Frustrating at times but impossible to live without, web access is too vital to settle for sub-standard service. PC Advisor analyses what 6,500 of you had to say about your broadband experiences, which ISPs are best, and how to get cheaper broadband.

Web access seems to have bucked the trend for belt-tightening in these tough economic times, having become a near-necessity rather than a luxury.

We've lost count of the press releases and news stories over the past year recounting just what the nation's householders would forego rather than give up their broadband connection, from holidays and alcohol to chocolate and sex.

Given our addiction to the net, it was no surprise that more of you than ever were keen to have your say about your broadband experience, your provider and the pros and cons of their service. Granted, the fact that we teased you with the possibility of winning netbooks and other tech-related goodies in our £4,000 lucky dip may have helped.

In all, 6,557 people completed our survey between May and July. The feedback you provided enabled us to draw broad conclusions about the state of Digital Britain, but it also meant we were able to produce in-depth analysis of the performance of some of the best-known ISPs.

As ever, our aim in running the PC Advisor Broadband Survey was to get an idea of how ISPs are performing, what they still need to get right and where they've improved. Availability and marketing clout meant that BT, Sky and Virgin Media clocked up the highest number of users among survey respondents, but that doesn't necessarily mean they came in for the most accolades - or the biggest criticisms.

Boost your broadband - useful links:

Broadband survey 2009: Web on the move

With web access on smartphones and other mobile devices becoming more prevalent, we plan to run separate surveys in the coming months to see how internet provision on these is panning out.

For now, we've reported on where things stand in that market and how quickly it's being adopted.

NEXT: Our survey says…

Broadband Advisor

Broadband Survey 2009 index:

  1. PC Advisor readers' verdict on Broadband Britain
  2. Our survey says…
  3. ISP reviews: AOL & Be Broadband
  4. ISP reviews: BT & BT Yahoo
  5. ISP reviews: Demon & O2
  6. ISP reviews: Orange & Pipex
  7. ISP reviews: Plusnet & Sky Broadband
  8. ISP reviews: Talk Talk & Tiscali
  9. ISP reviews: Virgin Media & Zen Internet
  10. Mobile broadband
  11. Better broadband for all
  12. Better broadband, shaping up
  13. Behind the scenes: a broadband call centre

Survey sponsored by Broadband Genie

Frustrating at times but impossible to live without, web access is too vital to settle for sub-standard service. PC Advisor analyses what 6,500 of you had to say about your broadband experiences, which ISPs are best, and how to get cheaper broadband.

Broadband survey 2009: Our survey says…

Speed complaints

Unfulfilled promises about possible connection speeds were the biggest gripe highlighted in this year’s survey. But that’s hardly surprising, since the same issue has been the cause of frustration and anger since the internet began.

Back in the days when a 56k modem, an AOL setup disc and a Windows 95 PC offered access to a whole new world of websites filled with garish graphics and dodgy animated GIFs, we were pretty much content with a hyperlink that worked, the ability to engage in newsgroup chatter with like-minded technology fans and the ability to brag about our web-connected status.

But then home broadband came along and changed the rules. BT had to ‘enable’ the telephone exchange where you lived to support broadband in the first place, and you had to live sufficiently close to the exchange to get a broadband connection.

There was no longer a level playing field, with geography and profitability becoming – and remaining – the driving factors behind the roll-out of broadband provision across the UK.

The sole exception was for cable customers. Those lucky enough to have roads that had already been ripped up so commercial TV operators could sell them additional channels became the blessed beneficiaries of the broadband generation, able to take advantage of speeds the rest of us could only gawp at.

Faster broadband has been the holy grail of ISPs and their customers ever since. But while some urban dwellers are spoilt for choice, chunks of the country still struggle to get much above dialup speeds. Adding insult to injury, while gleefully promising ‘up to 8 megabits per second (Mbps)’ connections to all who care to enquire, some ISPs charge the same subscription fee to customers stuck at far lower speeds.

Digital Britain and 'broadband tax'

To level things out, the government announced plans to hasten the spread of at least 2Mbps broadband to as much of the country as it could in its much-vaunted Digital Britain report.

Concluding that persistent web access is now a right rather than a luxury, it promptly decided that the best way to ensure broadband Britain became a reality was to get everyone to subsidise the roll-out, to the tune of £6 each. Now if that’s not a sure-fire way to stir up the hornet’s nest of malcontent caused by the inequalities of broadband access, we’re not sure what is.

Thankfully, as we write, there are strong rumours that the proposed ‘broadband tax’ would be quietly dropped.

Boost your broadband - useful links:

Don’t believe the hype

For many people, broadband has never lived up to its hype. Speed tests conducted by our survey respondents show figures far lower than the top-line speeds advertised by some ISPs. We also had independent testers at ThinkBroadband.com monitor average connection speeds across the UK throughout the three months that our survey was running.

The story was the same: while cable users and those on ADSL2+ connections enjoyed higher speeds, the national average was a disappointing 3.4Mbps.

Communications regulator Ofcom, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and other industry watchers have criticised broadband providers’ habit of making extravagant claims for theoretical speeds, and other cunning ploys have come to light.

Offering 'unlimited' broadband that is actually subject to a fair-use policy is common practice; ISPs claim it prevents a minority of bandwidth hogs from clogging up the network and slowing down web access for the rest of us.

An aside is that it encourages customers who need consistently fast web access during the day to buy a business broadband package with attendant service level agreement guaranteeing uptime.

More upsetting to many respondents than apparent bandwidth throttling and port blocking (a way of preventing peer-to-peer filesharing) was unexpected, extended service outages. However, overall satisfaction ratings for home broadband were generally higher this year than in the past two years.

AOL, Orange and Tiscali scored poorly here, and this was reflected in the verbatim comments to our survey question about your criteria for choosing a different ISP – "one that offers a more reliable connection” was a near-universal cry. Zen, Be and O2, meanwhile, were the only three broadband providers to score reasonably well for the speed of their connections.

NEXT: ISPs reviewed >>

Broadband Advisor

Broadband Survey 2009 index:

  1. PC Advisor readers' verdict on Broadband Britain
  2. Our survey says…
  3. ISP reviews: AOL & Be Broadband
  4. ISP reviews: BT & BT Yahoo
  5. ISP reviews: Demon & O2
  6. ISP reviews: Orange & Pipex
  7. ISP reviews: Plusnet & Sky Broadband
  8. ISP reviews: Talk Talk & Tiscali
  9. ISP reviews: Virgin Media & Zen Internet
  10. Mobile broadband
  11. Better broadband for all
  12. Better broadband, shaping up
  13. Behind the scenes: a broadband call centre

Survey sponsored by Broadband Genie

Frustrating at times but impossible to live without, web access is too vital to settle for sub-standard service. PC Advisor analyses what 6,500 of you had to say about your broadband experiences, which ISPs are best, and how to get cheaper broadband.

Broadband survey 2009: ISP report cards

AOL

Star ratingAOL used to be the internet service you used when you first discovered the internet. In fact, for many years, PC Advisor carried the AOL setup disc on its cover so you could get online and get yourself an internet subscription. These days, it’s rather a faded star, offering only fairly standard broadband deals with a discount if you also take its parent company The Carphone Warehouse’s TalkTalk landline phone service.

Despite being bought by Carphone Warehouse three years ago, the AOL brand persists and a solid number of survey respondents told us they continue to be customers. Almost all AOL broadband customers are exclusively PC users and it seems many of you enjoy either very generous or unlimited broadband for between £10 and £15 a month.

While offering good value, AOL wasn’t the most highly recommended of ISPs – only half of its customers in our survey said they’d recommend it to a friend. Some AOL customers reported problems accessing the BBC’s iPlayer services, while others claimed they were penalised for living in remote locations.

On the flip side, several customers gleefully told us that having been with AOL for a number of years they get unrestricted downloads and happily do their best to make full use of untrammelled web access.

Boost your broadband - useful links:

Be Broadband

Star ratingBe arrived with a bang in 2005, offering very fast connections to a select number of customers. The Scandinavian firm provided only ADSL2 connections and installed its own equipment in its chosen exchanges. This immediately did away with the 'it’s all BT's fault' argument often cited by ISPs, but also revived the whole issue of the digital divide in terms of fast broadband. It was initially only urban telephone exchanges that were enabled by Be – any other strategy would have been commercial suicide.

These days, more than 1,240 exchanges contain Be’s ADSL2+ hardware and the ISP is able to offer up to 30Mbps connections to around 22 percent of the country. Be Broadband customers had the greatest concentration of 20Mbps+ connections, despite the domination of Virgin Media in this survey.

If you want really fast broadband and can’t get cable, Be is worth looking into.

It’s also worth noting that Be is now owned by 02, so there’s a chance that by choosing O2 you may eventually get switched to a faster but not necessarily so stable Be ADSL2+ connection.

RecommendedBe Broadband gets a PC Advisor ISP Awards 2009 Recommended Award.

NEXT: BT & BT Yahoo >>

Broadband Advisor

Broadband Survey 2009 index:

  1. PC Advisor readers' verdict on Broadband Britain
  2. Our survey says…
  3. ISP reviews: AOL & Be Broadband
  4. ISP reviews: BT & BT Yahoo
  5. ISP reviews: Demon & O2
  6. ISP reviews: Orange & Pipex
  7. ISP reviews: Plusnet & Sky Broadband
  8. ISP reviews: Talk Talk & Tiscali
  9. ISP reviews: Virgin Media & Zen Internet
  10. Mobile broadband
  11. Better broadband for all
  12. Better broadband, shaping up
  13. Behind the scenes: a broadband call centre

Survey sponsored by Broadband Genie

Frustrating at times but impossible to live without, web access is too vital to settle for sub-standard service. PC Advisor analyses what 6,500 of you had to say about your broadband experiences, which ISPs are best, and how to get cheaper broadband.


BT

Star ratingBoth BT and BT Yahoo customers were largely happy with their connections, but overall satisfaction ratings for BT Yahoo were noticeably higher than for BT itself.

Both reported good connection reliability, but only 44.2 percent of BT Broadband customers said they can get anything like the connection speed they believe they pay for; given that BT provides the infrastructure for most ADSL services, it seems reasonable that people expect a fast web connection.

However, customers were hardly up in arms – 70 percent said they were either happy with or merely ambivalent about the speeds they routinely enjoy. Just over 50 percent of customers are on the 5Mbps to 8Mbps tariff.

Aside from the connection issue, we were surprised by the divergence in perception between the BT and BT Yahoo customer bases. BT got a moderate-to-good report but a high recommendation rating. There were some grumbles about tech support and speeds, but the overall perception is good. As a result, the ISP has a loyal base of customers who have stayed with it for years.

BT Vision is a strong pull for some customers, while a solid 26 percent enjoy its home Wi-Fi setup. A higher proportion of BT customers than any other use the mobile web in some form.

Boost your broadband - useful links:

BT Yahoo

Star ratingAs mentioned below left, BT Yahoo outshone its host in our survey. Users gave their ISP a resounding thumbs-up, with a full 90 percent of customers saying they were generally satisfied or very satisfied. Most intriguing was that the technical support and customer care ratings for BT Yahoo were noticeably higher than BT’s, topping 70 percent in both categories. Be, Demon, Plusnet and 02 were the only other ISPs to score so highly in these areas.

BT Yahoo users would like to see improvements on the reliability and speed front, but their 5Mbps to 8Mbps connection, often bundled with VoIP, landline or mobile phone services, does them very nicely given the typical outlay of £15 to £20 per month for an unlimited off-peak connection.

A high proportion of users get online using a Mac.

NEXT: Demon & O2 >>

Broadband Advisor

Broadband Survey 2009 index:

  1. PC Advisor readers' verdict on Broadband Britain
  2. Our survey says…
  3. ISP reviews: AOL & Be Broadband
  4. ISP reviews: BT & BT Yahoo
  5. ISP reviews: Demon & O2
  6. ISP reviews: Orange & Pipex
  7. ISP reviews: Plusnet & Sky Broadband
  8. ISP reviews: Talk Talk & Tiscali
  9. ISP reviews: Virgin Media & Zen Internet
  10. Mobile broadband
  11. Better broadband for all
  12. Better broadband, shaping up
  13. Behind the scenes: a broadband call centre

Survey sponsored by Broadband Genie

Frustrating at times but impossible to live without, web access is too vital to settle for sub-standard service. PC Advisor analyses what 6,500 of you had to say about your broadband experiences, which ISPs are best, and how to get cheaper broadband.

Demon

Star ratingLike Zen and Plusnet, Demon is a familiar name in the UK broadband market, something owner Cable & Wireless is keen to retain. No stranger to the upper echelons of PC Advisor’s annual broadband survey, it once again scores well.

It was level pegging with Virgin Media, ranking fifth overall, with praise of the provider’s reliability and tech support among its notable successes. Since customer care and tech support are real bugbears of the internet industry, posting satisfaction ratings around the 80 percent mark is some achievement.

Download speeds don’t come up to snuff, but that’s a recurring theme with broadband in the UK. We were pleased to find good reports for the reliability of Demon’s web connection.

Boost your broadband - useful links:

O2

Star ratingIt wasn’t a huge surprise to learn from our survey that the biggest overlap between broadband provider and mobile phone subscription was with O2. After all, O2 has the iPhone contract sewn up (at least for now) and offers discounts for O2 mobile subscribers to its broadband service, making it good value as a bundle.

As an indirect result, O2 was cited as the most common choice of broadband provider for Mac users, with nearly a quarter of all 02 customers who completed the survey stating that a Mac was their primary PC. In mixed Windows and Mac households O2 was also a common choice, whereas Virgin Media was criticised for its lack of out-of-the-box Mac support.

Given the popularity of the iPhone and the good rates for this two-year-old ISP, it wasn’t a surprise to find many people had made the switch from another provider and done so smoothly, with positive reports about the migration process. Connection reliability was among the best of all the ISPs evaluated. However, several respondents commented on the poor quality of the router provided, with security not enabled by default. Overall, though, the consensus is that O2 is a solid provider offering good speeds and great value.

If you sign up for O2 but live in an area where Be Broadband becomes available and its ADSL2+ service can offer faster connections, you’ll be able to use it. Be was bought by O2 in 2007, enabling it to roll out out its high-speed web connections faster – so far, it’s done so to more than a fifth of the UK.

Curiously, exactly the same proportion (64.8 percent) of 02 and Virgin customers said they were able to get close to or not far from the connection speed advertised by their ISP.

Best Buy ISPO2 is PC Advisor's Best Buy ISP 2009.

NEXT: Orange & Pipex >>

Broadband Advisor

Broadband Survey 2009 index:

  1. PC Advisor readers' verdict on Broadband Britain
  2. Our survey says…
  3. ISP reviews: AOL & Be Broadband
  4. ISP reviews: BT & BT Yahoo
  5. ISP reviews: Demon & O2
  6. ISP reviews: Orange & Pipex
  7. ISP reviews: Plusnet & Sky Broadband
  8. ISP reviews: Talk Talk & Tiscali
  9. ISP reviews: Virgin Media & Zen Internet
  10. Mobile broadband
  11. Better broadband for all
  12. Better broadband, shaping up
  13. Behind the scenes: a broadband call centre

Survey sponsored by Broadband Genie

Frustrating at times but impossible to live without, web access is too vital to settle for sub-standard service. PC Advisor analyses what 6,500 of you had to say about your broadband experiences, which ISPs are best, and how to get cheaper broadband.

Orange

Star ratingWhen mobile operator Orange bought out French ISP Wanadoo, there was much uproar. Wanadoo had proved a popular ISP in the UK, having been quick to roll out half-decent broadband speeds of 2Mbps or so.

The changeover from Wanadoo to Orange wasn’t a happy one, as previous PC Advisor surveys showed. Orange customers continue to report issues with the reliability and connection speeds of their service, with only middling scores for the speeds achieved when customers can get online. As a result, only 64 percent of respondents said they’d recommend Orange as an ISP.

Surprisingly, given Orange’s combined mobile broadband with fixed-line broadband offerings, a scant 11 percent of survey respondents said they have either a 3G dongle or 3G smartphone with Orange. On the other hand, almost 20 percent bundle their broadband with their mobile phone contract.

Satisfaction ratings for the connection speeds achieved were about average and Orange put in a fairly middling showing overall.

Boost your broadband - useful links:

Pipex

Star ratingThose with good memories may remember ‘Baywatch’ star David Hasselhoff briefly fronting the marketing campaign for Pipex. Not long after, the Chilterns-based ISP (which also owns business broadband provider Nildram) was bought out by Tiscali. These days, Pipex trades as a small business broadband company offering ADSL2+ connections that you can sign up to for as little as three months. Given the number of times flexible contracts came up as a desirable feature for an ISP to offer, this is a sound idea.

Unfortunately, our survey shows that Pipex has a lot of customers who have been with it for several years but whose expectations aren’t being met terribly well. Talk Talk has much ground to make up if it’s to capitalise on the enlarged customer base it’s gained by buying out Pipex.

NEXT: Plusnet & Sky Broadband >>

Broadband Advisor

Broadband Survey 2009 index:

  1. PC Advisor readers' verdict on Broadband Britain
  2. Our survey says…
  3. ISP reviews: AOL & Be Broadband
  4. ISP reviews: BT & BT Yahoo
  5. ISP reviews: Demon & O2
  6. ISP reviews: Orange & Pipex
  7. ISP reviews: Plusnet & Sky Broadband
  8. ISP reviews: Talk Talk & Tiscali
  9. ISP reviews: Virgin Media & Zen Internet
  10. Mobile broadband
  11. Better broadband for all
  12. Better broadband, shaping up
  13. Behind the scenes: a broadband call centre

Survey sponsored by Broadband Genie

Frustrating at times but impossible to live without, web access is too vital to settle for sub-standard service. PC Advisor analyses what 6,500 of you had to say about your broadband experiences, which ISPs are best, and how to get cheaper broadband.

Plusnet

Star ratingIf you’re a Plusnet customer you’re likely to be paying around £15 a month for your broadband, with unlimited off-peak downloads and a connection speed of 5Mbps to 8Mbps. Two thirds of you are on this deal – and, despite low figures for achieving promised speeds, you seem extremely happy.

Plusnet is a popular ISP choice for Mac users. A quarter of all Plusnet customers who answered our survey stated that they are primarily connecting on a Mac or have a mixed Mac and PC household using the web.

Ninety percent of you said you’d recommend Plusnet as an ISP and both the overall satisfaction and connection reliability figures were among the best of all providers for which we had sufficient data to evaluate. As a result, customer loyalty was also high, with a third of you having stuck with Plusnet for more than five years, so we were surprised to find long-term contracts cited as a reason for switching to another ISP.

PC Advisor ISP Awards 2009 Recommended AwardPlusnet gets a PC Advisor ISP Awards 2009 Recommended Award.

Boost your broadband - useful links:

Sky Broadband

Star ratingSky first launched its broadband service back in 2006, and soon thereafter went head to head with one of today’s other big guns, Virgin Media. Both were able to capitalise on their existing brand and their provision of additional TV channels, then add these to both their broadband and landline phone services. It was a competitive and often bloody time.

Nearly a 10th of all respondents to our broadband survey 2009 told us they are Sky Broadband customers and, in general, their experience of the UK’s third-largest ISP was favourable. More than 85 percent would recommend Sky’s broadband service.

Sky customers are also confirmed web addicts, it seems: a third of you also have 3G or mobile broadband via a dongle or smartphone, while three quarters of you spend at least 10 leisure hours a week online and a third of you more than 20 hrs.

Sky was criticised for its slightly below average reliability – this was the most likely factor that would lead Sky customers to switch to another ISP. Many of you have had cause to contact technical or customer support, and below-par scores here indicate this wasn’t always a satisfactory experience. Satisfaction rates for connection speeds, however, were impressive.

Sky customers appear to be paying among the least for their broadband provision – the majority of survey respondents are paying less than £15 a month for web access, while 47 percent of Sky users are on a sub-£10 per month deal. Even so, uncapped broadband and connection rates of 5Mbps to 8Mbps were the norm.

NEXT: Talk Talk & Tiscali >>

Broadband Advisor

Broadband Survey 2009 index:

  1. PC Advisor readers' verdict on Broadband Britain
  2. Our survey says…
  3. ISP reviews: AOL & Be Broadband
  4. ISP reviews: BT & BT Yahoo
  5. ISP reviews: Demon & O2
  6. ISP reviews: Orange & Pipex
  7. ISP reviews: Plusnet & Sky Broadband
  8. ISP reviews: Talk Talk & Tiscali
  9. ISP reviews: Virgin Media & Zen Internet
  10. Mobile broadband
  11. Better broadband for all
  12. Better broadband, shaping up
  13. Behind the scenes: a broadband call centre

Survey sponsored by Broadband Genie

Frustrating at times but impossible to live without, web access is too vital to settle for sub-standard service. PC Advisor analyses what 6,500 of you had to say about your broadband experiences, which ISPs are best, and how to get cheaper broadband.


Talk Talk

Star ratingIn your verbatim comments, many of you stated that you felt you were getting an extremely good value bundled package from Talk Talk.

Several people praised Talk Talk’s forum for its helpfulness, while the excellent-value home phone deal that includes free overseas phone calls was rightly held up as an example of a genuinely useful extra. Talk Talk scored a creditable overall satisfaction rating of 78 percent, with more than 80 percent of customers happy to recommend it.

That said, Talk Talk got a bit of a pasting from some of our survey respondents – the company’s speed, technical support and customer service scores in our survey were all lower than average.

A fair proportion of negative comments related to customers having been told that faster broadband connectivity would be offered as soon as the local loop unbundling (LLU) process is complete – something some respondents told us they had been waiting for almost three years. Although Talk Talk isn’t directly responsible for this, it highlights an important point about expectations and the delayed fulfilment of promises.

The contentious issue of outsourced help centres based overseas reared its ugly head too, causing a certain amount of friction.

Boost your broadband - useful links:

Tiscali

Star ratingTiscali found itself trailing behind its rivals in our survey results. Like its new owner, The Carphone Warehouse, which offers broadband under the Talk Talk brand, Tiscali appears to have some ground to make up when it comes to delivering customer satisfaction.

A fairly average 71 percent of its customers think the connection speeds achieved are acceptable, while the reliability of that connection is lower than that offered by most other ISPs. What really kept the overall scores for Tiscali low, however, were the ratings for its customer care and, consequently, users’ satisfaction and willingness to recommend its service.

Long-term Tiscali customers report that the service has got worse rather than better in the past few months. Against this, we had reports that the Tiscali TV service was well worth having and that speeds achieved in rural locations were better than expected.

NEXT: Virgin Media & Zen Internet >>

Broadband Advisor

Broadband Survey 2009 index:

  1. PC Advisor readers' verdict on Broadband Britain
  2. Our survey says…
  3. ISP reviews: AOL & Be Broadband
  4. ISP reviews: BT & BT Yahoo
  5. ISP reviews: Demon & O2
  6. ISP reviews: Orange & Pipex
  7. ISP reviews: Plusnet & Sky Broadband
  8. ISP reviews: Talk Talk & Tiscali
  9. ISP reviews: Virgin Media & Zen Internet
  10. Mobile broadband
  11. Better broadband for all
  12. Better broadband, shaping up
  13. Behind the scenes: a broadband call centre

Survey sponsored by Broadband Genie

Frustrating at times but impossible to live without, web access is too vital to settle for sub-standard service. PC Advisor analyses what 6,500 of you had to say about your broadband experiences, which ISPs are best, and how to get cheaper broadband.


Virgin Media

Star ratingVirgin Media offers both ADSL and cable broadband in combination with IPTV, landline, mobile phone and TV subscription packages. The company reports that it has just under four million broadband customers – the split among our survey respondents was 85 percent cable and 15 percent ADSL users.

Ratings for download speeds, connectivity and satisfaction were high. Given that cable broadband is largely uncontended, and that Virgin is able to offer the fastest connection speeds in the UK and combine them with other services at a discount, this is hardly a surprise.

Virgin’s scores for technical and customer support were average, however, with many complaints over bandwidth-throttling. Almost 12 percent of Virgin customers said they would consider switching to an alternative ISP that didn’t prevent P2P file-sharing, while 16 percent expressed concern about BT’s involvement with trials of the controversial Phorm behavioural targeted-advertising service.

Boost your broadband - useful links:

Zen Internet

Star ratingOver the years, Zen has become a regular fixture of our broadband survey. As one of the UK’s smaller ISPs, it consistently scores well for providing customers with the personal touch, and in the satisfaction stakes. As a pure broadband provider, it’s able to focus its attention on providing one service and doing so very well. Expect better maximum transmission unit (MTU) attenuation, better ping rates for gaming and superior connections.

As in previous years, Zen proves to be one of the shining lights of broadband service providers as far as our survey respondents are concerned.

RecommendedZen Internet gets a PC Advisor ISP Awards 2009 Recommended Award.

NEXT: Mobile broadband >>

Broadband Advisor

Broadband Survey 2009 index:

  1. PC Advisor readers' verdict on Broadband Britain
  2. Our survey says…
  3. ISP reviews: AOL & Be Broadband
  4. ISP reviews: BT & BT Yahoo
  5. ISP reviews: Demon & O2
  6. ISP reviews: Orange & Pipex
  7. ISP reviews: Plusnet & Sky Broadband
  8. ISP reviews: Talk Talk & Tiscali
  9. ISP reviews: Virgin Media & Zen Internet
  10. Mobile broadband
  11. Better broadband for all
  12. Better broadband, shaping up
  13. Behind the scenes: a broadband call centre

Survey sponsored by Broadband Genie

Frustrating at times but impossible to live without, web access is too vital to settle for sub-standard service. PC Advisor analyses what 6,500 of you had to say about your broadband experiences, which ISPs are best, and how to get cheaper broadband.

Broadband survey 2009: Mobile broadband

As we outlined in the introduction to this feature, mobile broadband is very much on the rise, with more and more of us using 3G dongles and smartphones to get online whenever and wherever we can.

According to a poll of 1,000 Brits conducted this summer by Lumison, three quarters of us would give up creature comforts such as chocolate or beer rather than be without our mobile phone for more than a day. Text messaging, email, instant messaging and Twitter were all cited as must-have means of communication that make the mobile phone an essential item to have with us at all times.

Aydin Kurt-Elli, CEO of Lumison, said: “Mobiles are clearly the device of choice for many, but ever more powerful devices mean people are now using their mobiles for much more than just voice calls or text. Similarly, a laptop is now a device for multiple communications, including social networking, email, web surfing, internet phone calls and instant messaging, across many locations from home to office, via pubs and coffee shops, wherever people can get online.

“This means there is a vast array of ways in which people want to be contacted and how and when they choose to contact people. We just need to make sure all this technology is joined up, because missed calls or unread emails can cost money in lost opportunities.”

Unlimited data contracts for 3G handsets allow users to get online all the time and without penalty for overuse. It’s a different story for 3G broadband on a laptop, however.

When 3G dongles first came along, the marketing that came with them promised ‘unlimited’ mobile broadband. But it wasn’t long before it became apparent that ‘unlimited’ actually meant a gigabyte. As with fixed-line broadband, 3G broadband is subject to a fair-use policy clause and the definition of ‘fair’ can be parsimonious, to say the least.

Boost your broadband - useful links:

Lowering the limits

Mobile data was initially very expensive, as mobile operators who had bought into the pricey 3G spectrum sought to make good on their investment. However, they quickly realised the demand and potential for mobile broadband. Having caught the public’s imagination with the idea of being able to access the web whenever and wherever they chose, it made sense to offer customers less draconian connection limits.

Consequently, while 1GB or 2GB data limits still exist, far more readers reported that their mobile subscription allowed them 5GB or more of web access per month.

This has proved a good move: while only a small proportion (1.2 percent) of customers have replaced their ADSL subscription with a 3G one to fulfil all their leisure-time connection needs, a quarter of all survey respondents say they now use mobile broadband on a smartphone, via Wi-Fi or 3G.

Of the mobile operators, O2, which has the exclusive contract for the iPhone, was easily the most prevalent, accounting for 36 percent of all mobile broadband customers. Second was 3 with 22 percent. A small but significant number of respondents told us that they combine this with a complementary fixed-line broadband service from one of the big three ISPs: BT, Sky or Virgin.

With faster Wi-Fi connections using the 802.11n standard now available, this is a trend that’s set to go in only one direction.

Mobile security threats

As a result, smartphones will be the next big target for spam and malware attacks. If you can’t be without the mobile web and the ability to update your Facebook status or post comments to the PC Advisor forums on the fly, ensure you take steps to protect your handset. If nothing else, backing up your contacts to your PC and using an online backup service for your photos and email should become a regular routine.

Members of a growing band of wannabe mobile broadband users are currently weighing up the relative merits of a smartphone versus a 3G or Wi-Fi laptop. As with home broadband, it’s important that you check out the fine print.

The Mobile Broadband link on the left is designed to provide you with a snapshot of the deals available. It provides a constantly updating list of the best deals, whether you’re on the look-out for a low subscription price,a high download limit or even a free laptop. Shop around, read the terms and conditions and check out other comparison sites, too.

NEXT: better broadband for all >>

Broadband Advisor

Broadband Survey 2009 index:

  1. PC Advisor readers' verdict on Broadband Britain
  2. Our survey says…
  3. ISP reviews: AOL & Be Broadband
  4. ISP reviews: BT & BT Yahoo
  5. ISP reviews: Demon & O2
  6. ISP reviews: Orange & Pipex
  7. ISP reviews: Plusnet & Sky Broadband
  8. ISP reviews: Talk Talk & Tiscali
  9. ISP reviews: Virgin Media & Zen Internet
  10. Mobile broadband
  11. Better broadband for all
  12. Better broadband, shaping up
  13. Behind the scenes: a broadband call centre

Survey sponsored by Mobile Broadband Genie

Frustrating at times but impossible to live without, web access is too vital to settle for sub-standard service. PC Advisor analyses what 6,500 of you had to say about your broadband experiences, which ISPs are best, and how to get cheaper broadband.

Broadband survey 2009: better broadband for all

It’s all very well us telling you about the shortcomings of various broadband providers and letting you know which ISPs are rated more highly than others, but most consumers really want to know how to get better service and a better connection from their current supplier.

Clean lines

We’ll start with the obvious: improving the quality of the connection. For a wired connection from your primary PC and your router, the most important element is the quality and length of the wire. Short of moving closer to the exchange, you can’t alter the maximum connection speed your ISP can offer. You may be able to dispense with some outdated wiring, however.

Older properties such as the Victorian stock in suburban towns often have ancient telephone cables. Replacing this with a newer junction box and cleaner, less corroded cabling can help – in our case, we went from receiving no phone and consequently no broadband service to two solid connections.

If you suspect that ancient wiring is at fault, it’s worth tracing where the phoneline enters your home. Remember to check the connecting cable between your PC and the router, too.

Try unplugging all other phones, disabling security devices and checking whether directly plugging your ADSL modem into the main phone entry point improves matters.

If you can’t get an ADSL connection at all, this process is also worth testing as it helps eliminate any telephone points around the home that may be riding ‘bareback’ – that is, with no filter on them.

Boost your broadband - useful links:

Filtering out the noise

The oblong ADSL filter (around £10 for two from BT’s shop or your ISP) ensures the successful splitting of data and voice calls along a single telephone line and is what enables you to make and receive phone calls as well as having web access.

Remember the bad old days of having to switch between phone, fax and web?

Switching around your ADSL filters on different points can also help pinpoint any dodgy connections or filter boxes. Limiting the number of points helps cut down on the need for these filters, as well as reducing the likelihood of you forgetting to filter one.

A better solution may be to replace several ADSL filters with a single gizmo that does the same job at a single point in your home. A BT i-Plate isn’t necessarily guaranteed to improve your web connection speed – it was designed to do so but reports on its efficacy are mixed – but it can help ensure you don’t inadvertently plug in a phone to a wall socket without a filter and knock out your broadband service until further notice (in other words, when you realise what you’ve done and remedy it).

Hardware updates

As with other PC-related items, the modem router used to get you online should be kept up to date. Read our feature on updating firmware. This outlines the benefits of ensuring you’ve got both the latest drivers and operating instruction set (firmware) for every item you rely upon. Many speed and connection issues can be fixed by updating your router.

If you’re not happy with your router even after an update, consider replacing it. Your ISP should list compatible or recommended models on its website – use this and our reviews to choose a suitable model. Even with firmware and drivers duly updated, a five-year-old router is likely to be ready for retirement. A USB modem should definitely be shown the door.

Upgrade your subscription

It’s impossible to provide details of each and every broadband provider’s traffic-management policies within this report, but it’s definitely worth investigating what your monthly subscription gets you and whether the next tariff up from the same provider will offer significant improvements.

BT customers, for example, will find better streaming and media downloading by switching from the entry-level Option 1 to Option 2 or above. If you’re an avid BBC iPlayer fan or like to listen to web radio, you’ll notice a big difference. This is because BT restricts the handling of large data packets – details within the T&Cs of the respective BT packages reveal Option 1’s limits.

Other ISPs follow a similar model, giving fairly free rein to customers on its pricier subscriptions but penalising those on its cheapest tariffs.

NEXT: better broadband - shaping up >>

Broadband Advisor

Broadband Survey 2009 index:

  1. PC Advisor readers' verdict on Broadband Britain
  2. Our survey says…
  3. ISP reviews: AOL & Be Broadband
  4. ISP reviews: BT & BT Yahoo
  5. ISP reviews: Demon & O2
  6. ISP reviews: Orange & Pipex
  7. ISP reviews: Plusnet & Sky Broadband
  8. ISP reviews: Talk Talk & Tiscali
  9. ISP reviews: Virgin Media & Zen Internet
  10. Mobile broadband
  11. Better broadband for all
  12. Better broadband, shaping up
  13. Behind the scenes: a broadband call centre

Survey sponsored by Broadband Genie

Frustrating at times but impossible to live without, web access is too vital to settle for sub-standard service. PC Advisor analyses what 6,500 of you had to say about your broadband experiences, which ISPs are best, and how to get cheaper broadband.

Broadband survey 2009: better broadband, shaping up

As well as tariff-based traffic management, many ISPs impose some form of traffic control during peak times to ensure everyone who wants to can get online. You may notice a tail-off in the connection speeds you enjoy.

As well as being limited during times of network congestion, customers who use peer-to-peer (P2P) networks such as BitTorrent are likely to be frustrated by lengthy download times. Not unreasonably, ISPs believe you should schedule your downloads for a time when the network isn’t so heavily used, such as overnight. You can try disguising your use of a P2P client using uTorrent, but BT also recognises cloaked P2P downloads encrypted with such tools.

That really is the limit

The other case where you’re likely to find significant slowdowns is if you approach your monthly download limit. Beware excess charges, too – it’s probably cheaper to move up to the next tariff and enjoy increased download limits than incur these penalties. They can reach £1 or more per gigabyte.

Most ISPs will warn you if you’re coming close to your limit, while those on an ‘unlimited’ broadband subscription whose web use seems excessive to the provider may also be contacted. So far, only a couple of the major players let you monitor your web usage yourself – Zen Internet’s online checker is a great idea. We’d like to see more of this transparent usage tracking, please.

Shop around for unlimited deals using top10broadband.co.uk, broadbandgenie.co.uk or another broadband-comparison site – the small print should indicate just what ‘fair usage’ means to each ISP. It varies wildly, from a few gigabytes to 100GB – that’s if the ISP bothers to tell you at all.

Boost your broadband - useful links:

Try another flavour

If all else fails, switch ISP. Honestly, it’s not the painful process it once was. If you’ve tried the remedies and general advice we’ve outlined and still aren’t getting better broadband, it’s time to see what else you could get. For pure speed, Be and Virgin come out tops in both our survey and in independent tests performed by ThinkBroadband and SamKnows.

If you can’t get either of these, check for ADSL2 and ADSL2+ connections at your local exchange and which providers offer it (or have a firm date to start doing so). Also check how much competition there is at your local exchange – Talk Talk has an online checker where you establish this.

Customer loyalty for broadband is high: year after year, our surveys have shown that most of us have gripes but stick with what we know. Tap your phone number into a comparison site, however, and the potential savings and improved line speeds may just convince you to up sticks and leave.

And there’s no need to suffer in silence. ThinkBroadband has a campaign to highlight where broadband provision is either unacceptably slow or not available at all.

Put in a plea at broadband-notspot.org.uk.

NEXT: behind the scenes: a broadband call centre >>

Broadband Advisor

Broadband Survey 2009 index:

  1. PC Advisor readers' verdict on Broadband Britain
  2. Our survey says…
  3. ISP reviews: AOL & Be Broadband
  4. ISP reviews: BT & BT Yahoo
  5. ISP reviews: Demon & O2
  6. ISP reviews: Orange & Pipex
  7. ISP reviews: Plusnet & Sky Broadband
  8. ISP reviews: Talk Talk & Tiscali
  9. ISP reviews: Virgin Media & Zen Internet
  10. Mobile broadband
  11. Better broadband for all
  12. Better broadband, shaping up
  13. Behind the scenes: a broadband call centre

Survey sponsored by Broadband Genie

Frustrating at times but impossible to live without, web access is too vital to settle for sub-standard service. PC Advisor analyses what 6,500 of you had to say about your broadband experiences, which ISPs are best, and how to get cheaper broadband.

Behind the scenes: a broadband call centre

By Carrie-Ann Skinner

Talk Talk, the broadband service run by The Carphone Warehouse, is one of the UK’s biggest ISPs. It recently purchased rival Tiscali, which had three million customers, further bolstering its coverage and its percentage share of the UK’s home broadband market. As with several other operators, it offers a landline phone service along with broadband, while existing Tiscali customers also get Tiscali TV channels delivered via the web.

Given the size of the operation, Talk Talk needs a sizable customer services centre. It has 12 centres that handle around
a million queries every month between them.

Web users calling the customer service department are initially directed to an interactive voice response (IVR), which offers a number of options. After choosing the most relevant option, the IVR directs the caller to a customer service representative.

Talk Talk aims to ensure that the first person a customer speaks to can deal with their problem and claims that in 80 percent of cases they are able to start dealing with the query within 30 secs. IVR tells the customer how long the wait will be.

To assist in resolving the problem, it’s helpful if the customer is able to verify that they are the account holder or nominated user and can provide their phone number and full address, with postcode. Security questions will be asked based on details provided by the customer when they signed up with the ISP.

To track how well it’s performing in terms of customer service, a questionnaire inviting comments and feedback is emailed to
a customer after their issue is resolved.

As of July, survey data showed that 71 percent of queries were satisfactorily resolved by the first person they spoke to, 63 percent of all problems were resolved and, in 65 percent of calls, the customer was satisfied with the advisor they spoke to.

In common with other ISPs, TalkTalk also makes use of the web to help deal with its customers’ queries. Its online help pages are regularly consulted by customers, while the micro-bloggging site Twitter is also being used as a means of monitoring customer issues and informing them of any issues.

Boost your broadband - useful links:

Broadband Advisor

Broadband Survey 2009 index:

  1. PC Advisor readers' verdict on Broadband Britain
  2. Our survey says…
  3. ISP reviews: AOL & Be Broadband
  4. ISP reviews: BT & BT Yahoo
  5. ISP reviews: Demon & O2
  6. ISP reviews: Orange & Pipex
  7. ISP reviews: Plusnet & Sky Broadband
  8. ISP reviews: Talk Talk & Tiscali
  9. ISP reviews: Virgin Media & Zen Internet
  10. Mobile broadband
  11. Better broadband for all
  12. Better broadband, shaping up
  13. Behind the scenes: a broadband call centre

Survey sponsored by Broadband Genie