Wi-Fi connection: A simple guide to cheap broadband
The internet is an ever-evolving beast, and with technologies changing and updating every day, it is sometimes difficult to keep up. We have created this simple guide to cheap broadband deals to help you decide which type, which supplier, and what sort of broadband speed is best for you.
What sort of internet do you need?
There are three main ways to connect to the internet — broadband, mobile, and satellite.
Fixed-line broadband via underground phone lines replaced dial-up (remember that?) and is the most common with different types (including ADSL, cable and fibre broadband deals) and operates at varying speeds and bandwidths (the amount of data that can be transferred in a specific timeframe).
High-speed mobile broadband (4G/5G) is still comparatively new and can only really be accessed by those living in cities, especially the 5G network. Similarly new is satellite broadband, which has replaced very slow dial-up in remote areas without cables or phone lines.
The right connection: ADSL, fibre or else?
ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) utilises the copper wires of older copper telephone lines (Openreach) so it is widely available throughout the UK. It is often a high-quality connection, and reliable enough for the average user to browse happily away into the small hours. Due to this being the oldest type of fixed-line broadband option, it is often the cheapest too.
Search for ADSL broadband deals on a comparison site to find out more.
Fibre broadband uses underground cables installed to either “fibre to the cabinet” (FTTC) found outside or directly via “fibre to the premises” (FTTP). Fibre-optic wiring can transfer data extremely quickly, using clusters of thin fibres, which allows much more data to pass through than its copper equivalent.
UK-based broadband providers like TalkTalk, Plusnet, BT, Sky and EE all have unlimited broadband deals, so have a look for yourself. All of these providers use the existing Openreach (ex-BT) network.
Virgin Media’s cable uses similar ‘fibre to the cabinet’, which then needs to be connected to your home by an engineer, which can incur setup costs. You can get extreme download speeds of up to 1000 Mbps (1Gbps) from Virgin Media fibre broadband, however, it isn’t readily available in some areas.
Mobile broadbanduses 4G and 5G mobile phone networks to send and receive data, so it doesn't need cables to operate, only a wireless router. It is still relatively new, especially 5G, and quite a few cities haven’t yet got the technology in place to receive high-speed internet (up to 450 Mbps is theoretically reachable!) That said, as it is being rolled out more and more across the UK, coverage will get better.
Search for mobile broadband deals via Three, Vodafone and EE to find out more.
Satellite broadband is great for people who live outside of the city, in far-flung areas away from phone lines and fibre-optic cables. At the moment it is astronomically expensive, with both high installation and running costs. However, due to technology updates, high-speed satellite broadband could become the next major broadband source, where everyone replaces their phone line with a small satellite receiver.
Currently, only one provider offers high-speed satellite broadband to the general public — Elon Musk’s Starlink (an offshoot of SpaceX) — which uses lasers rather than radio waves to transmit much more data. As more satellites are launched into low orbit, there will be more opportunity to become a customer (and hopefully at lower prices).
How much do you use the internet?
As with everything on a subscription, it all depends on usage, so if you only use the internet for browsing, shopping or connecting with friends via social media, it is unlikely you’ll need high-speed fibre-optic and standard broadband via your phone line will suffice.
That said, if you use the internet for PC or console gaming, or have several devices streaming TV and films at peak time, then you’ll probably need a high bandwidth service like super-fast fibre or cable.
Some providers offer broadband deals on their own, or as a package with phone calls and/or television subscriptions added. It might be worth thinking about a Sky broadband deal or Virgin Media package if you wanted both broadband and a television subscription together.
How to get a cheap broadband deal
There are various factors to consider when signing up for broadband, and it is an important decision as it is potentially one of the more expensive bills for your household. So, whether you are switching to a new provider or upgrading your current broadband, it is worth knowing the below and how it may affect your decision.
Read the following to understand what you should be looking for in your broadband connection:
This was once the most important, as a lot of suppliers offered limited downloads but now most providers offer unlimited broadband (or unlimited data downloads), it has become less so.
That said, mobile broadband offers might still have some limitations, and if you exceed the limit it can become costly.
The cost is always an important factor for any service, with some suppliers offering super cheap tariffs with longer contracts, for example. It is crucial that you search around for a tariff that is both value for money and does what you need. Don’t get an expensive unlimited broadband package if you only use the internet for browsing, as it will be a waste of money.
Have a look for special offers for new customers, as you may get six months half price, or cashback, or some smart home gadget freebie.
This depends on the type of broadband you choose, for example, you can get ADSL via copper landlines to most of the country (around 99%), and similarly you can get fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) to most of the UK (around 95%). However, according to Virgin, you can currently only get Virgin Media’s cable in around 60% of UK households, and full-fibre (FTTP) from Openreach and others is even fewer at just over 28-30%.
Mobile broadband has different parameters and is dependent on network coverage, so you would need to see how good 4G/5G is in your area before taking the plunge. One network might have better speeds than another in particular cities, for instance.
In all cases, use a postcode checker to see what is available in your area.
Your connection speed or bandwidth will count for a lot if you are placing video calls with work or loved ones, streaming TV and movies, or gaming. Or all three!
- ADSL1 broadband download speed tops out at around 10 Mbps
- ADSL2+ is around 24 Mbps maximum though fewer homes have access
- FTTC fibre-optic comes in at around 30-70 Mbps
- Full fibre (FTTP) has the potential to reach broadband speeds of 1 Gbps (1000 Mbps) but will depend on the provider.
- Virgin Media’s cable has different average download speeds on offer with varying prices — 50 Mbps, 100 Mbps, 350 Mbps, 500 Mbps, and 1 Gbps.
- Mobile broadband depends on the network — 4G is on average 24-30 Mbps and 5G has 200 Mbps+ potential. The only problem is coverage can drop in and out much like phone networks.
The faster the speed, the more you will be able to do. For example, it isn’t really possible to stream Netflix 4K on slower broadband connections, and gamers will probably need super-fast fibre to play online battle royales without latency issues.
Different providers might offer freebies or perks to get you signed up for their broadband packages. Smart home technology, cashback, Amazon vouchers, games consoles, and so on are usually up for grabs alongside the more expensive broadband packages.
However, these bonuses will not have any bearing on the actual broadband contract, so be wary of expensive gifts as they might disguise an overall mediocre deal.
- Contract length
This will again vary, depending on provider, package and price. Mobile broadband providers can offer no contract or pay-as-you-go (PAYG) packages, but often have slower download speeds but no line rental.
Whereas more expensive high-speed fibre tariffs might be for 12-18 months or longer with discounts on the first few months, for example.
- Routers and equipment
Normally, equipment like routers and TV boxes (if you choose television packages) will be subsidised by the service provider, but not always. If you are offered an upgrade, make sure it is complimentary before deciding, otherwise you may end up paying for expensive equipment you don’t really need.
- Customer service
I know this might not seem that important, but broadband technology is notoriously problematic and can go down in the middle of an important meeting, or worse, the finale of a beloved series. You need to know that when the service does have outages or slow speeds that you’ll be able to speak to someone. Read online reviews to gauge how good a service to expect.
It is good to know that since 2019, you may be eligible for compensation from your broadband provider if the service has continuous outages for more than two days, at a rate of £8 for each calendar day.
Bundles are often very handy, as you may get a landline phone and broadband, or television and broadband, or all three. Packages come in all shapes and sizes, with all-round communication providers like BT, Virgin Media, and Sky offering seriously tempting packages.
There are several benefits of getting a television and broadband package, including a discounted price and it takes away the need to search around for separate television deals. Check for things like what channels are included — sports, entertainment, films — and if you can stream to your phone or tablet. Plus, it is easier to deal with one customer service representative than phoning around three different companies when something goes awry.
People who live in cities are less likely to need a fixed-line phone, as everyone has got a mobile nowadays, however, those in rural areas with patchy mobile service may still want to have a landline. Look out for phone and broadband packages with free call minutes each month, free evening and weekend calls, or cheaper international calls — which will come in handy if you have family abroad.
How to find cheap broadband?
Look for deals on cheap broadband on hotukdeals first and foremost, as there are lots uploaded by editors and the community. Alternatively, you could search on comparison sites as then you can search through all of the major providers at once, and have a check if you want a bundle too.
What is the cheapest broadband in the UK?
The cheapest broadband deals will be ADSL broadband, which is old BT lines. They have the slowest download speeds, but will be okay for browsing the web and streaming TV. Anything more than that and you will need to go for super-fast fibre.
Who offers cheap broadband?
There are several providers that offer cheap broadband deals, in no particular order BT, TalkTalk, Plusnet, Vodafone, EE, Virgin Media, Sky, Zen Internet and Origin. There are plenty more than that, all offering similar packages at varying download speeds and prices, so have a search for yourself.
Is broadband the same as Wi-Fi?
Put plainly, no. Broadband is the transmission of data from one place to another, via hard-wired cables from exchanges to a router in your home. Wi-Fi is the wireless transmission of data via the use of radio waves from your router to your Wi-Fi enabled devices — phones, laptops, TVs, etc.
This is the reason Wi-Fi can be temperamental, whereas a cable from your router to a laptop will not drop out unless the broadband is disconnected.
Can I have broadband without phone line rental?
Yes, you can choose to get rid of the line rental but it depends if the infrastructure is able to support your neighbourhood. Only Fibre to the Premises or full fibre allows for no phone line rental (or Virgin Media cable phone line) but it is only available in less than 30% of the UK.
You could also choose mobile broadband, which uses 4G and 5G networks, but again it isn’t available everywhere, especially outside of cities.
What broadband speed do I need for Netflix?
Netflix and other streaming services, like NOW TV, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video, will need at least 5 Mbps download speed for regular HD streaming. If you want to watch in 4K, then you will need at least 10 Mbps speeds, but considering the average speed in the UK is 60 Mbps, you should be okay. Find out more about low-cost super-fast fibre deals that will allow for seamless streaming.
What is the hotukdeals community saying?
Check out these community discussions on broadband: