We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. If you continue to use this site, we'll assume you're happy with this. Alternatively, click here to find out how to manage these cookies

hide cookie message

What's the best broadband ISP in the UK? The UK's fastest, cheapest ISPs in 2014

PC Advisor Broadband Survey 2014: how good is your ISP?

Which is the best broadband provider in the UK? We asked more than 10,000 UK consumers and a panel of experts to find out. Here we reveal the fastest ISP in the UK, the cheapest ISP in the UK, and the best ISP in the UK. Looking to change broadband provider, or simply want to know how good is your ISP? You're in the right place to find out. (Visit Broadband Advisor for more.)

Broadband Britain has come a long way in the past decade. It has a long way to go still.

These days a significant chunk of the UK populace expects their houses to be hooked up to fast and reliable web connectivity, in the same way they expect gas, water and electricity to be readily available. And rightly so: we bet that plenty of you use the internet much more than you pick up your landline and place a call. Today we want to do more than ever online, everything from banking and filing a tax return to downloading movies and streaming radio.

That's the theory at least. But whenever we write a story about faster broadband being spread to areas of our island we are guaranteed to meet with howls of protest from those living outside Broadband Britain's faster highways. For a significant minority the idea of stable and fast broadband remains just an idea.

We wanted to find out just how the UK is doing in terms of broadband provision. To take the temperature of this nation's broadband users, and to find out which are the best ISPs. Best for innovation, performance and value. And the best at providing customer service when things do go wrong, as they do.

As consumer tech experts we partnered with Broadband Genie, an impartial, independent, and consumer-focused commercial broadband comparison service. Together we engaged an independent survey company (OnPoll) to survey 3,000 broadband users, chosen at random, in late 2013 and early 2014. We asked those users how happy they were with their ISP. We got them to test the speed and reliability of their connections, and found out other valuable tidbits, such as how much they were paying, and for what exactly.

We also convened a panel of experts incorporating editors from PC Advisor and Broadband Genie, as well as broadband industry insiders. And finally we asked the readers of PC Advisor what they thought of UK broadband provision now and in the future, using a series of polls each of which garnered more than 3,000 respondents.

All told then more than 10,000 UK broadband users have contributed to the data we are about to share. Combined with the expertise of PC Advisor, Broadband Genie and our panel of broadband industry experts this gives us a unique snapshot of Broadband Britain in 2014.

Here we'll examine UK consumers' experience of broadband, and what we hope for in the future. And we'll also reward excellence in UK broadband, crowning the best ISPs for speed, reliability, innovation, customer satisfaction and value. (See all our broadband buying advice.)

You can read Broadband Genie's Broadband Report here.

You may also be interested in our companion pieces, How good is public Wi-Fi? We test The Cloud, BT and O2; UK's best mobile networks tested and Best mobile platform for working on the move?.

What you think of UK broadband provision

Our survey of 3,000 broadband users gave us data on the following ISPs: BT, Virgin Media, Sky Broadband (including O2 Broadband), PlusNet, EE Broadband (formerly Orange Broadband), TalkTalk, Be Broadband, Tesco, Post Office Broadband and Primus. One or two smaller ISPs such as Karoo and Madasafish were included, but the sample sizes were so small we couldn't include them in the collated results - a shame, as both of those mentioned performed well.

Of our 3,000 respondents the majority (68 percent) were on ADSL broadband. Interestingly, however, that leaves just shy of 20 percent on fibre broadband, and around 12 percent with cable.

Encouragingly only 12 percent of those surveyed said they wouldn't recommend their broadband supplier. 20 percent were neutral on this, but 51 percent would recommend their ISP as 'satisfactory' and 17 percent went as far as to describe their ISP as 'top rate'.

So, if in general we seem to be getting happier with our broadband, let's take a look at what really matters to you when you are choosing an ISP.

Broadband SpeedWe asked PC Advisor readers, 'What's most important to you when choosing a home broadband ISP?' Of 3,740 respondents, a massive 57 percent chose 'Speed'. The next highest answer was 'Price' with 28 percent of the vote. The other answers were supported only by small numbers: 5 percent chose 'Customer service', 3 percent each selected 'Tech Support', 'Bundled Services' and 'Other'.

And if that is what matters now, here's what PC Advisor readers think will be important over 2014. We asked 'What will be the most important broadband development of 2014?' Over one third of the 3,108 respondents (35 percent) said 'Home broadband becomes cheaper than ever'. The next biggest answer was 'Rural broadband upgrades', with a quarter of the votes. Just shy of one in five (18 percent) said 'Expansion of 4G mobile broadband coverage' was most important, 12 percent chose 'Wider availability of ultrafast FTTH broadband', and 9 percent said the 'Announcement of 5G mobile broadband' was the most important development likely to happen in broadband this year.

So that's what you think is important in the world of UK broadband. Now let's take a look at the best of the current crop of ISPs.

The UK's best broadband ISPs of 2014

Plusnet and Virgin did well across all categories. For instance, when we asked 'would you recommend your Broadband Provider', Plusnet tied with Virgin to achieve the best overall ranking. But the picture was positive across the board. For instance, although around a third of Tesco Broadband customers were undecided as to whether they would recommend their ISP, only in the cases of Primus and Be Broadband did a third of respondents actively say they wouldn't recommend their provider.

Table: would you recommend your ISP?

CLICK TABLE TO VIEW AT FULL SIZE

Would you recommend ISP?

MOST RECOMMENDED ISP: Plusnet & Virgin


So let's have a look at why those ISPs attained those results. It was a similar story when it came to customer care, with only Be and Primus failing to get half of their customers to say customer service was excellent or at least satisfactory (and even then Be's 47 percent is close enough). Indeed, we were delighted to see four providers had more than 60 percent wholly satisfied customers. And the winner? Step forward once again Plusnet.

Table: How good is your ISP's customer care?

CLICK TABLE TO VIEW AT FULL SIZE

Broadband Customer Care

BEST ISP FOR CUSTOMER CARE: Plusnet


Another key factor is the price you pay to receive such service. Here Plusnet was again the winner, its customers paying an average of only £13 a month for their broadband. The overall average was a little under £18, with TalkTalk deserving of an honourable mention as the only other provider charging less than £15. Virgin Media shows that you get what you pay for, with an average cost of over £20, beaten only by Be Broadband, which looks expensive in this company.

TABLE: How much do you pay for your broadband, excluding line rental? (In pounds, per month)

CLICK TABLE TO VIEW AT FULL SIZE

Price of UK broadband

BEST VALUE ISP: Plusnet


As we discovered when we questioned PC Advisor readers (keep reading for more on that), reliability and speed are extremely important things when you are considering your choice of ISP. And in terms of reliability, Virgin Media is the best of the best, with a staggering 80 percent approval rate, and fewer than 10 percent of customers left unsatisfied. Plusnet again kept up its strong showing with a credible second place.

TABLE: Is your connection reliable?

CLICK TABLE TO VIEW AT FULL SIZE

Reliable Connection?

MOST RELIABLE ISP: Virgin Media


And what then, of speed, the most important factor for UK broadband users when selecting an ISP. We measured this two ways, both in terms of customer satisfaction and the speed tests the survey respondents submitted.

In the case of the former, once again Virgin Media leads the way, with a whopping 82 percent of customers expressing their happiness with the rapid internet fired down cables to their homes. BT with its fibre networks also made a strong showing here. Another fibre operator, Plusnet, also performed well here.

TABLE: Are you happy with your broadband speed?

CLICK TABLE TO VIEW AT FULL SIZE

Broadband speed

These results were repeated when we looked at the speed tests themselves. Virgin Media took the award for fastest broadband, as befits the network that offers the fastest advertised speeds in the country. Plusnet was a close second, with BT just behind. If you want speed, you need to upgrade from ADSL (if you can).

CHART: Average speed test results per ISP (kbps)

  • Virgin: 27,266
  • Plusnet: 24,529
  • BT: 13,164
  • TalkTalk: 6,910
  • EE: 6,818
  • Demon: 6,586
  • Sky: 5,942
  • Eclipse: 5,786
  • O2: 5,642
  • Be: 5,458
  • AOL: 3,809
  • Post Office: 3,255

(The following ISPs were included but had insufficient sample sizes to be in the main list.)

  • Madasafish: 37,597*
  • Karoo: 29,892*
  • Zen: 8,211*
  • Entanet: 7,809*

*small sample sizes

A clear winner, then. Virgin Media is the fastest ISP in the land, and is recognised as such by its customers.

FASTEST ISP: Virgin Media


Overall Broadband Awards 2014

So, having sorted the wheat from the chaff with our survey, we decided to make some overall ISP awards for 2014. They are...

Highly commended UK ISP for 2014: Virgin Media

The fastest ISP, both in terms of overall speed tests and user satisfaction, it is perhaps unfair on Virgin that we have to pick a winner. Indeed, the survey results show that Virgin Media users are just as happy as are Plusnet customers: that is, very happy indeed. As well as speed, Virgin's cable technology provides the most reliable network, but you do get what you pay for in this regard, and Virgin Media is one of the more expensive ISPs.

Best UK ISP of 2014: Plusnet

Plusnet is fast, and cheap, and its customer service is second to none. It was a close-run thing but we have to award Plusnet our overall best broadband ISP award. It is only marginally slower than Virgin, and a lot cheaper. Indeed, it was the cheapest broadband provider that made our shortlist, offering the best customer care and performing well in every category.


Best UK ISPs of 2014: Our expert panel awards

This section by Matt Powell, Editor, Broadband Genie

Our judging panel of industry insiders and commentators were asked for their opinions on the broadband ISPs that really stood out in 2013. The categories voted on were Most Innovative ISP, Best Bundled Provider and Best Budget Provider.

Our judging panel included Pamela Learmonth, CEO of the Broadband Stakeholder's Group, Mike Davies, CEO of the Registered Digital Institute; Tom Fellowes, Sales Director at business ISP Spitfire; Matt Egan, Editor-in-Chief of IDG UK Tech Media, and myself - Broadband Genie editor Matt Powell.

Each was asked to nominate a provider in each category, before casting votes on the finalists. There were no guidelines or restrictions about which providers could be nominated, giving all providers big and small a chance at winning. Here's what the judges had to say...

Best Budget Provider 2014

Winner: Plusnet

"Excellent all-round value, and crucially do not push you as much as other providers to take their phone line rental – if you do want their line rental it is (slightly) cheaper than the competition. Good all round mixture of cheap capped and unlimited use services" - Tom Fellowes.

Finalist: Tesco

"Not just offering cheap services but also challenging the 12-/18-/24-month minimum of the market, providing more flexible options for consumers" - Pamela Learmonth.

TalkTalk also made the final round for budget ISPs. "TalkTalk's Simply Broadband package is incredible value, offering a truly unlimited service for a nominal fee" - Matt Powell.

Best Bundled Provider 2014

Winner: Sky

"They offer great TV, broadband and telephone packages to suit all budgets. Coupled with this is great customer service. They also offer superfast fibre package at a reasonable price" - Mike Davies.

Finalist: BT

"Offer a good value all-round package for fast broadband, phone and TV. The TV package is not the most comprehensive, but in terms of an all-round value the TV Entertainment with unlimited BT Infinity 2 Broadband is good value" - Tom Fellowes.

TalkTalk also made the final nominations for bundled providers: "In a climate where BT and Sky are continually investing staggering amounts, it has been TalkTalk that has actually capitalised on the bundle market, cleverly targeting the market with good value bundles with YouView" - Pamela Learmonth.

Most Innovative ISP 2014

Winner: Gigaclear

"By creating their own pure fibre network Gigaclear has delivered ultrafast gigabit broadband to neglected rural communities. A stark contrast to the government's short-sighted BDUK project" - Matt Powell.

Finalist: BT

"Because again it has continued to push the boundaries of speed and reliability, pushing out fibre to the home to increasing numbers of consumers. But also because of its bold content strategy: BT now provides the content and the means for you to enjoy that content. Offering BT Sport for free has opened up competition like never before, leading to better deals from the likes of Sky and Virgin Media" - Matt Egan.

Also nominated were Gigler ("ultrafast with competitively priced packages across the consumer and business markets" - Pamela Learmonth) and Kijoma ("offers up to 40Mb downstream and 10Mb up via a wirelesss service typically covering up to 20km in a 120 degree arc from one aerial" - Tom Fellowes).

You may also be interested in our companion pieces, How good is public Wi-Fi? We test The Cloud, BT and O2; UK's best mobile networks tested and Best mobile platform for working on the move?.

IDG UK Sites

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 review: The best iPad mini and Nexus 7 rival tablet around

IDG UK Sites

Which Mac? Complete Apple Mac buyers guide for 2014

IDG UK Sites

Mobile email is powerful and useful - but also hopelessly intrusive

IDG UK Sites

Samsung lights up London skyline with Midnight Rainbow