We all want better broadband, but knowing whether we're paying the right amount to the right provider isn't easy to ascertain. Armed with the results of our annual Home Broadband Survey we report on the best broadband deals in the UK today.
Broadband isn’t a luxury; it’s a right. At least it ought to be. Without access to the web, vast swathes of information are inaccessible. Public services use the internet to keep us informed about travel issues, school closures, and the introduction of amenities, as well as offering web-based advice, distance learning and the like. If you can’t get online, you’ll find yourself left out.
Other online services are less critical, but it’s hard to ignore the impact of social media and news sites as means of breaking and contributing to news and world events. The past year has borne witness to this to an unprecedented extent. Outside the realm of news, video streaming, catch-up TV and download services are transforming the way we consume entertainment. Most people shop online, and use the web to access critical services.
Of course, it’s not just a PC or laptop screen that’s used for all these things. Smartphones and tablets are an ever present window on the web. Internet access – and the broadband infrastructure behind it – really has become critical to our everyday lives. See Broadband Advisor.
Best broadband deals: Home broadband assessed
Every year, PC Advisor runs a web-based survey that asks readers to assess their home-broadband experience. The results enable us to report on broadband on a personal level – the connection speeds and service reliability customers receive, rather than the headline speeds the ISPs boast.
This is the seventh such survey we’ve run, and our thanks go out to everyone who took part. As with previous years, around 6,000 people took the time to tell us about their broadband connection, what does and doesn’t work with the service, what their ISP is doing right, and what needs improvement. See Best Home Broadband Deals.
While we offer modest incentives to encourage participation, we appreciate that filling in surveys isn’t the most fun use of your time. But it’s certainly worth your while, and allows us to share the cumulative feedback about the UK’s best-known ISPs and provide reports based on customers’ experiences.
Best broadband deals: Broadband trends
Connection speed and reliability remain key issues for most customers but, on the whole, UK consumers are satisfied with their broadband services. Of the nearly 6,000 responses we had to our survey, 77.6 percent said they were sufficiently happy with their broadband ISP to recommend it to a friend.
This wasn’t a big surprise: for all our gripes and grumbles about web access, most of us tend to stick with the same provider for a significant period of time. The 12- or 18-month contract initially binds us to an ISP, but more than a third of those we surveyed have been with the same provider for more than five years; another 31 percent have stayed loyal to their ISP for three-to-five years.
While 24 percent said they wouldn’t consider changing their ISP, just as many reported that they would switch to a provider that doesn’t tie them into a long-term contract. More than 60 percent would switch to an internet service provider that was able to supply a faster connection or offered better value, either in the form of a cheaper subscription or uncapped downloads.
Ofcom says that four in 10 households could enjoy significantly faster broadband at little or no cost by switching package or provider.
Of course, it’s easier to stick with what you know than go through the hassle of switching your service provider or internet package.
The home-broadband market has a notoriously bad reputation for the difficulties involved in changing your ISP. Although it’s an easier and faster process than it was only a couple of years ago, those who have tried and been burned by migration attempts may well be shying away from trying it again.
Best broadband deals: Going mobile
Only one in 200 survey respondents thought that 3G mobile broadband would make an acceptable alternative to fixed-line broadband, yet a third of readers regularly use 3G connectivity on their smartphone or tablet. In addition, 56 percent log on at Wi-Fi hotspots and access points when out and about; however, only 5.5 percent pay for such access. A further 12 percent make use of 3G dongles or SIMs on their laptops to sate their need for mobile web access. See Best Mobile Broadband Deals.
At the end of 2011, Ofcom reported that smartphone ownership in the UK had passed the 50 percent penetration mark; a further 9 percent of us own tablets. Not all tablets offer 3G connectivity, so additional services that allow access to national Wi-Fi networks are popular inclusions in broadband deals.
Best broadband deals: Speed issues
In February, Ofcom announced a 22 percent jump in average UK broadband speeds year on year. Its research found that 7.6 megabits per second (Mbps) is now the mean connection rate. The main factor behind this improvement is the availability of faster broadband services and consumers moving to faster packages with the same provider.
Our results showed a far greater instance of people whose connections approach the speeds intimated by their ISPs. Some 71 percent said they enjoy connection speeds close to or usually in line with those promised, but this still leaves 29 percent of customers frustrated by slower internet access. Overall, we found a 81.6 percent satisfaction rate for download speeds.
Enhanced regulations governing how service providers are allowed to describe achievable connection speeds come into force in April. These should ensure potential customers have a better idea of the actual speeds they will achieve with a given ISP. Two years ago, the introduction of a voluntary code of practice to which almost every UK broadband provider signed up saw some improvements in such transparency.
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