What is broadband?
Broadband is a type of internet connection that sends and receives data much faster than traditional dial up internet.
It can be left on without tying up your phone line, so once you are set up you can stay connected and:
Browse the internet
Check your emails
Access social media
Make video calls
Download music and videos
Enter online gaming sites
What does it cost?
The total monthly cost of your broadband will be made up of your:
You may also have to pay one off costs like:
Setup and installation of your broadband
Charges for the activation of your phone line
Equipment costs, like your wireless router
How to get online
Setting up your broadband should be straightforward, you just need to:
Decide what you need from your broadband package
Narrow down your options by finding out what is available in your area
Choose a supplier who offers the service you need at the cheapest price
Consider packages that allow you to bundle multiple services together
You will also need a few things in place before you can get connected:
An active phone line
Broadband is supplied over the BT network so you need a phone line to get service.
You will have to pay a monthly charge to the phone network for your broadband connection. This is called line rental and is included in the cost of most broadband packages.
Your supplier may charge a fee if your phone line needs activating, which could cost £20 to £130.
A wireless router
A router converts your internet connection into radio signals so that you can connect multiple devices, like laptops or smartphones, wirelessly.
This will usually be provided by your broadband supplier once you have taken out a contract.
What are data limits?
Browse 10,000 web pages
Send 100,000 emails
Download 400 songs
Spend 1 hour on Skype
Your data limit is the maximum amount of data your supplier will let you download from the internet to your device, usually shown as a number of gigabytes (GB).
Limits range from 1 GB a month to around 40 GB, but many broadband companies now offer unlimited data packages.
How much data you need will depend on what type of internet user you are.
What type of internet user are you?
Most people will fall into one of three data brackets: light, medium or heavy user.
To help you decide which category you fall into, consider the following questions:
How much time do you spend online?
Do you mainly use the internet for checking emails and light web browsing?
How often do you use social media sites like Facebook or Instagram?
Do you download or listen to music or radio online?
Do you watch YouTube clips, or films on Netflix or Amazon Prime?
Are you an online gamer?
Light user: 1-10 GB
If you only use the internet for occasional browsing, checking your emails or downloading the odd song, you are probably a light internet user.
Opting for a low data allowance could save you money as you are unlikely to need the high data limits required for streaming HD video or downloading large files.
Keep in mind that your supplier may charge you for exceeding your allowance, so you should only opt for the lowest limit if you are sure you will not go over it.
Medium user: 10-20 GB
You may find that you browse the internet daily but download only a few films or songs each month. This makes you a medium user.
While you need a higher limit, you are unlikely to make use of a heavy or unlimited data package. A data limit between 10 and 20 GB will give you more flexibility than a low package but will still be affordable.
Keep in mind that you will be charged if you go over your allowance. This might work out cheaper than paying for unlimited data but make sure you are aware of all costs.
Heavy user: 20-40 GB
If you regularly download or stream HD films, play games online, or download software online, you are a heavy internet user.
You will need a large or unlimited data allowance that will allow you to stream content and use gaming platforms without disruption.
However, few data allowances are truly unlimited so will still be capped for excessive use at peak times.
What speed will you need?
Broadband speed is a measure of the time it takes to download information from the internet to your device.
Speed is shown as megabits per second (Mbps) and it will affect everything you do online, from loading a website to streaming TV and films.
The broadband speed you need depends on:
How you use your broadband: If you are a light internet user, a low speed connection may be cheaper. If you use your broadband for downloading or streaming video content, think about getting a higher speed connection.
How many people will use the connection at the same time: If you have a large household where several devices will be connected to the internet at the same time, you will need faster broadband.
What connection should you get?
This depends on what you need from your broadband and how much you are willing to pay. There are several of types to choose from:
Needs a phone line
The most common broadband connection in the UK is powered by asymmetric digital subscriber line, or ADSL for short.
ADSL relies on an active phone line to transmit data signals to your home via BT's copper wire network.
This signal is then split in two using a microfilter, which provides you with separate lines for your phone and internet.
Download speeds over ADSL are much faster than upload speeds, so you should consider how regularly you upload files to the internet.
Your connection speed will also depend on how close you are to the nearest telephone exchange. You can find this out on the Sam Knows UK Exchange search tool.
No need for a phone line
Bundles for broadband and TV
Prone to surges
Fibre broadband relies on fibre optic underground cables to supply your home with an internet connection. The same network is used to supply digital TV, which is why fibre often comes as part of an entertainment bundle.
The network that provides fibre broadband is separate from the phone lines used for ADSL, so it is supplied straight to your home much faster.
However, the superfast speed of fibre can leave it vulnerable to surges. This can be frustrating if you enjoy online gaming which relies on stable and consistent speeds.
Fibre is only available in parts of the UK where the network is already in place, which results in higher costs and leaves only about half the population with access.
The sudden and short lived spike in your broadband speed, caused by excess power going through the cable supplying your service.
It can cause your connection to slow down and then quickly speed back up, causing disruption to gaming or video calling.
Cheap and easy to set up
No need for a phone line
Reliant on mobile reception
Mobile broadband uses mobile phone signal to connect your device to the internet wirelessly, which is known as 3G or 4G. To get online you will need:
A wireless mobile broadband device, USB dongle, or internet enabled SIM card
A wireless enabled device, like a tablet or laptop
You can then choose whether to pay monthly for your service, or pay as you go.
If you want a cheap and flexible alternative to standard broadband, mobile broadband comes with minimal setup costs and no line rental to pay.
It is intended for lighter use, with lower speeds and smaller data limits than most broadband services. Availability will depend on your location, as the strength of mobile phone signal and availability of 4G varies throughout the UK.
No need for a phone line
High cost and limited providers
Prone to interference and lag
Satellite broadband works by transmitting internet signal from a satellite to a dish that is attached to your home.
Satellite is available across the country but is mainly considered a last resort if you live in a rural area or are unable to access other types of broadband.
Satellite broadband bypasses the national phone network so you can get online without an active phone line, but there are several downsides:
High cost: Satellite tends to be much more expensive than traditional types of broadband, due to the cost of equipment and high setup charges
Delays or lag: Due to the distance that the internet signal needs to travel from space, your connection will be noticeably more delayed with satellite broadband
Speed: Satellite service is unable to match the superfast connectivity offered by cable and fibre optic providers, but it is similar in speed to standard ADSL broadband
Interference: Your signal shares air space with millions of other wireless signals making it prone to interference, with a bad storm likely to disrupt your connection
Choice of supplier: Satellite broadband is relatively new to the consumer market, so your choice of provider is limited
Should you get a package?
Broadband packages can be a great way to save money and customise the service you need.
They offer the chance to bundle together several products with the same supplier, like TV and mobile, often at a discounted promotional price.
You can choose from a variety of download speeds and data limits, so you can select the package that best fits you. The main categories of package available are:
Basic: Perfect if you are looking for a no frills broadband and phone bundle
Family: For households of four or more people
Heavy use: Ideal if you are a gamer, or if you are a regular Netflix or Spotify user
Business: Typically includes faster connectivity and higher download limits
Compare providers and shop around for the best broadband deals on our comparison page.
How many devices can I connect to my broadband?
You can connect as many devices to your broadband as you like but this can affect speed and you will need to check data limits with your provider.
What is an ISP?
An internet service provider (ISP) is the company that supplies you with your internet connection for a monthly fee.
What is a microfilter?
A microfilter is a device that plugs into your phone socket and splits the line into two signals so you can use your phone and internet at the same time.