How to find the best broadband deal
Do I need unlimited data?
When broadband was much younger, a lot of providers charged for their services based on estimated monthly usage. People who only popped online occasionally to check their email could sign up for cheap broadband that reflected their minimal use, while those who spent hours streaming videos or playing games would pay significantly more.
Several providers do still offer capped packages, but there's been a steady move towards unlimited packages - with some providers only selling unlimited broadband. People who don't want to worry at all about their data allowance should set the filter above to "average" or "heavy" to compare the best unlimited broadband deals.
If having a particular provider is important but costs need to be kept as low as possible, check if they do a capped deal: these tend to cost less than unlimited data packages of the same speed - although anyone who's unsure of how much data they need should bear in mind that the fees for exceeding data allowance can quickly cut into any savings.
How fast a connection do I need?
Standard broadband packages are now sold as offering connection speeds of up to 17Mb - note the "up to" part. Most of us will find our average download speed is lower, and it can be affected by things like distance from the exchange, the state of the wiring in our area and house, and how we set up our equipment.
That's based on just one device being connected; people who need to connect more than one computer or device will find that affects the speed they can get as well, and may benefit from the boost offered by fibre broadband.
Just how much bigger a boost we need depends on how many devices we have, and what we're using them for. Lighter users who tend only to check email and do the odd bit of browsing won't need such high speeds, while people who like data heavy services like Skype and Netflix are more likely to benefit from the faster broadband deals available.
Why can't I get provider X?
The table above can refine the broadband offers available to us based on a postcode search. Which providers are available to us - and therefore which broadband deals we can take advantage of - depends on whether or not they can be found in our local exchange, or in the case of fibre and cable networks, whether their networks cover our town or street.
There are more than 5,000 exchanges across the country, but not all broadband providers have equipment in all of those exchanges. People in towns and cities should have the most choice of provider, and access to some of the cheapest deals, because they're in the most competitive areas; the more rural we are the less choice we're likely to have.
The good news is that if one provider offers fibre in an area, it could well be available from others as well - even if they don't sell standard broadband there. It varies from provider to provider, as some will only sell fibre where they also sell ADSL broadband - but it's worth checking.
Do I really need a phone line?
With the vast majority of internet service providers, taking their broadband relies on having a phone line and paying line rental. Most of the broadband providers in the UK use the landline network to deliver their broadband services; others have their own cable networks or provide a service to mostly rural areas via satellite. Only people comparing broadband packages from one of these providers can ignore the need for a phone line.
So, particularly for those of us who want to save money, it's vital to factor in the cost of the line rental. It is possible to take broadband from a different company than the one operating the phone line, but there are far fewer providers offering this kind of flexibility these days, and it tends to be much cheaper to get them from the same provider.
If a cable network is available, bear in mind that while going without a home phone is possible, it doesn't always provide the kind of saving we might expect. Some of the best broadband deals from cable and "pure fibre" providers are to be found by taking the home phone service as well.
Go back up to the broadband deals