Picking the best broadband provider isn’t easy – especially when there are so many packages available from so many different providers. What kind of speeds do you need, and what kind of connection can you get for your home? What length of contract should you look out for, and how do you know whether a provider is reliable or not? Sign up and you could land the perfect broadband package, but it’s all too easy to get tied into an expensive mistake.
We’re here to clear up the confusion. Every year, we carry out a comprehensive review of internet packages offered by all the major UK ISPs. We’ll help you ensure you don’t get locked into a lengthy broadband contract you aren’t happy with, or don’t pay over the odds for a slow service.
What’s more, every year we conduct extensive research to find out what users think of the biggest ISPs. As with last year, we’re looking at customer satisfaction, speed, customer service, reliability and value for money – and handing out awards to the providers with the top scores in each category.
Below you’ll find our helpful how-to guide for choosing the best broadband provider for you. And, below that, our top picks of the best UK broadband providers in 2021.
READ NEXT: Help us choose the best broadband provider of the year
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How to choose the best broadband provider for you
Check your coverage
When it comes to getting the best broadband, location makes a big difference. The speed and reliability of both fibre and ADSL connections will depend on the quality of the line between you and the nearest streetside cabinet and the distance between your home and the local exchange. Faster fibre connections may or may not be available, depending on whether the necessary cabling has been installed in your area. This makes checking your coverage essential.
All major ISPs have a page on their website where you can enter your postcode and check which services and speeds you can expect to receive. Do this before you start shopping in earnest or you may be disappointed.
Be aware of contract length
Some broadband contracts still last 12 months, but ISPs are increasingly trying to push new customers towards 18-month or even two-year deals. That might be fine if you’re happy with the service, but if you want to jump ship to a faster or cheaper provider, you could be looking at a long wait.
However, Ofcom regulations mean you can now back out of your contract if your provider fails to deliver a promised minimum speed and most providers will allow you to back out of your contract within the first month if you’re not getting what you pay for.
Work out the total cost of signing up
All ISPs will bill you on a monthly basis, but if you’re comparing different packages it’s smart to tally up how much you’ll pay in total over the course of the contract, including any upfront setup fee.
If you’re shopping around for a new ISP, review prices right up until the minute where you sign up. The market is incredibly competitive and deals frequently come along that can dramatically reduce the cost of certain contracts or see you get a higher speed for the same price as a lower-cost service.
Keep an eye on what happens after your initial contract term ends, too. Some ISPs hike the price up after the first year or 18 months, sometimes massively inflating the monthly charge. This is often negotiable, though, if you phone them up and say you’re planning to move to a different provider. If they won’t budge on the price, find a more amenable alternative.
Speeds are crucial, but don’t be fooled
ISPs are nowadays obliged to advertise average download speeds for their internet packages. These give you a good idea of which packages are faster than others but it doesn’t tell you much about how consistent or reliable the service is.
To get a clearer view, we combine the results of our reader-voted Best Broadband Awards survey with Ofcom’s annual broadband customer-satisfaction report, which brings together customer surveys and user-recorded data such as average download and upload speeds and connection reliability.
This allows us to see how the different providers stack up across the board. Just remember that the speed data from the Ofcom survey refers to the connection speed between the ISP and your router – if your laptop or smartphone is connected over Wi-Fi, that could slow things down.
One bit of good news is that monthly data caps and traffic shaping are now more or less extinct, so you don’t have to worry about burning through a monthly usage allowance or having your connection slowed down at peak times.
What else do I need to look out for?
Most ISPs also offer phone and TV services. It’s now fairly difficult to sign up just for broadband without getting line rental thrown in, although you’ll still have to pay for calls or a weekend/evening or all-day calling package.
The major providers are still going big on bundling in TV, too, although some smaller players are retreating from the ‘triple-play’ market. Still, if you’re interested in Virgin, Sky or BT TV services, a bundle could save you money. Some providers also offer special deals on mobile data, which is worth bearing in mind if you’re also in the market for a new mobile phone contract.
A final point of differentiation between ISPs is the quality of the router that’s provided with your service. Some, such as BT and TalkTalk, offer good-quality, high-speed hardware. Others are more basic: they’ll do the job, but you can expect better Wi-Fi speeds and more features if you use your own third-party router instead. Read our best wireless routers roundup to learn more.
To help bring a bit of transparency and clarity to the performance of the best broadband providers, Ofcom recently joined forces with regulators from the water, energy and banking sectors as part of the UK Regulators Network (UKRN) to release performance scorecards for their respective industries.
The scorecards are designed to help customers choose the best providers based on metrics from the Institute of Customer Services UKCSI and net promoter scores (NPS), among others. You can see how the broadband providers below scored here and we’ve included the latest scorecard information below each entry in this list.
The UK’s best broadband providers 2021
1. Zen Internet: The undisputed customer satisfaction champion
It’s fair to say that Zen Internet swept this year’s Best Broadband Awards, with more very satisfied customers in every category than any other provider, and a higher number of total satisfied customers to boot. Over 98% of the Zen customers we surveyed were satisfied with the customer support or reliability of the service, and over 90% were pleased with their speeds. A slightly lower score for value for money – 86% – reflects the fact that Zen does premium broadband services with corresponding prices, but you definitely get what you pay for. Every single one of the Zen customers in our survey would recommend Zen to a friend.
Zen Internet offers a wide range of broadband options, from basic ADSL2+ to the latest ultrafast FTTP services, so you should be able to get the fastest speeds available in your area. As Zen isn’t one of the UK’s biggest ISPs we don’t have any data for it from Ofcom’s customer satisfaction or performance surveys, but the results in our awards survey speak for themselves. There are other providers who deliver excellent broadband for a little less, but Zen leaves most of its rivals in the dust.
Read our Zen Internet review
Get Zen Internet now
|Packages compared||Unlimited Broadband||Unlimited Broadband (1 month)||Unlimited Fibre 1||Unlimited Fibre 2||Ultrafast Fibre|
|Price per month (inc line rental)||£28||£31||£29.99||£34.99||From £38.99|