Guide to Student Broadband

Most students starting university for the first time this year will have relied on their parent's broadband connection while living at home.

For many, it will be the first time they have had to research student broadband packages, and with a wide range of deals available, it can be difficult to know where to begin.

The internet is likely to play a vital role in life at University, for educational resources as well as social media and e-mail, so it's important to choose the right broadband package to suit your needs. Here, we explain everything you need to know about student broadband…

What is student broadband?

Student broadband doesn't give you access to any different services than ordinary broadband, but deals are often low-cost, offer greater flexibility and more generous download limits than alternative packages, and are therefore designed specifically to target cash-strapped students.

You can also get monthly student broadband contracts, or 9 month contracts just for term-time, making them less restrictive than standard broadband contracts which typically last for 12 to 24 months.

That doesn't mean, however, that you should ignore regular broadband deals, as you may find one of these better suits your requirements.

The good news is that increased competition in the broadband marketplace means that there is a huge range of cost-effective offers currently available, so that you can get connected for less than £10 a month – around the same cost as a few pints of beer.

However, while cost is obviously important for students, many of whom have to get by on a strict budget, it's important to remember that cheapest is not necessarily best. When signing up for any broadband deal, you also need to consider speed, customer service and availability in your area.

Cheapest broadband deals
TalkTalk Primus Plusnet EE
SimplyBroadband no calls package Half Price Unlimited Broadband for 6 months Unlimited Broadband with Line Rental Saver Unlimited Broadband and weekend calls
Monthly cost: £3.50 + £11.75 line rental
1st year cost: £188
Monthly cost: £2 + £12.50 line rental
1st year cost: £161
Monthly cost: £2.50 + £12.99 line rental
1st year cost: £191.87
Monthly cost: £2.50 + £11 line rental
1st year cost: £168
Speed up to 16 Mb Speed up to 16 Mb Speed up to 17 Mb Speed up to 17 Mb
£85 shopping voucher. £25 credit off first bill. 6m half price, then £4 a month. Pay for 12 months line rental in advance for £155.88. £2.50 a month for 12m, then £9.99. £2.50 a month for 12m, then £9.95.
Go to deal
Or call to order
0333 123 0962
Go to deal
Or call to order
0333 123 6198
Go to deal
Go to deal

Why speed matters

The speed you get with your broadband package affects how quickly web-pages load, the speed at which you can download content, and how well music and video files stream. The higher the download speed, the faster you will be able to carry out these tasks.

Tempting as it may be to go with a package offering fast download speeds, remember that the speed advertised isn't necessarily the speed you will get This is why broadband speeds are advertised as 'up to' certain levels. They can be affected by various factors including how close you are to the exchange and the quality of your wiring, as well as the number of people using the connection, so don't be surprised the speed you get isn't as fast as you expected.

Some experts suggest dividing the speed on offer by the number of student housemates you will be sharing the service with to work out what sort of speed your service may operate at. So if four of you are sharing and the speed is 8Mb, then you'd probably be looking at a speed of 2Mb which is fine for most people.

According to research by telecoms regulator Ofcom, the average speed achieved by UK broadband customers was 7.6Mbps – some way off advertised speeds of up to 20Mb and 24Mb. New guidelines for use of speed claims in broadband advertising were introduced on April 1, so that providers must be able to demonstrate that the speed advertised is achievable for at least 10% of their customer base, but that still means 90% of people may not be able to benefit from that speed.

On the plus side, unless you're a gamer you are unlikely to need super high speeds. If you're going to need faster download speeds then it may be advisable to look into fibre optic connection, which provides quicker download speeds and is less likely to be affected by interference.

Ask the provider you are interested in signing up with what the average broadband speed achieved is – this will give you a more realistic idea of the sort of speeds you are likely to get. Once you get your broadband package then you can check the speeds you are receiving by using our broadband speed test.

Best fibre broadband deals
Plusnet Virgin Media BT Total Broadband TalkTalk
Unlimited Fibre with Line Rental Saver Big Easy with 50Mb broadband, TV and calls BT Infinity 1 Superpowered Fibre no calls package
Monthly cost: £7.50 + £12.99 line rental
1st year cost: £274.34
Monthly cost: £10 + £15.99 line rental
1st year cost: £346.83
Monthly cost: £7.50 + £13.32 line rental
1st year cost: £331.79
Monthly cost: £13.50 + £11.75 line rental
1st year cost: £308
Speed up to 38 Mb Speed up to 50 Mb Speed up to 38 Mb Speed up to 38 Mb
Pay for 12 months line rental in advance for £155.88. £7.50 a month for 9m, then £14.99. £75 off Big Easy. 6m half price, then £20 a month. £50 Sainsbury's card and £40 NEXT voucher. 6m half price, then £15 a month. £50 shopping voucher.
Go to deal
Or call to order
0333 123 6197
Go to deal
Or call to order
0333 123 6196
Go to deal
Go to deal
Or call to order
0333 123 0962

Downloads

While the lowest cost deal might seem your best bet if you're on a budget, check the download limits carefully.

Going over your monthly download limits can prove very expensive, so if you or any other students who live with you tend to download large amounts of data such as films and games, you may be best off going for a deal which offers unlimited downloads.

Bear in mind, however, that while many broadband deals claim to offer unlimited downloads most have a fair use policy.

If you don't tend to download films and games and usually just use the internet for e-mails and research, then around 4-10GB is likely to be more than enough. Again, you are best to check with your housemates how much they use the internet and what they use the internet for, before you select a broadband package.

Benefits of bundles

If you're going to be paying for a TV, home phone or mobile phone anyway then you could consider bundling these services together with your broadband.

It can make life simpler as you have one monthly bill to pay, and it is often cheaper to get several services through one provider. However, on the downside you could be paying for services you don't need, so make sure you will use all the elements of the package on offer.

Where to find the best deals

You don't have to spend hours calling round all the various providers to find the best deals. Use a broadband comparison tool which will allow you to enter your postcode and see all the deals available in your area starting with the cheapest.

How to set up student broadband

Once you have chosen the right deal to suit your needs you will need to get your internet connection set up. Most connections will be ADSL. This stands for 'asymmetric digital subscriber line' – which basically refers to wireless broadband through a telephone line.

Unlike dial-up, which uses the phone line to make a connection, ADSL actually works alongside the frequencies used for voice telephone calling, so you can make phone calls while using the internet.

To make your ADSL connection work effectively, as well as your phone line, you will need an ADSL modem and micro-filters. The micro-filters, which should be supplied by your internet service provider, prevent crackling on your phone line while you are using the internet.

ADSL modem routers rely on an upgraded BT telephone line. You plug the ADSL router directly into the BT phone line and there is no need for a separate modem – the broadband internet connection then extends to all computers within your home and within the wireless range, without the need for any additional wires.

Remember, if you do not secure your wireless network your neighbours can easily use your internet connection and potentially access your computer. To avoid this you must install a password called a Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) or Wired Equipment Privacy (WEP) key. Most modern wireless routers will have one of these security features included automatically.

Cable Broadband

If you live in an area that is served by cable (fibre optic broadband), you may wish to get your internet connection this way.

In the UK, most of the cable internet connections are supplied by Virgin Media or BT Infinity. If you do not already have a cable line, you will need to arrange for a representative to visit your home and install a line – usually this will be accompanied by a set-up fee. Cable broadband is usually tied into TV and phone deals as part of a bundled service from a cable provider and you do not have to have a BT phone line.

Some University-owned halls of residence and student houses are already fitted with a high-speed, wired internet connection. If this is the case, then you will simply need to follow the set-up instructions provided to get connected.

Mobile broadband

If you want internet access on the go, or don't want a shared connection with student housemates, you can sign up for mobile broadband and just plug a dongle into your laptop's USB port to connect to the internet wherever you are. These mobile broadband packages don't require line rental and give students greater flexibility about where they work.

The main disadvantage of a USB dongle is that you can only have it plugged in to one machine at a time. You will also need to keep an eye on your usage as the fees for exceeding the download limit could result in you paying a lot more than if you opted for standard ADSL broadband.

Before signing up for any service, check the operator's network coverage first using its own postcode checker on its website, not only where you live but in the place you are likely to use the service most.

How to pay

Usually the best way to pay your student broadband bills is by direct debit. That way the money is taken automatically from your account each month and you don't have to remember to send off a cheque.

Remember that there may be additional charges if you don't pay direct debit, so read the small print carefully.

And finally...

If you are signing up to a 12 month or 24 month contract, bear in mind that after the contract finishes, prices usually become a lot less competitive, so you will need to make a note of when your current deal ends and switch then if better deals are available.

Don't forget to scan down the table and consider everything that is on offer to find a student broadband deal that's right for your needs.

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