Posted on 2020-02-07 14:32 in Features
From supermarkets to shopping centres, airports to train stations, public Wi-Fi is everywhere. It's convenient and very often free. What's not to love?
Unfortunately, using a public Wi-Fi hotspot does carry risks. In fact, without taking a few precautions you could have your data intercepted, login or bank details stolen, or see your computer infected with malware.
How does this happen? One of the biggest threats is something called a man-in-the-middle attack. This is where hackers are able to exploit vulnerabilities on a network to position themselves between you and the Wi-Fi hotspot, enabling them to snoop on your activities or even divert you to fake websites where they can steal your data. You won't even notice it's happening.
Public Wi-Fi can also potentially be used to distribute viruses and other malware to connected devices. And with the rise in the number of public hotspots, some of the hotspots themselves may even be wholly fake. They might present themselves as being connected to the coffee shop you're sat in, but are in fact created for malicious purposes.
These risks apply whether you're connected with a laptop, tablet or your phone.
Stay safe on public Wi-Fi
This is not to say that you shouldn't use public Wi-Fi at all. The good news is that by taking a few simple steps, and understanding the potential problems, you can remove most of the risk. Here are your public Wi-Fi dos and don'ts:
Don't just connect to a random hotspot. Don't be tempted to hop onto any old wireless network within range, make sure you know what it is first. Ideally, choose secure networks - password protected and possibly even paid - over free, open ones.
Make sure the hotspot is legit. Just because the hotspot is called "Hotel Wi-Fi" it doesn't mean it's an official service. Always check that you're connecting to the right network, and if you have to ask staff for the password or get it off a receipt or leaflet then that's even better.
Don't set your device to automatically connect. Make sure your devices aren't set to join open networks as they come within range.
Use a VPN for full protection. A VPN is a piece of software that encrypts and secures your connection to the internet. Even if someone does manage to intercept your data they won't be able to do anything with it. See our guide on why and how to use a VPN for more information.
Keep your devices up to date. This should go without saying, but make sure you install all available updates on your laptop and other devices. Use antivirus software and a firewall for extra security. Some broadband providers offer free antivirus tools for their users, so check to see if yours does.
Try to avoid logging in to sensitive sites. Here's the simplest way to stay safe on public Wi-Fi: just don't use it for anything important. If you need to check your bank account use the app on your phone instead, connected to your mobile network.
Keep an eye on your surroundings. It's not just virtual snoopers you need to watch out for. "Shoulder surfing" is a real thing - it's the most low-tech form of hacking, where someone literally watches over your shoulder as you type in your password.
Use mobile broadband. If you need to use the internet regularly when you're not at home or in the office, you might be better off signing up to a mobile broadband deal rather than relying on public services. Not only will it be much more secure, you're likely to find it faster and more reliable, too. Want to know more? Browse the best mobile broadband deals now.
Posted on 2020-01-31 17:15 in News Vodafone EE Sky
Vodafone home broadband have once again topped industry watchdog Ofcom's list of shame as the most complained about of the 8 biggest broadband suppliers. By contrast, EE and Sky have shared the glory as the least complained-about providers.
Ofcom complaint figures for the 3rd quarter of last year show that Vodafone garnered 26 complaints per every 100,000 customers between July and September 2019. This was an improvement on the 30 per 100,000 they hit in the previous quarter, but was still close to double the industry average. Almost 4 in 10 of the grievances related to faults and service issues.
In a difficult period, Vodafone also topped the chart for the most landline complaints (18 per 100,000) and were joint top for mobile (7 per 100,000, with Virgin Mobile).
Of the rest of the Big Eight, Plusnet, TalkTalk and Virgin Media also generated an above average number of complaints. At the end of 2018 Plusnet were by far the most complained about provider with a whopping 43 complaits per 100,000 subscribers, but they have improved every quarter since and are now equal to TalkTalk. Meanwhile Virgin Media saw the biggest rise in complaints across 2019, having started at 10 per 100,000 in the first quarter. Across the board, the main causes of the gripes were complaints handling (32%), faults and service issues (31%), and billing problems (20%).
Meanwhile, EE and Sky were shown to be the Big Eight providers that left their users feeling happiest. Their 5 complaints each per 100,000 customers was nearly two-thirds less than the overall industry average and less than a fifth of the complaint levels received by Vodafone Home Broadband.
Here's the full rundown of the Big Eight's broadband complaints per every 100,000 customers:
Ofcom's Telecoms and Pay TV Complaints report is released quarterly, and covers providers with a market share of over 1.5%. It counts complaints received by the regulator, but doesn't include those sent directly to the provider or any other body.
The report also covers landline (worst performer: Vodafone; best performer: EE), mobile (worst: Vodafone and Virgin Media; best: Tesco Mobile), and pay TV services (worst: Virgin Media; best: Sky).
How to compare smaller broadband providers
Ofcom's research comes in very handy when you're shopping for a new broadband provider, as it gives you a good overview of the general performance of each company. But it does exclude the smaller providers who often offer interesting services, such as the no-contract deals from NOW Broadband or the near-gigabit internet from Hyperoptic.
So what can you do if you're considering one of these companies? Our broadband listings measure overall user satisfaction levels for each provider, as well as their performance on customer service, speed and reliability issues. You can see their most recent ratings or a historic figure for all time, allowing you to judge whether their performance has worsened over time. Zen Broadband currently top our rankings.
Along with the ratings we've got over 20,000 user reviews across all the providers. It gives you an unmatched insight into the kind of experience you'll get with each company, and what issues you may or may not have with them.
You can see all the scores on our Broadband Reviews page, and just click through to read the feedback for each broadband. We'd also encourage you to leave a rating and review of your own, even if you have no complaints. The more information we share, the easier it becomes to choose the right broadband provider.
Posted on 2020-01-24 17:20 in Features
Online scams are a billion pound industry in the UK. Their number, type and sophistication are growing all the time.
You don't have to fall victim, though. So long as you know what to look for, and how to avoid them, you can go a long way towards keeping yourself - and your bank account - safe. Here's how to spot scam emails and websites.
- It doesn't look professional. Typos and general bad English are a common sight in many online scams, and are an immediate warning that something is off.
- It demands urgent action. A lot of scam emails try to frighten you into acting quickly, without thinking about what you're doing. These are often security-related - your Google account has been compromised, or the Inland Revenue is about to take you to court for an unpaid tax bill, and so on.
- The contact was unexpected. Most email scams are not targeted, they're sent to thousands of people in the hope that someone will be snared. If you receive an email out of the blue, treat it with caution, or just delete it. Similarly, companies are unlikely to contact you by tracking you down on WhatsApp or some other random service.
- They request personal information. No reputable business will ever ask you for sensitive personal information, especially bank details, passwords or PINs in an email.
- The deal's too good to be true. The old adage: if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don't be tempted by offers of free money, even if it's a tax rebate - a common scam itself.
- They ask for unusual payment methods. You get a layer of protection when you pay for something by credit card or through a service like PayPal. Being asked to pay in an unusual way - through a bank transfer, bitcoin or even iTunes vouchers - is an immediate red flag.
- It contains threats. Not all scams try to convince you they're innocent. Some are open attempts at extortion. An email might claim your webcam has been hacked and you've been spied on (spoiler alert: it hasn't). It might mention one of your old passwords or part of your phone number to make you feel even more vulnerable. Don't worry, most likely this has been leaked by some other service that was hacked and is now freely available online. Delete and move on.
How to avoid being scammed
Knowing what to look out for is the first step towards avoiding falling victim to a scam. On top of that there are a number of other steps you can take to keep yourself safe.
First of all, be suspicious. Simply being aware of the prevalence of online scams should help you continually question the emails you receive and the websites you visit. Don't give out passwords, PINs or other sensitive information because genuine companies will never ask for it. Keep an eye out for topical scams as well. When the holiday firm Thomas Cook went bust recently, a bogus website sprung up claiming to be able to help customers claim back their money.
Also, watch out for scams that start offline. While you're looking out for dodgy emails and websites, it's easy to be thrown off guard by approaches you weren't expecting. This could be a call from someone claiming to be from your broadband provider, or from Microsoft tech support, or from Amazon, or Visa. Or a text message from a courier asking you to re-arrange delivery of a package. All of which will lead you to either hand over your credit card details, or install remote access software that gives a scammer control of your computer. These can be extra hard to spot because caller ID can be spoofed to make it look as though the call is genuine.
Try to verify who has sent an email by looking at the address in both the From and Reply To fields, and also check the URL of any websites you visit. When you visit important sites like your bank, type the address directly into your browser or use a bookmark rather than clicking a link.
And try and use reputable sites when you're shopping, or at least check online reviews of a business before you hand over any money. There's a growing market for ticket scams, where a slick-looking website sells high priced concert tickets that don't actually exist.
Above all, exercise good PC health. Use anti-virus software (some broadband providers offer this for free). Don't re-use passwords. Check your online accounts regularly for any suspicious activity. Don't share too much personal information on social media, and restrict who can see it. And if you do encounter an attempted scam, always report it.
Posted on 2020-01-17 18:43 in Features
"Alexa, tell me what's been the hottest gadget of the last few years."
The Amazon Echo range of smart speakers have been a smash hit. They're helping to usher in the next generation of consumer tech, where we can chat to our devices instead of being glued to their screens.
One of the things that makes them so popular is how easy to use they are. They're good to go straight out of the box. Yet even so, there's still a few tweaks you can make if you want to improve an Echo's security and your privacy.
1. Set up a PIN to prevent voice purchases
Alexa makes it easy to shop on Amazon. Maybe too easy. If you'd like to control who can purchase things on your Echo, or put an obstacle in the way of your impulse buys, you can. Sign in at alexa.amazon.co.uk and set up a four digit PIN.
To enter your PIN on an Amazon Echo you have to speak it out loud, so it's not exactly an uncrackable security system. Think of it more as a way to prevent accidental purchases. Alternatively, you can disable voice purchasing entirely. You'll still be able to add things to your cart, but you need to complete the purchase on your phone or laptop.
2. Change the wake word
The Echo leaps into action the moment it hears its name. It's mostly pretty great, but isn't ideal if you've got more than one of the devices in your house, and could become outright annoying if you happen to live with someone called Alexa.
Fortunately, you can change the wake word if you need to, via the app. You don't get to set it to literally any word you want, you have to pick it from an approved list. Your options include things like "Echo", "Amazon" or "Computer".
3. Delete your voice recordings from time to time
If you're concerned about the privacy implications of smart speakers, you can allay some of your fears by clearing out your Voice History from time to time. You can do this on either the app or the website, where you'll see transcripts of all the voice commands you've given to your Alexa device. By default, they'll remain on Amazon's servers forever, so it's a good idea to find and remove any that you don't want to keep (or just get rid of them all).
4. Protect your privacy
Here's a bonus tip for the tinfoil hat brigade. Your Echo only starts recording when you say the wake word, but it is listening all the time. If you aren't comfortable with that you can turn off voice activation entirely by pressing the microphone button. It'll stay off until you press it again (although it can be hard to tell if it's off). If you've got an Echo with a built-in camera, you might want to use the cover supplied to ensure there's no risk of surreptitious filming, too.
And to complete your privacy upgrade, head over to the Echo settings and deactivate the "Use Voice Recordings to Improve Amazon Services and to Develop New Features" option. This prevents any of your recordings being accessible to Amazon workers for research purposes.
5. Don't overuse Alexa Skills
Alexa Skills are little apps you can install to upgrade the functionality of your Amazon Echo. You can use them to control your thermostat, give you a workout, book an Uber, and much more. But whenever third party apps are involved there's a slight security risk.
We'd recommend giving the privacy policies of your chosen Skills a quick once over to make sure they aren't going to snaffle your data; try to stick to popular, well-rated Skills; and uninstall any that you no longer use.
6. Beef up your router's security
Finally, whenever you connect up a new device that's accessible to the outside world, it's a good idea to double check that your router's security is as sound as it could be. Take a look at our guide on how to secure your router for the full lowdown on keeping your home network safe.
Posted on 2020-01-10 18:42 in News Virgin Media
Are you a Virgin Media customer who joined before 1st December 2019 on one of their 54Mbps M50 packages? If so, the chances are you're eligible for a free upgrade to the M100 package, with average speeds of 108Mbps! This means that over half a million customers can expect to see their average downloads speeds double, and some may even see their speeds increase up to 5 times more! These upgrades are automatically rolling out now, no need for you to do anything to take advantage of it. You'll be emailed when the upgrade is complete, and you can enjoy your new, zippier download speeds.
What does this speed increase mean in practical terms? Well, you won't really see a big difference for simple, every day tasks such as browsing the internet, watching cat videos on YouTube and streaming music; these are all things you can do on a standard broadband connection. Where it will have a big impact is if you stream TV and films in UHD (4K), especially if several members of your household want to watch different things at the same time. 50Mbps is enough to stream a UHD film for one person, but more than that and your connection may start to struggle.
This speed upgrade will also benefit gamers, who frequently download games, large updates and patches, and these can take quite a while to grab. The average game is between 30GB to 50GB in size (and they keep getting bigger, with the likes of Red Dead Redemption 2 hitting around 150GB). A 30GB game takes nearly 90 minutes to download on a 50Mbps connection, whereas it would take just over 40 minutes with a 100Mbps. So the faster your download speed, the faster you'll be playing your games.
If you're not one of the lucky ones to get your speed doubled, you may still be able to get a better speed from your provider without paying any extra! Our newly updated Upgrades Guide tells you what you need to know.
Posted on 2019-12-24 15:59 in Features
Passwords. Ugh! You use dozens of them every day, but do you really give any thought to how good they are? Are they actually keeping your accounts safe, or are they as secure as leaving a key under the doormat?
Online security can seem both complicated and boring, a lethal combination that means we don't take it as seriously as we should. Yet it doesn't have to be. With just a few simple steps you can lock down all your accounts in no time.
Don't re-use passwords on important accounts...
It's hard enough to remember five passwords, let along 50 or 500. That's why we all get lured into creating one decent password and using it over and over again. You've been told this before: it's a really bad idea.
Here's the problem. Online services get hacked all the time; they get infected with malware; sometimes they just go wrong. And it usually results in a data breach that exposes their users' info.
And is isn't just limited to small or obscure websites. Brands of all sizes and all kinds get hit - from TalkTalk to Teletext Holidays to Marriot Hotels. They've all leaked data at one time or another.
Very often it's email addresses and passwords that get exposed. They get posted (or sold) online where anyone can see them, for whatever reason. If your password happens to be among them, and you've re-used it on other sites, all your accounts on those sites are at risk.
You can check if your email address is associated with any data breaches at haveibeenpwned.com. If it has, make sure you didn't re-use the password associated with the breached account. And if you did, change them now, and make sure they're not on the list of most commonly used passwords.
...but you can on unimportant accounts
All that said, there are times when it is perfectly acceptable to re-use passwords, though we'd recommend tweaking them a little bit to include the initials of the site or service just to add an extra bit of security while still being easy to remember.
While you'll obviously want to lock down accounts that contain your personal or financial details, most of us use countless services and sites where security doesn't matter at all. We're thinking online forums, and other random services that you log into once to maybe ask a question or read an article, and then forget about.
For those that don't contain any kind of personal or finiancial information, and you wouldn't care if you lost access to them tomorrow, feel free to use and re-use simple passwords as much as you like. But you do need to be sure that these accounts don't have access to anything else, such as social media accounts, or display any information you don't want public, such as your email address.
Managing your online security is a hassle. By cutting the number of important passwords you need to track, you can make it just a little easier.
Try using a single sign in on unimportant sites
Chances are you have a Facebook and/or Google account. Both of these should be locked down with very secure passwords as they contain a lot of personal and probably financial details - you don't want anyone getting into them. Many sites allow you to create accounts that are essentially tied to your Facebook or Google account, which means you can securely sign in with those credentials without having to create a whole new account and generate yet another secure password. If your Facebook and Google accounts are secure, they should be, too, and in the event that they do get hacked, changing your Facebook and Google passwords means those other accounts are covered as well.
Think passphrase instead of password
wgW7!@G%^45P. That's what a secure password looks like. It mixes uppercase and lowercase, numbers and special characters, and is pretty well uncrackable. It's also impossible to remember (and incredibly annoying to type).
An easy to remember password is, by definition, a bad password. But there is a neat compromise. When it comes to passwords, it turns out that length can actually be more important than complexity. So instead of coming up with short but complex passwords, try using a passphrase instead.
What is a passphrase? It's a much longer, more memorable alternative. Just pick four or five random words - they need to be genuinely random, don't use song titles or a line from a book - and string them together. You'll find it a whole lot easier to remember, yet the length gives it its security.
Want a bit of extra security? Use some special characters between words. Not all sites allow this, but where they do, take advantage of it. 'ThisRandomPassphrase' can be harder to crack if it's changed to 'This&Random&Passphrase'. If you can remember something slightly more complicated, you can also switch out letters with numbers and symbols that resemble them. For example, replace 'a' with '@' or 'e' with '3', and you have 'This&R@ndom&P@ssphr@s3'. As long as you can remember your scheme, you're good to go.
Use a password manager
Wouldn't it be great if you only ever had to remember one password? It is possible. Many security experts recommend using a password manager, a piece of software that locks and encrypts all your login credentials in a single place. You only need to remember the master password - so make sure it's a good one.
When you use a password manager you don't have to worry about making passwords memorable, so they can be as complex as you like. Most of the tools will offer to generate them for you. As a handy extra, they'll also automatically fill in your details on websites and apps when you visit them.
The best password managers work across your desktop, laptop and phone. Among the ones we recommend are:
What about getting your browser to save your passwords instead? That's also safe up to a point. Browsers do encrypt passwords, although anyone who's got access to your laptop or phone will be able to use them without any further checks.
And the most low-tech password manager of all? A piece of paper, kept in a safe place. We wouldn't recommend it at work, but for many of us it'll be fine at home.
Set up two-factor authentication
Getting your passwords up to scratch is the first step to improving your online security. There's one other thing you should do to properly lock down your most important accounts: use two-factor authentication (2FA).
The techie name doesn't help, but the idea behind 2FA is really simple. When you try to log in to a website or app that has it enabled, you have to enter both your password and one other piece of information - usually a short code sent to your phone by text or to an app. What it means is that even if someone does get hold of your password, they still can't log in to your account unless they have physical access to your phone.
You've probably used it already. Any time a bank texts you a code in order to verify a payment you're making, it's an example of 2FA in action. You can activate 2FA on all your main accounts - Google, Facebook, Amazon, PayPal and so on - and you really should.
If given the choice, use an app rather than SMS, since it's more secure. Authy is the best app to use, and it's pretty easy to set up, too.
Keep it simple
Managing passwords is no-one's idea of a fun afternoon. But weigh it up against the thought of losing access to your email, or having someone get into your bank account, and you realise it's well worth doing. The tips above show that a good security policy is not only safer, it's simpler too. And reducing the number of passwords you have to remember has got to be a good thing, right?
For more advice on online security check out our guides to setting up parental controls on your broadband, and how and why you need to change your router's security settings.
Posted on 2019-12-06 14:49 in News
We've already taken a look at the national parties' broadband policies for the upcoming election. But if you're in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, you've got other parties in the hunt for your vote, too, so let's see what they've got to say.
"We will also press the UK Government to invest in digital connectivity including superfast broadband and 5G technology. Since 2013, we have increased broadband to 95% of premises across Scotland, on time and on budget. Now only the SNP is committed to providing access to superfast broadband to every home and business in Scotland, investing £600 million towards this, with the UK Government providing just £21 million of that.
"SNP MPs will press for Scotland to get its fair share of the £5 billion UK Government funding to roll out gigabit broadband to the hardest to reach areas. We will call on the Shared Rural Network to deliver 95% 4G mobile coverage in Scotland – as applies for the rest of the UK. And we will press for the current review into the UK Telecoms Supply Chain to be concluded promptly.
"SNP MPs will work to bridge the digital divide to improve the availability and affordability of broadband and mobile services. We will press the UK government to reclassify the internet as an essential service and support affordable housing providers to make the service available. We will also work with broadband and mobile service providers to make more affordable tariffs and packages more widely available – and call for the UK Government to legislate for a social tariff."
Although broadband policy, including funding and management, is the responsibility of the UK government, the Scottish Parliament does get to decide how the money is spent north of the border. It can also add extra funding on top of what comes from Westminster.
The SNP policy is mostly built around these two points. They want to provide extra money to continue the rollout of superfast broadband across the country, and secure a chunk of the £5 billion pledged to improve broadband coverage in rural areas. According to Ofcom data from May 2019, some 4% of premises in Scotland are unable to access a basic service offering 10Mb downloads and 1Mb uploads - a worse rate than in both England (2%) and Wales (3%).
"Creating a publicly owned Welsh Broadband Infrastructure Company to guarantee access to full-fibre broadband to every home and business in Wales by 2025.
"Cut the fibre tax - Fibre infrastructure currently has business rates applied to it, just like other commercial property. Plaid Cymru believes this discourages investment and should be rethought.
"New builds fit-for-purpose - Too many new homes are still being developed without provision for fibre broadband. Plaid Cymru wants all new build homes to incorporate gigabit-capable internet connections.
"Skills - A large number of engineers will be required to carry out all the work involved. Plaid Cymru would invest in training and skills for the industry to be able to meet the demand."
Only the first of the above policies has actually made the Plaid Cymru manifesto for 2019, and forms part of a series of infrastructure improvements under the banner of a "Green Jobs Revolution". The policy takes a similar line to Labour's plan of having the full-fibre rollout being handled by a publicly owned company, although they want to complete the job five years earlier. As of May 2019, 10% of premises in Wales had access to full-fibre broadband, a rate well above England and Scotland, but there's still a long way to go.
The other policies we've listed formed a three point plan the party unveiled in September. They are pretty much identical to the recommendations made by the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) in response to Boris Johnson's "full-fibre for all" announcement in the summer.
Northern Ireland Parties
Broadband in Northern Ireland is a mixture of good and bad. Full-fibre availability is by far the best in the UK, at 25% of premises, but broadband "not-spots" - where 5% of premises cannot access even a 10Mb connection - are the worst. Only two of the parties in Northern Ireland make reference to broadband in their manifestos, and in both cases it's merely a token mention.
"Digital network infrastructure, which connects us to the Internet, and to each other, is increasingly recognised as core economic infrastructure, like electricity, gas and water. They are central to tackling the UK’s productivity problem. The DUP will support:
- Full fibre networks for the UK.
- 5G network rollout."
"Continue to support the development of broadband, high-speed mobile internet access and similar telecommunications projects in such a way that ensures all parts of the UK benefit from this technology."
Posted on 2019-11-26 16:45 in News Features
As you might have noticed, there's an election coming up.
Obviously, broadband is not going to be one of the most important issues for most voters, yet it has played a surprisingly high profile role in the campaign so far, as parties use it as a way to show off their grand visions for Britain in the 2020s.
So what exactly are they promising? Fortunately, we've read the party manifestos so you don't have to. Here's what they're saying.
Conservatives broadband policy
"We intend to bring full fibre and gigabit-capable broadband to every home and business across the UK by 2025.
"We know how difficult it will be, so we have announced a raft of legislative changes to accelerate progress and £5 billion of new public funding to connect premises which are not commercially viable."
The Tory policy is based on Boris Johnson's "full fibre for everyone by 2025" plan that he announced during his party leadership campaign, which we looked at back in August. The reaction at the time was that, while it was a nice idea, the timescale was just too ambitious.
No surprise, then, that the plan has been subtly tweaked. The manifesto now talks about "gigabit-capable" broadband rather than focussing wholly on fibre-to-the-home. This presumably includes Virgin Media's network, and maybe even 5G, as the rollout of that accelerates over the next five years.
The Tories have pledged £5 billion of funding to cover rural and other hard to reach areas. The rest of the estimated £30 billion will come through private investment.
Labour broadband policy
"Labour will deliver free full-fibre broadband to all by 2030.
"We will establish British Broadband, with two arms: British Digital Infrastructure (BDI) and the British Broadband Service (BBS). We will bring the broadband-relevant parts of BT into public ownership, with a jobs guarantee for all workers in existing broadband infrastructure and retail broadband work.
"BDI will roll out the remaining 90–92% of the full-fibre network, and acquire necessary access rights to existing assets. BBS will coordinate the delivery of free broadband in tranches as the full-fibre network is rolled out, beginning with the communities worst served by existing broadband networks. Taxation of multinationals, including tech giants, will pay for the operating costs of the public full-fibre network."
Labour have the most eye-catching policy by far, and either the most exciting or controversial depending on your point of view.
The first part is the renationalisation of Openreach, the BT-owned company that controls the UK's broadband infrastructure, and is part of their broader plan to bring water, the Post Office and the railways back under public control. They would then continue the rollout of the full-fibre network, starting with rural areas, with a target date of 2030. They've allocated four times as much money to this as the Tories, funded largely by taxes on the likes of Facebook and Google.
The pledge to provide free full-fibre broadband to everyone grabbed the headlines, but in truth it looks more like a long-term goal than a firm policy. There's no real detail and no acknowledgement of the ways the broadband landscape will change over the next decade. Plus, there will be at least two more general elections before that 2030 deadline.
So how viable is all of this, and what are the implications? Read our full analysis of Labour's broadband policy to find out.
Liberal Democrats broadband policy
"A programme of installing hyper-fast, fibre-optic broadband across the UK – with a particular focus on connecting rural areas.
"Reform building standards to ensure that all new homes built from 2022 have full connectivity to ultra-fast broadband and are designed to enable the use of smart technologies.
"Prioritise small and medium-sized businesses in the rollout of hyper-fast broadband.
"Ensure that all households and businesses have access to superfast broadband (30Mbps download and 6Mbps upload). Invest £2 billion in innovative solutions to ensure the provision of high-speed broadband across the UK, working with local authorities and providing grants to help areas replicate the success of existing community-led projects."
The Lib Dems' main broadband policy - to install a hyperfast network, with an emphasis on rural areas - is similar to what the two biggest parties are promising. It isn't costed, though, and presumably has an open ended timetable given the nature of two of their other more interesting policies: ensuring that new homes can get ultrafast (not hyperfast) broadband, and the guarantee that everyone will get at least 30Mb internet. This is an upgrade on the current 10Mb standard, although still a long way short of the gigabit speeds being promised elsewhere.
The Brexit Party broadband policy
"Partner with service providers to offer free base level domestic broadband in deprived regions and free Wi-Fi on all public transport."
The Brexit Party's stated aim in this election is to target Leave-voting seats in Labour strongholds. With this in mind, their one-sentence internet policy appears purely designed to give campaigners on the doorstep a way to counter support for Labour's own (and more ambitious) free broadband plan. That's about all we can say about it, since there's no detail to go on - "base level" isn't defined, and we don't know exactly who will get it, when, or how much the whole plan will cost.
The Green Party broadband policy
"Better connect rural communities through reliable broadband and mobile internet, delivered through councils who understand local connection needs.
"Roll out high speed broadband."
Nobody is going to vote for the Greens based on their broadband policy, and they know it. They've kept it short: like most other parties they've acknowledged the pressing need to upgrade the infrastructure in rural areas, and that's about it.
Confused about some of the issues discussed in these manifestos? Read more about the challenges of rural broadband, the different types of fibre broadband, and how 5G may soon be our fastest way to access the internet.
Posted on 2019-11-22 16:05 in Features Sky BT
Struggling with patchy Wi-Fi coverage around your house? There's nothing worse than having no-go areas in your home where you can't get online to do some work or catch up on some Netflix. But what can you do?
First of all, try and nail down the problem. Load up our Speed Test tool on your phone or laptop, run it in every room and compare the results. It only takes a few seconds each time, and will give you the full picture of how good your Wi-Fi coverage is - or isn't.
And once you've identified the problem, let's take a look at how to fix it. We'll also provide some links to products on Amazon that you may find useful, though you can find many of these products in your local computer shop and many larger superstores as well.
BT Complete Wi-Fi guarantee
Broadband providers are starting to recognise the importance of full Wi-Fi coverage, and are offering performance guarantees so long as you're happy to pay a little extra.
BT are leading the way. Their Complete Wi-Fi service guarantees full internet throughout your house - with a speed of at least 10Mb - and uses special hardware to do it. As well as equipping you with BT's latest Smart Hub 2 router, they'll also give you a single Wi-Fi Disc.
And what is that? A Wi-Fi Disc is a small Wi-Fi extender that you can place upstairs (or wherever else your connection struggles to reach) that helps to push the signal into the furthest corners of every room. While this may sound complicated, it isn't. You can set one up in less than ten minutes, and the process is mostly automatic. In fact, by using the My BT app on your phone, it'll even recommend the ideal place to put the Disc for the best possible signal.
One Disc should be good enough for most homes, but if it doesn't get the job done you can claim another two Discs for free to eliminate any remaining dead spots. And if there's still parts of your house that aren't covered after that, BT will give you a £20 refund, too.
If you're tired of having to deal with spotty Wi-Fi coverage at home, BT's Complete Wi-Fi makes for a pretty compelling offer. You can add it for around £10 a month, or often pick up deals with it bundled as standard. If you're not with BT and don't plan to switch to them, BT Discs will work with any UK broadband provider, and can be purchased on Amazon.
Check out the latest BT Broadband deals.
Sky Wi-Fi Guarantee
Sky Broadband are also getting in on the act, with a Wi-Fi Guarantee that forms part of their Broadband Boost upgrade.
They promise you a Wi-Fi speed of at least 3Mb in every room. They'll help you get to this by giving you one Broadband Booster device which is similar, but not quite as cutting edge as BT's Discs. Or, if you prefer, they'll send out an engineer to fix any problems. If it still doesn't work they'll refund you everything you've paid for the Broadband Boost service and let you keep the other benefits for free for the rest of your contract.
What are the other benefits? As well as the Wi-Fi Guarantee, Sky Broadband Boost gives you free engineer visits (including evenings and weekends), daily line checks to sniff out problems with your connection, access to the Sky Broadband Buddy app with its parental controls, and 2GB of extra data when your broadband drops for more than 30 minutes - but only if you're a Sky Mobile user.
You can add Sky Broadband Boost to your plan for £5 a month. The 3Mb speed guarantee is quite low - fast enough to stream Netflix in standard definition or to play online games, but a very long way short of the speeds you'll be accustomed to in other rooms. You might be better off looking at some of the other ways to extend your signal first.
How to extend your Wi-Fi signal
If you aren't with BT or Sky, or aren't in a position to switch providers right now, what other options do you have to get full Wi-Fi coverage in every room?
- 4G or 5G Mobile broadband: 4G, or even the fledgling 5G, broadband is now a viable alternative to a fibre plan. As far as Wi-Fi coverage is concerned it comes with one big benefit: you can be a whole lot more flexible about where you position your router. Because it doesn't need to be connected to a phone line you can place it wherever you like - even upstairs if that gives you the best coverage. You can use Wi-Fi extenders to further beef up the signal, too. Want to know more? Check the latest 4G Mobile Broadband deals.
- Wi-Fi extenders: There are different types of device that can extend your Wi-Fi coverage. A basic Wi-Fi repeater (such as the TP-Link RE300 or the Netgear EX2700) that makes your signal travel further will do the job, but a better option is a full Wi-Fi mesh network. Something like the Google Wi-Fi Whole Home System works on similar lines to BT's Wi-Fi Discs, and gives you full coverage wherever you need it. They are a little pricier, but these plug-and-play hubs require zero technical know-how to set up and use.
- Powerline adapters: A more techie solution, but potentially just as effective, are powerline adapters. These devices come in basic packs of two - you plug one in to a power outlet near your router and the other wherever you need it, and the internet signal travels between them via your existing electrical cabling. You have the choice of using the adapter as a Wi-Fi point at the other end to cover all devices in the room, or use ethernet cables to connect devices with where you might want a more stable connection, such as TVs and games consoles. If you find need more rooms covered then you can buy larger packs, or even easily add more at a later date. A well-rated product is the TP-Link TL-WPA4220T starter kit, though there are plenty of others to choose from.
- Get a better router: All broadband providers will give you a router to use when you sign up. If you've had Wi-Fi problems in the past, make sure you know what router you're going to get when switch suppliers: some are very definitely better than others! We've got all the details in our Broadband Providers guides. If you're looking to buy a router with a bit more oomph, you could consider the ASUS AC66U or the TP-Link AC1750.
- Check the position of your router: Your other option is just to make sure you're got your router set up in the best possible way. Wi-Fi signals can be blocked by large physical objects, like walls, doors, floors, bookcases and so on. They're also susceptible to interference from microwaves, cordless phones and other devices that emit radio waves. If possible, try and move your router to a different position where there are as few obstacles as possible. With the Christmas season coming up, it's also worth mentioning that decorations such as tinsel have been known to cause problems, so bear that in mind if you want to make your router look festive!
For more, take a look at our guides to Broadband speeds and on how to speed up slow Wi-Fi.
Posted on 2019-11-15 19:33 in News
Social media has been buzzing with reaction to Labour’s latest election pledge - free, fast, full fibre broadband for everyone. But what have they actually promised and what would it mean for your broadband?
Well the first part of their proposed plan is to renationalise Openreach and the parts of BT that sell broadband products in order to form a British Broadband service. This follows Labour’s existing pledges to renationalise the railways, Royal Mail and water companies.
The second part is to give everyone in the country the fastest full-fibre broadband for free - a pretty bold and eye-catching election pledge!
Corbyn called it a “fresh, transformational polic[y] that will change your life” while Johnson has declared it a “crazed communist scheme”, but what does it all mean and could it possibly work?
Could they actually pull this off if elected?
It’s hard to say exactly at this point because this is only an election pledge and the full manifesto has yet to be published, but we do have the full text of Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s speech announcing Labour’s broadband plans as well as interviews given by shadow chancellor John McDonnell.
The main thing we do know is that fully free fibre broadband is only promised by the year 2030, which is so far in the future that the technological landscape is likely to be extremely different.
By then 5G mobile broadband or an even faster future technology is likely to be widespread. It’s also likely that well before then many households will be connecting their homes to the internet using 5G mobile routers. Many of these already look and work like smart speakers mimicking those of the big brands. Whichever one of Amazon, Apple, Google or some other tech giant tha first offers 5G connectivity as default may completely change how broadband works, it may even be bundled free with smart devices or home hubs - rather than getting broadband free from the government it may be free from whichever multinational corporation you choose to buy devices from.
2030 is so far in the future, it’s hard to predict!
What we find far more interesting and far more relevant to the near future than the promise of free broadband a decade from now is the proposal to nationalise Openreach.
What is Openreach?
Openreach is one of the BT Group companies that’s been separated from BT’s commercial arm. Openreach operate the telephone exchanges and install and maintain telephone lines, fibre-optic cables and street cabinets. It’s also Openreach engineers who would come to your home to install broadband equipment if needed.
Most UK broadband uses Openreach telephone exchanges, cables and engineers because it’s all delivered over your telephone lines. Only broadband that’s provided by cable companies and smaller full fibre suppliers like Virgin Media, Hyperoptic and Gigaclear avoids using Openreach’s broadband delivery system and engineers, as do 4G and 5G mobile broadband services and those based in Hull where BT never operated.
This doesn’t mean that every broadband service delivered through Openreach’s infrastructure is the same. While many broadband services are re-selling the same Openreach products, others use a system called Local Loop Unbundling (LLU) to allow them to install their own equipment in Openreach exchanges, which has historically allowed faster speeds and cheaper prices than other broadband providers.
However, this only ever made a significant difference to speeds in the era of phoneline-only (ADSL) broadband, so it hasn’t really been the case since part-fibre (FTTC) products offering speeds around 36Mbps or 67Mbps became the most common products sold. Openreach controls the fibre street cabinets, so competition for part-fibre products has only been on price and bundled extras, everyone using Openreach infrastructure is essentially selling the same broadband.
What will this mean for broadband?
Well for one thing, a national full fibre network will be important back end infrastructure underlying 5G mobile broadband and whatever comes after that. Fibre-optic is a ‘future-proofed’ technology that gets faster over time, only limited by the tech that deciphers the messages delivered down the fibres at the speed of light. In fact, we would have had superfast broadband in the 1990s and ultrafast broadband in the 2000s if not for the privatisation of BT putting a halt to the rollout of a national fibre-optic network in the 1980s.
The other main benefit of a nationalised equivalent of Openreach is that plans to install fibre-optic infrastructure can prioritise rural and remote areas that are the most in need of better broadband technology. And this appears to be exactly what Labour intends to do.
When a commercial company rolls out a new communications technology, it tends to go to the most heavily populated areas. Not only that, it’s usually those where people have the most money, or at least are most likely to buy new technologies such as areas with lots of students or young professionals.
In practice this means that new technologies often come to areas that already have the fastest broadband available and often have a choice of fast broadband options from other companies like Virgin Media or even full-fibre from suppliers like Hyperoptic. This was the case with part-fibre broadband and 4G, and it’s already the case with next generation G.fast and 5G rollouts.
This is because commercial companies need to guarantee that they’ll make enough money to not only pay for the costs of installing and running the service, but also that they’ll make a lot of profit on top of these costs in order to pay their shareholders and executives.
With a nationalised service rolling new technology out, only the costs need to be covered, and profit is rolled back into making services better. Effectively, the taxpayers are the shareholders and the government are the executives.
So in theory, nationalised broadband service would be able to prioritise getting everyone in the country to a minimum level of broadband speed. Meaning areas that already have a reasonable broadband speed would be at the back of the queue and, for once, those areas where there’s currently no good broadband service or no broadband at all would get put to the front of the queue to even the playing field.
Should the government stay out of broadband?
The major political parties all recognise that rollout of broadband to the most under-served areas of the country is a problem. The disagreement is over how best to address the problem.
This Conservative government and past governments have already recognised that commercial neglect of rural and remote broadband provision is a problem.
£780 million of taxpayer money was spent on the rollout of faster part-fibre broadband to less commercially-viable, mostly rural areas under the Broadband Development UK (BDUK) scheme.
This used a convoluted process where companies were meant to bid in local authority areas and the companies with the best bids in each area would be granted the contract by the local authority to install new broadband infrastructure in that area. Due to Openreach effectively having the monopoly on the type of infrastructure work involved, in all but a handful of areas all this money went to the BT Group and Openreach ended up doing the work. As a result this was criticised as inefficient and a waste of time and resources.
Broadband has also been designated an essential service and so the Universal Service Obligation, that was previously applied to voice telephone services in 2003, is being applied to broadband services from 2020. This will mean that everyone in the UK must be able to achieve at least 2Mbps broadband (or an alternative type of internet connection).
The Conservative party also recognises that none of this is enough and have pledged £5 billion to bring gigabit (1,000Mbps) broadband connections to the hardest-to-reach 20% of the population by 2025. They’ve also promised a Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund that they claim will unlock an expected £1 billion of further public and private investment in full fibre broadband.
We’ve examined whether the government’s proposals were viable back when it was a leadership campaign pledge.
How are Labour proposing to pay for this?
Again, we don’t know all the details yet, because the full manifesto is yet to be published, but we do know that a large part will involve taxing the big multinational tech companies like Google and Facebook, which are notable for avoiding paying UK tax at present.
However, the government has criticised Labour’s spending estimates and pointed out that the task of buying back privatised services and setting a new British Broadband service is likely to be extremely disruptive and add significant delays to the rollout of gigabit fibre broadband, and also discourage private investment in broadband technologies. In fact the sale of TalkTalk has already been disrupted by these plans and BT’s stock prices have plummeted.
The government Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has already commissioned a detailed report into how gigabit broadband could possibly be rolled out to the last 20% in such a short timeframe, and this report does support the government’s criticism that switching to a monopoly provider would cause the most disruption and delays in the initial stages. However, in the longer term the government’s report may support Labour’s proposition that a nationalised service is the only way to guarantee a fair rollout of 100% fibre coverage.
The report looked at 3 different scenarios, one of which was a national monopoly, albeit one run by a commercial company such as Openreach, not a government owned nationalised provider.
In the 15 year projection, the only option that offered the closest to 100% coverage for full fibre broadband with the same prices charged to customers nationwide was the monopoly provider solution.
The projection for the current situation was likely to have 60% coverage in 15 years time, the ‘enhanced competition’ scenario would cover 80% in 15 years time leaving another 20% for competitors to cover (which would likely hit the same problems with needing to prioritise profitability) and the ‘franchising’ scenario also potentially covered 100% but was likely to charge customers more in low competition areas than in urban areas (something that has happened before with Ofcom’s market classification system where if you have no choice for a cheaper provider, the provider is allowed to charge you more for the same service).
The report also found a number of downsides to their national monopoly scenario - mainly that there would be no incentive to innovate and install new technologies when there are no competitors pushing technology forward. This was demonstrated with how mobile network technologies rolled out slower in monopoly countries than in those with multiple mobile networks, and how the pattern repeated with every generation of mobile broadband speed.
However, this is arguably not a problem in a nationalised scenario where the government sets the ambitious innovation targets. Particularly when ambitious full-fibre broadband proposals are so frequently central to political campaigning.
What does the future hold?
So will we have the very fastest broadband free for everyone by 2030? Would a Labour government be able to balance the books? Who knows! It’s too far in the future to judge what broadband will look like in a decade, we could all be getting it free from Facebook, Apple or Google by then, rather than free from the government.
If a Labour government stayed in power until 2030 and managed to deliver on the promise of the very fastest broadband free for everyone, that would be hugely disruptive and reaction from broadband service providers has been strongly negative.
But in the shorter term, the government’s own report seems to suggest that a nationalised version of Openreach might be the only chance we have to deliver cheap full-fibre broadband for the parts of the UK that currently need it the most.