Posted on 2020-05-18 16:49 in Features
As expected, the UK's broadband network has held up pretty well in the face of the massive surge in demand caused by the coronavirus lockdown.
Despite a few high profile blips, most notably from Virgin Media and Sky Broadband, the network has been untroubled by the new normal of remote working, home schooling and daily PE lessons.
There has been a small impact. Download speeds have dropped by an average of 2%, and upload speeds by 1%, but neither is enough that you'd notice unless you're actively measuring your provider's performance on a regular basis.
Our own speed test figures for April show that the decline equated to less than 2Mb on average.
This impact of Covid-19 on broadband has been studied in a report by Ofcom. The industry watchdog installed modified routers in 1950 homes to get a clear picture of what was happening, and you can read it all in their latest UK Home Broadband Performance report.
Among the main effects of the lockdown were:
- Download speeds started to decline around the middle of March, as more people began staying at home. The decline slowed from the 23rd of the month after Netflix reduced their video streaming quality.
- Speeds during working hours fell by around 1-2%, with a slightly bigger drop during peak evening hours.
- Virgin Media was the worst affected, with their average download speeds dropping by 6% at 8pm, and their upload speeds falling by over 4% between 3pm and 5pm. However, the faster speeds they offer on their services mean that customers would still be unlikely to be overly inconvenienced.
- Netflix speeds were 4% lower before 6pm, likely due to increased use by kids off school, but 1% higher than usual in the evening - as a result of the lower streaming quality Netflix put in place.
- Facebook, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Twitter all saw an increase in latency of up to 4%, meaning slightly slower connections to the services, or potentially a little more lag in video calls.
On the whole, the impact is encouragingly slight, given the way broadband usage has rocketed during the last couple of months. BT figures showed that daytime use soared by more than 60% in the first week after the restrictions were put in place.
While things are starting to ease a little, it looks as though the lockdown will be with us for some time yet. If you have any questions about broadband during the pandemic - whether about working from home, switching providers or keeping yourself entertained - you'll find the answers in our ongoing coronavirus series:
Graph source: Ofcom, using data provided by SamKnows. Graph shows the percentage change between week closing 2 March 2020 and week closing 23 March 2020; higher values are better; results are derived from tests to SamKnows' off-net London servers using 3 parallel TCP sessions for 10 seconds.
Posted on 2020-05-12 16:56 in Features EE Sky BT Zen
For lots of us, the internet is a major source of entertainment, or a tool that enables us to work from home. For millions of older people it's a lifeline, the main way to keep in touch with the family, and interact with the outside world at a time when this is otherwise not possible. A good broadband service is vital.
So whether you're shopping for yourself, or seeking out broadband for an elderly parent, what are the priorities you need to look out for?
Reliability and support
We're all a lot more reliant on online shopping at the moment, especially snagging those all too scarce supermarket delivery slots. For a lot of older people renewing prescriptions, managing state pensions, paying the TV license, and lots of other things are important online activities, too.
For this reason, reliability is perhaps the most important point to consider. You need a broadband service that works whenever you need it, and also one that won't cut you off when you hit a data limit. These limits are fortunately quite scarce now, though if you're shopping at the budget end of the market you might still encounter them.
Customer service is also important. If you do experience any problems you need to be confident that your provider will fix them as quickly as possible.
Our Customer Reviews page contains feedback and ratings from thousands of broadband users. It's an ideal way to find out what kind of service each provider offers, and what problems you might face with them. Right now, Zen Broadband top the list for customer satisfaction, although if you'd be more comfortable with a mainstream brand EE rate well, gaining the lowest level of complaints according to a recent Ofcom study.
Speed might be less important for a lot of older users, but it really depends on what they want to do online.
There's no one-size-fits-all solution. For every older person who is a reluctant technology user, you'll find others who are enthusiastic online shoppers and Facebook posters, alongside those happily working their way through the Netflix catalogue.
There are options for all groups. Anyone who receives pension credit and has minimal internet needs can apply for the BT Basic + Broadband plan. It's cheap, but comes with a very low data allowance so isn't suitable for anything more than the absolute basics.
Beyond that, a basic standard broadband package - which uses a BT phone line - will usually work out the cheapest. It's fine for simple things like email, browsing and shopping, as well as for video calls with the family. It's worth considering if you're in a one computer household. A basic fibre deal, which is faster and allows for a wider range of uses including watching TV, as well as more simultaneous users, typically starts at around £5 a month extra.
Phone calls and TV
The extras you can take with a broadband deal are also important to consider. Most broadband services need a phone line - with line rental included in the price - and many providers give the option to buy a call plan as part of the deal. The plans on offer usually allow a choice of either unlimited calls during evenings and weekends, or unlimited calls anytime.
These can be tempting during a time when staying in touch with family is so important, but don't assume it's a must-have. If you don't take a call plan you'll still be able to make calls. You just pay for them at a rate of a few pence per minute, just like we always used to.
Some providers, especially Sky, also offer pay TV as well, include sports and movie channels. In some cases, though you might be able to get these channels cheaper elsewhere.
Price and contract length
And then there's the price and contract length, and the two often go hand in hand: sign up to a longer deal and you can shave a few pounds off your monthly bill. Anything shorter than 12 months is likely to cost you quite a bit more, while longer than that leaves you at risk of being stuck with a service you're not totally happy with.
Our price comparison guide will help you find the best broadband prices, and identify those deals that are within your budget. Make sure you check the 1st Year Cost column to see how much you'll pay in the initial 12 months - this includes those easy to overlook extras like postage or a setup fee.
Ready to start shopping for broadband? Use our postcode checker to find the best broadband deals available in your area today.
Posted on 2020-05-04 16:37 in Features
While it's important for all of us to keep in touch with family and friends during the coronavirus outbreak, it's especially important to check in with older relatives, friends and neighbours to make sure that they're okay. They're most at risk of becoming isolated, and they may have to live with the lockdown for longer.
Fortunately, video calling has made it a whole lot easier to stay in touch. It may sound like a daunting prospect to older people who aren't confident with technology, but it doesn't need to be.
If they've got a smartphone, tablet or laptop, then there are loads of free apps to try, from services that most of them probably already use. Or if that's too much, you can set them up with a video chat device that requires no tech know-how at all.
Video chat software
The easiest options for video calling are by using services that everyone already has access to. If you and the person you're calling use Apple devices, then this is likely to mean FaceTime. If not, then most people have a Facebook or Google account - or both - and both offer their own video chat services.
You can use Facebook Messenger through a dedicated app on your phone, or with the webcam on a laptop, just by logging in to your account in the Chrome or Microsoft Edge browser as you normally would. You can chat with up to 50 people at once, so it's ideal for virtual family get togethers.
Likewise, Google Duo runs in most browsers as long as you're signed in to your account, and it should also be pre-installed on every Android phone or tablet. Up to 12 people can join in a call, and you just need their Google address or phone number to invite them. If you need more than 12 people, take a look at Google Meet. This is primarily a business tool for video conferencing, but Google are now making it free for everyone. You can add up to 100 people to your call, and chat for an hour.
If the person you're calling has a smartphone or tablet, then WhatsApp is another good choice to look into. You - and the people you're calling - will need to install the app from the app store, but the setup process is minimal. When you first launch WhatsApp you just need to register your phone number by entering a short code you'll be sent by text. After that, you're good to go. Just tap the green Chat icon in the bottom right corner, select a contact or create a new group to start a group chat, then hit the Video Call button to begin.
And then there's Zoom, which has become one of the big names in video chat during the lockdown. Similar to Google Meet, you can add up to 100 people to your call, and chat for 40 minutes at a time. It's pretty easy to get started with. The person who starts and hosts the call will need to create a Zoom account first, and can then invite people to join by sending them a link or code via email or text message. People joining the chat don't even need to create an account, although they will have to install the Zoom app on their laptop or phone first.
Video chat hardware
Even easier than using software on your phone or laptop is using dedicated hardware. These devices tend to be plug and play, so once you're connected and logged in there's no other configuration needed. They're ideal for less tech-savvy users - especially if you set it up yourself before you give it to them.
You've probably seen the TV ads for Facebook Portal, which is a series of tablet-style video calling devices starting with an eight-inch model priced at £129. Portal is easy to set up - you just need to connect it to your Wi-Fi network and log in to your Facebook account - and then it's ready to use. The best thing is that it works with WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger as well, so not everyone on the chat needs to buy the hardware to join in the fun.
Google have their own equivalent in the form of the Google Nest Hub Max, albeit at a pricier £219. This is part digital photo frame, part hands-free Google Assistant smart speaker, part home security system, and part video calling device. It works with Google Duo for the latter, which, as we've seen, comes on every Android phone and is also available as an iPhone or iPad app.
And there's also Amazon's Echo Show, which is the most affordable option, starting at £79.99 for a 5.5 inch model. This combines the Alexa smart speaker tools with the ability to make video calls to any device with the Alexa app installed - this could be another Echo device, an Amazon Fire HD tablet, or an iPhone or Android phone running the app. What makes this especially user friendly is that when you buy it you can have it automatically set up with your Amazon account details, and even linked to your Wi-Fi network in some cases.
The right broadband for video calls
Video calling doesn't require very much bandwidth, so is usable even on slower broadband plans. The quality of the video drops to a level that is right for your broadband speed.
But if you, or a family member, are becoming more reliant on video calling as well as things like TV streaming or getting used to the demands of working from home, it may be a good time to consider upgrading your broadband to something faster. Use our postcode checker to find the best broadband deals in your area today.
Posted on 2020-04-27 14:56 in News Features
We're a month into a lockdown introduced to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic which has disrupted the activities of every household and business in the country. That disruption hasn't spared broadband providers, with Openreach, the BT Group company that maintains telephone exchanges, lines and street cabinets, putting a halt to all non-essential home engineer visits until at least June. Other providers, such as Sky, have also announced delays to home television installations and other in-home services.
If you're not getting everything you need from your broadband service and need to switch to something better suited for lockdown homeworking or the demands of an entire stay-at-home family, then you may well be anxious that these disruptions are going to prevent or seriously delay your switch.
Thankfully, as with capacity and performance, the reassuring message from most broadband providers at this point is that it's 'business as usual' for the vast majority of switches.
If you currently have broadband from one home broadband provider and you're simply switching to another on the same telephone line then you'll most likely be able to 'self-install', with the vast majority of cases being as simple as swapping your existing provider's router with the new provider's replacement.
Things may become a little more complicated if you're moving into a new home and need a new telephone line to be activated. The same may be true if you're currently using a broadband technology, such as full fibre from providers like Hyperoptic or cable from Virgin Media, that doesn't use the copper telephone lines. In these cases, if you're switching to a part-fibre technology such as most providers' fibre offering, with speeds averaging 38Mb or 68Mb or less, then you'll need to have a working BT-compatible telephone line in your home.
However, even in these cases, if there's a BT or Openreach telephone master socket already in your home, it's highly likely that it will be possible for this to be reactivated without an engineer visit being needed.
So, barring faults, only those who live in new build homes with only a fibre to the premises (FTTP) connection provided, or flats only provided with a cable broadband and telephone connection, are likely to be in a situation where there technology they currently use will prevent them from switching to other providers until the lockdown restrictions allow a home engineer visit in order to install the a telephone line.
Whether those who are currently on telephone line broadband can switch to providers and technologies that use full fibre or cable to the home will vary on a provider-by-provider basis. BT seem to have halted new installs of their own FTTP product, but similar ultrafast products using a different technology are available but with potential delays.
The best advice at this time is to speak to advisors, such as via live chat on product pages, before you sign up.
If you're switching between a non-Openreach provider such as Virgin Media and an Openreach provider that does use a BT-compatible phone line, or vice versa, then it's recommended that you don't cancel your current service until your new broadband service has been fully installed and confirmed as working. Non-Openreach providers don't need a BT-compatible phone line to work, so can be run in parallel with another service that does use that phone line. At this present time, it's safest to allow some overlap, especially with the strong chance of additional delays due to the lockdown.
However, we would suggest that you should always check with your existing provider that you're not still tied to a minimum contract period and won't be liable to large exit charges should you switch before that period ends.
Even if you fall into the 'business as usual' category, it's best to expect a greater chance of additional delays, simply because of higher than normal demand for customer services and employees having to do technical jobs remotely from home. See our recent post on improving your broadband without disruption to service for tips on how to ensure that you have a working backup connection, should that happen.
Posted on 2020-04-09 15:15 in Features
We're in a golden age for TV. If you aren't already signed up to a streaming service you're missing out on some of the best shows ever made.
Yet with so many to choose from, all with their own range of unique content, it's hard to know where exactly to spend your money. Here's our guide to the best UK streaming services to help you decide.
- Price: from £5.99 a month, 30-day free trial
- Pros: A huge range of content, and by far the most and best original shows and movies; works on every device
- Cons: Non-original movie selection is not as good; you have to pay more for HD or 4K streaming
The biggest name in streaming has by far the biggest range of original content, from TV shows like The Crown, The Witcher and Better Call Saul, to Oscar-nominated movies like The Irishman. There's heaps of classics to binge on as well - this is the place to get your fix of Friends.
It's great for kids, while the ingenious recommendation system constantly suggests new things you'll love based on what you've already watched. If you're new to streaming, this is the one to try.
Netflix is available on pretty much every device, including streaming sticks, smart TVs, and even your Sky Q box.
Amazon Prime Video
- Price: £7.99 a month or £79 per year, 30-day free trial
- Pros: Cheap, and especially good value as part of the full Prime package; a growing number of exclusives; live sport
- Cons: Not many major hits; no user profiles
Amazon Prime Video is available on a monthly basis, but is best value when bought as part of the whole Prime package. That gives you a heap of extras, like free postage on Amazon purchases, access to music streaming, a monthly selection of Kindle ebooks, and much more.
Prime Video is getting an ever expanding range of Originals and exclusive films and shows, including The Grand Tour and the Star Trek spin-off Picard. The company has also started dipping its toes into the world of live sport. The recommendation engine isn't up to the level of Netflix, and it doesn't support separate user profiles, so you'll be sharing your watchlist with the rest of the family.
Amazon Prime Video is perhaps best used on an Amazon Fire Stick, but it's also available on many smart TVs, games consoles, or whatever other device you use.
- Price: £8.99 for Entertainment, £11.99 for Movies, £3.99 for kids, 7-day free trial
- Pros: The only way to watch Sky without a subscription; packed with exclusive TV and Hollywood blockbusters
- Cons: Expensive if you subscribe to all the Passes; not full HD as standard
NOW TV is the only way to watch Sky TV channels without either a dish or a lengthy contract. It offers several Passes, including Entertainment, Movies, Kids and Sports, and you get a short trial period for all of them. The service works on most streaming devices, and is offered on some smart TVs.
The movie selection, from Sky Cinema, is excellent, and perhaps the best way to get the most recent releases without paying for them individually. The Entertainment Pass, meanwhile, is the only way to watch shows like The Walking Dead or Westworld without a Sky sub.
One big downside is that it's a little pricier than its rivals, and considerably so if you want more than one Pass. Also, the picture quality is not full HD - let alone 4K. You have to pay even more for a NOW TV Boost to unlock a higher resolution.
- Price: £5.99 a month, 30-day free trial
- Pros: A dream for lovers of classic British telly; generous free trial
- Cons: A lot of boxsets are not complete; some shows are available on other services for free
BritBox is a collaboration between the BBC and ITV to make a large number of their classic shows available to stream for the first time. It has the largest number of UK TV boxsets on any provider, and they're also expanding into original content soon, with the return of Spitting Image.
BritBox is great for bingeing on TV comfort food like Midsomer Murders, or rediscovering forgotten classics like Our Friends in the North. It's a refreshing alternative to the very US-centric content of the other streaming services.
It isn't as widely available as some, though. You can watch on a Fire Stick or Apple TV, as well as phones, tablets and a web browser. Smart TV support is much more limited for now.
- Price: £5.99 a month or £59 per year, 7-day free trial
- Pros: Home to many of the biggest movie brands of all time; supports seven user profiles and four screens
- Cons: Content range is limited - no shows geared towards adults
It's easy to overlook just how much of the mainstream entertainment landscape is now owned by Disney. Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel - in fact, they were responsible for eight of the ten highest grossing films of 2019.
Disney+ is the company's brand new streaming service, bringing all of this content along with the classic Disney cartoons and some new shows, like The Mandalorian. It's a very family friendly service. There's bags of stuff specifically for kids, and you can create user profiles for them, but not so much just for adults.
You can watch Disney+ on most devices, including Fire Stick, phones and tablets, and some smart TVs (more are likely to be supported as the service becomes established in the UK).
- Price: £4.99 a month, 7-day free trial
- Pros: A lower monthly price than other services; integrates with your existing iTunes purchases
- Cons: Not much content yet; no older shows or films
Another fairly new entrant to the market, Apple TV+ only has original content right now. The most well received of the new programmes is The Morning Show, while the reception for the others has been rather mixed. There's a lot more in production, though, so even if the service isn't a must-buy right now, that may change in the near future.
You can watch Apple TV+ on computers, iOS devices (not Android), games consoles and Apple TV. You also get a free year's subscription when you buy a new Apple device.
Free Streaming Services
If you don't want to pay out lots for TV and film streaming, don't forget that many UK TV channels have their own apps offering catch-up TV, boxsets and live streaming:
- BBC iPlayer: includes the streaming-only BBC Three, plus live TV, catchup and a wide range of boxsets like Line of Duty and Fleabag
- ITV Hub: live TV and catchup shows from the four ITV channels, with ad breaks
- All 4: live TV and catchup, plus 270 boxsets including Peep Show, ER and The Inbetweeners. Includes ad breaks
- My5: 21 channels of catchup TV and boxsets from Channel 5 and the internet service Pluto TV
- UKTV Play: catchup and over 100 boxsets from Dave, Yesterday and Drama
Pay as you go streaming
You can also forego the monthly subscription and just buy or rent what you want as you want it. This is the best way to watch the latest movie releases, which usually become available for rental long before they hit any other streaming service.
The big players here include:
- iTunes: also integrates with an Apple TV+ sub
- Amazon: watch films on your Fire Stick or other Prime-compatible streaming device
- Rakuten TV: available on many smart TVs, including those from LG, Samsung and Sony
- Google Play: watch on a TV via a Chromecast streaming dongle, or on your phone or tablet
Interested in adding premium TV to your broadband bundle? Read our guide on how much money you can save.
Posted on 2020-04-03 15:55 in Features
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 on 2020-03-27 18:23 in Features
If you've got some time on your hands and need to keep yourself entertained, you might be considering signing up to a few premium streaming services. But did you know that it's also possible to watch free movies online in the UK, legally?
Let's take a look at the best free streaming services, which you can watch in mobile apps, on streaming sticks, or on your smart TV.
If you haven't used Channel 4's All 4 streaming app lately you might have missed the fact that they added Film4 to the mix last November. The ad-supported service has up to around 30 movies available at any time, and the selection is refreshed frequently. There's plenty of great stuff on there for all tastes, whether you like Brit comedies, Hollywood blockbusters, or indie flicks.
Like All 4, iPlayer also has a small selection of movies that is easily overlooked. Go beyond the boxsets of Line of Duty and Last Tango in Halifax, and you'll find 20 or more films that have recently been broadcast on the Beeb, across all genres. Don't bookmark them to watch later, because some only stay up for a week or so. But do make sure to check back regularly to see what else has been added.
A few months ago My5, the streaming app for Channel 5, added a bunch of extra channels from the American internet TV service Pluto TV. Among them is Pluto TV Movies, which has over 200 films for you to watch. Many of them, it has to be said, are of the straight-to-DVD variety. But if there was ever a time to indulge in the dubious pleasures of films like Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus it's surely now!
Rakuten TV is available through a large number of smart TVs from the likes of LG, Samsung and Sony, as well as on smartphones and tablets, consoles, or in your web browser. The main part of the service lets you rent new releases, or buy and keep your favourites, while there's also more than 100 free movies for you to enjoy, just with the odd ad break here and there. It's a reasonable selection: not up to Netflix standards, obviously, but most people should be able to find something to keep them amused (and there's some free TV stuff for kids as well).
YouTube is a pretty good source for movie streaming. Some films are there legally, others aren't (and tend to be removed quite quickly). Either way, finding them is the hardest part. Using the search filters can help, although you still need to be prepared to work your way through plenty of spam and junk. Thankfully, there are a few channels that share fully licensed movies, including Artflix and Viewster, as well as some third party websites that collate them for you, including:
6. Free Trials of Premium Services
Finally, don't forget to make sure you've used up all the available free trials from the big premium streaming services. Netflix is the obvious place to start. You get a 30-day trial, and if you've used the service before you can sign up again as long as you've got a different email address and payment card.
Amazon Prime Video also gives you a 30-day trial, and has lots of add-on subscription channels that also throw in a week for free. A NOW TV Movie Pass, with over a thousand films from Sky Cinema, gives you seven days for free, as does the new Disney+, which is the place to go for Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel movies.
Or if your taste is a little less mainstream, check out BFI Player for a 14-day trial as well as the hand-curated service MUBI, which gives you three months of streaming for the almost-free price of £1.
Posted on 2020-03-20 17:42 in Features
With the extraordinary measures many of us are presently taking, more people than ever are finding themselves in the unexpected position of needing to work from home, possibly for the first time. You'll be relieved to know that UK broadband companies don't foresee any problems with extra demand from increased teleworking and more leisure time spent in the home, but you may still have some concerns. If you're finding that your home broadband isn't up to the needs of work from home, you may need to improve that situation fast.
Unfortunately, you'll often find that switching to a different provider is likely to take a while and cause a broadband outage in the process - not ideal when you need to get work done to a deadline. To help keep you online, we've got a few tips for improving your broadband with the minimum of disruption.
Try upgrading your broadband rather than switching first
Depending on what your job is, you may find your home broadband doesn't meet the demands that your office broadband can. You may still have a slower ADSL product as you've had no reason to upgrade before, and it's just not fast or stable enough for your work needs, such as video conference calls or uploading large files. Under normal circumstances, we'd recommend shopping around for a better deal, but between admin and engineering work, it takes time to get switched to a new provider, and you may want a more immediate fix.
In this case, we would recommend giving your current provider a call first to see if they can get you upgraded quickly. Chances are good that it will be a quicker process than switching, and your provider may be willing to do you a deal at the same time to keep you as a customer. Even if you're already on Fibre, you might find that the faster G.Fast and FTTP products are now available in your area. These technologies are rolling out so quickly that comparison websites may not even have the updated availability information yet!
Whether you're upgrading or switching, it's a good idea to get an estimate from your provider to find out how long the switch is likely to take. You can do this over the phone, or even live chat. This way you'll have an idea of when to expect any downtime, and also if you'll need to to use a backup option to tide you over, like a mobile broadband device. We'll go into more detail on that later in this article.
In the event that it's not any quicker to upgrade than it is to switch, you can use our Ofcom accredited postcode checker to find the deals available in your area.
Sign up for a 4G/5G home router for broadband supplied via the mobile network
Major mobile providers have recently started aiming products at the home broadband market using the 4G mobile network (and 5G where it's available), and the speeds can be faster than you'd think, even in areas with only a 3G signal. This is especially useful for workers in rural areas who would really benefit from a speed boost that they just can't currently expect to achieve with landline brodband providers.
One of the biggest advantages to this in the current situation is that there's usually nothing to install. Your router just needs to be sent out to you, and you can plug it in and away you go. Rather than wait weeks to get online, you should be sorted out within a couple of days.
You also have the option of keeping your current provider going at the same time to make sure you're getting a get service before cancelling the old one. It's also worth checking to see if any of the 4G deals have a satisfaction period where you can get a refund without penalty in case the service isn't good enough for your needs.
The short of it is that if you get a decent phone signal, you should be fine. Even then, a small antenna installation outside your house may solve the problem. If this is solution you're interested in, we have a guide on 4G home broadband that explains everything in more detail, or you can jump straight to the available deals.
Make sure you have some kind of backup connection
While most home broadband providers will do their best to keep everything up and running, it's not unusual for there to be downtime at some point, even without unusual levels of demand. Normally you'd just get a bit annoyed, but when you're working from home, it prevents you from getting things done and, if you're self employed, can cost you money.
You may also find that it can take longer for home broadband problems to be fixed. Businesses pay for a more robust connection with a responsive support team on call to get problems fixed as soon as possible. Home broadband doesn't have that level of support, and in a worst case scenario you could go for days waiting for a problem to be fixed.
Because of this, we really recommend that you have some kind of backup plan in place, and a mobile broadband device (be it a USB dongle or a pocket hotspot) can come in handy. If you're unlikely to use it for anything else, you don't even need a monthly contract. Most providers offer Pay As You Go bundles that come with a set amount of data pre-loaded. As with the 4G home router option, you'll usually get it within a couple of days of ordering, making it a quick fix. Some employers may also be happy to pay for this as a backup so you won't be left out of pocket.
There's also the option of settng up tethering on your phone and using it as a mobile wi-fi hotspot so you can log in to grab your email and any documents you need so you can work offline. Some providers offer this as standard, for others you may need to contact your provider to get them to enable tethering and talk you through setting it up.
Do you have a more demanding job than home broadband can cope with?
You might have a job where upload speeds are important, such as creating and uploading video content. Or perhaps you need to participate in important conferance calls where it's vital you have a stable connection. If this is the case, home broadband might not cut it, and you'll need to look into other options. Your first port of call will be to see what your current provider can offer you. You won't be alone in this, and you may find that your provider is putting in contingency plans. You may also find they have simple upgrade options for home workers. For example, Virgin Media customers can pay an extra £9.99 a month to get HomeWorks, which are some extra services to make working form home easier, including priority support and security tune-ups.
If your provider isn't able to help you out, a more robust home office or small business package might be worth paying extra for. These packages usually come with better, 24/7 customer support, static IP addresses, Virtual Private Network options, and priority traffic so you're not at the mercy of slowdowns due to heavy usage or because of general peak time congestion - everything you need for working from home.
We have a guide about Home Office Broadband and a list of some of the more well-known suppliers on our Business Broadband Guide.
Still need some advice?
If you want to discuss switching broadband our impartial advisors are on hand to help. Give us a call on 0800 083 0426, or you can arrange for us to call you if it's more convenient. We're open from 9am to 8pm weekdays, and 9am to 6pm on Saturdays.
Posted on 2020-03-13 17:32 in Features
If you're anything like us, most of your landline calls these days come from salespeople, spammers and scammers.
Most real calls are now handled on our mobiles, and we only have a landline because we need it for broadband.
But do we need actually need a phone line, or can we get broadband without one?
How to get broadband without a phone line
In short, yes, you can get broadband without a phone line, but your choices are limited.
Most UK providers work on the BT-owned Openreach network, which carries the broadband signal into your home via the old copper telephone wires. This is true even with fibre, where the fibre cables only run as far as your nearest street cabinet. A working phone line is a must with any of these providers, which include the likes of BT, Sky, EE, Plusnet and many more.
To get broadband without a phone line, then, you need to choose a provider that doesn't use Openreach. The biggest of these is Virgin Media.
Virgin use their own cable infrastructure that's totally separate from the phone network. When you get it installed an engineer runs a cable from a connection point on the pavement, to a wall box they attach to the outside of your house. This also happens to be why Virgin can offer faster speeds, since the coaxial cables they use for this are a lot more efficient than copper wires.
You can still get a phone line with Virgin if you want one, and you can usually keep your number, too. But if you don't need it, you don't have to have it.
Virgin Media broadband is available to over half the UK. Use our postcode checker to see if you can get it where you are.
Other than Virgin, you've got two options.
One is to use a fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) provider. These run the fibre cables right up to your house, bypassing the need to use the existing phone network. These services are a lot faster, providing speeds of up to 1Gb. However, they aren't widely available: the Government has pledged to invest £5 billion in extending this "full-fibre" network nationwide, but until then it's mostly accessible only to new build areas and apartment blocks.
Full-fibre is available from smaller names like Hyperoptic and Gigaclear, and big brands like Vodafone. A landline isn't included at all with these services, so if you need one you'll have to acquire it separately through a different provider. Full-fibre suppliers usually offer a VOIP calls package, which gives you a phone number and allows you to make landline-equivalent calls over the internet. Of course, if your internet goes down so does your phone service.
The other option to look at for broadband without a phone line is mobile broadband. Most of the major mobile networks offer broadband plans over their 4G and 5G networks specifically for home use. They often come with data limits and can be more expensive, so aren't for everyone. But they are worth looking at.
Got a phone line? You don't need a phone
It has to be said that there's no price benefit to choosing broadband without a phone line. The charge for line rental is now built into the total price of your broadband package, and it doesn't work out any more expensive to take this route than going landline-free.
So if Virgin or FTTH providers are off limits to you, or you'd rather pick from a larger number of suppliers, feel free to shop around for the best broadband deals.
You will need a phone line for these other providers, and if you're switching away from Virgin and don't already have an active line installed you'll need to get that sorted first. Suppliers will take care of it for you when you sign up, and you can expect to pay extra for it. This can be anything up to around £60, depending on the provider and what deal you're signing up to.
But remember that just because you need a phone line, it doesn't mean you have to use it.
If it's a brand new line and no-one's got your number, just don't plug in a phone and you can forget it's there. If people do have your number, leave a phone connected for incoming calls only.
Keep this in mind when you sign up to a broadband plan. Most providers offer an optional calls package, giving you a range of anytime, evening, weekend or international calls for a flat rate. Make sure you need this before you sign up to it; it's an easy way to add an extra £5 or £10 a month to your bill without any real benefit. If you normally have leftover minutes on your mobile plan you'll probably be better off sticking with that instead.
Ready to shop for broadband with or without a phone line? Check out the latest deals now.
Posted on 2020-03-02 13:39 in Features
While everyone knows about the importance of online security, online privacy is rarely treated with quite the same level of urgency.
It's probably that strange old "if you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear" mindset, coupled with the fact that most of us are happy to trade a little personal info in return for some cool, free stuff. Who among us is willing to give up on YouTube or Google Maps?
But there's complacency in this thinking. Your personal data is incredibly valuable. Ad companies want to use it to sell you things, politicians can use it to manipulate the way you vote, and if the services that harvest it ever get breached you can be left vulnerable to scams or identity theft.
Assuming you don't want to just shut down your Facebook, Google, Amazon and Microsoft accounts, what can you do to protect your privacy? Here's a few simple changes you can make today.
Review your search and social accounts' settings
Chances are, when you first set up your Google, Facebook and other accounts you took a quick glance over the privacy settings and then never thought about it again. These companies harvest massive amounts of data on you, but with growing concerns about what they collect and how they use it, they've all introduced new privacy controls. It's time for another look.
- Google (including YouTube). By default Google stores all of your activity forever. But if you delve into the Data & Personalisation section of your account you can set it to automatically delete any data from apps and searches, location history, and YouTube activity that's more than three months old. This lets you keep Google's clever personalised results, but doesn't let them keep a record on your going back a decade a more.
- Facebook. It's much harder to lock down Facebook as they track you online even if you don't have an account. However, the new Off-Facebook Activity feature gives you a little control. It lets you see which companies have been tracking you and sending data to Facebook, and lets you "disconnect" it from your account - the data doesn't get deleted, but does get anonymised. You just have to remember to do it manually.
- Twitter. In Twitter, you should turn off the Personalization and Data feature, which allows the service to infer information about who you are based on your activity and then share it all with advertisers.
The same kinds of settings will be required for your other social sites and services, you can always search the web for the service's name and 'privacy controls' to get an up to date step by step guide for whichever site or app you're using.
Whatever services you use, it's worth taking a few minutes to review your account to make sure you aren't giving away too much information.
Consider an alternative search provider
Google isn't your only choice for searches. There are other search providers, like DuckDuckGo, Qwant or StartPage, that have a strong focus on your privacy, promising searches with no tracking or ad targeting.
Of course you'll have to balance the privacy benefits of not being tracked at all over the possible loss of quality in search results as it won't have any idea of who you are, where you are or what your interests are - all cues that Google uses to improve the quality and relevance of searches.
Our advice is to try one of the many privacy focused search engines available, and see if you feel you're getting less useful results. If you're still happy with the search experience then set your choice as your browser's new default search provider.
Don't overshare information
If you're a keen social media user it can be easy to get sucked into sharing too much information without even realising. A lot of the stuff you post, including pictures, may seem pretty harmless, but it builds up to quite the profile over time, and tends to stay online for many years. Something you're happy to share today may be something you'll regret in the future.
And it's not just about you - make sure you don't post things your kids don't want the world to see either. (For more on how to protect your children online, see our guide on how to set up parental controls.)
It can also be a security issue. Things like your birthday, schools you attended, pets names and so on are commonly used as security questions by banks. You don't really want to be putting all this info out there publicly for anyone to see.
Lock down your browser
It's hard to avoid being tracked as you travel round the web, but there are a few simple steps you can take to limit the extent to which companies can follow you.
One of the main ways companies track you is by using cookies. These are small text files stored on your computer or phone that are used to identify you. Most web browsers, including Chrome and Microsoft Edge, let you block cookies from third parties, making it harder for random ad companies to follow you from site to site.
Also, use the private browsing mode whenever you don't want to be tracked. This doesn't hide your online activity, but it does let you browse somewhat anonymously - you won't get logged in to sites, and cookies will be disabled.
For the best protection try a browser plugin like Privacy Badger or DuckDuckGo's Chrome privacy plugin. These automatically block a lot of the known tracking services, and learn as they go. These can be fantastic tools for letting you browse in peace.
Or use a different browser altogether
Around two-thirds of all internet users use Google Chrome as their browser on a desktop or laptop, and it's also the default on most Android smartphones. It gives Google access to a massive amount of data on your activities, and is also pretty limited in its all-round privacy options.
If you want to try and cut down on how much companies know about you, an easy solution is to change to a different browser. Either Firefox or Brave would be a great choice, although there are many more options. Both come with a huge range of privacy controls baked in, and block over 2000 separate trackers, including Facebook. They also work on your Android or iOS phone.
Beware apps that hoover up your data
Smartphone apps can rank among the biggest invaders of our privacy. They often grab as much personal data as they can - your age, your location, your phone number, what other apps you use, and a whole lot more - without you knowing, and without it being obvious why they need it. Some companies might then share this data with Facebook, even if you aren't logged in to your account, and others might even sell it.
Always check the permissions an app asks for before you install it, and decide whether the permission is appropriate. Why does that wallpaper app need to know your location, and does that game really need to access your camera? Leaky apps are a bigger problem on Android phones, but don't assume you're off the hook if you're an iPhone user. Research suggests nearly 40% of iOS apps make sketchy permissions requests.
Use a VPN and other security tools
There's more you can do to safeguard your privacy. Make sure the websites you visit are secure: the address should begin with https and your browser should display a little padlock symbol in the address bar. You can use a VPN to encrypt and anonymise your connection to the internet so that your broadband provider isn't able to log meta data from your online activities. Also, use secure messaging apps like Telegram or WhatsApp for your private chats, although do bear in mind that WhatsApp - along with Instagram - are owned by Facebook.
Ultimately, managing your privacy does involve a bit of compromise. It's impossible to go fully off the radar without completely changing the way you use the internet. But these few tweaks can certainly help, and they'll also make you more aware of exactly what you're putting online, who's going to see it, and how they're going to use it.