Who's best for fibre broadband?


fibre broadband©iStock.com/kynny

There are more fibre broadband providers in the UK than ever.

If you're trying to choose between the big, mainstream fibre ISPs, this is the guide for you.

Read on for our top four choices or click through to skip ahead to:

Our winners

There are now numerous ISPs offering fibre broadband packages on the BT network, which launched in January 2010. The biggest are listed below, along with Virgin Media, who run their own fibre network.

Our top four fibre providers are:

Here's a quick guide to how each of them performs:

Speed Usage Fair Use Customer Service Router Monthly Price
virgin media 50Mb, 100Mb, 200Mb Unlimited fair starstarstaremptyempty starstarstarstarempty £32.25 to £58
plusnet 38Mb, 76Mb Unlimited very fair starstarstaremptyempty starstarstarstarempty £32.98 to £37.98
sky 38Mb, 76Mb 25GB, Unlimited very fair starstarstarstarempty starstarstarstarstar £28.99 to £43.99
bt 52Mb, 76Mb 25GB, Unlimited very fair starstarstaremptyempty starstarstarstarstar £42.49 to £53.99
talktalk 38Mb, 76Mb Unlimited fair starstaremptyemptyempty starstarstarstarempty £32 to £37
ee 38Mb, 76Mb Unlimited very fair starstaremptyemptyempty starstarstaremptyempty £34.50 to £40.50
zen internet 38Mb, 76Mb 50GB, Unlimited N/a starstarstarstarstar staremptyemptyemptyempty £36.49 to £46.99
john lewis 38Mb, 76Mb Unlimited N/a starstarstarstarempty starstarstaremptyempty £38 to £43

For more on the ratings we've used please see our guides to:

BT Wholesale: spot the difference

Virgin Media, who have been providing fibre optic broadband since they took over NTL Telewest in March 2006, don't have to share their network.

BT have always shared their fibre network with their competitors - and in October 2010 Ofcom published regulatory guidelines that would stop them ever going back on that commitment.

"This statement is reassuring in that Ofcom agrees that we have been providing suitable unbundled access to our fibre for some months now," said BT at the time.

While the guidelines prevent any anti-competitive behaviour, such as exorbitant prices or restricted access, BT remain free to price wholesale access to their fibre network. So what's the difference between these BT fibre providers?

Clue: it's traffic management

At the time of this update, there's an obvious difference between the products offered by BT and those offered by most of their rivals in the table above: speed.

BT are in the process of upgrading all their entry level fibre customers from the 38Mb connections we're all used to, to a new mid-level fibre tier offering downloads of up to 52Mb and uploads of up to 10Mb.

This newest tier only became available to both BT and their resellers in early 2016, and we shouldn't be surprised that the only ISP offering packages using it so far are BT themselves.

Once we get beyond that difference, Ofcom's guidelines state that BT have to offer "virtual unbundled local access" to their fibre product. In other words, ISPs will be given a "wires only" product: BT can't set any network management on the line.

Additionally, as TalkTalk confirmed to ISPreview, fibre broadband providers can use their own engineers to connect customers, meaning they don't have to rely on BT Openreach.

"The wholesale product that BT and Openreach must offer must be designed to allow ISPs such as TalkTalk more flexibility to develop their own products.

"In particular, the product should be uncontended, unmanaged and not artificially capped, provided on a wires only basis and must be unbundled so that ISPs can provide the installation themselves rather than having to use an Openreach engineer," TalkTalk said.

We can understand why.

Not only does freedom to set their own traffic management and usage policies allow ISPs to establish unique selling points for their packages, but reliance on BT Openreach has often been behind many customer gripes.

The ISPs that have unbundled exchanges for normal copper phone line broadband (ADSL2+) have often gone on to establish a good reputation for customer service - although that's not always the case.

As we reported in May 2012, fibre quickly proved to be profit-making for the ISPs who took it up. Market competition is strong, which means prices have come down and providers have been encouraged to introduce more deals.

Surprisingly, the differences in traffic and network management have also caused some speed differences between the providers.

The best fibre broadband speeds

Ofcom's annual report into real world broadband speeds looks at average speeds across the UK on the main network's ADSL2+ and fibre broadband connections.

Their last report, released March 2016, included more providers offering 76Mb fibre than ever before as the faster connections become available more widely, and BT's rivals find it more commercially viable to offer their own version of the service.

It was also the first showing for Virgin Media's newest top deal, offering up to 200Mb.

The result of the last speed test is below, with the providers listed alphabetically, alongside the current cost of their deals.

Advertised speed 24 hours Peak time
8-10pm weekdays
Monthly cost
bt up to 38Mb* 34.3Mb - 35.5Mb 33.8Mb - 35.1Mb £29.99
for 12 mths,
then £47.49
ee up to 38Mb 33.3Mb - 35.2Mb 32.9Mb - 34.8Mb Free
for 18 mths,
then £28.50
plusnet up to 38Mb 32.3Mb - 34.2Mb 32.1Mb - 34.0Mb £22.99
for 18 mths,
then £32.98
sky up to 38Mb 33.3Mb - 35.6Mb 33.1Mb - 35.4Mb £28.99
talktalk up to 38Mb 31.7Mb - 35.1Mb 31.3Mb - 34.7Mb £25
for 18 mths,
then £32
virgin media up to 50Mb 28.9Mb - 30.7Mb 27.5Mb - 30.1Mb £34
for 12 mths,
then £45
bt up to 76Mb 57.4Mb - 61.1Mb 56.9Mb - 60.5Mb £44.99
for 12 mths,
then £53.99
ee up to 76Mb 59.9Mb - 64.7Mb 53.8Mb - 57.1Mb £32.50
for 18 mths,
then £40.50
plusnet up to 76Mb 54.8Mb - 58.1Mb 53.8Mb - 57.1Mb £29.99
for 18 mths,
then £37.98
sky up to 76Mb 56.6Mb - 63.5Mb 55.6Mb - 62.4Mb £43.99
virgin media up to 100Mb 93.3Mb - 98.2Mb 81.6Mb - 90.6Mb £39
for 12 mths,
then £50
virgin media up to 200Mb 168.0Mb - 179.9Mb 148.0Mb - 164.4Mb £44
for 12 mths,
then £55

SOURCE: Ofcom, March 2016. Available here [pdf]

*BT Infinity 1 speeds reflect those for up to 38Mb, the standard speed at the time. The price shown is for the up to 52Mb service.

Many of these packages come with introductory discount offers for new customers, which we'll look at in more detail below.

Ofcom's research found that, along with the speed results shown below, EE's up to 76Mb fibre deal had the fastest upload speed of all providers, averaging 17.1Mb.

Largely, that's because fibre over BT's network has much faster upload speeds - advertised as up to 19Mb - compared to Virgin Media, who even on their fastest package only advertise upload speeds of up to 12Mb.

Fibre offers

Finally, as we mentioned above, many of the fibre providers are competing for new business by offering introductory discounts.

However, some providers are also offering deals and incentives which we thought were worth listing here in full.

Here are some of the currently available offers from the biggest fibre providers:

Virgin Media

What's on offer? When you join online for: Need to know:
virgin media TV, broadband and phone bundles from £35 a month Virgin's TV, broadband and phone bundles.12-month contract.
£20 activation fee.
virgin media Broadband and phone from £29 a month Virgin's broadband and phone bundles.12 month contract.
£20 activation fee.

For more on Virgin Media and to search for packages see our review here.

BT

What's on offer? When you join online for: Need to know:
bt BT Unlimited Infinity for just £29.99/mth plus a £125 reward card.
Hurry! Offer ends in 5 days!
26 October 2017
BT Unlimited Infinity broadband, with or without BT TV.£59.99 activation fee and 12 month minimum term applies.
bt BT Unlimited Infinity 2 for just £44.99/mth plud s £125 reward card.
Hurry! Offer ends in 5 days!
26 October 2017
BT Unlimited Infinity broadband with or without BT TV£59.99 activation fee and 12 month minimum term applies.
bt BT Unlimited broadband for just £26.99/mth, plus a £50 reward card.
Hurry! Offer ends in 5 days!
26 October 2017
BT Unlimited Broadband, with or without BT TV.£9.99 delivery fee and 12 month minimum term applies.
bt Free phone line installation or reconnection worth £130With any BT Broadband packageMinimum term applies.

For more on BT and to search for packages see our review here.

Sky

What's on offer? When you join online for: Need to know:
sky Get the Sky Original Bundle for just £20/mth for 18 months
Offer ends 30 November 2017
Sky Original bundle + Sky QSet up fees and 18 month contract applies.
sky Sky Unlimited Broadband + line rental £20/mth for 12 months (then £28.99/mth) + £50 reward
Hurry! Offer ends 16 November 2017
Sky Unlimited broadband
(without Sky TV)
12 month minimum term. £19.95 set-up fee.
sky Add Sky Fibre Unlimited to any TV bundle for £30/mth for 18 months.
Hurry! Offer ends 9 November 2017
Sky Fibre Unlimited
(as an existing Sky TV customer)
18 month minimum term. £19.95 set up fee.
sky Sign up to Sky Fibre broadband from £28.99/mth for 18 months
Hurry! Offer ends 16 November 2017
Sky Fibre broadband
(without Sky TV)
18 month minimum term. £59.95 set up fee.

For more on Sky and to search for packages see our review here.

Do you have an opinion on who is best for fibre broadband? Let us know in the comments below.

Comments

1
16 October 2015
Mark Atkins

Who gave the Sky Hub 5 stars? Seriously, it deserves half a star as the wireless drops to 5Mb across the room, let alone in a different room!

2
18 March 2015
SimonTheSurfer

I should add that I did not choose TalkTalk - Pipex were bought by them (long history of acquisitions) so I ended up a customer by accident. I pity Virgin's customers in the same boat now.

3
2 April 2014
SimonTheSurfer

OK - here's one to get you started. Fibre was available from our local cabinet a few weeks ago. Yesterday I was upgraded to fibre with Talk Talk Business about an hour after the same BT Openreach engineer upgraded a friend 200 meters away for BT and then went to a business over the road to upgrade another business we are good friends with. Friend (as the engineer confirmed) 80 Mbps Download & 20 Mbps Upload. Me 46 Mbps best so far Download & 8.2 Mbps Upload - not speeds I should accept (as the engineer confirmed - he told me to escalate as a problem). Checking over the road tomorrow. Been fighting Talk Talk Business doing unnecessary speed tests for 24 hours since. You be the judge.

29 August 2014
MrISP

They've clearly put you on a 40/10 FTTC profile, not 80/20!

31 December 2014
nsaidtmthannzzzzheuf

TalkTalk are a budget option, maybe not the best out there, but if you're clued up and not bothered as much with the upload then you will be fine as fault finding will help the terrible customer service and upload won't be an issue. And if you are bothered then go with the 80/20 package. Every ISP has issues, just like in this case putting you on the wrong profile. So ring the right people up and get a discount/credit/refund on the amount of time you've had an issue then resolve it. Unfortunately with fibre a profile change has to be made by an engineer and then its back to normal. If I was to say what was my worst experience with fibre I'd say BT the forerunners of FTTC, I had 5 engineer visits and still had a connection that would dropout 24/7, and you know what the problem was - a faulty fibre faceplate that they had installed and I only realised this when I switched provider so as an engineer you can't miss that issue from under your nose.

My experience with TalkTalk: cheap - little to no issues at all apart from 40/10 and 6db profile on adsl lines. And the customer service go through their forums very knowledgeable and have the authority to help you with almost everything that can be sorted over the phone.

18 March 2015
SimonTheSurfer

This week I leave Talk Talk after a year of letting them prove they can run my account without an issue on free fibre (total - 2 years of appalling service):
1. Lost my e-mail management button - again! (The original problem - as well as OP Cola - moving small business users to residential telling them this was an "improvement".)
2. Tried to charge me a termination fee despite regularly reminding them that I only allowed them to keep me for the above year IF there was no penalty to leave.
3. Router broke - replacement only works 2 meters away. More than that is unusable.

I would rather pay anyone than have free Talk Talk - they are worse than you can possibly imagine. As I have told them many times, for several years I defended their poor record - now I will be frank about the dire experience I have had. This having given them, via their Chief Executive's office (supposedly), a year to convince me differently.

Also - poor up/down speeds is due to BT installing aluminium cable fro the cabinet in the 70s. 40/10 is the maximum possible - confirmed by 2 BT employees now.

Now off to Plusnet (owned by BT). What can possibly go wrong?


» Read more of the latest news


» Search for more guides on broadband and mobile


Follow us or subscribe for FREE updates and special offers