It’s 22 years since Britain’s first broadband service rolled out to one person in Basildon. There are now more than 200 internet service providers in the UK, from familiar names like BT, Sky and Virgin to challengers like TalkTalk and EE. With each provider offering a choice of contracts, shopping for the best broadband provider can feel a little overwhelming. But it’s simpler than it first appears.
Although there are many companies competing to provide your broadband, in many cases the actual cables with which they deliver it to your house are the same, laid down by Openreach (an independent company spun off from BT in 2008). Openreach is not allowed to favour any internet service provider, including BT. With notable exceptions such as Virgin, most broadband companies use these cables.
This means that if you switch broadband providers, your physical connection will often remain the same. Companies compete on extras, such as phone lines and TV packages, as well as on pricing. Our full reviews of the country's best broadband providers are further down, followed by a detailed FAQ section explaining some of the key terms and how to choose the right service for you. But if you're in a rush, here's a quick look at our top seven:
Which are the UK's best broadband providers in 2023? At a glance
- Best overall broadband provider – EE
- Best broadband provider for price – Vodafone
- Easiest broadband provider to contact – Plusnet
- Most popular choice of broadband provider – BT
- Best broadband provider for deals – Sky
- Best broadband provider for speed – Virgin
- Best budget broadband provider – TalkTalk
How we chose the best broadband providers
We surveyed almost 1,000 Telegraph readers across the UK* to find out who provided their broadband and what they thought about the service. The vast majority used one of the big seven – BT, Virgin, Sky, TalkTalk, PlusNet, EE and Vodafone. (The first four of these supply 85 percent of the UK market.) Any provider supplying fewer than five percent of our readers was discarded from the review.
Our respondents told us that reliability and speed were the qualities they most looked for in a supplier and the good news is that two thirds of respondents are happy on both counts, with Vodafone being rated the most reliable (75 percent 'Good' or 'Very Good' ratings) and Virgin best for speed (86 percent G/VG). Fewer than half, however, think that UK providers are easy to contact when they need support.
When it comes to price, only 15 percent consider broadband prices ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ in this country and one in four respondents are planning to switch provider within the next year. Switching can get you better prices, especially for the first year or two of your new deal, and was the leading reason why our readers had changed provider, closely followed by faster speeds.
As well as speed, reliability, price and ease of contact, we asked our readers how helpful their providers were once they got through to them. Using their answers to all of these questions, we’ve been able to rank the top seven. So here are the UK’s current best broadband service providers, according to Telegraph readers.
(If you're looking for a new deal today, you may also find The Telegraph's Compare Broadband service useful.)
Best broadband providers
Current offers include 10 percent off your broadband plan plus 20GB extra data
- Fastest speed available 900mbps (Full Fibre Max package, £49 per month)
- Most affordable 10mbps (Standard Basic package, £21 per month)
- Standard contract length 24 months, no set-up fee
- Can add Apple TV subscription with BT Sport to your package, free for first three months
- Extra perks for EE mobile customers, such as free mobile data
It can be hard to keep up with the jockeying in Britain’s mobile networks, but EE (formerly Everything Everywhere) inherited the broadband service formerly run by Orange and is now owned by BT Group. EE group has a good reputation for offering decent speeds with good bundle deals, and this was reflected in our test where it was ranked third overall for speed, with 73 percent rating it Good or Very good. Here are the full scores:
EE takes the top spot because it was rated best for both quality of support (74 percent G/VG) and reliability (79 percent G/VG), with decent scores on other metrics too. Although Vodafone had equally favourable ratings overall, more Telegraph readers choose EE as their provider, giving it the slight edge in our survey.
Best for price
Current offers include full fibre broadband for £22.50 a month
- Fastest speed available 910mbps (Full fibre 900 package, £58 per month)
- Most affordable Speed38mbps (Fibre 1 package, £22 per month)
- Standard contract length24 months, no set-up fee
- Vodafone Xtra package adds Apple TV, free for first three months
Vodafone is Britain’s longest-running mobile phone network, having placed its first call in 1985. It’s a relatively late arrival in Britain’s broadband market but offers aggressively priced packages and high speeds. In our survey, Vodafone was ranked second for speed (82 percent G/VG) and first for price (61 percent G/VG). Here are the full scores:
Slightly lower ratings for contactability and service suggest Vodafone still has some small wrinkles to iron out, but Telegraph readers who are Vodafone customers rate the service just as highly as our winner EE. There are slightly fewer of them, nudging Vodafone into second place.
Easiest to contact
- Fastest speed available 72mbps (Unlimited Fibre Extra package, £23.99 per month)
- Most affordable Speed 38mbs(Unlimited package, £21.99 per month)
- Standard contract length 12-18 months, setup fees £5-£10, or £50 for no-annual-contract package
- Content blocking for families and PlusNet Protect security
- Can add BT Sport
Plusnet is a long-running British internet company which cut its teeth in the dial-up internet days of the 1990s, but which has since been acquired by BT Group. Just like stablemate EE, it offers different packages and services from BT itself.
Telegraph readers who are Plusnet customers actually gave it the best scores for both price (66 percent G/VG) and ease of contact (69 percent G/VG), but it didn't receive quite as many positive scores on the other metrics as Vodafone and EE, putting it in third place.
Most popular broadband provider
- Fastest speed available 900mpbs (Full fibre 900 package, £54.99 per month, business only)
- Most affordable speed 35mbps (Fibre Esssential package, £28.99 per month)
- Standard contract length 24 months, no set-up fee
- Free access to five million hotspots
- Options to add BT Sport and Now
BT is the world’s oldest telecoms company, tracing its roots back to the Electric Telegraph Company in 1846, and manages most (but not all) of Britain’s broadband network, with subsidiary Openreach reporting to BT’s chief executive. With its long history and links to the old General Post Office, BT is for many of us the default choice when it comes to broadband.
BT supplies broadband to almost as many of our survey respondents as the next three put together (Virgin, TalkTalk and Sky). But it is also the most common provider for people to have switched away from. It was ranked favourably for reliability (78 percent G/VG), although it scored lower for speeds (with a still-respectable 72 percent G/VG) than some rivals.
- Fastest speed available 900mbps (Sky Ultrafast, 500mbps, £45 per month)
- Most affordable speed 36mbps (Superfast 35, £23 per month)
- Standard contract length 18 months, £19.95 set-up fee
- 'Wall-to-wall wifi' guarantee
- Multiple Sky TV packages including Sky Sports and Sky Cinema
- VIP scheme with extras including Premier League tickets
Having gobbled up various internet companies in the last two decades, Sky is now a serious player in Britain’s broadband market and also offers a huge range of streamed television services via broadband. In fact, the recently launched Sky Glass television works entirely via broadband, dispensing with the need for a satellite dish for the first time.
Sky is best-known for its huge TV packages with hundreds of hours of TV and exclusive shows via its Sky Atlantic channel, and its bundle deals are great for TV fans. It’s also rated highly for tech support (65 percent G/VG), beaten only by EE.
Best for speed
Current offers include £30 per month off M350 and M500 packages
- Fastest speed available 1,130mbps (Gig1 Fibre Broadband package, £39.99 per month)
- Most affordable speed108mbps (M100 Broadband + Phone package, £25 per month)
- Standard contract length18 months, no set-up fee
- TV packages including BT Sport and Sky Cinema
- Add HomeWorks internet security and IT support service for £9.99 per month
Virgin is the biggest cable broadband provider in the UK – meaning that they use coaxial cables, which offer high speeds where available.
With the advent of fibre in recent years, Virgin is no longer the only company to offer higher speeds, but maintains a reputation for good-value bundle deals with television services included. In our survey, readers rated Virgin best for speed (an impressive 86 percent G/VG), but worst for ease of contact, with only 38 percent rating it Good or Very Good and 35 percent rating it Poor or Very Poor – the highest negative rating in our survey.
Best budget broadband provider
- Fastest speed available 900mbps (Full Fibre 900, £49 per month)
- Most affordable speed 35mbps (Fibre 35 package, £25 per month)
- Standard contract length 18 months, no setup fee
- Discounts on NOW TV passes
- Free Homesafe security package
Formerly a subsidiary of Carphone Warehouse, and subject to a 2015 hack in which millions of customers’ data leaked, budget-conscious broadband provider TalkTalk offers a great range of deals across both traditional copper lines and fibre. This is reflected in its sound rating for price (49 percent G/VG) and reliability (73 percent G/VG) in our survey.
What should you look for in a broadband provider?
Families who stream a lot of video, music and games to their laptops, chromebooks, tablets and other devices will want the fastest download speeds. This depends on the connection to your house, whether fibre optic cable, copper wire or something else. We've included an FAQ section at the bottom of this article to explain the difference between superfast, ultrafast and the slower DSL services.
Kristian Torode, Director and Co-Founder of broadband experts Crystaline, always recommends considering whether you really need ultrafast or superfast services. This may be surplus to requirements in households where there aren’t lots of devices vying to use the connection.
"If you’re a busy household, an unlimited data package might be the best choice. But if you just use the internet for browsing and emails, a much cheaper deal where you only pay for up to ten gigabytes (10GB) a month might be sufficient."
When it comes to getting the best price, it’s also worth considering bundle deals where you also pay for services such as TV channels and a phone line: "These deals often work out to be more cost-effective overall," says Torode. Several ISPs also offer deals with mobile phone contracts and TV streaming packages built in.
Other extras on offer include VIP packages with free concert and football tickets from Sky, plus internet security packages, which several ISPs offe. It’s worth checking to see if you qualify for one of these, as paying for internet security is expensive. Several ISPs now also offer improved IT support packages designed for people who regularly work from home.
It pays to read the small print when buying broadband contacts. Some ISPs have upfront fees, and it’s also worth noting that initial contracts are often discounted, but then prices can rise considerably. Standard contract lengths vary, but if your contract has expired, it is always worth calling your ISP to see if you can get a better deal or better speeds - and if not, shopping around for a better deal.
Availability in your location
The very fastest broadband speeds will only be available in city centres. You can use Ofcom’s Broadband Checker tool to see the speeds you should be able to get from local providers, based on your postcode. There are a few areas, such as Hull, where a local provider (KCom in Hull’s case), has an exclusive licence to offer broadband in the area and where BT connections are not available.
Phil Sorsky, SVP of CommScope, which helps to deliver improved broadband services across the UK, says it’s best to choose providers with a good reputation for being contactable on the phone and available to fix problems. "I personally would tend to stick to somebody who actually owns the infrastructure rather than a reseller. A lot of the lesser-known brands are allowed to piggyback on the likes of Virgin or BT."
Sorsky says that he personally uses BT, as it is the best connection he can get where he lives, but says he would probably opt for Virgin for the higher speeds if he could – although he admits to enjoying BT Sport, included as part of his package. Kristian Torode uses Virgin, but agrees with Sorsky that customer service is important when choosing a broadband service.
"If the provider doesn’t respond quickly in the event of an issue, it might be worth paying that little bit more for a better quality of service. The cheapest product is not always the best option."
What is superfast broadband?
Optical fibres can carry much more data, much more quickly than the copper cables (used for phone lines) which are very gradually being phased out. The majority of fibre broadband so far is ‘fibre to the cabinet’ where the fast optical fibres reach to to the cabinet in your street, then the last stretch is done via the old copper wires.
The result is 'superfast' broadband, allowing downloads of 30 megabytes per second (30mbps). This is the standard now, at least in urban areas.
What is full fibre broadband?
The fastest speeds, commonly called ultrafast, come from Full Fibre, also known as ‘fibre to the premises’, where the high-speed optical connection goes right into your home.Virgin Media, which currently uses a cable TV standard called DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Services Interface Specification) has begun offering optical fibre and has announced plans to switch entirely to optical fibre by 2028.
Sadly, people in rural areas often only have the choice of DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) using copper wires, and the further you are from the exchange, the slower the service will be.
One option for country dwellers is mobile broadband, which uses the 4G or 5G networks (often via ‘dongles’) to connect users to the internet. In some rural areas, this is faster than wired connections. If you live somewhere very far-flung, sometimes the best option is satellite broadband, but this is expensive.
* Survey of adult Telegraph readers conducted on The Telegraph Contributors Panel, May 17 - June 27 2022, presented by Strat7. Survey sample: 985 total respondents comprised of: BT (320 customers), EE (54), Plusnet (58), Sky (126), Talk Talk (77), Virgin Media (164), and Vodafone (45). Respondents were asked to rate their providers on a five-point scale from very good to very poor when answersing the following questions: 'Speed - how do you rate the download speeds from your provider?' 'Reliability - how do you rate the reliability of your broadband signal?' 'Price - how do you rate your service's value for money?' 'Ease of contact - how do you rate how easy it is to contact your provider if there's a problem?' 'Quality of support - how do you rate how helpful your provider is once you've got through to them? Do they fix your problems quickly in a polite and pleasant manner?' Ranked by ‘Very good’ & ‘Good’ responses. With thanks to Chris Dillon.
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