Choosing the right broadband deal can be tricky. You have to factor in more than the monthly price. What speeds will you get? Is anything else included in the deal such as a phone line or TV service? Does it include hardware such as a mesh Wi-Fi system and does the enticing introductory price rise significantly after a few months?
To help you make the most of your money, here's our guide to things you should look for in a broadband package (and provider) when choosing.
Understanding broadband speeds
Broadband speeds are described in Mbps, which means megabits per second. Megabits are different from megabytes, however. The lowercase "b" in Mb indicates megabits, while the uppercase "B" in MB indicates megabytes.
8Mb (megabits) is the same as 1MB (megabyte), so a Mbps speed you see for any broadband package indicates how much data can be downloaded per second. A download speed of 40Mbps means you can download 5 megabytes per second. Read our in-depth guide to data units for more.
Providers usually make the upload speed much less prominent, because it's almost always considerably slower. Good upload speed is important if you want the ability to make mutliple Zoom calls at the same time. Download speeds affect the speed of access to content – games, movies, shows, and so on.
How do you use the internet?
As with pretty much all tech-related buying decisions, be it smartphones, laptops, broadband or more, the first thing to work it is how you’re going to be using the product.
In these days of the always-online society it can be easy to think that you need the fastest connection to survive, but if you only use the internet to check emails, browse the shops or spend a bit of time on Facebook then this isn’t really the case (more on this below). Conversely, some of the cheaper packages that might seem tempting could be a real pain in the long run if you find you’re not able to stream those 4K UHD movies due to the speed of your connection.
In days gone by, the most important principle was how much data you were allowed for downloads each month. But with pretty much every major provider now offering unlimited data as standard, the new frontier is the rate at which you can use your connection.
Which broadband speed is right for me?
The speed you need depends on the number of people within your household who actively use the internet, and how much is being used on a daily basis.
Light to moderate usage
For general light web browsing in a household of two people, you shouldn’t need more than around 10Mbps download and 2Mbps upload. This is fine for checking emails and making one video call at a time. When you stream movies, these speeds are good for streaming to one device at a time, as opposed to streaming separate content in different rooms on different devices.
Moderate users on the other hand, or households with three to four people may need around 35Mbps and 5Mbps upload. Users may go on social media frequently and stream films at the same time from separate rooms.
Moderate to high usage
If you’re in a shared household of fairly heavy internet users, you should look for broadband with a download speed up to 60Mbps or more. This means streaming multiple videos, playing online games, and using social media on various devices simultaneously.
This is for larger households where videos are streamed in 4K and have various smart assistants and devices (security cameras, thermostats, lighting, alarm systems etc.). You may also be or live with avid gamers who often download and livestream games and movies. You’re online 24/7 and may even be running a business from home that requires frequent video calls, connecting to the cloud and uploading large file sizes.
Such usage typically needs upwards of 200Mbps. Such speeds are naturally more expensive, so we would recommend assessing how extreme your internet demands are prior to finalizing on a plan. These speeds are only available will so-called 'full-fibre' broadband packages and aren't available everywhere.
Each providers will ask you to enter your address so you can see which services (and speeds) are available to you.
What are the different types of broadband available?
There are three main options currently available: ADSL (the standard router that connects to your phone line), fibre (much faster speeds that require a dedicated connection) and cable (again a dedicated line that is usually part of a package, such as those offered by Virgin Media).
ADSL is the most common connection type (although being quickly replaced by fibre as the faster services reaches more areas) and only requires the use of a standard home phone line to work. Due to using this technology it is limited to a maximum speed of around 20Mbps for downloads and 1Mbps for uploads. This is more than enough for social media, browsing the web and streaming HD content on YouTube, Netflix and other services. In fact, Netflix states that to stream HD movies and TV shows you’ll want a minimum of 5Mbps.
Of course, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to attain those top speeds unless you happen to live right next to the telephone exchange, as the further down the line speeds will be much slower. This is one of the main reasons that those living in rural areas can struggle to get a solid, fast connection.
To see the kind of speeds you can expect from a standard ADSL connection there are usually widgets on the provider’s sites into which you enter your postcode. We’d recommend using the Ofcom Mobile and Broadband checker, as the independent nature of the service should mean it is free from any bias.
Bear in mind that the more people you have connected, either through laptops, tablets or smartphones, the slower the speed will become as it is essentially divided up between you. With this in mind, if you’re a family with a few children (especially if they like to play games online) then you may find that a fibre connection is the better option.
Should you be limited to an ADSL connection, Sky offers its Essential package while Plusnet has Unlimited. As we've said, the speeds available will be dependent upon how far you live from the exchange, but visit those sites to find out more.
As the name suggests, this type of connection uses an optical fibre cable (instead of copper telephone wires), which is capable of delivering much faster speeds than ADSL.
There are tiers within most fibre offerings, with names like Ultrafast and Superspeed. The reason for this is that some fibre connections only go as far as the exchange near your home and copper wires are used for the rest of the journey. It's still a lot faster than ADSL, with speeds of 35Mbps or even 70Mbps.
But there's also 'full fibre' which means the optical cable goes right to your home. This enables speeds in the 100s of Megabits per second with the very fastest packages offering a dizzying 1000Mbps.
These speeds make fibre the perfect choice for people who want to stream HD or 4K movies and TV shows (Netflix recommends 25Mbps for 4K), and have a stable connection when video-calling for work - or simply friends and family. It also makes it much faster to download files to your smartphone, tablet or PC when at home.
While full fibre is being deployed across the UK, many areas still have yet to benefit from the technology. So, to see if you are one of the lucky households, you’ll need to check the availability by entering your postcode into the checker found on each provider’s site.
Fibre broadband is of course more expensive. But there are very good deals to be had if you look around. BT's Fibre1 package for £28.99 per month and promising average speeds of up to 50Mbps, or there’s the TalkTalk Unlimited Fibre 65 which costs £23.00 per month (including line rental) and promises average speeds of 67Mbps.
This is another option, albeit one that’s limited to very few providers and only in certain areas. Faster than ADSL, cable runs the connection through a dedicated cable that negates the need for a telephone landline. Usually offered as part of a package deal, the most common cable provider in the UK is Virgin Media, whose offerings at the time of writing included the M50 package which provides average speeds 50Mbps for £38 per month or the M350 tier for £37 per month.
Find out more in our guide to broadband.
Consider bundle offers for better value
If you’re happy to move your mobile phone, landline or TV subscription to one provider then it’s well worth considering the various bundled deals that are on offer. All of the major players have them, with BT combining broadband, home phone, and BT TV, while Virgin and Sky doing likewise with their particular TV packages.
Combining the services can result in cheaper monthly bills while also giving you some free bonuses if you find a good deal. These change all the time, with regular promotions and discounts, so take a look at the best TV and broadband deals for the latest offers.
You can also read our roundup of the best UK broadband services.