When you sign up to a broadband deal, your new provider will send you a wireless router to get started. You just have to plug it in, wait for it to light up, and you're ready to go. Other than having to type in the passcode on all your devices, there's no other setup at all. It couldn't be easier.
But here's the thing: not all routers are made equal. Some are very high end, packed with the latest technology and able to get the absolute most from your home network. Others aren't.
An easy way for a broadband supplier to keep their costs down is to work with only bare-bones routers, or models from a generation or two ago. And many people will be fine with that; for others, there's room for improvement.
Why use your own router?
Did you know that you don't have to settle for the router your provider gives you? You can use your own router instead, and there are lots of good reasons why you'd want to:
A new router can offer a stronger and more reliable connection.
It can give you better coverage throughout your home - maybe even stretching the signal into your garden.
It can handle more users connected at the same time.
A new router can let you use the latest tech with your compatible gadgets - like the latest Wi-Fi spec, Wi-Fi 6, which works on recent iPhones and many Android phones.
It might offer built-in parental controls, which you can manage through a phone app.
It can give you access to more advanced features, like support for a VPN or your own choice of DNS service.
Potential downsides and other things you should know
Many broadband providers aren't overly keen on you using your own router, even though Ofcom says that you can. So while providers can't stop you, they generally won't offer tech support if you aren't using their supplied gear. And that's fair enough, since there are so many different brands and models of router on sale and they can't be expected to know how they all work.
There may also be compatibility issues with some networks. Sky, for instance, use a special kind of authentication system called MER encapsulation, so you need to make sure your router supports that - and not all do.
On Virgin Media, you can set up your own router but you need to keep your Hub or Super Hub plugged in as well, set to Modem Mode.
It can be even more complex for some specialist providers. On Hyperoptic, for example, your router needs to accept an Ethernet connection, and it won't work with your call plan. If you need to, you can use your own router for internet and the Hyperoptic router for calls.
So if you do decide to switch, always check exactly what you need before you buy, and don't chuck your official router - it might only be on loan to you, for a start! But if you ever need tech support you'll be better off plugging it back in before making the call. That's likely to be the first thing they tell you to do anyway, and - you never know - reconnecting it might actually solve your problem.
How to set up your own router
Once you've bought your router, you need to set it up. Most providers offer basic instructions on how to do this, although the precise details will differ depending on which router you're using.
The process is a little more hands-on than connecting the supplied model. In most cases you need to turn the router on, connect to it on your laptop, then log in to its Settings panel. Check the manual for details on how to do this.
From there, you'll probably have to enter a few details, including a username, as well as tick a few boxes and select a few items from drop-down lists. These are all technical things, but don't worry about that. You don't actually need to know what any of them mean.
Finally, reboot your router and - fingers crossed - it should connect you to the internet. Now all you need to do is connect all your devices again, and you're done.
Using your own router is something for more tech-minded users. You might be perfectly happy with the setup you've currently got, and see no reason to change. Either way, it is useful to get to know how your router works. In particular, it's worth taking a moment to beef up your router's security settings to help keep you safe online.
Internet usage surged by 40% during the lockdown this year, and working-from-home Brits became a whole lot more productive, according to a new survey.
The TalkTalk Lockdown Lessons Report looks at how we spent our time online during the lockdown. The survey gathered feedback in August from users and businesses, and analysed TalkTalk's own network usage patterns to discover the trends that emerged, and what changes it may lead to in the future.
The most unsurprising detail was that internet usage jumped by 40% during the lockdown period, compared to the same time a year ago. This is a large increase, even factoring in the usual year-on-year increase in data use.
The number hasn't dropped since restrictions eased, either, suggesting the change may be permanent. In fact, users ranked internet access as the second most important thing to have during a lockdown - behind only a garden or outdoor space.
So how were we spending all this extra time online?
For leisure use, video chat was the big winner. Some 44% spent time chatting with family and friends, and many of these would have been first time or reluctant users. More than a third said they were now a lot more confident using the technology.
Inevitably, video streaming services also proved popular, with an amazing 4.6 million households picking up a new subscription. 27% spent extra time on social networks, while 11% did more online gaming than usual.
It wasn't all fun and games. 58% of those who had started working from home felt they'd become more productive, and over half don't expect to ever return to the office full time. More than four in five identified a fast, reliable broadband connection as the most important thing to enable them to work away from the office.
Around a third of business leaders agreed that remote working had increased productivity among their teams. 40% said they'd made a contribution towards their employees' phone or broadband bills, and the same number had contributed up to £200 to improve their staff's home-working environment. A quarter invested in mental wellbeing apps.
And there's one more intriguing consequence of the lockdown: it has sparked a revolution in self-improvement.
Over half of all the people surveyed said that they'd learned new skills during the lockdown. 40% had looked up "how-to" videos, 19% had used learning apps, and an impressive 16% signed up to a full, online educational course. Languages, cooking, IT skills, gardening and yoga were the popular areas for learning.
Overall, a third developed a new skill, and the same number plan to continue learning into the future. Nearly a fifth of 18-24 years even felt their career prospects had improved. Younger people were also the driving force behind the trend for setting up an online side-hustle. One in ten said they'd pursued their own part-time business, like selling stuff or offering freelance services.
It remains to be seen what the digital legacy of lockdown will be. Many of the changes we've seen do seem to be an acceleration of trends that were already well underway. And if the results of this survey are anything to go by, changes in how we keep in touch with family, how we spend our leisure time, and how we work may well be here to stay.
Subscription TV services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are great for giving you a greater selection of stuff to watch. But what happens when you want to watch a specific movie or TV show?
With so many different services available, it can be hard to keep track of which films or shows are available on which one.
Some TV shows may be exclusive to a particular streaming service, or others - especially those made for broadcast TV in the States - might be available to rent on an episode by episode (or season by season) basis. Some will have both options on different providers.
The picture's even more complicated with films. Not only is there the same subscription/rental confusion, but the recent lockdown meant that a lot of new movies skipped the cinema release entirely.
The new Disney film Mulan is the biggest example. If you want to watch that you have to subscribe to the Disney+ service (or at least take out a free trial), then pay £19.99 on top. Or you can wait until December when it will become available as part of the standard Disney+ plan.
How to find what's showing, and where
Finding where the show or film you want is only part of the problem. When it's available through more than one service you'll often find that the prices vary considerably. Fortunately, there is a good solution.
The best way to keep track of all the streaming services, to find out which one is showing what, and how much you'll have to pay to watch, is through JustWatch.com.
JustWatch is part search engine, part comparison site for streaming services. It covers pretty much every major service available in the UK, including:
Amazon Prime Video and Amazon Video
Apple TV and Apple TV+
Sky Go and Sky Store
YouTube, and many others
All you need to do is search for a particular title, and it will show you where you can watch it. The results are split into streaming, buying and renting, and you can filter or sort them by price or resolution. So, if you want the cheapest 4K version of your favourite film, this is where you'll find it.
JustWatch has a stack of extra features, like a watchlist and a very useful recommendation engine to point you towards the kind of stuff you might like. It's completely free, and there are apps for your phone as well.
While JustWatch is our favourite among the TV search guides, and certainly the most well known of these services, it isn't the only one. Check out ReelGood and TMDB for two of the best JustWatch alternatives. It's worth giving them all a trial run to see which you prefer.
Where to buy or rent
Once you've tracked down the show or film you want to watch, you might have to decide which service to use to view it.
If it's exclusive to one subscription service, then your choice is made for you. If you aren't already a customer, make sure you make use of the free trials most services offer. And don't forget to cancel your subscriptions to any that aren't actively using - your monthly fees are going to rack up quickly if you sign up to every possible service.
If you're planning to buy, it's probably a good idea to stick to a single provider so you can keep your collection in one place. Amazon has good compatibility across devices and platforms, as do Apple and Google Play. Rakuten TV is convenient because it's built into many smart TVs - but not all. You don't want to lose all the films you've bought next time you upgrade your telly. Similarly, you can only access things like Sky Store and TalkTalk TV while you have a contract for those services.
For renting, it doesn't really matter where you shop, as long as you've got an easy way to watch it. You can choose whichever offers the best price.
What speed broadband do you need for streaming?
Streaming should be possible on almost any reasonable internet connection. You need a broadband speed of around 5Mb to stream in HD, or closer to 25Mb if you prefer to watch in 4K. A decent fibre deal will clear this comfortably, though remember that the actual speed available to you depends on how many people in your household are online at the same time. So, if two people wanted to watch their own 4K streams together, you'd need a 50Mb connection.
Fast, reliable broadband is a must-have for any student house. And given that it can take a couple of weeks to set up, it's one of the first things you'll want to get sorted when you move in for the new term.
If you haven't signed up for your own broadband package before, we'll tackle some of the questions you might have here.
It's all pretty straightforward, but as a student you won't have quite as many options as everyone else. Contract length is absolutely vital - you don't want to be saddled with a long term deal that you have to keep paying for during the summer holidays or beyond.
And with all the corona-driven uncertainty this year, flexibility is more important than ever. Let's take a look at some of the things you need to know.
What speed do you need?
Your usage is probably going to be pretty high, so the fibre deals in the 60-67Mb average speed range should be your starting point.
You might get away with one of the slower fibre packages if there's only two people in your house, but in most cases the extra speed will be worth more than the fiver or so difference in price.
Faster is always better, of course, and you might be lucky enough to be living in an area where you can get speeds over 100Mb - and sometimes quite a lot more. These might come from the normal fibre providers like BT or Sky, from Virgin Media, or in 5G areas through the likes of EE and Three. Just make sure you keep an eye on the contract length and any setup fees for these faster deals.
What length contract should you get?
Short contracts are key for student broadband, so don't even consider those that need an 18 or 24 month commitment.
12 months is the longest you should go for, but even then you'll end up with quite an overlap with the summer break where you're still paying for your internet while you're hitting the beaches in Spain. Don't rule these out entirely, though, as they might still work out cheaper than a shorter option.
BT offer a few nine month deals that align much better with your term time. Some broadband suppliers, including NOW Broadband and Virgin Media, also offer 30-day rolling contracts that you can cancel at any time. These are best for zero-commitment broadband, but they do often come with significant setup fees. Be sure to factor that in when you're comparing prices.
Do you need any extras?
If Netflix isn't enough and you want a bit of sports action or some more of the latest US shows, you can save some money by adding a pay TV plan to you broadband deal. You won't be able to do this through Sky, as they only offer TV on an 18 month contract, but you can get 30-day deals on NOW TV streaming with NOW Broadband.
For any overseas students in your house, consider adding a call plan with support for cheap international calls.
Who pays the bill?
Even though you'll be splitting the bill with all your housemates, one of you is going to have put their name on the contract. It will be their responsibility. This is one of the reasons why you don't want to sign up to anything longer than 12 months, tops. You don't want to be stuck paying your broadband bill long after your housemates have moved on.
It's a good idea to assign each one of your utilities to a different person in your household so you share the risk. To help manage bills you can also look into setting up a shared bank account across the household, or take a look at apps like Splitwise that make it easier to see who owes what.
Best broadband deals for students
So, what student broadband deal should you choose?
BT offer three plans specifically for students. They're nine month deals, with speeds ranging from 36Mb to 67Mb. You can add a Sports or Entertainment TV package, as well as call plans including cheap international calls to 236 countries.
For one month contracts, you've got two main choices:
NOW Broadband - speeds range from a sedate 11Mb (don't bother!) to a much more suitable 63Mb, with the option to add streaming TV plans as well. All of them come with a £65 upfront fee.
Virgin Media - speeds on the 30-day plans range from around 54Mb all the way up to over 500Mb. Many setup fees have been waived on the 1 month rolling contracts that are specifically for students, but bear in mind that installation takes longer if your house hasn't had Virgin before.
Your other options are for 12 month contracts. When you add in the setup fees and slightly higher prices for short deals, these year-long plans may still end up being competitive, even though you'll still be paying in July and August when you don't need it. Among your best options here are:
John Lewis Broadband - speeds go up to an average 66Mb, with no activation fee, and usually include an e-gift card as a bonus.
Plusnet - speeds up to 66Mb, with just a £10 activation fee. You also get the option to add BT Sport - with Premier League and Champions League football - after you've signed up.
And there's one last thing to consider - broadband over 4G or 5G. This won't be right for everyone: 4G speeds are better for one or two users rather than a large, heavy-use household, and though 5G is blazing fast it still has very patchy coverage. If you're in the right part of London, Three's 5G Home Unlimited plans look good, and include a 12 month option. Find more great mobile broadband deals here.
Ready to start shopping for student broadband? Use our postcode checker to compare the best broadband deals available in your area today.
Broadband problems hit everyone from time to time. No matter how good your service, or how reliable your provider, you will occasionally find that you are unable to connect to the internet.
There can be countless reasons why it happens. Maybe it's a problem with your ISP, or your phone line. Or maybe it's your own hardware that's at fault.
So how do you identify the cause, so that you can fix it? Here's a checklist of things to work through when your broadband goes down.
1. Check the service status
First up, grab your phone and jump online to check if your broadband provider has a problem. If it's a major provider and a widespread problem it'll probably be in the news. But most providers also have a service status page on their website that flags up any ongoing issues (see, for example, BT, Plusnet, Sky, or Virgin Media). If you're a Twitter user it's also worth following the support page for your provider so that you catch any announcements, or can easily report problems.
2. Is it a hardware problem?
If that seems to be okay, then check whether the problem is with your own hardware. If your laptop or set-top box can't connect but your phone or tablet can, try rebooting the problematic device. Failing that, try removing the Wi-Fi connection from the device, then reconnecting from scratch. (Also, have you installed any software recently that could interfere with your connection, like security software?)
3. Reboot your router
When the problem isn't device specific, reboot your router. This will force the router to try and reconnect to the internet, and will hopefully fix any problems with the Wi-Fi signal as well. If you know how to log in to your router's dashboard - or it comes with a companion app - you can do the reset on your phone or laptop. But it might just be easier to press the little reset button on the back of the router instead. The process can take a couple of minutes, so be patient.
4. Check the router connection
Still no joy? Check whether you're still connected to the router itself. If the Wi-Fi icon on your computer or phone shows a connection then you're okay - although do make sure you're connected to the right network if you've got more than one in the nearby area. If the icon shows no connection then you're looking at a Wi-Fi problem. Try a wired connection between your router and laptop if you've got a suitable cable (you might need a USB adapter as well, since modern laptops don't tend to have ethernet ports). When the wired connection works and the wireless one doesn't it would indicate that your router is at fault. It was probably supplied by your ISP, so give them a call. They'll be able to do some tests and replace it if necessary.
5. Check the router and phone line
If the router's working but you still can't get online, it's worth quickly checking that it's all still set up properly. Make sure that it's plugged in to your phone socket properly, and that the micro-filters are in place. This is unlikely to be the cause unless you've been moving it around recently. Also, use a landline phone to see if your phone line is still working.
6. Contact your broadband provider
With all that done, and still no sign of a fault on the service page, it's time to give your provider a call. The fault can have many causes. It could be a problem with your own connection, and they may be able to fix it remotely or you might need a visit from an engineer. Or it might be a wider issue, like with your street cabinet. At this point, keep an eye on your provider's downtime policy - you should be eligible for a refund or compensation if the fault isn't fixed within two working days.
As we said, broadband problems will affect everyone from time to time. But if you have ongoing problems with your provider, then read up on your rights and how to complain.
A lot of broadband suppliers offer freebies to tempt you to sign up, and some of them are really worth having. They can range from cashback and bill credit, to shopping vouchers, and sometimes even tech gadgets. They change all the time, so if you're on the hunt for a new deal it's worth keeping an eye out for what's around.
But the important thing to remember is that you very often have to claim your reward separately. And you normally only get a short window in which to do so - miss it and you'll miss out!
We've got a full guide to broadband rewards and free gifts if you want to know more. Or if you just want to know how to claim your swag for many of the main providers, here's what you need to do.
How to claim Plusnet rewards
Plusnet regularly offer cashback, gift cards and reward cards to new customers. They'll send you an email within 10 days of your signing up with a link to claim your reward. You then need to claim it within two months, and should get it around 10 days later.
How to claim BT rewards
A lot of BT Broadband deals include a BT Reward Card as their special offer. This is preloaded with a cash sum that you can spend in most places that accept Mastercard payments. You can claim up to three months after your broadband is activated, and it should arrive within 30 days. Visit https://www.bt.com/manage/bt-reward-card/ to start your claim.
How to claim Sky Broadband rewards
Sky Broadband offer a range of sweeteners at various times, including a pre-paid Mastercard and high street vouchers. You get 90 days to claim your reward. If you're eligible, head over to sky.com/claim and log in with your Sky ID to start the process.
How to claim John Lewis Broadband rewards
Rewards from John Lewis Broadband include e-gift cards that can be spent at John Lewis or Waitrose. You don't need to claim this one - it should be sent via email within 60 days of the activation of your broadband service, so keep an eye on your inbox.
How to claim NOW Broadband rewards
NOW Broadband don't offer as many extra perks as other providers, but when they do have them they'll send the info on how to claim via email. You should get this within two weeks of your service being activated.
How to claim EE rewards
EE Broadband regularly offer cashback or Amazon gift cards as a reward for signing up. If you're eligible for one of the gift cards you'll be sent an email with instructions on how to claim it after your broadband goes live.
How to claim TalkTalk rewards
When TalkTalk offer rewards, they're normally either e-gift cards for specific stores or vouchers to be spent on the high street. Look out for an email with all the details, and you should receive your reward within 90 days of activation.
How to claim Virgin Media rewards
Virgin Media rewards can include bill credit, tech products or even wine, and you don't normally have to claim. The credit will be applied to your bill automatically, and any free gift will be sent out within 28 days of installation of your Virgin service.
To see what free gifts are available right now, take a look at the best broadband deals available today.
If there's one thing we recommend above everything else it's that you should never stay on your old broadband deal once your contract has ended.
Now a new study from Zen Broadband has shown that people over 55 are the most likely to do exactly that - and they're leaving themselves open to being hit with massive price hikes.
The survey shows that 83% of over-55s haven't switched broadband providers in the last year, and in some cases have never switched at all. This contrasts to the under-24s who are much happier to shop around for a better deal - over half have moved to a new provider in the last 12 months alone.
Data from industry watchdog Ofcom shows that some 25 thousand people come to the end of their broadband deal every day. Anyone who remains on that same deal will be hit by an immediate price rise of as much as 60% as the introductory price they were offered comes to an end. And that's followed by further annual - and sometimes even mid-year - increases.
If you don't take action when your contract ends you can easily wind up wasting hundreds of pounds a year. It's estimated that as many as nine million of us are paying too much.
Ofcom changed the rules earlier this year to try and address the problem. Your broadband provider now has to contact you when your contract is coming to an end to let you know how much the price is about to go up, and to show you what better deals they've got to offer. The changes came into force in February, so it's still too early to know what impact they've had.
So why aren't people switching? The Zen survey shows that apathy plays a part for around a third of people. But the biggest worry for non-switchers - 43% of the over 55 group - is that they'll end up with a worse service if they move to another provider.
If you share this concern, it's worth remembering that you don't actually have to change ISPs to get a cheaper deal. At the very least you should give your existing provider a call to negotiate a better price. Have a look at what other providers are offering first, so you know the going rate, and you'll find that they'll be more than happy to give you something better in return for you committing yourself to them for another year or two.
You can also check out our customer reviews to get an idea of the kind of service you'll receive from all the main broadband suppliers.
You'll get the best deals if you're willing to change broadband suppliers, and switching is a lot easier than you might think. In most cases (the main exception being if you're moving from or to Virgin Media) your new provider will handle the entire process for you. The survey revealed that nearly half of those asked found the process easier than expected, and a huge 89% believed they had benefited from making the switch.
Are you coming to the end of your contract soon? Why not use our postcode checker to find the best broadband deals available in your area today. In just a few minutes you could easily save yourself £150 or more this year.
After a three month delay the Premier League season is finally set to return. It kicks off again on 17 June with a double header including the Man City - Arsenal game. With no fans allowed in the stadiums, all the remaining 92 matches will be shown live on TV, across a mix of free-to-air and premium channels.
Here's how you can watch.
How to watch Premier League games for free
For the first time ever, Premier League games will be shown live on free-to-air TV. There will be 33 free matches in all, spread across three channels.
BBC: The BBC will be showing four matches, starting with Bournemouth vs Crystal Palace on 20 June. The Beeb will also have their usual FA Cup coverage when the competition resumes on 27 June.
Amazon: Amazon have also got four games, which begin with Palace against Burnley on 29 June. You'll be able to watch these even if you aren't a Prime subscriber (although you probably will need a normal Amazon account).
Pick: The remaining 25 free games are on the Pick channel. "What is Pick?", you ask. Good question! It's a channel owned by Sky that you can watch for free on every platform. You'll find it on Freeview channel 11, Freesat channel 144, Sky channel 159 and Virgin Media channel 165.
Don't assume that it's just the less fashionable games that will be available for free. Pick will be showing the Merseyside derby on Sunday 21 June, which could be the night that Liverpool are finally confirmed as champions.
How to watch Premier League football on Sky Sports and BT Sport
If the free coverage isn't enough for you, now's the perfect time to subscribe to a premium sports channel. If you've got broadband from the likes of Sky or BT you should be able to add the channels to your existing deal, or you could even consider switching providers and making a saving on a bundle.
Sky Sports have got 39 exclusive matches (they'll also be showing the games on Pick), which begins with Aston Villa vs Sheffield Utd at 6pm on 17 June. They've got the pick of the big fixtures. They will also be covering the Championship, currently slated to resume on 20 June.
BT Sport will be showing 20 games - 12 more than they originally had - with the first seeing Watford take on Leicester at 12.30pm on 20 June. They've also got the rights to the Champions League, although there's no date yet for when that will come back.
There are four main ways to sign up to watch Premier League football on Sky Sports and BT Sport.
Sky: The most obvious way to get Sky Sports is direct from Sky, via a dish, and you can add BT Sport to your package as well. You can sign up to Sky regardless of what internet provider you use, although you should be able to save on your monthly bill by taking it as part of a bundle with Sky broadband.
BT: BT now offer a full BT TV service to their broadband customers. This gives you a choice of channel packages, with the sports offerings including BT Sport along with all the Sky Sports channels streamed through NOW TV. What we like about BT TV is that even though you have to take a 24 month contract, your choice of channels is flexible. So, you can sign up for the football now, then when the season ends you can switch to a movie package instead.
Virgin Media: You can get Sky Sports and BT Sport through Virgin Media both as a standalone service or as part of a bundle with Virgin Media broadband. Virgin offer some of the fastest broadband plans that are widely available, with speeds up to an average of 516Mb.
NOW TV: With the streaming service NOW TV you can watch Sky Sports without a dish. It can work out a little more expensive than getting it through Sky, but that's because you don't need a contract - you can cancel at any time. NOW TV doesn't offer BT Sport. You can make further savings by getting the service with a NOW Broadband bundle.
As expected, the UK's broadband network has held up pretty well in the face of the massive surge in demand caused by the coronavirus lockdown.
Despite a few high profile blips, most notably from Virgin Media and Sky Broadband, the network has been untroubled by the new normal of remote working, home schooling and daily PE lessons.
There has been a small impact. Download speeds have dropped by an average of 2%, and upload speeds by 1%, but neither is enough that you'd notice unless you're actively measuring your provider's performance on a regular basis.
Our own speed test figures for April show that the decline equated to less than 2Mb on average.
This impact of Covid-19 on broadband has been studied in a report by Ofcom. The industry watchdog installed modified routers in 1950 homes to get a clear picture of what was happening, and you can read it all in their latest UK Home Broadband Performance report.
Among the main effects of the lockdown were:
Download speeds started to decline around the middle of March, as more people began staying at home. The decline slowed from the 23rd of the month after Netflix reduced their video streaming quality.
Speeds during working hours fell by around 1-2%, with a slightly bigger drop during peak evening hours.
Virgin Media was the worst affected, with their average download speeds dropping by 6% at 8pm, and their upload speeds falling by over 4% between 3pm and 5pm. However, the faster speeds they offer on their services mean that customers would still be unlikely to be overly inconvenienced.
Netflix speeds were 4% lower before 6pm, likely due to increased use by kids off school, but 1% higher than usual in the evening - as a result of the lower streaming quality Netflix put in place.
Facebook, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Twitter all saw an increase in latency of up to 4%, meaning slightly slower connections to the services, or potentially a little more lag in video calls.
On the whole, the impact is encouragingly slight, given the way broadband usage has rocketed during the last couple of months. BT figures showed that daytime use soared by more than 60% in the first week after the restrictions were put in place.
While things are starting to ease a little, it looks as though the lockdown will be with us for some time yet. If you have any questions about broadband during the pandemic - whether about working from home, switching providers or keeping yourself entertained - you'll find the answers in our ongoing coronavirus series:
Graph source: Ofcom, using data provided by SamKnows. Graph shows the percentage change between week closing 2 March 2020 and week closing 23 March 2020; higher values are better; results are derived from tests to SamKnows' off-net London servers using 3 parallel TCP sessions for 10 seconds.
For lots of us, the internet is a major source of entertainment, or a tool that enables us to work from home. For millions of older people it's a lifeline, the main way to keep in touch with the family, and interact with the outside world at a time when this is otherwise not possible. A good broadband service is vital.
So whether you're shopping for yourself, or seeking out broadband for an elderly parent, what are the priorities you need to look out for?
Reliability and support
We're all a lot more reliant on online shopping at the moment, especially snagging those all too scarce supermarket delivery slots. For a lot of older people renewing prescriptions, managing state pensions, paying the TV license, and lots of other things are important online activities, too.
For this reason, reliability is perhaps the most important point to consider. You need a broadband service that works whenever you need it, and also one that won't cut you off when you hit a data limit. These limits are fortunately quite scarce now, though if you're shopping at the budget end of the market you might still encounter them.
Customer service is also important. If you do experience any problems you need to be confident that your provider will fix them as quickly as possible.
Our Customer Reviews page contains feedback and ratings from thousands of broadband users. It's an ideal way to find out what kind of service each provider offers, and what problems you might face with them. Right now, Zen Broadband top the list for customer satisfaction, although if you'd be more comfortable with a mainstream brand EE rate well, gaining the lowest level of complaints according to a recent Ofcom study.
Speed might be less important for a lot of older users, but it really depends on what they want to do online.
There's no one-size-fits-all solution. For every older person who is a reluctant technology user, you'll find others who are enthusiastic online shoppers and Facebook posters, alongside those happily working their way through the Netflix catalogue.
There are options for all groups. Anyone who receives pension credit and has minimal internet needs can apply for the BT Basic + Broadband plan. It's cheap, but comes with a very low data allowance so isn't suitable for anything more than the absolute basics.
Beyond that, a basic standard broadband package - which uses a BT phone line - will usually work out the cheapest. It's fine for simple things like email, browsing and shopping, as well as for video calls with the family. It's worth considering if you're in a one computer household. A basic fibre deal, which is faster and allows for a wider range of uses including watching TV, as well as more simultaneous users, typically starts at around £5 a month extra.
Phone calls and TV
The extras you can take with a broadband deal are also important to consider. Most broadband services need a phone line - with line rental included in the price - and many providers give the option to buy a call plan as part of the deal. The plans on offer usually allow a choice of either unlimited calls during evenings and weekends, or unlimited calls anytime.
These can be tempting during a time when staying in touch with family is so important, but don't assume it's a must-have. If you don't take a call plan you'll still be able to make calls. You just pay for them at a rate of a few pence per minute, just like we always used to.
And then there's the price and contract length, and the two often go hand in hand: sign up to a longer deal and you can shave a few pounds off your monthly bill. Anything shorter than 12 months is likely to cost you quite a bit more, while longer than that leaves you at risk of being stuck with a service you're not totally happy with.
Our price comparison guide will help you find the best broadband prices, and identify those deals that are within your budget. Make sure you check the 1st Year Cost column to see how much you'll pay in the initial 12 months - this includes those easy to overlook extras like postage or a setup fee.