What makes a good broadband deal?
There are many different broadband packages out there, including some very simple, cheap broadband deals, as well as some more full-on bundles with lots of bells and whistles.
Which one is best for your household will depend on your own specific needs and on how you intend to use the internet. Regardless of whether you're an individual looking to get your first broadband package, or you're a family looking to switch providers because your current broadband plan is no longer suitable, you're going to learn about each of the important features to look out for in a broadband package so you can make your own decision about which broadband deal is right for your home.
Here are some of the most important things to consider when you’re trying to work out which broadband package is right for you:
Compare broadband speeds
If you're looking for an upgrade on your current internet connection, you'll want to find a deal that offers higher average speeds than what you currently get. If you're not sure, you can check your current download and upload speeds with our broadband speed test.
If you're lucky enough to live somewhere with a wide range of fibre speeds, all the way from the 30Mbps mark up to gigabit broadband and above, then it's worth thinking carefully about what you'll be using your connection for. Unless you really need it, it might not be worth paying a premium for 1Gbps+ download speeds.
What broadband speed do I really need?
The speed of your broadband is arguably it’s most important feature. As a general rule, you're going to want the fastest broadband connection speed available within your price range wherever you live - up to a point.
What does broadband speed actually mean? Bandwidth vs Latency
When we talk about broadband speed we are almost always referring to bandwidth. You can consider bandwidth and speed to be interchangeable.
Bandwidth is the amount of data that can be downloaded through your broadband connection at once, measured in megabits (or gigabits) per second. All broadband plans will list their bandwidth, or speed, as 30Mbps, 50Mbps, 100Mbps and so on.
Broadband providers never mention latency. This is because it's harder to measure and it's only important for serious gamers. But what is latency?
Latency refers to the delay between sending and receiving data, or between your command and the response, and it's measured in seconds, or rather a fraction of a second. The average home broadband user doesn't need to worry about latency, but if you are interested then you can find out more with our best broadband for gaming guide.
What about upload and download speed? What are the differences.
Your download speed is the speed at which you can receive data to your computer, while your upload speed is how fast you can send it. The speed you see listed on broadband packages is always the download speed. The upload speed is usually between 5% and 20% of the download speed. You can find it in the fine print on your broadband package, but bear in mind providers will often change their upload speeds.
What is superfast broadband and just how fast is it?
Superfast broadband is any connection with a speed over 30Mbps and up to 300Mbps, according to Ofcom, the government broadband and telecoms regulator.
What about ultrafast broadband?
Ultrafast broadband is a newer term, which describes broadband with a speed of 300Mbps or more.
How do I find out how much broadband speed is right for my household?
Let's look at the typical online activities of a household to help you understand the minimum broadband internet speed you will need to enjoy your home internet connection to the maximum:
Web browsing, email and chatting
Web pages in 2021 tend to be very media/image heavy. While you can get by with 5Mbps to 10Mbps per user, for a comfortable experience you'll need more. Ideally, you should have between 10Mbps and 20Mbps for every user on a laptop or desktop, and 5Mbps to 10Mbps for every mobile device in the household.
This means if you have 2 family members using a mobile phone, and another on a laptop, then your minimum broadband speed should be 25Mbps. For the best online experience, aim for between 40Mbps and 50Mbps.
Remember that this assumes everyone will be actively browsing at the same time and using the available bandwidth. In reality, not everyone will be downloading at the same time, but these figures are recommended for uninterrupted browsing.
General web use summary
- 5Mbps to 10Mbps per mobile device.
- 10Mbps to 20Mbps per laptop or computer.
Video streaming broadband speed requirements - YouTube, Netflix etc
Streaming video via your broadband connection is one of the most bandwidth intensive tasks you can perform, and what makes it even more heavy on your connection is that you are constantly streaming without a break. When you load a web page, you are only downloading data for a few seconds, and then you stop, but when you're watching Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, or any other video streaming service, you are constantly testing your internet connection speed.
If you have several people in the household all watching something online at the same time, then you'll require a higher broadband speed than you would if you were all just browsing.
Here's a helpful list that shows you how much of your bandwidth will be used to stream different types of video:
480p: Standard Definition (SD) Videos - 1.1Mbps
These are the lower quality videos you'll see on YouTube, or what Netflix will use if you have a slow broadband connection.
720p: High Definition (HD) Videos - 2.5Mbps
Many videos on YouTube will play in 720p, and it's the minimum for everything on Netflix providing you have a fast enough broadband speed.
1080p: Full High Definition (FHD) Videos - 5Mbps
You'll see this on some YouTube videos, while many Netflix titles are now available in 1080p.
4K: Ultra High Definition 4K Videos - 20Mbps
In 2021, 4K videos are becoming increasingly common and this is one of the reasons to make sure you have plenty of internet speed available. More Netflix titles than ever before are available in 4K and many YouTube videos can also be enjoyed in 4K over superfast broadband lines.
Broadband speed cheat sheet
You can use the above information to work out how much speed you will need based on your home's specific broadband requirements.
However, feel free to use this broadband speed cheat sheet to help you decide what to get. Each broadband speed comes with a rating for the number of people in your household to help you decide which speed to go for when comparing cheap broadband deals here on usave.
- A rating of 5 will represent the best possible home internet experience with everything possible from 4K streaming to gaming, all in the quickest possible time.
- A rating of 4 refers to a good connection that can also handle 4K streaming and gaming, just to a lesser extent than a 5.
- A rating of 3 is moderate and you will probably struggle with 4K streaming, but you can still surf the web and enjoy videos in full HD.
- A rating of 2 is poor and you may experience some interruption with full HD videos, but if all you’re doing is simple web surfing it will be adequate.
- A rating of 1 means your home broadband will be of very poor quality and feel extremely sluggish. You won’t be able to watch HD videos.
Less than 10Mb
Not recommended. An internet speed under 10Mbps is going to give you an unpleasant broadband experience. This should only be a last resort if you live in a remote area and there is only ADSL available.
- Speed Rating for 1 Person – 2/5
- Speed Rating for 2 People – 1/5
Fine for 1 person to enjoy fast surfing or streaming in up to 1080p full HD. For 2 people this connection speed will start to feel a bit slow and you won’t be able to stream 4K. Not recommend for online gaming.
- Speed Rating for 1 person – 3/5
- Speed Rating for 2 people – 2/5
- Speed Rating for 3 People – 1/5
20Mbps to 30Mbps
This is an excellent broadband speed for 1 person. Most pages will load in under 5 seconds, and you’ll be able to stream 4K videos and play games casually. 2 people can use the internet at these speeds, but things will start to feel a little slow if both are streaming at the same time.
- Speed Rating for 1 person – 4/5
- Speed Rating for 2 people – 3/5
- Speed Rating for 3 People – 2/5
30Mbps to 60Mbps – Superfast Broadband
This is the realm of superfast broadband. 30-60Mbps connections are perfectly suitable for medium sized households with 3 to 4 people.
- Speed Rating for 1 Person – 5/5
- Speed Rating for 2 People – 4/5
- Speed Rating for 3 to 4 People – 3/5
- Speed Rating for 5 People – 2/5
60Mbps to 120Mb
At 60Mbps you can have 2 family members streaming 4K at the same time, while another 2 are just browsing. Very few people are going to hit the limits of even a 60Mbps broadband line, let alone 100Mb+.
It’s at these speeds and above that your connection will be a joy to use, and you’ll be able to download large files extremely quickly. For example, a full HD movie can be downloaded in around 5 minutes on a 100Mbps connection.
- Speed Rating for 1-2 People – 5/5
- Speed Rating for 2-4 People – 4/5
- Speed Rating for 5+ People – 3/5
120Mbps to 300Mb
This speed is best for very large households with multiple devices streaming both HD and 4K videos. Almost no household is going to hit the limit here and it’s very future-proof.
- It essentially going to have a speed rating of 4 to 5 for 5+ users.
300Mb+ - Ultrafast Broadband
Almost no one will need ultrafast broadband other than serious gamers. You could stream 10 4K movies at the same time and still have enough speed left over for another 10 people to comfortably browse websites at the same time.
- Speed Rating 1 to 10+ People: 5/5
Will I get the speed advertised on my broadband package?
The speed that’s listed on broadband packages is the ‘average speed’, which is always measured during peak times. In practice, your actual internet speed will be close to the listed speed on the broadband plan.
There are a number of things that can affect the actual speed you get from your broadband service:
- The first thing you should check if you have a download speed lower than the advertised broadband plan speed is your home wireless connection.
- If your router is in another room from the device you are using, then you will always get lower connection speeds than advertised, unless you have a very high-tech wireless adaptor with aerials attached to it.
- If you have an ethernet cable, we recommend you plug your laptop/computer directly into the broadband router so you can test your wired connection speed. This lets you rule out wireless problems in your home and to test your maximum internet speed.
Compare internet packages by price
Other things being equal, you're going to want to pay as little as possible for your broadband connection. Higher speeds, as well as extra services like TV channel packages, will bump up the price you pay, but by looking around for cheap broadband you can make sure you don't pay more than you need to.
Unlimited broadband will also cost more, however, most broadband packages will come with unlimited data these days.
When you look for a cheap broadband deal with usave, you can order the packages in your area by price, if staying in budget is your primary concern.
Get a better deal by comparing broadband packages and bundles
One way to save money and get a better deal is to look at service bundles that include a phone line or TV package. These bundle deals are typically cheaper than paying for each service individually.
Broadband with phone line packages
Most of the providers offer a deal to get your broadband and phone line together in one package. Have a look at our broadband and phone comparison page to see the latest offers in your area.
Broadband with phone and TV packages
Some broadband providers offer complete all-in-one deals where you’ll get a broadband service, a phone line and a TV package all for a single monthly cost, which can often lead to substantial savings. We’ve put together a comparison of broadband with tv and phone deals for you to find a package that’s right for you.
Compare customer service ratings and reputations of broadband providers
For the majority, it's likely that your broadband connection will run smoothly and you won't have to deal with many problems. But on the odd occasion that you do - maybe your WiFi won't reach your bedroom from where the router's placed, or maybe your connection keeps dropping out - you want your provider to be on call and ready with a fix.
For more information, have a look at our page on which broadband providers offer the best customer service.
Offers, rewards, and cashback on broadband deals
Plenty of providers offer various kinds of introductory rewards to try and entice new customers. This might be bill credit; vouchers or rewards cards loaded with money to spend at various retailers; free gifts and tech; or cashback.
If a deal you already want comes with a free gift of some kind - perfect. If the gift has a cash value, it's worth seeing the overall effect this has on the price of a deal, as it might be enough to push it to within your budget. However, be careful of being sucked into a deal you wouldn't otherwise get purely on the basis of an introductory gift.
Compare broadband deals by contract length
It's getting more and more common to see broadband deals with standard terms of 18 or 24 months these days. However, 12-month contracts are still available, and you can even find monthly rolling contracts on offer from some major providers including NOW Broadband, though you'll pay a premium for that flexibility if you choose one of these.
Who are the top broadband providers in the UK in 2021?
Different broadband providers will appeal to different users. Some people will want no frills, low costs and high speeds; others will be looking for the most comprehensive TV packages they can get their hands on. Here’s a rundown of some of the most popular providers in the UK to help you make your decision:
Virgin Media have some of the fastest widely available cable/fibre broadband in the country. They’re one of the few providers who don’t use the Openreach network, instead using their own proprietary infrastructure. Their TV service is also well-known and well-regarded, with a huge range of channels on offer. And on their more comprehensive bundles, you’ll get Virgin Mobile contracts thrown in as well.
Another TV titan along with Virgin, Sky also throws its weight around in the broadband department, also offering mobile phone contracts to boot. Sky uses the Openreach network, so availability won’t completely overlap with Virgin, which might make deciding between the two easier.
Former owners of the Openreach network, which has since been separated from their broadband and telecoms business, BT are another widely available provider with impressive TV packages backing up their internet offerings. BT’s ADSL packages are popular in areas where their fibre network isn’t available.
Specialists in superfast and ultrafast broadband, Gigaclear focuses on rural areas that otherwise would be limited to ADSL connections. They’re not as widely available as many other suppliers since they also use their own network, but will often have the fastest plans on offer when they are.
Best known as a mobile network provider, EE broadband is fast gaining popularity, thanks in no small part to their impressive customer service record.
Head over to our broadband providers index page for more information on the other providers we can set you up with.
Which providers offer the cheapest broadband packages?
If you're on a budget and looking for the cheapest broadband deal possible, then you may have to sacrifice some speed and extra features. Many providers offer standard broadband packages that start at under £20 a month. These include Plusnet, TalkTalk, The Post Office, Vodafone, NOW, Shell Energy Broadband, and more. Fore more information, head over to our page on which broadband provider is the cheapest.
Broadband connection types
Depending on where you live, you’ll see broadband deals running on a few different types of connection. Generally speaking, if it’s available where you are, you’ll want to get a fibre connection.
ADSL broadband connections run on the same copper wires as phone lines and are generally slower, and less reliable than fibre or cable. If you're after the cheapest broadband deal possible, you may have to settle for ADSL.
For more information, visit our ADSL broadband page.
Fibre connections use fibre optic cables to send and receive data to and from your home. Speeds vary, but fibre connections are always faster than ADSL.
Fibre optic broadband is broken down into 2 main types. Only FTTP will give you a fully wired internet with optical cables, so when it is available in your local area it’s always the recommended choice.
FTTC – Fibre to the Cabinet
This is where the fibre optic cable has been installed into your street and into the cabinet. From the cabinet to your home, your connection will use the original copper phone lines that are already wired to your home.
You can get speeds of up to 200Mbps even with FTTC, although if your home is further from the cabinet in your street it will be lower.
FTTP – Fibre to the Premises
The fibre optic cable, as the name suggests, goes all the way to your home and your router plugs straight into the fibre optic line directly.
This is the fastest type of internet available today, and if it’s available in your local area you could have speeds of up to 1Gbps. This is also known as 'true fibre', since your home is connected directly to a fibre optic cable. Unfortunately, FTTP connections are not yet widely available, so you need to check if you can get it in your local area, which you can do by putting your postcode into our broadband deal checker.
For more information, visit out fibre broadband page.
Cable broadband is only available from a handful of providers – including Virgin Media – and uses the same cable infrastructure as fibre, except for the last stretch where a coaxial cable is used to connect up your router.
For more information, visit our cable broadband page.
How does switching to a new broadband deal work?
So, you’ve found the deal you’re after. High speed fibre at a decent price, with a selection of TV channels so you can watch all your faves. But what next, how do you get set up?
Are you free to switch to a new broadband deal?
Before you sign up to a new deal, it’s important that you double check whether or not you’re actually in a position to leave your current provider. If you’re at the end of your current broadband contract, then you’re free to switch over without hassle. If you’re not, however, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Costs of changing provider mid-contract
By leaving your broadband provider mid-contract, you’ll usually have to pay early exit fees. Depending on how far you are into your contract, these could be pretty substantial. Some providers will charge you for the entirety of your remaining contract – so if you’re paying £25 a month, and there are 6 months left on your tariff, you could be charged £300 (£25 X 6) if you leave.
Not every provider will be this harsh, but it’s worth contacting yours to see what you’d have to pay.
There are a few common exemptions to exit fees:
- If your provider hikes their fees mid-contract, you’ll usually be given the chance to leave without paying early exit charges.
- You’ll often have a grace period at the start of your contract, typically around 14 days, during which you can change to a new deal for free.
- Some providers will allow you to leave without paying exit fees if you’re only a few months away from your contract end date.
How to find out when your current deal ends
Have a look at a recent bill, or log in to your provider’s online portal, and you should be able to easily find out when your contract is due to end. Alternatively, if you remember when you signed up to it, you can work out based on how long your contract is in months when it is set to end.
What happens to your broadband deal if you move house?
If you move house within the term of your contract, and your current provider’s network reaches your new property, you’ll be able to continue your contract as normal.
If your current provider doesn’t reach your new property, you’ll often be given the opportunity to cancel your contract without paying full exit fees. One major exception to this applies to Virgin Media customers. Virgin will charge you full exit fees if you move to a property that they don’t service, and you are forced to cancel your plan.
The switching process explained:
If you are in a position to switch to a new broadband deal, thankfully it’s pretty straightforward to do so:
- Enter your postcode into our comparison tool to see which packages are available in your area. You can order the deals by price or speed, and filter the list to only see package types or providers that you know you want to pick from.
- Once you’ve picked a deal, simply click through to the provider’s website. The process from here on out will differ slightly from provider to provider, but the basics will be the same.
- Finalise the details of your chosen plan, enter your details, select an installation date, and set up a direct debit. And that's it!
Frequently asked questions about switching broadband deals
Will I lose my connection/ have downtime?
You’ll usually have a short amount of down time before your new connection is set up. If your old contract ends on the day your new one starts, and you don’t need an engineer to install it, then this downtime may last just a matter of minutes.
But if you’re moving into a new property, you may need to wait for a few days or weeks after setting up the contract for your router to arrive. For this reason, it’s a good idea to get this sorted as far in advance of your moving date as possible.
Will an engineer need to visit?
If you’ve switching to a new type of connection (e.g. from ADSL to cable), you might need an engineer to visit your home in order to physically set up the new line. This can delay things a bit, so it’s worth getting this sorted as early as possible.
Can I keep my landline number?
If you’re staying in the same house, but just changing provider, you should be able to keep your existing landline number.
Do I need technical knowledge?
The short answer is no. Even if you choose a self-install option, which involves your provider simply sending a new router in the post, the instructions to set it all up will be clearly provided.
Why can’t I see any deals from my preferred provider after entering my postcode?
Unfortunately, not everyone has a full range of choice when it comes to choosing their next broadband provider. This is because not all providers cover the whole of the UK yet.
BT, and other providers who use its Openreach network, should be available to the vast majority of postcodes. However, Virgin Media is currently available in just over 44% of UK households, while providers like Hyperoptic and Gigaclear cover even smaller areas. To see which providers operate where you live, simply enter your postcode into our broadband comparison tool.
Should I switch to a new broadband provider?
If you're happy with the service you're getting from your current provider - and the price you're paying for it - then you probably don't need to switch. But there's no harm in having a look at the alternatives, especially if you're coming to the end of your current contract.
Compare broadband deals with usave and find the right package for you
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What type of broadband user am I?
When looking for the best broadband deal for your needs, you must first determine which type of internet user you are. Heavy users of the internet – those that play online games, share large files, or live in a large household – will invariably require their broadband to be fast, reliable, and unlimited. Meanwhile, light users could get away with a cheaper, more basic broadband package.
If you fall under the category of one of the following types of internet user, head over to the corresponding page to compare broadband deals specifically suited to your needs.
- Gamers: Online gaming is a data-intensive activity, requiring significant amounts of data to support downloads, updates, and of course, multiplayer gaming. If you or anyone in your household is a serious gamer, you should get an unlimited fibre broadband deal with fast download and upload speeds. Find the perfect deal for you on our broadband for gamers page.
- Students: Most students will be on a tight budget, which can limit your options when comparing broadband packages. However, students will also need a strong and reliable connection to keep up with their coursework, as well as their favourite Netflix series. Students will also benefit from shorter, flexible contracts, and luckily some providers offer 9-month deals specifically for this reason. If you’re a student, head over to our student broadband page to find the best deal for you.
- Older users: Older people will typically use the internet less than younger folk, and even when they do, it’s usually for things like sending emails or checking social media. These activities don’t require a lot of data, so if you’re an older person who only uses the internet sparingly, you should consider a cheaper ADSL broadband deal with data limits – there’s no need paying for what you don’t use! Find the right deal on our page on broadband for older users.
- Businesses: If you run a business, be it a large office or a small team with less than 10 employees, you will realise that your broadband needs are different to those of the average household. While small business might not require the fastest speeds on the market, all businesses should consider customer service as a key factor, so you can get up and running quickly should you lose your connection. To find a deal suited to your company, head over to our business broadband page.
Last reviewed: 15 April 2021
Next review: 15 May 2021