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 monthly cost of your broadband will be made up of:

  • Broadband subscription

  • Line rental

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:

  1. Decide what you need from your broadband package

  2. Narrow down your options by finding out what is available in your area

  3. Choose a supplier who offers the service you need at the cheapest price

  4. 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?

What can 1 GB do?
  • 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 rarely online and only use the internet to check emails and browse websites, a low speed should suffice. Most broadband companies offer low speed packages at a cheaper price.

    However, if you intend to use your broadband for downloading or streaming video content, or if you are a particularly heavy user, you should consider a higher speed.

  • 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:


  • Widely available

  • Cheap

  • Always on

  • Variable speed

  • Slower uploads

  • 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.

Fibre broadband

  • Superfast speed

  • No need for a phone line

  • Bundles for broadband and TV

  • More expensive

  • Limited availability

  • 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.

Virgin Media are the only supplier of pure fibre optic broadband in the UK but they are working on expanding coverage through the Cable My Street initiative.


  • Cheap and easy to set up

  • Flexible

  • No need for a phone line

  • Low speed

  • Less data

  • 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.


  • Rural access

  • No need for a phone line

  • Lower speed

  • 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:

  1. 1.

    High cost: Satellite tends to be much more expensive than traditional types of broadband, due to the cost of equipment and high setup charges.

  2. 2.

    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.

  3. 3.

    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.

  4. 4.

    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.

  5. 5.

    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.

  • Student: You can read more about this package in our guide to student broadband.

  • 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.

Broadband FAQs


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.