BT (British Telecoms)
BT was responsible for the initial adaptation of the phone network to be able to carry internet signals, but in 2005 anti-monopoly measures required this part of the company to be fenced off. This division is now the independently operated Openreach, who maintain the network used by BT, Sky, TalkTalk and other providers. Despite being separate organisations, BT still has a favourable relationship with Openreach, and are often one of the first suppliers to be able to offer internet services to newly constructed properties.
BT has a strong reputation and a lot of loyal customers having been an internet supplier for as long as there has been internet to supply. For customers in the 2020s, however, BT doesn’t offer a competitively priced or particularly well-reviewed service. While some will always choose the brand they know, if you’re new to the UK we would recommend opting for a more competitive package – which might even indirectly be a BT package (see the section on EE broadband below).
If you’re a sports fan, you may also know BT for their TV channel BT Sport. The channel covers all kinds of live sport, but is considered particularly essential for their exclusive coverage of certain Premier League matches, including many top of the table fixtures. BT Sports isn’t a BT exclusive channel though, and if you’re keen to include in your package it’s available from both Sky and Virgin Media as an add on or included with certain bundles.
Many Sky customers favour them because of the option to take a quad-play deal – internet, TV, mobile and home phone from a single provider. These packages usually present huge savings compared to taking the services separately, as well as extra bonuses. For example, if you’re a customer of Sky TV and Sky mobile then you can watch live TV through the Sky Go app on your phone without it being taken from your monthly data allowance.
Sky TV offers the UK’s most comprehensive channel selection. The Signature package – also known as entertainment TV – alone offers more than 300 channels, and the supplier’s popular premium additions like Sky Sports and Movies are the best in class, offering unparalleled selections of live sport and new release and original movies respectively.
Sky has been slower to roll out the highest speeds of internet available to their customers, lagging behind BT in the introduction of 500 mb/s and 900 mb/s options. As of 2022, however, provided the infrastructure is available, you can get the same top-speeds from Sky as you would from any other Openreach provider. For customers who aren’t concerned with speed, Sky also operate a low-cost spin -off service called Now Broadband – read more on Now below.
By Ofcom’s measures, Sky has the best customer service of all major UK broadband suppliers. Between April and June 2022, Ofcom received just 3 complaints per 100,000 customers regarding Sky, the fewest of any tracked supplier and ten times fewer than their worst-performing competitor Shell Energy Broadband.
Virgin Media operates the largest private broadband network in the UK, with their service available in around 60% of properties. Where they are available, Virgin are often the first provider to introduce an Ultrafast (>100 Mbps) fibre service which relies on FTTP technology (see the infrastructure section below for more details). While other suppliers have started to catch up, Virgin Media has kept its reputation as a premium service with top speeds.
Like Sky, Virgin Media also offer TV, home phone and mobile services. The company’s recent merger to form Virgin Media O2 meaning you can take an O2 SIM as part of your larger Virgin Media package. Virgin’s TV services are less comprehensive than Sky’s, with around 100 channels in their entertainment package, but they’re also available to Virgin Media broadband subscribers at a huge discount. Adding TV services to a broadband package currently starts from as little as £3.99 a month. Those looking for the most popular Sky TV options like Sports and Cinema are also able to add these to a TV package from Virgin Media.
While the fact that they aren’t available everywhere is still seen as a drawback, Ofcom has recently forced Virgin media to change their policy around exiting their contracts. In the past, if you moved out of Virgin’s service area during your contract you were expected to pay an exit penalty. Now, if your new address does not have Virgin Media’s service available then you can cancel your contract without incurring any costs.
The BT group acquired EE in 2015 and now operates them as a branch of their service. That means EE use the UK’s biggest broadband infrastructure, the Openreach network, and is often the first supplier available at a new property, arriving at the same time as BT.
Why would you opt for EE over their parent company then? Firstly, EE is often cheaper than BT for broadband packages of the same speed, especially if you’re not interested in a package that includes a landline phone. The discounts are even more significant for existing EE mobile customers, who receive both a discount on the monthly cost of a broadband package and a data boost to their existing EE contracts.
EE also outperform BT when it comes to customer complaints. In the same Ofcom study we mentioned in the Sky section, EE came second for the fewest complaints. Ofcom recorded 6 complaints per 100,000 customers in the test period, 25% fewer than BT in the same study.
Just as EE operates as another branch of BT, Now Broadband is the budget-friendly arm of Sky’s service. Used by around 600,000 customers, Now has a reputation as one of the very cheapest broadband providers in the UK. You’ll notice the difference in the price you pay for your monthly package, but Now’s service has a few other key differences.
One is in the speeds available – Now keeps their pricing competitive by only offering packages up to an average speed of 63 mb/s, regardless of the maximum speed available on the Openreach infrastructure they use. Now also uses older equipment than many competitors. The Now broadband router is actually a rebranded version of the Sky Q hub, a router that Sky have already phased out of use for customers under the Sky brand.
Customer service is another area where Now shows itself to be a cost-focused supplier. The majority of Now broadband’s support is online, with chatbots and forums recommended as the first port of call before you’ll be able to get through to a customer support agent. This is reflected in Ofcom’s research, which saw Now broadband receive 3 times as many complaints as Sky in their recent survey.
Hyperoptic is one of the smaller broadband providers in the UK, with around 250,000 active customers. The service is still worth a mention however, as their smaller market share is not an indicator of poor quality or a niche service.
Like Virgin Media, Hyperoptic owns and maintains its own infrastructure. Hyperoptic’s typical strategy is to install its network in MDUs (Multi-Dwelling Units, usually blocks of flats or apartments) as they are being constructed or refurbished. This allows Hyperoptic to offer top speeds with a short set-up period as at most they will arrange the connection of your unit to their in-building network, rather than having to dig up the road or complete any external work.
Hyperoptic is also very competitive when it comes to both price and contract flexibility. The company’s packages for broadband are among the cheapest in the UK, and all of their speeds are available in 24-month, 12-month and monthly rolling contracts.
The main drawback of Hyperoptic’s service is simply that not everyone can access it. Hyperoptic’s service will soon be available in 1 million homes, which means that only around 3.5% of UK households have them available as an option. The other drawback is for those who like to bundle all their services together – Hyperoptic has no TV or mobile services available. For many though, the appeal of cheap, fast internet that’s ready when you need it is worth the extra effort of a separate TV and mobile contract with a provider like Sky.
Where in the UK has the best broadband?
The top ten areas in the UK for Ultrafast (300 Mbps +) internet are below, with the percentage of homes in that area with ultrafast access. Top of the list is Hull, with almost all of the area being serviced by KCOM’s local network.
|Area||Properties with Ultrafast broadband|
Boosting your internet
You may find your internet speeds are fine in the same room as the router, but drop off in the rest of the house. This usually means your internet signal is being blocked by the walls and floors of your home.
Wi-Fi boosters, also known as network range extenders, amplify your network signal to help combat the problem. Depending on your internet supplier, you might be able to order Wi-Fi boosters from them directly which are designed to work with your router and home connection. Otherwise, boosters are available from electronics suppliers like Amazon.
Who regulates broadband in the UK?
In the UK, broadband – as well as TV, mobile, radio, mail and more – are regulated by Ofcom. Ofcom, the Office for Communications, oversee broadband suppliers, ensuring they treat customers fairly. As well as regulations all providers must follow, Ofcom also have a voluntary code of conduct and best practices some suppliers have signed.
Where in the UK has the worst broadband?
The areas of the UK with poor broadband coverage tend to be very rural, with many in Northern Scotland.
Interestingly, however, City of London and Westminster in central London also make the list, partly because the dense building and historic infrastructure make installing fibre difficult.
Below are the ten areas with the worst fibre coverage, ranked by the percentage of properties with no options for a connection over 30 Mbps.
|Area||% of areas with speed < 30Mbps|
|Orkney & Shetland||29.6%|
|Fermanagh & South Tyrone||27.6%|
|Brecon & Radnorshire||22.9%|
|Cities of London & Westminster||22.4%|
|Ross, Skye & Lochaber||21.6%|
|Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross||21.6%|
|Carmarthen East & Dinefwr||20.5%|
FTTC – Superfast Fibre to the Cabinet
The majority of people in the UK get their internet access through Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) systems. When internet access was first added to people’s homes, BT and Openreach used the existing copper phone lines to carry the network data, which were limited in terms of speed and capacity. Over time, the cables between the exchanges and the local cabinets were upgraded to fibre optic cable, with the cabling between each cabinet and individual homes being left as the copper cabling.
Fibre optic cable can carry far more information than copper as it transmits data as multiple beams of light across a spectrum. The older copper cables are still used between the cabinet and individual houses, but having fibre to the cabinet increases the maximum available speed from around 11 mbs to 70 Mbps in most cases.
The upgrade from copper to fibre is still being carried out by Openreach, who used to operate as part of BT. Although they are now separate companies, BT still has input on Openreach’s regular operations. The Openreach network is used by BT, Sky, EE, Now, Plus Net, TalkTalk, Vodafone and supermarket internet brands, as well as many other smaller companies.
DSL/ADSL – Old style Copper Cabling and Standard Speed Broadband
The initials stand for (Asymmetric) Digital Subscriber Line. ADSL broadband is delivered through copper phone lines from your local telephone exchange. Estimated speeds are typically around 11mbs, although these can be greatly reduced by the distance from your local telephone exchange to your property.
If you currently only have DSL or ADSL available, but previous occupants or neighbours have had a fibre broadband connection then there may be no slots currently available in the local fibre cabinet. This means that you wouldn’t be able to connect to the local Openreach fibre network – although other networks may be available – until another slot opens up.
You can use BT’s network checker to see the status of the Openreach network at your property. This will show the maximum speeds available, as well as if all the fibre slots in your local cabinet are full.
FTTP – Openreach (Ultrafast fibre)
Fibre to the Premises or Ultrafast fibre is the other end of the of the internet speed spectrum to ADSL, where the entire connection from the property to the exchange is all made up of fibre optic cabling. The typical maximum speed on this connection is between 150 and 900 Mbps, with a few 2GB/s connections appearing. Connections in the 900mbs-1Gbs are also sometimes called ‘Hyperfast’ broadband.
As FTTP is the fastest and most efficient broadband infrastructure available, it is the preferred infrastructure to install in new buildings. There are many different companies currently offering these connections, with availability depending on the property location. Openreach, for example, are installing new FTTP connections where possible in new builds and simultaneously upgrading their existing network.
A property that is connected to Openreach’s FTTP network will have a white box mounted on the wall inside the property called an ONT. ONT’s can be connected to by any Openreach provider, with Ultrafast 900 mbs broadband currently available from BT, EE, Vodafone and, newly, Sky. Some Openreach providers such as Now broadband can connect their routers to an ONT but will still only be able to offer superfast speeds at the property.
If Ultrafast has been introduced to a new area an engineer will need to come to each property to connect them to the Ultrafast network and fit an ONT. New build properties in areas with these services available should have an ONT fitted as standard.
FTTP – Virgin Media
All of Virgin Media’s network is FTTP, with their installation process for an area involving installing network hubs on a street that properties can then be connected to upon request. Virgin Media then drill a small hole in an external wall and fit a connection point inside the property, running cable from the street directly into the home.
If a Virgin Media Property is referred to as ‘Quick Start’ then it has already had this direct fibre line installed. If installation is required then Virgin Media will certainly need to drill into the property, and they often also require that the driveway, path or parking at the front of the house be temporarily dug up.
As with Openreach, Virgin Media offer Ultrafast Broadband up to 1GB/s, although the earliest versions of their ultrafast line were limited to 500 Mbps. Virgin Media deliberately restrict upload speed to around 10 percent of a user’s maximum download speed as a traffic control measure.
FTTP – indepdendent
While Virgin is the largest, there are a number of other independent broadband networks that also only offer FTTP internet. Before you can offer FTTP, your network needs to be installed at street level, and so most providers focus on small areas of specific buildings to make their roll out efficient. If your the first resident at your address to use one of these networks, they’ll need to drill externally and dig a trench at your address to connect you home to their network.
Community Fibre and G.Network both focus on supplying Ultrafast fibre to city centers, focussing on areas with poor or no Openreach support. KCOM are a super-regional network, only offering their service in the greater Hull area. Gigaclear install in rural communities with few fibre options. Hyperoptic, one of our top recommended suppliers where they are available, install in blocks of flats and apartment buildings as they’re being built or renovated, allowing them to offer service to all the residents at once.
FTTP – The OFNL
The ‘OFNL’ or Open Fibre Network is an Openreach alternative shared network which offers ultrafast broadband at up to 360 Mbps for customers across a range of suppliers. There are dozens of companies that operate on this network including ‘See The Light’ and ‘Direct Save Telecom’.
OFNL coverage tend to be in areas where the Openreach network has not been upgraded to fibre. As it is much less well known than either Openreach of Virgin Media’s a network, it is less likely that a property that is being moved into will already have been connected to the network, so a new installation might be necessary. OFNL providers tend to be smaller companies with more basic websites and customer support services.