Who offers the best broadband in London

simon chandler
By Simon Chandler

broadband city

LONDON is home to almost everything a person could love and hate about a city, and this rule also seems to apply its broadband, which varies widely in quality and speed depending on where you are in the UK's capital.

In the city as a whole, for instance, the average download speed is an enviable 32.8Mb, yet even though this soundly beats the national average of 27.4Mb, boroughs such as the City of London as well as Hammersmith and Fulham enjoy averages of only 21Mb and 25.5Mb respectively.

To a large extent, such divergences are down to the varying mix of internet service providers (ISPs) available in different areas of the capital, something which can result in coverage being less than entirely consistent.

However, this guide is intended to help broadband customers get around this by providing a general overview of the different services and providers available in different areas, as well as an indication of where certain providers might not be so accessible.

Openreach

Section menu
How good are the Openreach providers?
A brief note on outages
A closer look at Virgin Media
Hyperoptic: worth the hype?
Who's the best in London for 4G?
Conclusions: making your mind up

Unsurprisingly, Openreach is the most widely available broadband network in London, with 93% of the capital as a whole being covered by Openreach's superfast network.

That said, there are important exceptions to this almost, blanket-like level of coverage, with the following boroughs seeing a somewhat smaller proportion of connections:

BoroughOpenreach coverage
Camden84.47%
City of London18.21%
City of Westminster70.44%
Hackney89.23%
Islington78.35%
Southwark75.59%
Tower Hamlets78.69%

Source: thinkbroadband.com

With such boroughs, customers interested in one of the Openreach-using ISPs (listed below) would be advised to refer to the postcode checkers below to ensure that their address are covered by the network. Otherwise, they may end up being disappointed.

However, for inhabitants of the boroughs not named above, which all see Openreach coverage levels of 90% or more, they would still of course be advised to use the postcode checkers as well. That said, there's less chance of them being uncovered, so here's a rundown of the main ISPs who operate over the Openreach network.

Sky

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While the logical choice for beginning an overview of Openreach providers might be BT (who own the network), it's no less logical to begin with Sky, if only because they won the Best Overall gong at the inaugural Choose ISP Awards last year.

This award was bestowed for numerous reasons, yet perhaps the most notable of these is Sky's reputation for customer service, which has seen them regularly receive the best placing in Ofcom's table of complaints.

For example, compared to BT's 34 complaints for every 100,000 customers, Sky received only 8 in the latest table, underlining how they more effectively deal with their customers' queries.

broadband complaints

Source: Ofcom, Latest telecoms and pay-TV complaints, June 28th, 2017

Yet this isn't all, since aside from serving their customers better than any other major ISP, they also offer the variety of broadband packages most have come to expect, as shown below:

Package Broadband Contract terms Upfront price Monthly price
sky Broadband 12GB + Talk (only available with Sky TV) Up to 17Mb
12GB
12 months £9.95 £23.99
sky Broadband Unlimited + Talk Up to 17Mb
Unlimited
12 months £9.95 £20
for 12 mths,
then £28.99
sky Fibre + Talk Up to 38Mb
25GB usage
18 months £59.95 £28.99
sky Fibre Unlimited + Talk Up to 38Mb
Unlimited
18 months £59.95 £38.99
sky Sky Fibre Max + Talk Up to 76Mb
Unlimited
18 months £59.95 £43.99

Compare more package options and check availability for Sky broadband here.

These prices are often set at competitive levels, with Sky regularly running special deals and promotions, yet they can often be made even more competitive when combined with one of Sky's TV packages.

Listed below, Sky Fibre can be added to any of them for as little as £20 extra a month, and they offer a variety of programming genres and formats - entertainment, music, drama, box sets - that should please most televisual tastes:

Package Channels Contract term Upfront price Monthly price
sky Original bundle 275+ (240 free to air, 11 HD) 18 months £20 £20
for 18 mths,
then £22
sky Variety bundle 315+ (240 free to air, 11 HD) 18 months £20 £25
for 18 mths,
then £32
sky Box Sets bundle 365+ (240 free to air, 50 HD) 18 months £20 £31
for 18 mths,
then £38

Taken together, such offerings make Sky one of the most popular ISPs in the UK, with over six million subscribers receiving broadband from them.

A brief note on outages

That said, like any other broadband provider, Sky suffer from their fair share of outages, and given London's density, the city probably attracts more disruptions than anywhere else in the country.

This is made particularly evident from the images below, taken from downdetector.co.uk, which records broadband outages as they happen.

Sky London outages

Source: downdetector.co.uk

Sky London outages closer

Source: downdetector.co.uk

While this map might make things look bad for Sky, it's worth pointing out now at the outset that the maps for other Openreach providers are virtually identical, since outages are more of a network issue than an ISP one.

This is BT's map for the same day (September 11th, 2017):

BT London outages

Source: downdetector.co.uk

And this is TalkTalk's:

TalkTalk London outages

Source: downdetector.co.uk

And in fact, it would seem that outages aren't exclusive to any one network, since Virgin Media's outage map is also very similar to the three above:

Virgin Media London outages

Source: downdetector.co.uk

If anything else, what this snapshot of broadband disruptions highlight is that customers shouldn't pay too much attention to reports in the press of Provider X suffering a loss of service, since it affects all major providers (and plenty of minor ones as well).

Instead, what's more important is how providers respond to outages, and here it's the customer service rankings that are more indicative of provider quality.

BT

While they lack Sky's track record on customer service, BT have more subscribers in the UK than any other provider, with the current tally standing at somewhere over 9.2 million.

It's arguable as to whether the size of this number is mostly down to their legacy as the former state provider of telecoms services, yet to be fair BT offer a strong service on a number of fronts.

This begins with the variety of core broadband packages they sell, which as the table below illustrates run from standard ADSL broadband to superfast fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) broadband.

Package Broadband Contract term Upfront price Monthly price
bt Unlimited Broadband + Weekend calls Up to 17Mb
Unlimited
12 months £9.99 £26.99
for 12 mths,
then £40.99
bt Unlimited Infinity 1 + Weekend calls Up to 52Mb
Unlimited
12 months £9.99 £31.99
for 12 mths,
then £47.49
bt Unlimited Infinity 2 + Weekend calls Up to 76Mb
Unlimited
12 months £9.99 £44.99
for 12 mths,
then £53.99

To see prices in full and by postcode see our BT broadband search here.

Yet on top of offering superfast speeds, BT also provide a number of nice perks that make their broadband packages more attractive.

These include regular special discounts and deals for new customers, as well as access to a BT's nationwide range of wifi hotspots. However, perhaps most notably of all they include the Smart Hub, the wifi router that BT provide to all Infinity customers.

In theory, the Smart Hub can support internet connections of up to 1,733Mb, and while none of the BT broadband packages on offer will supply anything like that speed, its seven antennae ensure that the customer's wifi network is as fast as it possibly can be.

And for those customers wondering whether BT actually do deliver on the "up to" speeds they promise in their advertisements, the following table shows what customers receive on average. And for the 17Mb and 76Mb brackets, it also shows what Sky Broadband customers receive on average as well.

Average download speed during period
Advertised speed 24 hours Peak time:
8-10pm weekdays
bt Up to 17Mb 9.1Mb to 10.8Mb 9.0Mb to 10.6Mb
sky Up to 17Mb 10.1Mb to 11.5Mb 9.9Mb to 11.4Mb
bt Up to 52Mb 47.7Mb to 48.6Mb 46.9Mb to 47.9Mb
bt Up to 76Mb 57.9Mb to 60.7Mb 57.0Mb to 59.8Mb
sky Up to 76Mb 54.3Mb to 59.9Mb 53.6Mb to 59.1Mb

SOURCE: Ofcom, November 2016.

It's interesting to note that Sky customers receive slightly faster average speeds within the "up to" 17Mb category, while BT's receive slightly faster rates for the 76Mb range.

Why this is the case isn't entirely clear, but since they're both on the same network it could be related perhaps to the amount of user traffic each receives for each category. That said, while these averages are the latest published by Ofcom, they were taken in November 2016, so it's likely they've changed somewhat since then.

Plusnet

Given that London is already expensive enough as it is, many inhabitants of the capital might prefer an ISP that knows some people are working on a budget, and one of the best in terms of customer satisfaction and service is Plusnet.

Once again, they run on the Openreach network, so customers can expect the same underlying internet service and the same range of broadband speeds, as highlighted below:

Package Broadband Contract terms Upfront price Monthly price
plusnet Unlimited + Line Only Up to 17Mb
Unlimited
18 months Free £18.99
for 18 mths,
then £27.98
plusnet Unlimited Fibre + Line Only Up to 38Mb
Unlimited
12 months Free £24.99
for 12 mths,
then £32.98
plusnet Unlimited Fibre Extra + Line Only Up to 76Mb
Unlimited
12 months Free £29.99
for 12 mths,
then £37.98

To see prices in full and by postcode see our Plusnet broadband search here.

While Plusnet's promotional prices are occasionally beaten by a slight margin by the special discounts of other providers, it's worth underlining that their standard subscription fees - the fees a customer pays after their 12-month introductory period has finished - are generally cheaper than those of most other major ISPs.

For example, the standard fee for their "up to" 76Mb unlimited broadband and landline deal is £37.98, whereas for Sky and BT it's £43.99 and £53.99, respectively.

In the past, this relative cheapness was spoiled a little by the fact that Plusnet used traffic management, meaning that customers' speeds were sometimes decreased at peak hours so as to ensure all customers received a comparable service.

Recently, however, they've been able to ditch this policy, allowing customers to enjoy the maximum speeds possible.

Combined with their focus on customer service, as well as their offer of flexible, 30-day contracts for those who don't want to sign up for a whole year (available only with their 17Mb packages), this serves to make Plusnet a genuine contender for anyone who wants broadband without having to strain their bank balance.

TalkTalk

That said, TalkTalk are another lower-cost ISP, and in many cases they beat even Plusnet on price.

Package Broadband Contract term Upfront price Monthly price
talktalk Fast Broadband Up to 17Mb
Unlimited
12 months Free £19.95
for 12 mths,
then £25.50
talktalk Faster Fibre Up to 38Mb
Unlimited
18 months Free £26.50
for 18 mths,
then £32
talktalk Faster Fibre (up to 76Mb) Up to 76Mb
Unlimited
18 months Free £31.50
for 18 mths,
then £37

For instance, while the promotional prices of all their broadband packages are virtually identical to those of Plusnet, their standard, post-promotional prices are a bit cheaper. With the "up to" 38Mb and 76Mb packages customers save 98p per month for 18 months (or £17.64 over the entire period), while the 17Mb package saves them £2.48 for the same period (£44.64 overall).

Such value for money gives them the edge over many other providers, although it's worth noting that even though TalkTalk are hard to beat on price, their average speeds weren't as fast as Plusnet's, for example, at the last count by Ofcom.

Overall average Peak (8-10pm weekdays)
TalkTalk up to 17Mb 8.6Mb to 10Mb 8.6Mb to 9.9Mb
Plusnet up to 17Mb 9.6Mb to 11.4Mb 9.5Mb to 11.3Mb
TalkTalk up to 38Mb 30.8Mb to 32.8Mb 30.6Mb to 32.6Mb
Plusnet up to 38Mb 31Mb to 33.5Mb 30.1Mb to 32.7Mb

Added to this, TalkTalk have had something of a rough time in the past when it comes to cybersecurity, most notably with a hack in 2015 that saw the personal details of around 150,000 customer stolen.

However, since then they've been on a crusade to redeem themselves in the eyes of customers, having recently introduced a host of special deals and offers that have arguably made them a much more enticing prospect.

Virgin Media

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Market share for home broadband
How to understand broadband contracts
How to get internet without a contract

While the above are the biggest ISPs using Openreach, the latter isn't the only network available in London, with Virgin Media's own proprietary network being the second largest in the capital.

However, just because it's the second largest doesn't mean it will be available everywhere.

It covers around 69% of London overall, with this percentage increasing or decreasing depending on where exactly in the city customers are.

For example, in Barking and Dagenham it's available to a healthy 91% of the population, with Bromley and Camden being two other boroughs with good coverage (at 89.5% and 93% respectively).

Yet with others, the coverage isn't so extensive. Barnet, for instance, has only 45.7% coverage, something which explains why the average download speed in the North London borough is only 26Mb.

Still, customers who are interested in Virgin Media but are unsure as to whether it's available to them can always use the postcode checker below, which will check their street against Virgin's network.

Postcode:
Enter your postcode above to check availability in your area.

Assuming they are covered, the first thing that's worth pointing out about Virgin Media's broadband service is that it will offer customers speeds well in advance of what Openreach ISPs usually offer.

Package Broadband Contract term Upfront price Monthly price
virgin media Vivid 50 + Talk Weekends Up to 50Mb
Unlimited
12 months £20 £27
for 12 mths,
then £40
virgin media Vivid 100 + Talk Weekends Up to 100Mb
Unlimited
12 months £20 £34
for 12 mths,
then £45
virgin media Vivid 200 + Talk Weekends Up to 200Mb
Unlimited
12 months £20 £39
for 12 mths,
then £50
virgin media Vivid 300 + Talk Weekends Up to 300Mb
Unlimited
12 months £20 £44
for 12 mths,
then £55

And while these speeds are impressive on paper, customers may be reassured to learn that the average speeds Virgin actually deliver come close to what's advertised, although perhaps not quite as close as some would like.

Advertised Speed Average over 24 hours Average at peak times
(8-10pm weekdays)
virgin media Up to 50Mb 46.1Mb - 49.6Mb 38.2Mb - 45.4Mb
bt Up to 52Mb 47.7Mb - 48.6Mb 46.9Mb - 47.9Mb
virgin media Up to 100Mb 87.7Mb - 95.2Mb 72.6Mb - 86.1Mb
bt Up to 76Mb 57.9Mb - 60.7Mb 57Mb - 59.8Mb
virgin media Up to 200Mb 169Mb - 177.2Mb 143.7Mb - 155.4Mb

The data used in this study was gathered during November 2016 by Ofcom.

One thing that should be pointed out about these averages is that Virgin Media's "up to" 50Mb package doesn't quite offer peak time averages as fast as those for BT's "up to" 52Mb. And while this might be unsurprising given the 2Mb difference in headline speed, the lower limit of Virgin's peak time average is a significant 8Mb slower the lower limit of BT's.

In other words, those customers looking for middle-range download speeds (e.g. 52Mb or 50Mb) might be better off going with BT, at least on the basis of this evidence.

That said, for those customers who make the most of their internet connection and want speeds approaching the ultrafast, then Virgin Media is perhaps the better choice.

And not only do they offer speeds that simply can't be had on the nationwide Openreach network, but they also provide solid customer service, with Virgin Media registering almost as few complaints as Sky (and certainly fewer than BT).

And as with Sky and BT (and in fact TalkTalk and Plusnet), there's also the option of taking a TV service with the broadband, with Virgin enabling customers to combine BT Sport and Sky Sports into a single package, for example.

For those who aren't so keen on television, and who aren't interested in having a landline, there's also the rare opportunity to subscribe to broadband without having to take out a phone line, something which generally isn't possible with Openreach ISPs.

Hyperoptic

While this covers the two biggest broadband networks in the UK - Openreach and Virgin Media - there are others available in the capital, with some of them offering connections to fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband. This is faster and more reliable than the fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) broadband offered by Openreach and Virgin Media, since it runs the fibre optic cables directly to the relevant building.

The most prominent of these is Hyperoptic, who after connecting their first building in Battersea in 2011 have been more active in London than in any other part of the country.

Nonetheless, their reach still isn't particularly extensive, since not only have they connected only around 350,000 buildings nationwide to date, but the fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) coverage of which they're a part covers only 4.7% of London.

And given that Openreach's own FTTP network makes up a section of this (covering 1.9% of the capital overall), it's likely that most customers will find that Hyperoptic doesn't presently serve their buildings.

Still, there are certain boroughs where FTTP coverage is relatively high, as show below:

BoroughFTTP coverage
City of London30.8%
Tower Hamlets23.3%
Waltham21%
City of Westminster9.7%
Lewisham11.5%
Newham10.9%
Wandsworth8.9%
Greenwich8.6%
Southwark7.6%

Source: thinkbroadband.com

While the likes of Hyperoptic still have a long way to go before they reach the kind of coverage enjoyed by Openreach or even Virgin Media, these kinds of percentages show that their network is perhaps more available in the capital than anywhere else.

And for those who do have access to it, they may be pleased to know that it offers gigabit speeds, the greater reliability that comes from pure fibre connections, and prices that are surprisingly competitive for an FTTP provider.

Package Broadband Contract term Upfront price Monthly price
hyperoptic 20Mb Fibre Broadband & Phone Up to 20Mb
Unlimited
12 months Free £19
for 12 mths,
then £25
hyperoptic 100Mb Fibre Broadband & Phone Up to 100Mb
Unlimited
12 months Free £29
for 12 mths,
then £38
hyperoptic 1Gb Fibre Broadband & Phone Up to 1Gb
Unlimited
12 months Free £49
for 12 mths,
then £63
hyperoptic 20Mb Fibre Broadband Up to 20Mb
Unlimited
12 months £40 £18
for 12 mths,
then £22
hyperoptic 100Mb Fibre Broadband Up to 100Mb
Unlimited
12 months £40 £28
for 12 mths,
then £35
hyperoptic 1Gb Fibre Broadband Up to 1Gb
Unlimited
12 months £40 £48
for 12 mths,
then £60

They may also be pleased to know that, not only do Hyperoptic offer superior, gigabit speeds, but they come with a reputation for being a great provider overall, having won the Internet Service Providers Association award for Best Superfast Broadband for five consecutive years.

Of course, it's always advisable for customers to check whether Hyperoptic do serve their buildings before considering placing an order, and they can do so with the postcode checker below:

Postcode:
Enter your postcode above to check availability in your area.

Mobile broadband

Lastly, no summary of the broadband available in London would be complete if we didn't look at the mobile broadband coverage provided by the UK's four biggest operators, EE, Vodafone, O2, and Three.

Sadly for London, the city doesn't fare so well with respect to mobile 4G coverage, since an OpenSignal report from May revealed that it has only 73.6% 4G coverage and average speeds of about 20Mb.

This compares to the 82.7% coverage in Middlesbrough (the highest in the UK) and the 26.6Mb average speed in Stoke-on-Trent.

Nonetheless, the relative under performance of London in this study was most likely the result of its population density, which would lower average speeds due to the increased traffic.

Since as the following coverage maps for 4G of all four of the major networks show, 4G coverage in the capital is quite extensive:

EE 4G coverage

Source: OpenSignal, EE 4G London coverage

Three 4G coverage

Source: OpenSignal, Three 4G London coverage

O2 4G coverage

Source: OpenSignal, O2 4G London coverage

Vodafone 4G coverage

Source: OpenSignal, Vodafone 4G London coverage

There is in fact very little to choose between the four operators when it comes to these coverage maps, yet it would seem that if anything, Three have fractionally patchier coverage than any of the others, as shown by the slightly greater incidence of red blotches.

However, with regards to network performance nationally, the matter is a bit more clear cut, in that EE is often found as the best, at least on a purely technical level.

As for levels of customer service, the question is debatable, although it's interesting that O2 have the lowest churn rate of any of the four major operators, meaning that their customers are more loyal.

Perhaps this has something to do with the special rewards O2 offer their customers, such as the free event tickets that come as part of O2 Priority, or to do with their O2 Refresh service that makes customers' bills more affordable by splitting them into two separate parts for their handsets and their service allowances.

Either way, it shows that the strongest network on a technical level isn't always the most important thing for customers, who want to be looked after as well as provided with 4G access.

Conclusions

Now that everything relevant to this overview has been surveyed, it would be a good idea to come to offer a brief summary.

To begin with, the question of which ISP to take broadband from generally depends on where in London customers find themselves.

For example, if they want ultrafast, gigabit speeds and are lucky enough to live in a building served by Hyperoptic, then they might want to go for the latter. Similarly, if they want 200Mb or 300Mb speeds, and live in one of the boroughs well connected by Virgin Media, then they could go for them.

However, if they just want good, dependable broadband at an affordable price, then it could be better if they choose an Openreach ISP. Here, Sky are probably the best on the whole, especially if customers are looking for TV as well as internet. On the other hand, if they're looking to save some money, they may prefer TalkTalk or Plusnet.

Other than that, O2 may be the best mobile operator for those who value customer service, while the 4G coverage maps from OpenSignal would suggest that it's at least as good for 4G signals as EE or Vodafone.

But of course, the only way for customers to know for sure when shopping around for either a fixed or mobile broadband provider is to look at the available reviews and decide for themselves. Because, in fairness, almost every provider has something to offer the right customer, depending on their circumstances.


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