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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 the major UK internet service providers (ISPs). We will 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, focusing on 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 how-to guide for choosing the best broadband provider for you. And, below that, our top picks of the best UK broadband providers in 2023.
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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 full-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 will 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 – conducted in partnership with YouGov – 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?
Generally speaking, ISPs offer phone services as a standard part of your broadband contract, although usually on an expensive pay-as-you-go basis, which often makes it cheaper to use your mobile phone. Signing up for weekend/evening or all-day calling packages usually makes this cheaper, and some providers offer free calls to other numbers on the same network.
Some of the largest providers bundle in TV as well and if you’re interested in Virgin, Sky, Vodafone or BT TV services, buying a single, all-in bundle could save you money. There are also savings to be had from using the same provider for your mobile connection, too – worth bearing in mind if you’re in the market for a new 4G or 5G 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 provide more basic models; they will do the job but you can expect better Wi-Fi speeds and more features if you use your own third-party router instead.
READ NEXT: Best wireless routers
The UK’s best broadband providers in 2023
1. Plusnet: The best all-round broadband provider
Plusnet now has a decent track record of success in the Expert Review Best Broadband Awards, having won the crown for two years in succession.
As well as winning our overall prize, it won the individual awards for customer service, contact centre and reliability, as well as a highly commended award for value. In short, nobody came close to touching Plusnet in our 2023 awards. That’s why 78% of Plusnet customers we surveyed said they would be happy to recommend the broadband provider to friends and family.
Elsewhere, 74% of Plusnet customers said they were satisfied with the company’s customer service, and even when things do go wrong, the company’s contact centre has a good record of sorting out problems. Some 81% of the customers we surveyed said they were satisfied with how the contact centre dealt with their issues.
Reliability is another of Plusnet’s strong suits, being the only provider of the eight major ISPs in our survey to score more than 80% for the reliability of its connections.
Plusnet might not have the fastest connections on the market, but it delivers a friendly, reasonably priced service that customers can clearly rely on.
Read our Plusnet Broadband review
|Full Fibre 74||Full Fibre 145||Full Fibre 300||Full Fibre 500||Full Fibre 900|
|Price per month|
(inc line rental)
(Mbits per sec)
2. Virgin Media: The best broadband provider for speed
Virgin Media is renowned for the speed of its broadband connections, which is why it claimed our speed award once again in 2023.
The entire Virgin Media network is now gigabit-ready, and Ofcom’s independent speed tests show that Virgin Media customers definitely get what they pay for when it comes to download speed. Ofcom’s measurements are backed up by our own survey results, where 75% of the company’s customers said they were satisfied with the speeds they were receiving, and 32% were very satisfied – the best score of any provider in our survey.
Virgin has a wide range of tariffs spread across different speed tiers. All of Virgin’s tariffs are 100Mbits/sec or faster, and it’s currently offering very keen pricing on its two fastest tariffs – although potential customers should be aware that those prices will increase sharply after the initial 24-month contract comes to an end.
One other thing to watch for with Virgin Media’s speeds: upload speeds aren’t as competitive as they might be, especially when compared to fibre broadband providers that offer symmetrical connections, where the upload speed matches the download. The upload speed on Virgin’s Gig1 package tops out at only 52Mbits/sec, for example.
Read our Virgin Media review
|Price per month (inc line rental)||£26.50||£30.50||£34.50||£38.50||£46|
(Mbits per sec)
3. Now Broadband: The best broadband provider for value deals
Now Broadband won our Best Value award for 2023 and it’s not hard to see why. This Sky-owned broadband provider is tightly focused on the budget end of the broadband market and you will do well to find a provider offering cheaper tariffs, with deals starting from only £20/mth.
In fact, at the time of updating, there wasn’t a single Now Broadband tariff with a monthly cost higher than £24/mth. Not hard to see why, then, that 71% of the company’s customers were satisfied with the value for money on offer.
It’s worth noting that Now Broadband doesn’t yet offer full-fibre connections, which are the faster lines with the more premium price tags. If you want download speeds in the hundreds of megabits per second, you will have to look to providers such as speed king Virgin Media.
The flexibility of Now Broadband’s contracts is also worth noting. The company offers deals on one-month rolling contracts, which is very unusual. Most providers want to tie you down for 18 or 24 months. That could make Now Broadband the perfect choice for students or anyone in short-term lets.
Read our Now Broadband review
|Brilliant Broadband||Fab Fibre||Super Fibre|
|Price per month (inc line rental)||£20||£21||£21|
(Mbits per sec)
4. BT Broadband: The best for speed outside Virgin’s network
BT Broadband won a highly commended award for speed in our 2023 awards, showing a marked improvement on last year’s performance. That might be because BT – via the Openreach network – has been aggressively expanding its full-fibre network, now providing speeds that are every bit as fast as the ones that Virgin Media offers.
In our survey, 68% of BT customers said they were satisfied with the speeds they were receiving. Given that BT is a nationwide provider with customers in hard-to-service rural areas, as well as the big towns and cities, that’s no small achievement.
BT’s advantage over Virgin is its breadth of coverage. While Virgin Media’s broadband network currently only reaches 56% of the population, Openreach’s fibre-to-the-cabinet network reaches 96% of the population. Full fibre is limited to around 8m households currently, but that network is rapidly expanding.
As you can see from the tables below, BT has a huge range of tariffs at different speed tiers, so you should be able to find something to suit your budget.
Read our BT Broadband review
|Fibre 1||Fibre 2|
|Price per month (inc line rental)||£28||£25||£27||£30|
(Mbits per sec)
|Full Fibre Essential||Full|
|Price per month (inc line rental)||£32||£33||£36||£38||£48||£58|
(Mbits per sec)
5. EE: Solid broadband with strong customer service
EE won a highly commended award for customer service in this year’s survey, making it a strong option for those who are already EE mobile customers.
EE offers a £3/mth discount on all of its broadband tariffs to customers who are on pay monthly mobile contracts, which makes the full prices stated in the table below more appealing.
In terms of customer service, 33% of EE customers declared themselves very satisfied, a score bettered only by the award-winning Plusnet, which is another member of the BT family. EE’s contact centre appears to be doing a solid job too, with 70% of customers satisfied with how it dealt with their problem.
Few EE customers are finding cause to gripe to the telecoms regulator Ofcom, either. Only six out of every 100,000 customers have raised a complaint with the regulator in the last recorded set of figures, well below the industry average level of 11 complaints per 100,000.
It all adds up to a broadband provider you can trust, especially if you’re already a mobile customer.
Read our EE broadband review
|Fibre||Fibre Plus||Full Fibre|
|Price per month (inc line rental)||£32||£36||£38||£48||£58|
(Mbits per sec)