As many of us are now working from home, it has never been more important to have a speedy (and reliable) internet connection. If you find that you’re the one on the Zoom call who’s always buffering, it might be time to update your broadband package.
But it can be hard to find the best broadband provider for your needs, especially when their sites are full of jargon – talking of ‘upload speed’, ‘download speed’ and ‘Mbps’. To help make sense of this, we have included a complete guide below on all of the terminology you need to know when you’re shopping for a new broadband package, as well as the average bandwidth you need, depending on your household size. Let's start at the beginning.
How to find the best broadband provider for you
In order to compare broadband deals, you need to understand the jargon:
Download speed (Mbps). This is the most important bit of information, as it tells you how much data can be transferred each second (measured in Mbps – megabits per second). If you have a slow download speed, your laptop will freeze when loading pages or streaming videos. So, as a rule of thumb, the higher the Mbps number, the better your connection (although this can vary by location and you may need a WiFi extender to boost your signal).
Upload speed (Mbps). This measures how fast your internet connection can transfer data to the server. This is important for tasks like sending emails or calling someone on Zoom. The average upload speed in the UK is 6.2Mbps.
What download speed do you need? Choosing the broadband package with the highest download speed (Mbps) isn’t necessary if you live in a household of one or two people, or if you only use the internet for sending emails and watching shows on iPlayer and Netflix. That being said, you could benefit from a speedier connection if there are a lot of people in the house using the internet simultaneously.
The average home speed in the UK is now 64Mbps, according to the annual home broadband report from Ofcom. Nearly three-quarters of UK homes have “superfast” broadband packages of 30Mbps or higher.
With that in mind, the following guide from Cable.co.uk is a useful tool for estimating how much bandwidth you need:
If you live alone or with one other person, and the most speed-intensive things you do online are stream TV shows or films: 10-11Mbps.
If you live in a household of 3-4 people and you stream TV shows separately (although not on a 4K TV): 35-108Mbps
If there are 5 or more people in the house and you’re often on the internet at the same time: 65-516Mbps
Standard broadband. This is the old-school broadband, which is still commonly used today. It works by using ADSL technology to transmit your data across a network of copper telephone lines. This broadband coverage covers most of the UK, but it tends to have a lower download speed (it can reach up to 20Mbps, but the average download speed is just 10-11Mbps).
‘Superfast broadband’. This is a hybrid of fibre and cable technology, available across 96 per cent of the UK. It gives a download speed of at least 24Mbps, often more.
Fibre-optic / ‘ultrafast broadband’. This broadband is faster than standard broadband because it uses light to travel along fibre-optic tubes. It can give you ultrafast broadband, of 100Mbps or higher, but is only available in 55 per cent of UK households, according to Ofcom.
Now that you’re familiar with the terminology, it’s time to get down to the broadband comparison itself. Taking into account speed, price, and Black Friday discounts, the following are, in ranking order (starting with the best value), the best broadband deals for 2020.
Read more: Is your street in a broadband blackspot?
Best broadband deals
1. Virgin Media
We believe Virgin Media is the best broadband provider because of its impressive speeds and competitive pricing. It is the only main broadband provider to use fibre-optic cables to ensure a speedy connection, yet its prices aren’t that far away from some of the standard broadband packages.
We have been particularly impressed with the Virgin Black Friday broadband deals. We think the best deal is the M100 Fibre Broadband, which has an average download speed of 108Mbps and upload speed of 10Mbps and costs just £24.99 per month (18-month contract; then £44 a month).
However, there are other great Virgin Deals, all on 18-month contracts:
the M200 Fibre Broadband, with its average speed of 213Mbps (£30.99 a month)
the M350 Fibre Broadband, ideal for streaming in UHD, with its average download speed of 362Mbps (£36.99 a month)
the M500 Fibre Broadband, useful for hardcore gamers, with its average download speed of 516Mbps (£42.99 a month)
2. Talk Talk
We were particularly impressed by the range of deals on offer at Talk Talk, as well as its promise never to raise the price of your broadband mid-contract. For Black Friday, Talk Talk is offering three months of broadband free with any of its three packages: the Fibre 35, 65 and 150.
The Fibre 35 has an average download speed of 38Mbps, making it ideal for browsing and streaming. It costs just £23.50 per month (on a 24-month contract) and you get three months free, giving you a saving of £70.50. The Fibre 65 has an average speed of 67Mbps, which makes it good for super fast streaming and gaming, and costs £26 per month. It’s, again, a 24-month contract, with the first three months free, so you save £78. Lastly, the Fibre 150 gives you 145Mbps for £32 per month on a 24-month contract, and you save £96.
It was a close call between Vodafone and Talk Talk for the number two spot. For the price of £23.50 per month, you could get a speedier internet speed of 63Mbps at Vodafone (on the Superfast 2 package), compared to just 38Mbps for the same price at Talk Talk (the Fibre 35 deal).
However, it works out more cost-effective to go for Talk Talk’s Fibre 65 deal (67Mbps) at £26, with three months free (bringing the total to £546). Compare that to Vodafone’s Superfast 2 package (63Mbps) which costs just £23.50 but doesn’t have the three months free advantage of Talk Talk, coming to a total of £564 – slightly more money for a slightly slower download speed.
But don't let that put you off. As a whole, Vodafone has some great Black Friday broadband deals. The Superfast 1 (35Mbps) costs just £22 per month on a 24-month contract. Plus, Vodafone is offering two Black Friday bundles – the Superfast 1 or 2 deal with a year’s subscription of Apple TV+ for £28 or £31.50 per month, respectively.
Plus, it is one of the first providers to offer a GigaCube router – a portable wireless router that coverts Vodafone’s 5G and 4G networks into Wi-Fi. It’s particularly useful if you have slow internet at home, or live in an area not covered by super-fast broadband. It costs from £30 a month (for 100Mbps), although you can get unlimited data for £50 a month on an 18-month contract.
Sky’s Superfast Broadband package (59Mbps) costs £25 per month on an 18-month contract; it’s not terribly expensive, but when you consider that you can get double the internet speed (108Mbps) at Virgin for the same price (a penny cheaper, in fact) it doesn’t seem like such a great deal.
But that’s when Sky’s bundles come in. For instance, you can get Sky TV + Superfast Broadband + Free anytime calls for £39 per month for 18 months (down from £67). Or the Superfast Broadband, Sky TV and Sky Sports bundle for £54 a month for 18 months (down from £92). You can even build your own TV and Broadband bundle, with discounts of up to 50 per cent on TV packages.
As part of Black Friday, Plusnet is literally giving away money with its Reward Cards. These cards, worth either £50 or £60, depending on the broadband deal you choose, are preloaded with money that you can spend either online or at most high street retailers that accept Mastercard.
To claim a card, of course, you must first set up your broadband package. If you’re looking for a bog-standard broadband package, the Unlimited Broadband deal at Plusnet costs just £17.99 a month for 10Mbps download speed – ideal if you don’t need much from the web.
However, Plusnet’s other two deals offer better value for money – especially the Unlimited Fibre Extra deal, offering 66Mbps for £24.99 a month, on an 18-month contract, and a £60 reward card. If you need just 36Mbps, however, Plusnet’s Unlimited Fibre deal (£21.99 a month) might be for you.
No list of the best broadband deals could be complete without broadband giant BT. Granted, it does rank fairly low in our list – but that’s because it is fairly expensive for the average download speeds it offers.
The Fibre Essential deal (33-36Mbps) costs £26.99 a month on a 24 month contract; when you compare that to, say, Plusnet’s Unlimited Fibre Extra package of 66Mbps for £24.99, it doesn’t seem like a great deal.
However, to celebrate Black Friday, BT is giving away three months of free broadband, and it’s worth noting that it offers 24 month contracts – so you are locked in to a lower price for longer (compared to the 18-month contracts of Virgin, Sky and Plusnet), which is a definite cost-saving benefit.
Plus, we appreciate that there are three download speeds to choose from – the aforementioned Fibre Essential, as well as the Fibre 1 (50Mbps for £27.99 a month) and the Fibre 2 (67Mbps for £31.99 a month).
This new kid on the block is a breath of fresh air in the broadband market. Firstly, it works using fibre optic cables – but, unlike Virgin, it brings the fibre network straight into your home – making for a speedier and more secure connection. There’s a price match guarantee, and Hyperoptic will even allow you to try them out alongside your current provider before you decide to switch.
They are almost unbeaten on price and value, too. The Superfast package (150Mbps) is £29 a month for a 12-month minimum commitment (then £35 per month). The Ultrafast package (an incredible 500Mbps) is £35 a month on a 12-month contract (then £50 per month). And, finally, the Hyperfast is £40 a month for an incredible 1Gbps (1,000Mbps) on a 12-month contract (then £60 per month).
The only reason we could not rank Hyperoptic higher up in our list is because it is only available in certain regions; go to their website to see if you are eligible.