Reliable broadband provides a consistent connection to the Internet, without dropouts or delays, as well as a fast experience overall.
The most reliable broadband providers offer low daily disconnections coupled with fast web page loading speed and low latency. They also offer fast fault resolution times if anything does go wrong.
At a glance: Most reliable broadband packages
|Most reliable broadband provider|
|Daily disconnections||BT Full Fibre|
|Web page loading speed||BT Full Fibre|
|Latency rates||BT Full Fibre|
|Faults||Plusnet / Virgin Media|
|Customer satisfaction with reliability||Plusnet|
|Speed guarantees||Virgin Media|
Verdict: Most reliable broadband in the UK
Plusnet, Virgin Media and Sky are our top choices for most reliable broadband provider, with each performing well in different areas of reliability.
Plusnet has the lowest fault levels according to Ofcom, as well as the lowest percentage of customers who need to contact them again about the same fault, which means they're resolving faults without issue.
In addition, Plusnet also has the highest level of satisfied customers with their service overall out of all the main providers, and dissatisfaction is strongly linked to poor service or a bad connection. Which again, suggests Plusnet's service is reliable.
|Package||Broadband||Monthly price||Upfront price||Contract term|
|Full Fibre 145||145Mb average||£26.99||Free||24 months|
|Offer: Save over £13/mth + No setup fee + Exclusive offers and discounts for Plusnet customers (Ends 13/12/2023)|
|Full Fibre 900||900Mb average||£41.99||Free||24 months|
|Offer: Save over £20/mth + No setup fee + Exclusive offers and discounts for Plusnet customers (Ends 13/12/2023)|
Virgin Media also perform well with one of the fastest fault resolution times, which we suspect is down to not being reliant on any third-party engineer to fix their network.
Virgin Media also offers the best wireless guarantee available, promising minimum download speeds of 20Mb in every room in a customer's home or they get a £100 bill credit. Their WiFi Max guarantee is also included for free for Volt and Gig1 customers.
Virgin Media are also one of six broadband providers signed up to Ofcom's code of practice on broadband speeds, and provide customers with a guaranteed minimum download speed and the option to leave their contract early without penalty if they don't get that speed.
|Package||Broadband||Monthly price||Upfront price||Contract term|
|M350 Fibre Broadband||362Mb average||£34.50||Free||18 months|
|Offer: £60 bill credit + No setup fee (was £35) (Ends 14/12/2023)|
|Gig1 Fibre Broadband||1.13Gb average||£45||Free||18 months|
|Offer: No setup fee (was £35)|
Sky is our third choice for most reliable broadband provider as they have the fewest number of complaints across all major providers. They also perform well for customer service satisfaction as well.
|Package||Broadband||Monthly price||Upfront price||Contract term|
|Ultrafast Plus Broadband||500Mb average||£34||£5||18 months|
|Offer: Save £14/mth (was £48) + WiFi Max just £6.50/mth for 3 months and then just £10/mth + (£5 refundable setup fee for new customers if applicable)|
|Gigafast Broadband||900Mb average||£58||£5||18 months|
|Offer: Reduced price for 18 months + WiFi Max just £6.50/mth for 3 months and then just £10/mth + (£5 refundable setup fee for new customers if applicable)|
BT Full Fibre had the fastest web page loading and latency scores, and the least daily disconnections in Ofcom research. However, as the research doesn't yet cover any other full fibre provider, we can assume Openreach resellers would also perform well in these metrics, which includes Plusnet and Sky.
Overall, reliability is as much to do with the network as the provider, with full fibre broadband offering improved reliability over superfast connections.
What makes broadband reliable?
It's easy to choose broadband from the fastest speeds, or the cheapest prices, or even for the best level of customer service.
Yet, broadband reliability spans a few metrics that can be changeable and also vary depending on the area you live in.
Broadly speaking however, reliability refers to:
- Maintaining uptime - that means no drop outs or disconnections, and this covers uptime at large data centres and ensuring back-up systems are in place and ready to go should any problems arise.
- Disconnections - independent research carried out by Ofcom actually looks at various networks' daily disconnections that last longer than 30 seconds.
- Faults - network faults are often unpredictable, but how quickly does the provider fix the faults and get the broadband up and running again?
- Real-world speeds - much less of an issue nowadays due to changes in advertising law, but a reliable broadband provider should be delivering the broadband speeds it advertises.
- Latency - slightly more to do with the speed of the service, latency is when data is routed badly between the origin and the destination causing delays and even lost data that needs to be resent.
- Existing customer satisfaction with reliability - how satisfied customers are with the reliability of their service is a major metric that can help show how reliable a broadband provider is.
- Complaints - while not a main reliability metric, complaints usually span faults and fault resolution, as well as service performance. Complaints can show up disconnection problems as well as how quickly problems are resolved.
Ofcom carried out independent research on broadband users, which they published in March 2023, covering a range of reliability metrics including daily disconnection rates.
Ofcom defines a disconnection as any loss of service lasting for 30 seconds or longer, and they're recorded on a daily basis.
It's worth noting that disconnections can occur as the result of something in the home, like the router being unplugged, as well as issues relating to the broadband providers' network performance.
|Average daily disconnection rate||Panel base|
When Ofcom combined their results and looked at daily disconnections by connection or network type, there was marginally more daily disconnections on ADSL2+ connections (0.17), followed by FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) and then Virgin Media Cable.
As you can see from the table above, Openreach FTTP has the fewest daily disconnections, although Ofcom only looked at BT and so the panel base tested was small in comparison to Virgin Media and the FTTC providers.
Ofcom report on real-world speeds as experienced by end users in their broadband speeds research. Providers are also now only allowed to advertise speeds at least 50% of their customers are actually receiving at peak times, so they're a much more reliable value now anyway.
One of the research metrics, web loading time, is a really interesting look into actual end user experience and how fast web pages load.
|Web page loading speed (milliseconds)||Panel base|
The FTTC provider results above focus on 60-70Mb package options, which perform better than the 35-40Mb plans as you would expect.
It's noticeable however that Virgin Media's network has slower response times than both Openreach FTTP and FTTC connections, and that's something we see in latency as well.
Virgin Media's web page loading speed highlights their network's issues with latency, and possibly poor data routing. The figure of 340.83 is averaged between all five of their speed options, including their gigabit package. Although Gig1 had an average web page loading time of just 220.17.
However, while it does highlight a technical issue, the speeds given are in milliseconds, and so most people won't notice the differences highlighted. Virgin Media also offer the UK's fastest broadband download speeds too, so it doesn't mean they're slow.
Latency is the amount of time it takes for a packet of data to be sent. Slow latency can suggest network problems like poor data routing or congestion.
The latest broadband speeds research covers a range of providers including TalkTalk FTTP and more of BT's FTTP packages.
In Ofcom's previous broadband speeds report, published September 2022, they also reported on latency rates for TalkTalk full fibre to the premises, which reported a 9.69 average from a panel base of 598.
Overall, we can see the new full fibre networks provide faster latency rates than both Virgin Media's network and fibre to the cabinet broadband packages.
As with web loading speed, Virgin Media's network uses coaxial cable to connect a customer's home and they also adopted an older network than Openreach full fibre. While this gives them a current advantage in gigabit-capable coverage, they're also in the process of updating their entire network to full fibre.
While the work isn't expected to be finished before 2028, it should help improve some of Virgin Media's reliability scores, like latency and web loading speed.
How many faults are reported by customers and how quickly those faults are resolved is a really good indication of how reliable a broadband provider is.
While it's ideal to have the fewest faults to start with, knowing a provider will resolve any problems quickly also helps households to have more stable broadband.
Ofcom's Comparing customer service report, last published in May 2023, covers a range of research around faults and resolutions.
|ï¿½||Faults per 1000 customers per month||Average time to repair a total loss of service (days)||Proportion of re-contacts|
Plusnet has the fewest faults, with just 20 faults reported per 1000 customers per month in 2022. Yet, where service is loss, they take an average of 3 days to get customers back online.
Virgin Media have one of the fastest fault resolution times, most likely because their independent network means they're not reliant on third party engineers. Virgin Media has one of the lowest re-contact rates as well, with only 3% of customers having to contact them about the same fault. On average, Virgin Media fix most reported faults in just one day.
Sky and NOW Broadband also performed well in terms of faults, but their reliance on Openreach engineers to fix faults is highlighted by their 2-day average to resolve problems.
Customer satisfaction with reliability
In 2022, Choose carried out an independent survey of 2,000 broadband users. One of the questions we specifically asked was how stable and reliable do you feel your broadband service is? Asking users to score their provider on stability and reliability out of 5.
|Reliability (4 or above)|
Zen Internet, Hyperoptic, and KCOM all scored the highest for reliability in our survey. Budget providers TalkTalk, Vodafone, and EE scored the lowest.
Ofcom also ask their survey respondents how they feel about the reliability of their service. While it's since been renamed to say 'Satisfaction with speed of service', this category used to explicitly mention reliability, and in fact further in the report Ofcom themselves refer to this metric as reliability, rather than speed.
|Satisfaction with speed of service|
Ofcom found Plusnet broadband customers were most likely to be satisfied with the reliability of their service (83%). With Virgin Media, Vodafone and EE also performing better than the industry average.
TalkTalk customers had low reliability scores, with just 76% being satisfied with the reliability of their service.
We can also look at how many times customers are complaining about their provider to Ofcom, and if customers are satisfied overall with their service.
|Complaints per 100,000 customers||Customers with a reason to complain||Satisfaction with service overall|
Sky and EE have the lowest complaints level, with just 16 and 22 complaints per 100,000 customers in 2022. Both providers are often cited as offering the best customer service.
Yet the most satisfied customers were with Plusnet, even though they reported higher complaints figures at 46 per 100,000 customers. Plusnet had a low percentage of customers with a reason to complain however at just 20%. So, we can see Plusnet customers are quite highly satisfied with their provider.
Virgin Media, TalkTalk and Vodafone all perform less well for complaints, with both higher numbers of actual complaints and more customers with a reason to complain.
The main reason for customers to have a reason to complain has remained the same for a number of years now, which is that their broadband had a service issue, either a slow connection, or intermittent or total loss of service.
In addition, where low satisfaction with the service overall exists, the main driver of dissatisfaction is found to be poor service or a bad connection. Overall then, we can see these figures as fairly accurate representations of whether broadband providers are delivering a reliable service.
Broadband reliability guarantees
Broadband providers have increasingly begun offering wireless guarantees to help improve the reliability of the broadband connection around the home, as well as 'pro' add-ons that provide additional support.
These wireless guarantees promise minimum speeds or coverage in every room in a customer's home, and sometimes provide additional levels of technical support or access to 'experts'.
|Minimum speed||Extras||Monthly price|
|BT||'Strong' signal on My BT App||No||£12|
As you can see, the different providers' wifi guarantees vary, but most now offer them. However, it's worth bearing in mind they don't all work alike and some aren't really guarantees at all.
- They usually need verification through the provider's own speed guarantee system, so it isn't as simple as submitting speed results taken through a commercial site like Speedtest.net
- Speeds will need to be low for periods of time rather than just a single day
- Breaking the contract is not usually an option, so customers may receive money back but are not able to change provider
Wireless speed guarantees can be a useful idea, especially for people with larger houses where the mesh extenders can improve wireless coverage, but the reality is, if they fail to work customers will usually have to jump through a few hoops to get any money back.
In addition, other than Virgin Media's promise of 20Mb, the guaranteed speeds are quite low.
Minimum speed guarantees
In addition to these add-ons that can be purchased to help improve a home's wireless coverage and speeds, Ofcom introduced a code of practice that aims to ensure customer's get a minimum provided speed.
The Broadband Speed code of practice is a voluntary agreement that says a provider will guarantee a minimum download speed at the point of sign up. If a customer fails to receive this speed for 3 consecutive days, the provider usually has 30 days in which to resolve any faults, if after that the customer's speed is still below the minimum guaranteed, they are given the right to leave their contract early without penalty fees.
So far, the following providers have signed up to the code:
- Virgin Media
- Zen Internet
Vodafone and Hyperoptic also provide minimum speeds at sign up, but because they're not signatories of Ofcom's code, the customer can't leave their contract early if they don't get this speed.
Reliability of smaller broadband providers
While our survey included Zen Internet, Hyperoptic and KCOM, data published by Ofcom only covers major broadband providers. Unfortunately, that means we have less data to compare the smaller providers.
This can make it difficult for customers to find out how reliable a potential broadband provider is, although one way of seeing what real customers think is to check out review sites like Trustpilot.
These sites often allow users to filter by a keyword such as "service" or "problem" which can help customers to zero in on common issues. There are a couple of caveats to bear in mind though:
- Reviewers on these sites tend to be very happy or very unhappy with their broadband service, so the average experience may not be reflected
- Every broadband provider will have unhappy customers, so the presence of bad reviews is to be expected
- Some reviews relating to broadband reliability will be due to localised issues
Good providers will respond to these reviews on the site, and that can give an idea of how they respond to issues about broadband reliability or other problems.
So, review sites can be a useful indicator of how customers experience their broadband service, but they shouldn't be relied upon 100% to indicate how reliable an individual household will find their service.
Summary: Who is the most reliable broadband provider?
Plusnet, BT, and Virgin Media stand out for performing well in various reliability metrics, although they each have different strengths.
Plusnet score well for having the lowest fault levels as well as the lowest number of customers who have to contact them about the same fault more than once. Plusnet also have the highest satisfaction score among all the main broadband providers, including for reliability (speed of service).
Virgin Media have one of the fastest fault response times as well as low numbers of customers who have to contact them again about the same fault. Virgin Media also stand out for providing the market's best wireless speed guarantee, promising minimum speeds of 20Mb in every room or a £100 bill credit.
Sky consistently have the fewest complaints made against them across all major providers. They also have low fault levels and low levels of re-contacts about the same issue, suggesting they solve problems quickly when they do crop up.
One thing to bear in mind is reliability is often affected as much by the network as by the provider, and many providers including BT, EE, Plusnet, TalkTalk, Vodafone, and Sky, all resell broadband on the Openreach network.
Additionally, there is a marked improvement in reliability between fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) broadband connections and newer full fibre to the premises (FTTP) connections.
We also have guides on Sky vs Virgin Media for those looking to bundle broadband with TV services.