Your guide to UK broadband providers

There are hundreds of companies supplying broadband to businesses and consumers in the UK, and trying to tell the difference between them is not easy. But making sure you pick the right service for your needs is important. There are several factors you need to consider when selecting a broadband provider, such as:

  • The actual service that they offer and whether it is suited to your requirements
  • What guarantees they will give you on levels of service availability and speed
  • Reputation and track record – are they a supplier you feel you can trust?
  • Cost – you will always want the fastest and best broadband you can afford, but there is little point in having something that goes well beyond your present and future needs
  • The future – what will you need from your broadband over the duration of the contract

Below, we outline what you can expect from some of the providers we work with – and a general summary of what other choices are available.

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You will know BT, of course, and in terms of reputation and trust, there is no better option. From time to time, BT seems to get a lot of criticism in the media, but overall it does a tremendous job and it remains by far the biggest and, in our view, the most dependable supplier for both businesses and consumers.

As you would expect, BT offers a huge choice of options, from simple, low-cost fibre broadband that would suit the most casual and infrequent of Internet users, to high-speed FTTP (fibre to the premises) connections that will deliver tremendous speeds of up to 300Mbps and excellent availability and reliability.

Many of its business services come with hosted voice included and with a 4G backup connection that will click-in automatically, should the main broadband line go down for any reason. Consumer bundles are also really good, combining fast broadband, BT TV services, and a telephone line into a single contract.

BT services are widely available in all parts of the UK and Northern Ireland, and wherever you are located, there should be a range of options available to you from BT.

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Plusnet is actually owned by BT but operates entirely independently. As such, it provides a different value proposition for both businesses and consumers. Plusnet focuses on delivering great performance at affordable prices. This does not necessarily make it a low-budget option, but what it offers tends to have a broad appeal, which means Plusnet can keep its costs down in the long term and focus on delivering a great service.

With Plusnet there may be fewer options, but you can be sure of getting a reliable service at a competitive price. Both business and consumer services are available from Plusnet right across the UK. Plusnet also has a good reputation for delivering simple, no-nonsense service and support.

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Other services

There are lots of other providers out there, and many of them are well-known names – Virgin Media, Sky, and EE (which is also owned by BT) are some of the best-known. Most of these firms tend to focus on consumer broadband and offer a combined package of broadband, TV, and telephone services.

There are scores of other options as well. Many of these are offered by companies whose main line of business is something completely different, such as mobile phones or energy suppliers, for example. These companies offer broadband to their customers alongside their core services as a way of adding value and driving up their revenue potential. But the broadband is actually provided by another supplier in their name. The value proposition for the consumer is that different services are bundled together into one convenient, all-encompassing package from a suppler they trust. These offers may suit some consumers, but they will not be the best choice for most buyers.

Similarly, there are a number of broadband and connectivity suppliers that focus on providing business services. These tend to be either the business-focused arm of a big-name Internet services provider, or a so-called ‘altnet’ (alternative network) provider.

The latter companies build out their own independent networks in towns and cities, whereas the former are using their own equipment in key POPs (points of presence – the sites that hook up the UK’s communications infrastructure) around the UK, and purchasing time on the UK-wide infrastructure (which is managed by Openreach) to provide a distinct service that is under their own control.

In both cases, the main appeal these providers have is the combination of speed and price that they can offer. The major drawback is availability; it’s almost always the case that the services will only be available in a limited number of urban areas and that, even within these zones, it may not always be possible to get the service at a particular premises. This is usually because the services are FTTP-based and require groundworks before they can be delivered. This also adds to the cost and means it can take some time to install the connection.

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Choosing your broadband provider

Your choice of broadband provider should be dictated primarily by your own needs. There are plenty of options, so you need not compromise in this regard. Our advice is that you should identify what you need in terms of speed and performance for the next two years at least. Think about the key features you need, such as availability, fail-over, voice services, etc, and also try to set a budget for how much you think you can realistically afford.

Only then should you set about checking what options are available. Whether you are a business, or the connection is for home use, the first aspect you’ll want to look at is availability, as there is no point in looking at options that can’t be delivered in your area.

If you are a business, we’d also strongly recommend that you seek out expert help from a trusted third party specialist who can help you navigate the different options on offer. For all but those who are located in the most remote areas, you will certainly not have any shortage of choice.

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Advanced and multi-layered protection

Most routers come with a built-in firewall, which will give you an added layer of protection. A firewall will block unauthorised or unrecognised attempts to access the network. Firewalls often allow you to authorise or block specific devices or accesses. You could prevent people accessing certain kinds of websites, for example. It’s always a good idea to take a look at what kind of protection the firewall can give you. If you don’t have a firewall, you should get one installed.

Using a dedicated firewall or UTM (unified threat protection) appliance – along with taking measures to secure access to your Wi-Fi, and having anti-virus software installed across the network – will effectively give you multi-layered protection. Hackers and cybercriminals are always devising new ways to circumvent gateway defences and trick users into opening the door to systems. This is why it is always good to have multiple layers of security in place. They may get past one level, only to be thwarted at the next hurdle. The harder you make it for them, the less likely they are to succeed.

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Security policies and training

A security policy will set out how users should keep software up to date, when, where and how they should use their systems, and how to set and change passwords and other security settings. It should also provide guidelines on usage and precautions that should be taken when using email, instant messaging, social media and websites.

How stringent the policy is and how much detail you go into will depend on your own needs and preferences. Staff will need to read and understand the policy, and they will almost certainly need some training, even if that’s just to make sure they fully comprehend what they need to do.

It’s also important to keep your policy up to date. Your IT reseller or solutions provider should be able to help or advise you on security policies. Some may also offer a managed service for network security, and if they do, this might be worth consideration, as it means they will take the whole business of managing security, monitoring activity and keeping everything up to date off your hands.

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