed requirements for many of the most popular streaming services:

  • BBC iPlayer - 4K: 24Mb, HD: 5MB. (iPlayer currently only offers a few shows in 4K, including the whole of the Euro 2020 competition.)
  • NOW TV - 1080p HD: 12Mb (There's no 4K option at the moment.)
  • Netflix - 4K: 25Mb, HD: 5Mb
  • Amazon - 4K: 15Mb, HD: 5Mb
  • Disney+ - 4K: 25Mb, HD 5Mb
  • Apple TV+ - 4K, 15Mb, HD: 8Mb

You might need to upgrade your subscription to get 4K streaming on some of these services. They will stream in 4K if your connection is fast enough, but will drop down to 1080p HD (and potentially even lower) if it isn't, so you don't have to worry about adjusting the settings of your streaming apps to find the appropriate quality.

Smart TVs use the same bandwidth as dedicated streaming sticks or set-top boxes, so the requirement is the same if you're using one of those instead - it's based on the software rather than the hardware.

And if you're wondering whether streaming uses more bandwidth than downloading, it's basically the same. You can technically download at a higher quality on a slower connection if you're willing to wait long enough, although you wound't want to do that too often. The big difference is for live TV, where you're always reliant on your internet connection when streaming, as compared to an aerial, cable or dish, where you always get the highest quality available, regardless.

How can you speed up the internet for your smart TV?

If you're struggling with buffering or pixellated images, or you're concerned you aren't getting the maximum quality available, there are a few things you can try.

  • Check your TV has a good Wi-Fi signal to begin with - you can usually see this if you delve into the TV's W-Fi settings. The weaker your signal, the slower your connection might be, and if it gets too weak, there's where you're likely to encounter problems.
  • If you have a weak connection, make sure there are no electrical devices nearby that can cause interference, like a cordless phone.
  • Also, you could try moving your router so that there are no heavy, physical objects like large bookcases that could block the signal.
  • Most smart TVs should have an Ethernet port around the back, so you can plug in a cable direct from your router to ensure a fast, consistent connection. Alternatively, you could use something like a Powerline adapter to extend your network coverage into a room where your Wi-Fi performance tends to be less than stellar.

The best broadband for your smart TV

As you can see from the speed requirements above, even 4K streaming is easily within the capabilities of almost all fibre packages, assuming you don't live too far away from your nearest street cabinet. This can cause a big drop-off in your download speeds.

The complication comes when you factor in what the rest of your household is doing while you're watching.

A typical entry level fibre deal, with 36Mb download speeds, comfortably exceeds the 25Mb requirement for 4K. But if you've got kids YouTubing and FaceTiming, and a partner in your home office downloading, all at the same time, your bandwidth will be spread a lot more thinly. Suddenly, that 4K streaming could be off limits.

So what speeds should you go for? Assuming a busy household, a top-end fibre-to-the-cabinet package should be the minimum. These have speeds in the region of 63-66Mb, and are enough for a few people to be busy online at the same time. Vodafone, TalkTalk and Plusnet are among the providers that offer great value fibre deals with these speeds.

But you should go faster for a larger household, to get the peace of mind that your connection will always be speedy enough to meet your needs. Most providers offer packages faster than 100Mb, including Sky, BT and Virgin Media.

If you're ready to upgrade to get the best TV and Home Cinema experience possible, use our postcode checker to discover the best broadband deals available in your area today.


Man with laptop on the phone

Broadband providers still need to improve support for vulnerable customers

Posted by Andy Betts on in FeaturesEEBTPlusnetOnestreamSSEHyperopticTalkTalkVodafoneVirgin MediaNOW BroadbandSkyJohn LewisShell EnergyCommunity FibreKCOMZen

We've all got horror stories about bad customer service. But it's people with health, financial or emotional problems that are still having the most inconsistent experiences when they contact their broadband provider's customer service team.

That's the big finding from research by Ofcom, which looked at the progress the industry has made since the watchdog last year published its guidelines for treating vulnerable customers fairly.

They found that while some users received extra support due to their circumstances, and others reported positive experiences despite the provider not knowing about their vulnerability, the overall service was still patchy.

It suggested that people's experiences were heavily dependent on the member of staff they spoke to, with no guarantee they would get to deal with the same person twice.

It suggests there's still plenty of room for improvement in the training of customer support teams.

What makes a customer vulnerable?

Vulnerabilities come in many forms. They include physical and mental health problems, debt or unemployment, bereavement, or even becoming a victim of crime.

Unsurprisingly, the number of vulnerable customers has increased during the pandemic and its subsequent economic fallout.

While Ofcom rules require all providers to have policies in place for helping vulnerable customers, it isn't always easy for them to automatically tell if someone needs extra support. If you regard yourself as being in a vulnerable group, or if your circumstances have recently changed (you might have lost your job, for example), you should contact your broadband supplier and let them know.

They'll add that information to your account, and it should inform any relevant future interactions you have with them.

What kind of support can you get?

With the definition of vulnerable being quite broad and varied, the types of support you can get are also broad and varied.

  • You should have access to a range of communications channels to speak to customer support. This could include text relay services or support in different languages.
  • You should be given the time to get help, support and advice on managing debts without the threat of enforcement action.
  • Providers could consider giving you a payment holiday to help you manage cashflow issues.
  • Providers should give you information and advice on tariffs to ensure you don't end up paying more than you should. Vulnerable people are the most likely to remain on expensive out-of-contract deals.
  • Broadband providers should regard disconnection as a last resort.

Broadband providers' vulnerability policies

Ofcom's guidance expects a number of things from broadband suppliers. They should train their staff to be able to recognise the characteristics, behaviours and verbal cues of someone who might be vulnerable, so they can be proactive in offering support. They should identify vulnerable customers and record their needs. And they should make all of their customers aware of the kinds of support and services that they offer.

Many providers publish vulnerability policies. Some have specific support teams in place for vulnerable customers, and some make it easy for you to register your vulnerable status with them. This information will be treated in confidence, and is subject to all the usual data protection legislation.

Here are the relevant pages for many of the leading providers:

Some of the things you can expect include ways to improve access to support via text relay and NGT services or braille guides; simple instructions on using accessibility services like subtitles on TV; and specific policies and help for dealing with financial issues. Naturally, what's promised and what's delivered are not always the same thing, so check our user reviews to see our customers' experiences of their providers' tech support.

If you want to read the full Ofcom report, click here. Or if you want to compare the best broadband deals in your area today, use our postcode search tool to get started.


iPad by the pool

How to get Wi-Fi when you're on holiday

Posted by Andy Betts on in FeaturesO2VodafoneVirgin MobileEE MobileThree

Hopefully, holidays are back on the agenda this summer. And do we need them. But whether you're planning a staycation, or have decided to venture abroad, you'll also need Wi-Fi, so you can get local information, stay in touch with the rest of the world, and keep yourself entertained as you travel.

Fortunately, you've got a number of options, and they won't cost you a fortune to use them. Let's take a look at the cheapest ways to get Wi-Fi when you're holiday at home or abroad.

Hotel Wi-Fi

The best way to get Wi-Fi when you're abroad is likely to be through your hotel. Most have it these days, and many hotels and hotel chains offer it for free, sometimes with the option to upgrade to a faster service.

But you may need to take a precaution.

The rule when it comes to any public Wi-Fi service is that a password protected connection is better than something that's fully open, but that's still no guarantee that it's completely secure. This applies equally to your Airbnb rental or airport Wi-Fi as it does to hotels.

You don't need to worry about this if you're only doing some casual browsing. But if you're planning to log in to sensitive sites like your bank account, then you should set up and install a VPN first. This ensures your connection and data are fully encrypted. Alternatively, you could just use your phone and its data connection for these tasks, so that you bypass the Wi-Fi altogether.

Hotel Wi-Fi can vary quite a lot in terms of performance. Some may or may not be very good, and you might find that some bandwidth-heavy services like Netflix are blocked. If you have the chance to upgrade to a faster service then that would be the best way to use these types of sites, but keep in mind that you'll likely be paying for 24 hours of access, so the fees could rack up over the course of your stay.

Mobile broadband

Another good option for getting Wi-Fi at home or abroad is through a mobile broadband service from providers like Virgin Mobile, EE, O2, Vodafone and Three.

These use the 4G or 5G phone network to give you internet access through a personal mobile router to which you can connect all your devices. You can also use it with a dongle connected to your laptop, or on a SIM-enabled iPad, although both of these options make it a little harder to share your connection with your other gadgets.

Mobile providers haven't reintroduced roaming charges post-Brexit, so you can use your mobile broadband allowance in many other countries. You should check where before your sign up - coverage is mostly for EU countries, so if you're heading further afield the price may be prohibitively expensive.

Even within the EU you might have fair usage limitations placed on some packages. And, of course, you'll be reliant on mobile coverage wherever you are. Head off for a city break and you'll be fine; go camping in the countryside and you might want to check the coverage maps for the area first.

Staying in the UK? You can use our Signalchecker service to check mobile phone coverage throughout the country.

Your phone's plan

Don't forget also that iPhones and Android phones can be set up as wireless hotspots, enabling you to get your laptop or tablet online wherever you are.

You'll find the option in Settings > Personal Hotspot on most iPhones, and on most Android phones you'll find it by swiping down twice from the top of the screen to open the Quick Settings panel, then tapping the Hotspot or Mobile Hotspot option.

Using your phone as a hotspot works in the same way as a separate mobile broadband plan, and can be a good option if you've got a decent data allowance. You'll get the same coverage without roaming charges across the EU, but will have to pay a lot more elsewhere. In either case, keep an eye on your data use. You'll have to buy top-ups in advance if you overshoot what your plan allows.

There may be other restrictions, too. If you've got an unlimited plan, check that it allows for tethering (connecting devices via the hotspot feature), and note that there may be a fair use policy in place.

Any one of these methods, or a combination, could be right for you. If you decide that you want the security and flexibility of a personal Wi-Fi system, check out the best mobile broadband deals available right now.


Laptop on a coffee table

How to improve your broadband speed without upgrading

Posted by Andy Betts on in Features

Even with a good fibre broadband connection, we all have times when we wish that our internet speeds were just that little bit faster.

The obvious answer is to upgrade to something better, of course. But that's not always convenient. You might be halfway through a contract, or maybe you don't want to pay extra.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can try to improve your broadband speeds without upgrading. Let's take a look.

First, test your speed

The first thing you need to do is test your broadband speed and see how it compares to what you should be getting. While you can take steps to optimise your connection, you can't get it to run faster than what you're actually paying for.

You should have been given a speed estimate when you first signed up. Head over to our Speed Test page and run through the test a couple of times to get an average of your connection's performance. Now compare it to that estimate.

If it's broadly the same then there's not much you can do to improve it. If you want faster broadband, upgrading may be your only option.

But assuming there is room to eke out a little bit more speed, there are a few things you can try.

Reduce interference

Most of us get online via a Wi-Fi router that is plugged in to a phone socket. This is prone to interference which can affect your broadband speed. For best results, try and make sure that your router is connected to a microfilter (which reduces interference) and that that is plugged in directly to the master socket, not any extensions or splitters you may be using.

You should also have microfilters on any other phone sockets around your house. Some broadband suppliers will provide you with these for free, so contact them if you don't have any. If not, they only cost a few pounds each.

Also, try and keep the phone cable that connects your router and phone socket as short as it needs to be. The further a signal has to travel, the worse it may get.

Perfect your router position

The position of your router in your house is really important in affecting what speeds you'll get. Many of us will simply plonk the router down near the phone or cable socket that it's connected to, and as long as the signal reaches all rooms of the house, that's good enough.

Expect it might not be good enough. The input socket is likely to be attached to an outside wall, while the best position for a router is somewhere central.

Experiment with different places to keep your router - a central area and raised some way off the ground would be a good start, but don't put it near other electronic devices like cordless phones or microwaves which can cause radio frequency interference.

If your signal doesn't cover your whole house, you can try positioning the router closer to the areas where it's most important to have a connection. Or you could consider installing a powerline or mesh network to extend the range of your Wi-Fi.

Manage your traffic

Some modern routers automatically manage your internet data use, to give priority to certain activities. For example, video calls or streaming TV need a steady consistent connection, so they may get greater priority than something like file downloads, where it doesn't matter if the speed fluctuates.

You can do this manually as well, just by being aware of who's online, what they're doing, and when. You can schedule Windows updates and other big download to happen overnight, for instance, or if you need to upload a large file for work you could ensure that no-one else in your home is performing bandwidth-intensive tasks at the same time.

These kinds of things are most likely to show benefits on slower connections. Most decent fibre services have enough headroom to enable several people to be busy online at the same time.

Check your hardware

Broadband speed is only one part of the story - the devices you're using are the other part. You can make big perceived improvements to your internet speed by improving the performance of your hardware. An overburdened laptop, for example, might struggle with 4K streaming even if your broadband connection is up to the task.

A few things you can try are making sure that your devices are all fully up to date, including both the operating system and apps. Run a virus scan, shut down any programs running in the background that you don't need (and watch for those that set themselves to launch automatically when you start your computer), and restart your kit regularly - including your phone, which is often overlooked.

If you're using a particularly old laptop, treating yourself to a new one is likely to make everything you do online seem a whole lot more snappy and responsive.

Consider upgrading after all

By taking a few simple steps you can make sure you are fully maximising your broadband performance. But there's only so far that will take you. While you can squeeze out a little more speed, it's also possible that your needs have simply outgrown the deal you've signed up to. In which case, it may be time to upgrade after all.

If you're at the end, or coming to the end, of your existing contract, then it's the ideal time to shop around and see what else is available. And even if you've still got months to go on your deal, most providers will be more than happy to let you upgrade to a faster plan if you sign a new contract with them.

Use out postcode checker to find the very best broadband deals available where you are.