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Frustrated woman with a laptop

Virgin Media outed by Ofcom as the most complained-about broadband provider

Posted by Andy Betts on in NewsBTSkyPlusnetTalkTalkVirgin MediaEEVodafone

Ofcom's latest figures on broadband complaints are out - and it's bad news for Virgin Media. The company has rocketed to the top of the list as the major broadband supplier that gets the highest rate of complaints.

The report covers January to March this year, and counted the number of complaints made to Ofcom about providers with a market share of 1.5% or more.

It shows that Virgin Media generated 33 complaints per 100,000 customers, an increase of 20 in just a year. That puts them a long way ahead - or should that be behind - the next two worst performers, with Vodafone and TalkTalk both getting 24 complaints. Vodafone had been the worst ranking provider in six of the last seven quarters. Plusnet also generated complaint levels above the industry average.

And that's not the end of the bad news for Virgin Media. They also racked up the highest complaint levels for their landline service (19 per 100,000) and their pay TV service (17 per 100,000), and were second worst for mobile (5 per 100,000) behind Three.

The biggest reason why customers complained to Ofcom about Virgin Media was failings in the broadband provider's own complaints handling system - amounting to 39% in total. A third complained about faults and issues with the service, and a further 13% about billing problems.

Industry-wide, faults, service and provisioning issues accounted for 42% of reports, followed by complaints handling and billing.

Sky and EE were the least complained-about providers, generating just seven apiece. They've been in the top two positions for the last two years. The only other provider to beat the industry average was BT, with 15.

In good news for the industry overall, the average number of complaints has more than halved over the last decade, from 40 per 100,000 in the first quarter of 2011, to 19 now. The numbers are up from a record low of 10 in Q2 of last year, perhaps in part a consequence of pandemic disruption and the increasing importance of internet access for work, school and entertainment.

Broadband complaints per 100,000 customers

  • EE: 7
  • Sky: 7
  • BT: 15
  • Industry average: 19
  • Plusnet: 21
  • Vodafone: 24
  • TalkTalk: 24
  • Virgin Media: 33

In pay TV, Virgin Media generated 17 complaints against an industry average of 6. Sky performed best with just two. For landlines, Virgin had 19 complaints, eight more than the average, and EE and Sky tied as best performers with five each.

Mobile complaints were largely flat, and at much lower levels. Three performed worst with six complaints, while Tesco Mobile, Sky Mobile and EE had just one each.

Service reliability, billing, and complaint handling are important factors you should consider when choosing a new broadband provider. Our site contains thousands of customer ratings and reviews that can give you a true feel for how each provider performs. Currently, Zen top our list for customer satisfaction.

If you aren't happy with the service you're getting from your supplier, and you're coming to the end of your contract, it's easy to switch. Use our postcode checker to find the best broadband deal available in your area today.

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Hands typing on a laptop

7 myths about UK broadband busted

Posted by Andy Betts on in FeaturesCuckooVirgin MediaNOW BroadbandBTSkyVodafoneTalkTalk

There are so many well established ideas about broadband and switching broadband providers that get repeated again and again.

The trouble is, many of them are wrong - and they're costing you money.

Switching suppliers can easily save you a hundred pounds or more every year, and if you're stuck on a slow internet package when you need something much faster, it doesn't have to cost you a fortune to upgrade.

So here are some of the biggest myths about broadband, and the truth that you need to know.

"Fibre is fibre - all fibre broadband is the same"

While fibre broadband is used as a catch-all term, it encompasses very different things.

Most of us are using something called fibre-to-the-cabinet broadband. This is where the ultrafast fibre cables carry your broadband signal as far as your nearest street cabinet - that green box down the end of your road. The connection from the cabinet to you house is over the old copper telephone cables. These are a lot slower, and the signal degrades the further it has to travel, which is why a house on one of the street can get very different performance levels to one at the other end.

There's now a big push to roll out "full fibre" broadband, which is also known as fibre-to-the-home. Here, the fibre cables run right up to your house. The result is that the speeds are much, much faster and the service is more reliable.

"There's no benefit to upgrading to ultrafast broadband"

A recent survey found that one of the main things that stopped people from upgrading to ultrafast or full fibre broadband was the belief that it didn't really offer any benefits. But there are many.

The main one, obviously, is that you get much faster download speeds. Our internet use is skyrocketing - Ofcom's recent Communications Market Report shows that the average household now burns through 429GB of data each month, an increase of 36% on the previous year. Even if you think you don't need faster speeds right now, you will do soon.

On top of that, you get vastly quicker upload speeds, which will be essential if the working from home revolution continues. The service should be more reliable, too, as you won't have to deal with line faults on the old telephone cables.

And it's also better value for money: currently, you pay the same price for your broadband as your neighbour down the street, yet you could be receiving a much slower service. That's far less of an issue with full fibre.

"It's too much hassle to switch providers"

By now it's well established that those of us who are willing to switch providers will get a better and cheaper deal than those who stick with the same provider for a long time.

Why don't more people switch? Because it's seen as too much hassle. But it really isn't.

If you move between two providers on the Openreach network - which includes almost all the main providers, including BT, TalkTalk, Sky, Vodafone, Plusnet and so on - then the one you are moving to will handle the entire switchover process for you. You won't have to do anything, and the whole process should be done within a couple of weeks.

Granted, it is a little more complicated to switch to or from a provider that uses a different infrastructure, like Virgin Media, as you may need an engineer to come and install it. But these companies are now set up to make even this part as easy as possible.

"You'll lose internet access when you switch"

Another reason people are reluctant to switch is that they assume they'll be left without internet access while it happens. This is another myth.

Generally speaking, your old service gets turned off as your new service gets switched on and you might be disconnected for a few minutes in between, but nothing more dramatic than that. If you're switching to or from Virgin Media, you can even arrange an overlap where your new service is connected before your old one is turned off.

"You always have to sign a long contract"

Something that puts off a lot of people when they're looking at broadband deals is the prospect of having to commit to a long contract.

In fact, you don't have to. NOW Broadband, Virgin Media, and newcomer Cuckoo are among the providers that offer no-contract deals. You have to pay a little more on the activation fee up front, but this might be worth it for the flexibility of being able to cancel at any time. These deals can be especially worth it for students or anyone who's planning to move house in the near future.

Most suppliers offer 12 month contract options as well. And keep in mind that if your reluctance to sign a long deal is through the worry that you'll be stuck with something you aren't happy with, then there are ways you can quit a contract without charge. If your broadband speed constantly underperforms, for example, and your supplier cannot fix it, or if they put your prices up by more than the amount in agreed in your contract.

"It's too complicated to find a better deal"

There are a lot broadband suppliers in the UK, and they offer a lot of deals between them. Trying to figure out the differences can be tricky, especially if you aren't that tech savvy.

But it needn't be that complicated. We make it easy for you to compare all the latest broadband deals, and you can filter them based on whatever you want most. So, you can see the cheapest deals, or the fastest deals, or just the fibre packages, or those that offer broadband without a contract.

And if you then sort them further by speed or first year cost, you'll very quickly narrow your list of options down to just a few packages.

"Faster broadband always costs more"

While it's natural to assume that upgrading to faster broadband will cost you more, it isn't necessarily so.

If you're in a coverage area, you can get full fibre from Hyperoptic (at the slower 30Mb speed) at a rate normally reserved for the old, standard broadband deals; you can upgrade to a faster 67Mb plan from OneStream for just £22.50 a month; or you can burst through the 100Mb barrier with Vodafone for just £26 a month. These are some pretty keen prices, that make faster broadband more accessible than you might have expected.

So, now you know the truth about broadband and how to upgrade, are you ready to start shopping? Use our postcode checker to discover the best broadband deals available where you live.

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Woman with a laptop holding a credit card

Are you paying too much for your broadband?

Posted by Andy Betts on in Features

Are you paying too much for your broadband? If you haven't taken out a new deal recently, or if you're on a plan that isn't right for you, then there's a good chance you are.

And we're not just talking about a few quid a month - in some cases you can wind up paying hundreds extra every year.

So how can you tell, and what can you do about it? Let's take a look.

What do you need?

Before you can work out if you're paying too much for your broadband you need to figure out exactly what kind of broadband you need.

What do you and the others in your household use the internet for? Is it for non-stop streaming and gaming? Is it essential for work? Or do you use it mostly just for a little browsing and shopping?

Once you sort this out you can decide what sort of speed of service you need, and see if what you've got is appropriate.

The trick is to find the right speed, whatever it is. You don't have to pay for something faster and flashier just because you assume it's better, even if you don't need it. But equally, don't skimp on a package that's too slow, or you'll be in for a frustrating time.

Compare prices

Now you know what you're after, you can compare the prices on all the latest broadband deals.

If you're already on the right speed broadband, you can check to see if there are any options available that are much cheaper than you're currently paying. Or if you want to upgrade - or downgrade - in future, you can see how the price will compare to your bill right now.

Are you still in contract?

The main reason why anyone finds themselves paying too much for their broadband is that the minimum contract period on their deal has ended. The price will always go up when this happens - sometimes by as much as 80% or more. And it'll rise by an above average amount every year on top of that.

Changes to Ofcom rules mean that ISPs should be proactive in letting you know what your situation is and what your options are. Where they would have once been happy to keep you on an old deal for years they should now tell you when your deal is up, and point you towards the better prices than can offer you.

If you're on your supplier's books as being a vulnerable customer - which can cover anything from disability to unemployment or money troubles - then they should also avoid hitting you with the big price rises when your deal ends. So make sure you inform them if your circumstances change.

But that's as far as it goes. Most of us still have to make the effort to find a new deal. Do nothing and it can very expensive very quickly.

In short, if you've been out of contract for a while, we can say with certainty that you are paying more than you should be. The good news is that with no contact tying you down, you can find a new deal and slash your monthly bill in just a few minutes.

Are you a new customer or a loyal one?

The other big reason why people pay more than they should is that they're too loyal.

It's long been known that businesses keep their best deals to attract new customers. Ofcom have taken steps to encourage broadband providers to make the better deals available to those who are renewing, but the fact remains that there are still a lot of benefits to be had in switching providers.

It isn't just the promise of better deals and lower prices, but rewards, gifts and other incentives, too. Many suppliers offer free money, or cashback that's equivalent to one or two free months of internet access. Make sure you factor in the value of these when you're comparing prices.

But while free money is great, obviously, don't be seduced by the promise of free gifts. Remember, you're only making a saving there if you would have bought the product anyway!

Has your price gone up?

The price you signed up to isn't necessarily the price you'll pay throughout your entire deal. Most plans allow for annual increase in line with inflation; the BT-owned brands specify in their contracts a price rise of inflation plus an extra 3.9%.

As long as these increases are in your contract there's nothing you can do - just be sure to read the terms of your deal properly before you sign up in the first place.

But if the price has gone up at a level that you didn't agree to, Ofcom rules say that you can quit your contract without penalty so long as you give notice within 30 days of your provider telling you they're raising their prices.

You must act quickly, then, but don't jump the gun. If you were on a particularly good deal before, it may still be competitive even after the increase. Compare the prices first to make sure - you'll be annoyed at a mid-contract price hike, but that isn't a good enough reason on its own to quit.

Do you need bundles?

Bundles including premium TV or mobile coverage can save you a lot of money, but they're also an easy way for a provider to upsell you things you don't necessarily need. They bring an element of lock-in as well, since the more services you get from one company, the harder it seems to switch.

When taking out a bundle, make sure you only sign up to the things you want - the TV channels you actually watch, the data allowance you will use.

This applies to landline call bundles too. They can be tempting as they seem like an easy way to save money. Just make sure you actually use your landline as much as you think (nowadays, there's a good chance you don't!).

Are you willing to switch?

So many people get stuck on bad deals because they think that switching providers is too much hassle. It really isn't. The process is a lot easier than you probably realise.

In fact, if you're switching between two providers that use the Openreach network - which includes the likes of BT, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk, and many more - then your new supplier will take care of the whole process for you.

And if you really don't want to switch, at least get in touch with your current provider to see if you can negotiate a lower price. If you're at or near the end of your contract they'll often be more than willing to do you a deal.

Are you ready to start shopping for a better value broadband deal? Use our postcode checker to find the best plans available where you live, or call us for some free, impartial advice.

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Woman using a laptop in bed at night

Brits now spend over three and a half hours online every day

Posted by Andy Betts on in News

The average Brit spends more than three and a half hours online every day and is consuming more data than ever, according to new research from Ofcom.

The 2021 edition of the watchdog's annual Communications Market Report highlights trends throughout the entire communications industry, and offers some fascinating insights into the state of UK broadband - and how we use it.

The main conclusion is that both speed and usage of broadband across the UK is continuing to grow rapidly, to the point where we spend longer online and use more data than ever.

Encouragingly, we're also pretty happy with the service we're getting. Let's take a closer look at some of the findings.

Broadband is getting faster

The report shows that the speed of internet connections available to us is growing fast. 78% of households can now get fibre broadband of 30Mb or more, compared to 69% 12 months earlier - or well under half just five years ago.

The average speed of our broadband connections has now topped 80Mb for the first time, an increase of 25%.

But while the number of broadband hotspots is on the rise, there are still a surprisingly high number of homes stuck in broadband not-spots. 8% of households are getting download speeds of just 10Mb or less.

Our data use has skyrocketed. Each household now consumes an average of 429GB of data a month, up by 36% compared to 2019. True, this figure may be somewhat lockdown-affected, but the increase is still the continuation of a long term trend that shows no sign of stopping. Back in 2013 we were averaging just 30GB a month!

In order to devour all this data the average UK internet user is spending three hours and 37 minutes online every day, and a staggering 39% of that time is spent within Google and Facebook-owned sites like YouTube and Instagram. In addition, 75% of households now own a smart TV, and half have a smart speaker like an Amazon Echo.

And yet despite the growing reliance on the internet for most of us, 6% of households are still not online at all.

The good news is that people are generally happy with the broadband service they're getting, with 79% saying they were either very satisfied or fairly satisfied with their provider. BT - including its other major brands EE and Plusnet - remains the largest broadband supplier in the UK, followed in turn by Sky, Virgin Media, and TalkTalk.

You can browse the full report's interactive data portal here.

Is your broadband service good enough to keep up with the soaring growth in internet use? You can bag yourself a great value upgrade by using our postcode checker to compare the best broadband deals available where you live right now.

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Laptop with a picture of fast city lights on the screen

Is it time to upgrade to ultrafast broadband?

Posted by Andy Betts on in FeaturesTrueSpeedSkyEEVirgin MediaVodafoneCommunity FibreGigaclear

With the upgrade to our broadband infrastructure being accelerated, ultrafast broadband is becoming more accessible with each passing day.

So you might now be wondering, is it time to upgrade to a faster deal? But what exactly do you get, and what are the benefits to ultrafast broadband? Let's take a look.

What is ultrafast broadband?

Anything with a download speed over 100Mb can be classified as ultrafast.

There are a lot of different technologies that are able to deliver these faster speeds, including upgraded street cabinets that use the G.fast technology, Virgin Media's cable and fibre network, and the growing number of full fibre, or fibre-to-the-home, services that are being rolled out across the country.

Coverage is still quite patchy, but a majority of UK homes can get an ultrafast service from at least one provider, with as many as 59% able to get speeds of at least 300Mb.

Do you need ultrafast broadband?

While faster is very much better, the normal fibre broadband connections that most of us still use are extremely capable.

A 67Mb connection is good enough to allow you watch Netflix or Amazon Prime in 4K, and can download a 1GB file in just a touch over two minutes. You shouldn't experience too much in the way of problems, even with a fairly busy household.

But remember, your available bandwidth is divided between all the devices connected to your network. The more devices you add, the more likely you are to experience slowdowns on some of your tasks - your videos drop to a lower resolution, your downloads take longer, and so on. Ultrafast broadband reduces the chances of this happening, and the faster your connection, the less likely it gets. It allows you to connect more devices, and more people, without putting any limits on what they can do.

So while you might not have a desperate need for ultrafast, right now, there are lots of good reasons why it will benefit you.

  • Your browsing in general will speed up. You'll notice it especially with complex web apps like Google Docs, or photo heavy sites. You get a shorter ping rate, too, which means better online gaming.
  • You will experience much faster downloads. This isn't just files you're actively downloading on your laptop, but other things like those Windows 10 updates that happen in the background, video game downloads, and even Ultra HD movies you load on your Sky Q box. For reference, a 5GB file will take over 10 minutes to download on a 67Mb connection, and just 42 seconds with gigabit broadband.
  • Along with faster downloads, you also get much faster uploads. Full fibre broadband is symmetric, which means the upload and download speeds are the same. If you work from home, especially, this could be a huge benefit.
  • Ultrafast broadband is future-proof. Internet use on the Openreach network, which covers most UK broadband suppliers, more than doubled throughout 2020. Yes, it was driven in part by lockdown, but it was also the continuation of a long established trend that's unlikely to change any time soon.
  • In some cases, ultrafast broadband might also be your best option. Lots of rural areas, as well as new build homes, have frankly terrible options when it comes to fibre-to-the-cabinet broadband - and some don't have it at all. But full fibre is independent of the old copper-based network, so you might increasingly find that it's your best, and maybe, only choice.

Can you get ultrafast broadband?

The provider with the widest ultrafast broadband coverage throughout the country is Virgin Media. They're available to approaching two-thirds of the UK and they offer speeds up to an average 630Mb. Vodafone, EE and Sky are among the other big providers that can offer ultrafast broadband at varying speeds.

There's also a big growth in the number of specialist full fibre providers, some focussing on specific regions. These include Community Fibre in parts of London and TrueSpeed in the South West, while Gigaclear target rural areas in 22 counties across the Midlands and south of England. Coverage is improving all the time, as are the range of options available to everyone.

Are you ready to upgrade to ultrafast broadband? Use our postcode checker to find out if it's available in your street already.

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A couple watching TV

What broadband speed do you need for your smart TV?

Posted by Andy Betts on in FeaturesSkyBTTalkTalkPlusnetVirgin MediaVodafone

If you're splashing out on a big screen smart TV, perhaps to watch the Euros or to build your dream Home Cinema experience, it's worth also checking to make sure that your broadband package is up to scratch.

It's not really a big deal if you've gone for a smaller set, but if you're rocking a 65 inch screen or more, you want the best resolution you can get. 4K streaming is a must.

So what exactly do you need? When it comes to broadband for TV streaming, how fast is fast enough? Let's take a look.

What speeds do you need?

First, load up our speed test tool, go and stand next to your telly and run it a couple of times. This will give you an idea of the speeds your TV is able to get.

Now, you can compare the results to the speed requirements for many of the most popular streaming services:

  • BBC iPlayer - 4K: 24Mb, HD: 5MB. (iPlayer currently only offers a few shows in 4K, including the whole of the Euro 2020 competition.)
  • NOW TV - 1080p HD: 12Mb (There's no 4K option at the moment.)
  • Netflix - 4K: 25Mb, HD: 5Mb
  • Amazon - 4K: 15Mb, HD: 5Mb
  • Disney+ - 4K: 25Mb, HD 5Mb
  • Apple TV+ - 4K, 15Mb, HD: 8Mb

You might need to upgrade your subscription to get 4K streaming on some of these services. They will stream in 4K if your connection is fast enough, but will drop down to 1080p HD (and potentially even lower) if it isn't, so you don't have to worry about adjusting the settings of your streaming apps to find the appropriate quality.

Smart TVs use the same bandwidth as dedicated streaming sticks or set-top boxes, so the requirement is the same if you're using one of those instead - it's based on the software rather than the hardware.

And if you're wondering whether streaming uses more bandwidth than downloading, it's basically the same. You can technically download at a higher quality on a slower connection if you're willing to wait long enough, although you wound't want to do that too often. The big difference is for live TV, where you're always reliant on your internet connection when streaming, as compared to an aerial, cable or dish, where you always get the highest quality available, regardless.

How can you speed up the internet for your smart TV?

If you're struggling with buffering or pixellated images, or you're concerned you aren't getting the maximum quality available, there are a few things you can try.

  • Check your TV has a good Wi-Fi signal to begin with - you can usually see this if you delve into the TV's W-Fi settings. The weaker your signal, the slower your connection might be, and if it gets too weak, there's where you're likely to encounter problems.
  • If you have a weak connection, make sure there are no electrical devices nearby that can cause interference, like a cordless phone.
  • Also, you could try moving your router so that there are no heavy, physical objects like large bookcases that could block the signal.
  • Most smart TVs should have an Ethernet port around the back, so you can plug in a cable direct from your router to ensure a fast, consistent connection. Alternatively, you could use something like a Powerline adapter to extend your network coverage into a room where your Wi-Fi performance tends to be less than stellar.

The best broadband for your smart TV

As you can see from the speed requirements above, even 4K streaming is easily within the capabilities of almost all fibre packages, assuming you don't live too far away from your nearest street cabinet. This can cause a big drop-off in your download speeds.

The complication comes when you factor in what the rest of your household is doing while you're watching.

A typical entry level fibre deal, with 36Mb download speeds, comfortably exceeds the 25Mb requirement for 4K. But if you've got kids YouTubing and FaceTiming, and a partner in your home office downloading, all at the same time, your bandwidth will be spread a lot more thinly. Suddenly, that 4K streaming could be off limits.

So what speeds should you go for? Assuming a busy household, a top-end fibre-to-the-cabinet package should be the minimum. These have speeds in the region of 63-66Mb, and are enough for a few people to be busy online at the same time. Vodafone, TalkTalk and Plusnet are among the providers that offer great value fibre deals with these speeds.

But you should go faster for a larger household, to get the peace of mind that your connection will always be speedy enough to meet your needs. Most providers offer packages faster than 100Mb, including Sky, BT and Virgin Media.

If you're ready to upgrade to get the best TV and Home Cinema experience possible, use our postcode checker to discover the best broadband deals available in your area today.

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Man with laptop on the phone

Broadband providers still need to improve support for vulnerable customers

Posted by Andy Betts on in FeaturesEEBTPlusnetOnestreamSSEHyperopticTalkTalkVodafoneVirgin MediaNOW BroadbandSkyJohn LewisShell EnergyCommunity FibreKCOMZen

We've all got horror stories about bad customer service. But it's people with health, financial or emotional problems that are still having the most inconsistent experiences when they contact their broadband provider's customer service team.

That's the big finding from research by Ofcom, which looked at the progress the industry has made since the watchdog last year published its guidelines for treating vulnerable customers fairly.

They found that while some users received extra support due to their circumstances, and others reported positive experiences despite the provider not knowing about their vulnerability, the overall service was still patchy.

It suggested that people's experiences were heavily dependent on the member of staff they spoke to, with no guarantee they would get to deal with the same person twice.

It suggests there's still plenty of room for improvement in the training of customer support teams.

What makes a customer vulnerable?

Vulnerabilities come in many forms. They include physical and mental health problems, debt or unemployment, bereavement, or even becoming a victim of crime.

Unsurprisingly, the number of vulnerable customers has increased during the pandemic and its subsequent economic fallout.

While Ofcom rules require all providers to have policies in place for helping vulnerable customers, it isn't always easy for them to automatically tell if someone needs extra support. If you regard yourself as being in a vulnerable group, or if your circumstances have recently changed (you might have lost your job, for example), you should contact your broadband supplier and let them know.

They'll add that information to your account, and it should inform any relevant future interactions you have with them.

What kind of support can you get?

With the definition of vulnerable being quite broad and varied, the types of support you can get are also broad and varied.

  • You should have access to a range of communications channels to speak to customer support. This could include text relay services or support in different languages.
  • You should be given the time to get help, support and advice on managing debts without the threat of enforcement action.
  • Providers could consider giving you a payment holiday to help you manage cashflow issues.
  • Providers should give you information and advice on tariffs to ensure you don't end up paying more than you should. Vulnerable people are the most likely to remain on expensive out-of-contract deals.
  • Broadband providers should regard disconnection as a last resort.

Broadband providers' vulnerability policies

Ofcom's guidance expects a number of things from broadband suppliers. They should train their staff to be able to recognise the characteristics, behaviours and verbal cues of someone who might be vulnerable, so they can be proactive in offering support. They should identify vulnerable customers and record their needs. And they should make all of their customers aware of the kinds of support and services that they offer.

Many providers publish vulnerability policies. Some have specific support teams in place for vulnerable customers, and some make it easy for you to register your vulnerable status with them. This information will be treated in confidence, and is subject to all the usual data protection legislation.

Here are the relevant pages for many of the leading providers:

Some of the things you can expect include ways to improve access to support via text relay and NGT services or braille guides; simple instructions on using accessibility services like subtitles on TV; and specific policies and help for dealing with financial issues. Naturally, what's promised and what's delivered are not always the same thing, so check our user reviews to see our customers' experiences of their providers' tech support.

If you want to read the full Ofcom report, click here. Or if you want to compare the best broadband deals in your area today, use our postcode search tool to get started.

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Woman with a laptop

Six out of 10 people still know little about gigabit broadband

Posted by Andy Betts on in News

While many of use are waiting patiently for the chance to install gigabit-capable broadband in our homes, for millions of others the picture is rather different.

As many as six out of ten people have little or no awareness of gigabit broadband, and of those that have, many don't know why it would benefit them.

Those are among the striking findings in a new study by GigaTAG, a body made up of Which?, the CBI and the Federation of Small Business, brought together by the government to come up with ideas to increase the take-up of faster internet.

They discovered numerous reasons preventing consumers and businesses alike from adopting gigabit broadband, and have produced a series of proposals to tackle each one.

Their research found that:

  • 59% of people questioned have not heard - or have little understanding - of the term "gigabit-capable" broadband
  • 47% felt they just didn't need faster or more reliable broadband
  • 41% said they didn't know how gigabit-capable broadband was different to what they currently had
  • Half were not keen on paying extra, or were concerned about affordability in general
  • 44% of those whose internet usage had gone up during the pandemic were interested in upgrading to something faster

The often complex and technical nature of the topic also served as an obstacle, especially for some vulnerable groups.

And there were also concerns about signing up to new, long-term contracts, and a reluctance to switch - with the process being seen as too much hassle. In fact, it's already a lot easier to switch providers than many people realise, if you're moving between providers that use the same network (such as Openreach, which provides the majority of broadband services in the UK). From December 2022, the process will become easier still, and enable fast and seamless switching to different networks including Virgin Media and the many full fibre providers.

How to increase adoption of gigabit-capable broadband

The government's aim is for at least 85% of the UK to have access to gigabit-capable broadband by 2025. Currently, around 37% of the UK can get it, which includes 21% who can receive full fibre. The rollout is set to accelerate over the next few years.

GigaTAG have come up with a number of recommendations to help improve the situation.

They suggest that common and consistent terminology should be used to describe the various broadband technologies. This could include a "gigabit-ready" mark, or perhaps even a traffic light system that shows how a broadband package's speed rates, like one that is currently used in Italy.

They recommend that a "gigabit toolkit" should be produced for use by local authorities to help explain the benefits of faster broadband, along with skills training for businesses. The government should also run an information campaign nationally when the time is right, they say.

And the affordability issue could be addressed through the possible introduction of an employer-led scheme to make gigabit-capable broadband cheaper, especially in the light of increased working from home. There should also be a targeted voucher scheme for lower income groups, like one that's already in place in countries like Greece and Italy.

In the meantime, if you're thinking of switching providers and want more information, you can give us a call or get us to call you at a more convenient time.

Or if you're keen to see if gigabit-capable broadband is available where you live, use our postcode checker and find the best deals available to you right now.

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iPad by the pool

How to get Wi-Fi when you're on holiday

Posted by Andy Betts on in FeaturesO2VodafoneVirgin MobileEE MobileThree

Hopefully, holidays are back on the agenda this summer. And do we need them. But whether you're planning a staycation, or have decided to venture abroad, you'll also need Wi-Fi, so you can get local information, stay in touch with the rest of the world, and keep yourself entertained as you travel.

Fortunately, you've got a number of options, and they won't cost you a fortune to use them. Let's take a look at the cheapest ways to get Wi-Fi when you're holiday at home or abroad.

Hotel Wi-Fi

The best way to get Wi-Fi when you're abroad is likely to be through your hotel. Most have it these days, and many hotels and hotel chains offer it for free, sometimes with the option to upgrade to a faster service.

But you may need to take a precaution.

The rule when it comes to any public Wi-Fi service is that a password protected connection is better than something that's fully open, but that's still no guarantee that it's completely secure. This applies equally to your Airbnb rental or airport Wi-Fi as it does to hotels.

You don't need to worry about this if you're only doing some casual browsing. But if you're planning to log in to sensitive sites like your bank account, then you should set up and install a VPN first. This ensures your connection and data are fully encrypted. Alternatively, you could just use your phone and its data connection for these tasks, so that you bypass the Wi-Fi altogether.

Hotel Wi-Fi can vary quite a lot in terms of performance. Some may or may not be very good, and you might find that some bandwidth-heavy services like Netflix are blocked. If you have the chance to upgrade to a faster service then that would be the best way to use these types of sites, but keep in mind that you'll likely be paying for 24 hours of access, so the fees could rack up over the course of your stay.

Mobile broadband

Another good option for getting Wi-Fi at home or abroad is through a mobile broadband service from providers like Virgin Mobile, EE, O2, Vodafone and Three.

These use the 4G or 5G phone network to give you internet access through a personal mobile router to which you can connect all your devices. You can also use it with a dongle connected to your laptop, or on a SIM-enabled iPad, although both of these options make it a little harder to share your connection with your other gadgets.

Mobile providers haven't reintroduced roaming charges post-Brexit, so you can use your mobile broadband allowance in many other countries. You should check where before your sign up - coverage is mostly for EU countries, so if you're heading further afield the price may be prohibitively expensive.

Even within the EU you might have fair usage limitations placed on some packages. And, of course, you'll be reliant on mobile coverage wherever you are. Head off for a city break and you'll be fine; go camping in the countryside and you might want to check the coverage maps for the area first.

Staying in the UK? You can use our Signalchecker service to check mobile phone coverage throughout the country.

Your phone's plan

Don't forget also that iPhones and Android phones can be set up as wireless hotspots, enabling you to get your laptop or tablet online wherever you are.

You'll find the option in Settings > Personal Hotspot on most iPhones, and on most Android phones you'll find it by swiping down twice from the top of the screen to open the Quick Settings panel, then tapping the Hotspot or Mobile Hotspot option.

Using your phone as a hotspot works in the same way as a separate mobile broadband plan, and can be a good option if you've got a decent data allowance. You'll get the same coverage without roaming charges across the EU, but will have to pay a lot more elsewhere. In either case, keep an eye on your data use. You'll have to buy top-ups in advance if you overshoot what your plan allows.

There may be other restrictions, too. If you've got an unlimited plan, check that it allows for tethering (connecting devices via the hotspot feature), and note that there may be a fair use policy in place.

Any one of these methods, or a combination, could be right for you. If you decide that you want the security and flexibility of a personal Wi-Fi system, check out the best mobile broadband deals available right now.

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Laptop on a coffee table

How to improve your broadband speed without upgrading

Posted by Andy Betts on in Features

Even with a good fibre broadband connection, we all have times when we wish that our internet speeds were just that little bit faster.

The obvious answer is to upgrade to something better, of course. But that's not always convenient. You might be halfway through a contract, or maybe you don't want to pay extra.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can try to improve your broadband speeds without upgrading. Let's take a look.

First, test your speed

The first thing you need to do is test your broadband speed and see how it compares to what you should be getting. While you can take steps to optimise your connection, you can't get it to run faster than what you're actually paying for.

You should have been given a speed estimate when you first signed up. Head over to our Speed Test page and run through the test a couple of times to get an average of your connection's performance. Now compare it to that estimate.

If it's broadly the same then there's not much you can do to improve it. If you want faster broadband, upgrading may be your only option.

But assuming there is room to eke out a little bit more speed, there are a few things you can try.

Reduce interference

Most of us get online via a Wi-Fi router that is plugged in to a phone socket. This is prone to interference which can affect your broadband speed. For best results, try and make sure that your router is connected to a microfilter (which reduces interference) and that that is plugged in directly to the master socket, not any extensions or splitters you may be using.

You should also have microfilters on any other phone sockets around your house. Some broadband suppliers will provide you with these for free, so contact them if you don't have any. If not, they only cost a few pounds each.

Also, try and keep the phone cable that connects your router and phone socket as short as it needs to be. The further a signal has to travel, the worse it may get.

Perfect your router position

The position of your router in your house is really important in affecting what speeds you'll get. Many of us will simply plonk the router down near the phone or cable socket that it's connected to, and as long as the signal reaches all rooms of the house, that's good enough.

Expect it might not be good enough. The input socket is likely to be attached to an outside wall, while the best position for a router is somewhere central.

Experiment with different places to keep your router - a central area and raised some way off the ground would be a good start, but don't put it near other electronic devices like cordless phones or microwaves which can cause radio frequency interference.

If your signal doesn't cover your whole house, you can try positioning the router closer to the areas where it's most important to have a connection. Or you could consider installing a powerline or mesh network to extend the range of your Wi-Fi.

Manage your traffic

Some modern routers automatically manage your internet data use, to give priority to certain activities. For example, video calls or streaming TV need a steady consistent connection, so they may get greater priority than something like file downloads, where it doesn't matter if the speed fluctuates.

You can do this manually as well, just by being aware of who's online, what they're doing, and when. You can schedule Windows updates and other big download to happen overnight, for instance, or if you need to upload a large file for work you could ensure that no-one else in your home is performing bandwidth-intensive tasks at the same time.

These kinds of things are most likely to show benefits on slower connections. Most decent fibre services have enough headroom to enable several people to be busy online at the same time.

Check your hardware

Broadband speed is only one part of the story - the devices you're using are the other part. You can make big perceived improvements to your internet speed by improving the performance of your hardware. An overburdened laptop, for example, might struggle with 4K streaming even if your broadband connection is up to the task.

A few things you can try are making sure that your devices are all fully up to date, including both the operating system and apps. Run a virus scan, shut down any programs running in the background that you don't need (and watch for those that set themselves to launch automatically when you start your computer), and restart your kit regularly - including your phone, which is often overlooked.

If you're using a particularly old laptop, treating yourself to a new one is likely to make everything you do online seem a whole lot more snappy and responsive.

Consider upgrading after all

By taking a few simple steps you can make sure you are fully maximising your broadband performance. But there's only so far that will take you. While you can squeeze out a little more speed, it's also possible that your needs have simply outgrown the deal you've signed up to. In which case, it may be time to upgrade after all.

If you're at the end, or coming to the end, of your existing contract, then it's the ideal time to shop around and see what else is available. And even if you've still got months to go on your deal, most providers will be more than happy to let you upgrade to a faster plan if you sign a new contract with them.

Use out postcode checker to find the very best broadband deals available where you are.

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