If your home already has a broadband socket, phone line or cable connection pre-installed, activating broadband could be as easy as signing up to an internet service provider (ISP), plugging in a wireless router and logging onto the internet. Otherwise, you might require a socket installation or an engineer’s visit. In this guide, we explain what to expect when looking to install and activate broadband.
Before you can install and activate broadband, you have to sign up for a service. There are plenty of options to consider, and these are some of the factors involved in finding the best broadband deal…
Just because a great deal is being advertised, it doesn’t mean it’s available in your area. Compare broadband deals using a comparison tool, searching with your postcode. The deal offered in that ad may not be available locally, or at the advertised price.
If a number of ISPs are raising their prices in your location, consider a supplier like John Lewis, whose broadband prices are fixed regardless of your location. Rural residents should investigate if they’re within the service network of specialist providers like Gigaclear or Grain, though installation for these proprietary network operators can be more complicated than services delivered through existing Openreach phone lines or broadband cables.
Required speeds can determine the calibre of broadband required. Slower speeds usually command cheaper prices, and ADSL standard broadband (as well as being the most widely available) is the cheapest option most ISPs offer.
This is how speeds compare:
5-11Mbps: ADSL connections along an existing phone line are ideal for casual browsing and one-at-a-time streaming. Don’t expect HD picture quality, but do expect a degree of buffering. We explain in this guide if ADSL broadband is right for you.
17-25Mbps: This is moving into the realm of Fibre to the Cabinet broadband, where data is piped to local pavement exchanges along fibre cables before arriving at your home via ADSL cabling. It should be sufficient to stream in HD and support various smart devices.
38-65Mbps: Homes closer to their nearest pavement exchange can achieve significantly higher download and upload speeds. This should support multiple devices, and is ideal in homes where more than two people will be attempting to access the internet at once.
100Mbps+: This is entering Fibre to the Premises territory, where fibre cables extend directly into your home. They’re ideal for large households of avid streamers and gamers, but may be unnecessary for young families or smaller households who could end up overpaying.
Remember, speed alone doesn’t always indicate how smooth a connection will be. A 100Mbps average download speed sounds impressive, but a two-person household with one laptop, two smartphones and one games console could happily depend on a 30Mbps connection at half the price.
Even if you’ve identified a suitable speed and an ideal ISP, there could be many other options to consider. Triple-play (broadband, TV and landline) or quad-play (also including mobile phone) packages can save money and paperwork, bundling telecommunications into one monthly contract and invoice. However, don’t go for these services unless you’ll be using them enough to justify that monthly cost.
You may also need to pay ad hoc fees for setup costs such as postage, so set a budget at the outset and keep a careful eye on paperwork small print. A preferred ISP might offer seasonal deals, where activation fees are waived, and overall prices get discounted.
Once you’ve made up your mind, sign-up is simple and can be done either:
via a comparison tool
through the ISP’s website, or
over the phone.
Most suppliers will require a credit check to set up your direct debit, so look for no credit check broadband suppliers if this is an issue for you.
A new connection may take up to three weeks to set up, but your router should be with you before then. The specifics of an installation will depend on which ISP you went with, as explained below.
The fastest type of broadband installation is where your home already features a working landline, since a telephone socket will provide access to the vast majority of internet services. Installation of a new socket is usually free and involves drilling a hole to fit the socket before drilling through an external wall to access the cable. This may require permission from a landlord, a residents committee, neighbouring homeowners or even the council in conservation areas.
The process for cable networks like Virgin Media and Hyperoptic involves a specialist cable connection and a dedicated socket. This is covered in more detail below.
Openreach is a former BT offshoot charged with maintaining a nationwide network of phone lines and fibre optic cables. This network allows homes and buildings to make landline phone calls and connect to broadband services. Openreach’s vast network is rented to the majority of UK ISPs, which is why many broadband deals insist you have a phone line. It’s also why switching from one ISP to another is relatively easy – the lines remain the same, but are taken over by another supplier.
Providing there’s a working telephone socket in your home, changing between Openreach-based providers doesn’t require any hardware changes. After following a new ISP’s sign-up process and receiving your router in the post, plug it into your Openreach internet socket and complete the installation yourself.
If the router doesn’t immediately work, try:
Double-checking the password
Restarting your device
Disconnecting and reconnecting the microfilters used to connect it with a phone socket.
If further problems arise, get in contact with the ISP’s technical support team.
If you’ve opted for a provider that doesn’t use the Openreach network, and a socket for its network isn’t already installed in your property, an engineer will need to visit. This might involve nothing more than pulling a cable into a property from the street outside, though it could be significantly more complex, depending on the provider.
Virgin Media has the most extensive exclusive ultrafast home broadband network, but it's still lacking compared to Openreach, with only 44 per cent of UK homes presently wired up for full fibre broadband. If Virgin Media covers your area, the installation process should work as follows:
Book an engineer visit (this is usually free)
The installation is completed in approximately two hours, involving pulling cables in from outside. Sometimes, these can be hard to find and may involve manhole covers being lifted
Someone over the age of 18 (ideally a homeowner) must be present to help decide where the master connection socket should go
A cable wall box will be installed, preferably in a cupboard or behind a piece of furniture.
Hyperoptic has a much smaller service area than Virgin Media, operating mostly in inner-city areas and across new residential developments. In the latter, a Hyperoptic socket will be pre-installed, making it child’s play to receive and activate a new router.
If Hyperoptic is available in your area but your property lacks a connection socket, installation for new customers is easy and free:
Installation takes approximately one hour
An engineer will drill a hole near the front door to create a socket
Your router will be set up.
Gigaclear covers a very small service area, specialising in rural regions and offering impressive upload and download speeds. Given how intrusive its installation process can be, alternatives like mobile internet may represent a simpler choice:
A POT (point of termination) has to be determined between you and a technician at the boundary of your property
The cable route from this POT to your home will be decided and a trench dug
The cable will be laid, before a hole is drilled through an external wall
A wall box will be fitted, allowing you to connect your router
Someone over the age of 18 must be present throughout the installation process.
For new customers, installation is often free, but never assume this is the case. Always double-check with your provider if you have to pay for installation – costs should be clearly publicised, but that’s not always the case.
Some ISPs offer a rapid delivery service for their routers, but generally speaking, the lead time for any installation is a minimum of two weeks. This is the time needed for your account to be set up, a router to be posted and received, an Openreach line to be taken over, and so forth.
Engineer visits can take longer to arrange, though last-minute cancellations often arise. It won’t be possible to obtain next day broadband unless you’re signing up for data-only mobile broadband services through a MiFi router or USB dongle. These can be purchased instantly in-store, or delivered overnight for next day broadband.
Last updated: 26 February 2021