Big brand or small name? Should you choose a small broadband provider?

Laptop and phone

There's a lot of choice when you're shopping for a new broadband deal, and a whole range of different suppliers.

You've got the big brands, with long established reputations, alongside companies you might never have heard of before. So should you be swayed by a famous name, or are the smaller providers worth a look?

Let's see some of the factors you'll need to consider.


If you're shopping for a basic fibre broadband service then the speeds you're looking at are going to be roughly the same regardless of the size of the provider.

Most providers use the Openreach network, so they bring the broadband signal into your home using the same telephone exchanges, street cabinets and cables. In some cases, it's literally an identical service - John Lewis Broadband, for example, is actually supplied by Plusnet.

When it comes to faster services over 100Mb your options for smaller providers are more limited, but you still have some. Suppliers like Zen and Direct Save can offer packages with speeds up to 300Mb, while fibre-to-the-home (or full fibre as it often called) is dominated by niche players like Hyperoptic and Gigaclear. Don't assume that going with a smaller company will bring compromises.


One of the best ways for smaller providers to compete is on price. When you compare the first year cost of all broadband providers, it's companies like Post Office, Shell Energy and NOW Broadband that come out as the best value. If you want to make a saving, it's worth checking out some of these names.

Smaller providers are also more likely to offer short term, 30-day contracts. You won't get these quite as cheap, and they often come with higher upfront costs. But if you need flexibility then they are ideal.


If something goes wrong with your broadband you need to know that there's someone on hand to fix it. The level of support you can get varies massively across the industry. The big companies all give you a phone number to ring - on weekdays at least, if not always weekends - but it's a more mixed picture for the smaller suppliers. They range from NOW Broadband, whose support is through live online chat only, to John Lewis, whose phone help is available between 8am and 10pm, 24/7.

Of course, availability of support is not the same as quality. Take a look at our user satisfaction reports to see how happy customers are with each provider.

Help can come in other ways, too. A lot of big providers offer guarantees on speed and Wi-Fi coverage. BT, for instance, will send you a 4G router to keep you connected if your fibre broadband goes down, and also provide Wi-Fi Discs to ensure you get the fastest possible signal throughout your home (both at a small monthly extra cost).

Even without this you do have rights if your internet doesn't perform as well as you expected. You might be eligible for a refund, or even to leave your contract early without penalty.


One of the main plusses to choosing a big name provider is that you get more options. You can potentially save money on pay TV by bundling it with your broadband from Sky or Virgin Media, while most offer bundles including mobile deals as well. They also frequently give cash or free gifts to entice you to sign up.

These kinds of extras are much rarer from smaller suppliers, although they do exist. As an example, Shell Energy offer potential discounts for existing energy customers, as well as cheaper petrol through the Shell Go+ membership scheme.

Reputation and Reliability

This is the biggie. When you're considering providers like Virgin Media or Sky you can check our user reviews page and find thousands of ratings and comments from existing customers. Their satisfaction levels go right across the spectrum. You'll probably also have friends and family who use these providers and can give you an insight into what to expect.

With a smaller provider you'll find fewer reviews, and might be less likely to get a personal recommendation from someone. It can feel like a leap into the unknown. But don't be fooled into thinking that a less well established reputation is the same as a bad one. Zen Broadband currently top our user satisfaction ratings, while Direct Save rank above both BT and Sky!

Smaller providers may seem like a bit of an unknown quantity, and the lack of bundles is not going to work for everyone. Yet if you value speed and price then they are worth considering. The main thing is to do your research before you sign up so that you know exactly what you're getting.

Ready to start shopping for a broadband deal? Use our postcode checker to find what's available in your area now.

Posted by Andy Betts on in Features