This table has been sorted to display the fastest average* speed deals first.
This table has been limited to display a maximum of 10 deals, sorted by the highest download speed first.
*The average download speed displayed in Mb is the speed available to 50% of customers with this product during peak time (between 8pm and 10pm). The actual speed you will get depends on a variety of factors such as your cabling, your area, how far you are from the telephone exchange as well as time of day. The majority of providers will tell you the speed you will likely receive when you begin your online sign up — this may differ from the average speed displayed on our table.
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Wi-Fi is wireless broadband – an internet connection accessible without needing to physically plug an electronic device into a router or network. Also spelled wi-fi, WiFi or wifi, the name is described by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers as an abbreviation of Wireless Fidelity. Other people claim it’s a meaningless riff on Hi-Fi, which was a commonly-used term in the 1980s and 1990s.
They do, irrespective of which category a broadband contract falls into. All the options listed below include wireless broadband connectivity if you’re using a Wi-Fi-enabled router:
Also known as ADSL, standard broadband uses traditional copper phone lines from the Openreach network to transmit data at speeds generally limited to 11Mbps.
Also known as FTTC, this broadband connection uses fibre optic cabling to your nearest street cabinet, before reverting to copper phone lines for the final leg of the journey to your home. Achievable speeds tend to be around 35 or 65Mbps.
Also known as FTTP, FTTH (for Fibre to the Home) or simply Full Fibre, this fibre optic broadband extends modern fibre cables all the way to your home, making it the fastest hardwired connection. Speeds range from 100Mbps to 1Gbps on some modern cable networks.
Mobile broadband originates from a SIM card and doesn’t require any wiring. Modern smartphones can support the creation of a mobile Wi-Fi network (called MiFi) to power other devices, while network operators also sell USB mobile broadband sticks and compact MiFi hubs which either plug in or wirelessly power electronic devices.
Distributed from a satellite to a floor- or wall-mounted dish outside your property, this has long been a favoured option for people in remote regions. However, it’s expensive, prone to interference from severe weather, and involves significant latency due to the time it takes to beam a data request into space and receive a response back.
Wired broadband is essentially the opposite of Wi-Fi and requires your device to be directly connected to the router, or linked to it through plug sockets using a Powerline adaptor. You will need an Ethernet cable, which then becomes a Local Area Network (LAN) connection instead of Wi-Fi.
The answer depends on its application. While it may seem like a more restrictive set up compared to Wi-Fi, wired broadband still has its merits:
If you use a set top box or own a smart TV, it’s likely to require a wired connection for full functionality. Some devices can work off Wi-Fi (even defaulting onto it if a hardwired connection is lost), but expect connections to experience more interference and buffering while wireless.
Any gamer knows the importance of a LAN connection for lag-free gaming over broadband. Games consoles like the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S all sport Ethernet ports for faster hardwired connections.
If you have a desktop PC that doesn’t need to be moved around, a wired connection generally supports more reliable internet access. Laptops are designed for portability, but still achieve faster upload and download speeds while connected via Ethernet.
Wi-Fi printers need to be connected to your router. This is usually done by USB cable, though they can sometimes run across Wi-Fi.
Accessing your broadband through Wi-Fi doesn’t mean your performance is better, and as we’ve established, it’s slower than a hardwired connection. However, it is far more convenient – devices like tablets, phones and certain laptops don’t have an Ethernet port which would support wired connections.
As mentioned, any broadband can offer Wi-Fi connectivity with a suitable router. A wireless router plugs into your internet connection at the wall socket, converting data streams into a LAN or Wi-Fi connection. There are routers which don’t offer Wi-Fi, but these tend to be either very cheap or quite specialised. Any hardware supplied by your internet service provider (ISP) will offer wireless connectivity.
Here are some elements to look out for when choosing an effective wireless broadband router:
As mentioned, these support the creation of wired broadband connections. The average number of LAN ports for provider-specific routers is four, and many people experience better results hardwiring devices like streaming media hubs and smart speakers.
Routers will have their own password to stop other people accessing your connection. This is pretty much a given on any provided router, but security-conscious individuals may wish to look for extra security measures like management apps, parental controls or the ability to rename a network.
Antennae help Wi-Fi routers create a strong and wide-reaching connection to wireless devices. External antennae perform better than integral ones, while dual-band routers can use 2.4GHz bandwidth to reach the garden while providing high-speed connectivity indoors across the faster 5GHz frequency.
Most internet users will get by perfectly happily without needing to understand why MIMO (Multiple Input and Multiple Output) and MU-MIMO (Multiuser MIMO) offer different connection experiences. In essence, MU-MIMO allows a broadband connection to be simultaneously split across several devices – phones, laptops and consoles all enjoy a constant connection. Conversely, MIMO connects to one device at a time in quick succession, though few households would notice any lag or latency.
Below, we consider the offerings from the UK’s three largest broadband providers:
Known as the BT Smart Hub, BT’s router claims to be the UK’s most powerful. It boasts seven antennae, and supports MU-MIMO even though BT isn’t utilising this technology as yet. Four Ethernet ports support hardwired devices, while parental controls and 100GB of free cloud storage are included.
Dubbed the Sky Hub, Sky’s router can restrict access as part of its parental and security controls. It’s also a great energy-saving gadget, as it switches to low power mode when not in use. Sky claims its Hub can support over 50 separate connections, which is a huge improvement on previous-generation routers that struggled to get into double figures.
Virgin’s top-performing router is called the Super Hub, and claims to create connections seven times faster than the UK average. Four Ethernet ports allow for wired connections. However, if you’re unhappy with your Super Hub, the unique way in which Virgin Media distribute data into your home mean you can’t replace it with a third-party router, as you could with any Openreach-powered ISP.
Wi-Fi extenders are different to routers in that they don’t generate a separate connection, but they do help to broaden its reach. Providers like Sky add this to their set top boxes, improving Wi-Fi throughout your home as well as providing access to high-quality TV and streaming media content.
Honourably excepting Virgin Media, you don’t necessarily have to use the router provided by your ISP. Most companies will insist you take one as part of any new broadband contract, and a few may impose conditions that it must be used. In this scenario, you could simply plug your own router into the provided one and use it as a throughput to your preferred device, benefiting from the latter’s greater signal distribution or extra LAN ports.
Your provider’s router does offer the benefit of being ready to use almost straight away. If that’s not appealing enough, shop around for features you consider important on an independently-manufactured router. Gaming routers allow for strong Wi-Fi connections that support lag-free gaming without a wired connection. Be aware that ISPs may curtail technical support if an unfamiliar router is being used, and it’s generally necessary to have prior experience of using wireless routers to benefit from the added software capabilities of third-party devices.
Wireless broadband has a variety of advantages, including the following scenarios:
If your home features several users with their own assortment of electronic devices, then Wi-Fi is essential for being able to connect any devices that don’t support Ethernet connections.
Shared homes like HMOs or student digs need a router powerful enough to reach and service every room simultaneously.
As mentioned, phones can only get online via home broadband plans through Wi-Fi. Without it, they’ll burn through their monthly mobile data allowances surprisingly quickly unless you’ve chosen an unlimited mobile broadband package.
Any wired broadband connection requires direct access to a router, and it isn’t always practical to have Ethernet cables snaking around a property into every main apartment.
In the best possible environment, Wi-Fi should be able to cover a distance of about 40 metres. However, several things can deplete Wi-Fi’s reach:
A router being positioned too close to a wall or metallic surface
A router being hidden behind TVs, wooden cabinet doors and other obstacles
Interference from devices on the 2.4GHz spectrum, like baby monitors and radios
Physical barriers such as water-filled fish tanks.
All homes can get Wi-Fi, though as explained above, range may be limited by very thick walls or large rooms. If you struggle to get a decent Wi-Fi connection beyond the room hosting the router, consider using a Wi-Fi extender. If this also fails, mobile broadband may fill any gaps Powerline adaptors and Ethernet cabling can’t reach.
Broadband connections can be accessed with or without Wi-Fi, but only if the devices you need broadband for have a wired connection port. There’s usually an Ethernet port on TVs, games consoles and laptops, but not on phones, tablets or wearable tech.
Some PCs don’t come with an inbuilt Wi-Fi adapter, which may necessitate purchasing one separately. These shouldn’t cost too much, and can be smaller than a USB flash drive.
Most broadband deals require a phone line, though there are exceptions for full fibre connections and unbundled services known as SOGEA. These were launched last year, and have already been adopted as broadband-only services by the likes of Sky. Using a Wi-Fi router has no impact on whether or not a phone line is required.
Different things can interrupt Wi-Fi connections, including traffic management policies or interference from other devices and wireless networks. Quick remedies include rebooting your router, changing the frequency or channel it broadcasts on, turning your device’s Wi-Fi settings off and on again. Check around the home for other wireless hardware that may be causing interference, like microwave ovens or even car alarms.
Wi-Fi is a method of delivering wireless broadband to electronic devices. Broadband itself is the internet connection, which can be accessed via a Wi-Fi network or along a fibre optic cable or phone line.
Last updated: 28 January 2021