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Broadband Frequently Asked Questions

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We're here to answer any and every question you may have about broadband and how to buy it. Here are some of the most common things customers ask us.

Why do we need your postcode?

Broadband availability depends on where you are as each provider covers different areas of the country.

So by knowing where you are we can ensure we only show you broadband, phone and TV deals that you can actually get.

We don’t use your postcode data for anything else, just to ensure that we’re showing you broadband deals you can actually get – that’s it, scouts honour.

What is broadband?

Broadband is a high-speed method of accessing the internet, giving users faster uploads and downloads than were possible via dial-up connections. It also allows for simultaneous use of landline and internet connections.

Broadband involves sending information via electrical signals to and from your computer, using copper telephone wires, glass or plastic fibres or via satellite transmission.

The technical definition of broadband, it’s worth noting, is a connection of at least 256 Kilobits per second, which is equal to 0.25 Megabits.

How do I get broadband?

Whether you’re new to broadband or looking to switch providers, our broadband comparison service will help you find the best deal for you. Simply choose a deal and follow the application process.

What do I need to get broadband?

A phone line, a router and microfilters for your phone socket. The router and microfilters are usually supplied by your ISP.

What different types of broadband are there?

There are two main types of broadband, ADSL and fibre optic – often referred to as ‘superfast’.

What is ADSL broadband?

ADSL is the most common form of broadband found in the UK currently and is often referred to as ‘standard broadband’.

ADSL allows data to be transferred over the copper wires of your existing phone line and offers speeds of up to 17Mbps.

ADSL broadband is fine for most uses but will in the future become obsolete with fibre optic or ‘superfast’ broadband taking its place.

What is Fibre optic or ‘superfast’ broadband?

Fibre optic broadband is the newer, more advanced broadband delivery system. The aging telephone network wasn’t built with the internet in mind; as such a newer technology was introduced to deal with our ever increasing demands for connectivity.

Think of ADSL broadband as a road and fibre optic broadband as a motorway; one can carry much more than the other and at faster speeds, whilst the other has more issues to deal with to overcome the increased traffic.

What is the download speed?

Your download speed is the pace at which data (like web pages, music, video content etc) is transferred to your computer. The better your download speed, the faster your internet connection will be. That means that, next to price, it's one of the most important factors when choosing a provider. It is worth noting that all broadband products are advertised with 'up to' speeds. This is because in most cases you will not actually receive the maximum potential speed.

How fast will my broadband be? What broadband speed will I get?

Broadband speeds can be confusing and frustrating. Predominantly the ‘up to’ speed advertised by providers isn’t going to be the speed you actually get.

This is due to a number of factors such as your distance from the telephone exchange (not as big a problem for fibre broadband deals), congestion in your area (i.e. the number of other households with the same provider), the capacity of the provider’s network and of course the number of devices connected at the same time.

Do I need super-fast broadband?

Not necessarily, as it depends what you use the web for. ‘Light’ users (essentially, this mean checking email, visiting a few websites) won’t benefit greatly from a super-fast connection. But if you’re looking to download big files like films, software updates for your iPhone or to play video games online, you’ll definitely feel the benefit of super-fast downloads and uploads.

Do download limits/allowances matter?

In a word – yes. Data is key when looking at a new broadband, phone or TV deal dependent on what sort of user you are, but it does matter.

If you’re someone who likes to do data intensive activities such as stream high quality video through Netflix or BBC iPlayer then having a large or ‘unlimited’ data package is recommended. But, if you’re someone who is only ever browsing Facebook and checking emails then you could get away with having a ‘limited data’ package.

Going over your data limit could see you ‘throttled’ – not as a scary as it sounds, see ‘traffic management’ explanation below – or you could even be charged for your extra usage, dependent on your provider.

Can I get broadband without a phone line?

Do you know your home telephone number? No, me neither. The rise of the mobile phone has for many, made the landline somewhat redundant.

Unfortunately though, for the majority of widely available broadband packages in the UK you will need a landline.

This is because all ADSL broadband travels through the copper telephone network, meaning you will need to pay that pesky line rental.

There are two types of broadband available where you won’t need a landline though, these are Virgin Media broadband, as Virgin runs its own network and mobile broadband – like you’ve got on your mobile phone.

How do we rank results?

Unlike other comparison sites, we rank our results by ‘average monthly cost’.

‘Average monthly cost’ includes all set up and connection fees, line rental and the headline cost (the cost for the broadband only) averaged out over the course of the contract.

It’s easy to be enticed by strong first year costs but we strongly believe that averaging the price over the course of the contract is the right way to show you the best value deals.

However, if that doesn’t suit you, you can also rank the results by popularity using the drop-down ‘sort’ menu at the top of the table.

What is traffic management?

Traffic management, traffic shaping or traffic prioritisations are all in essence different ways of saying the same thing. These are techniques used by broadband providers to prioritise, ration and even restrict broadband connections dependent on time of day and simultaneous connections.

Traffic management does get a lot of bad press but simplistically it’s the provider prioritising one type of traffic over another to ensure a better service.

Activities that normally get affected by traffic management include downloading large files- largely movie or music files (such as torrents). This is done to ensure things like online gaming and video streaming services aren’t disrupted.

Traffic management is a lot like a busy road where certain types of traffic (or internet usage) are prioritised and put into the fast lane – with others being left in the slower lane.

It is worth noting that each provider approaches traffic management differently (and some don’t use it at all) – check with your new provider for more info.

What is an ISP?

ISP stands for 'internet service provider'. In other words, your ISP is the company that provides your broadband service often referred to as a broadband provider.

What is a Byte, KB, MB or GB?

A Byte is a measurement of data and the amount you use depends on what you're browsing and how long for. A Kilobyte (KB) is equal to 1000 bytes (measurement for a unit of data). A Megabyte (MB, Meg) is equal to 1000 Kilobytes. A Gigabyte (GB) is equal to 1000 Megabytes. A simpler example is that a typical four-minute YouTube video will use between 8MB and 10MB. Some broadband providers have deals that place a cap on the amount of data you can use in any one month so if you’re someone who uses lots of data intensive activities you’re going to want to go for an unlimited deal.

What is the usage limit?

Many providers cap the amount of data you can receive with any internet package and can limit your connection or charge you more if you go over. Heavy users will usually want unlimited usage, while people who use the internet for surfing and checking emails etc may be happy with lower caps.

Do download limits/allowances matter?

Very much so, yes. If you’re only going to be checking your email and Facebook occasionally, you’re not going to be downloading all that much data. If, on the other hand, you like to stream video on Netflix or music on Spotify, you’re going to use a lot more data.

With an insufficient download allowance, you risk exceeding your limits and being charged for the privilege. However, it’s not worth paying the premium for a generous or unlimited data allowance if you’re not going to use all that much data.

You will be warned by your provider if you approach your download limit and subsequently charged if you exceed it. In most cases, the charge will be greater the more you exceed your monthly allowance.

What is LLU (local loop unbundling)?

Local loop unbundling is the process whereby BT (or Kingston in Hull) allows other providers access to the local exchange. That means they can then install and upgrade their own lines, bringing more competition to the market. If your local loop is not unbundled then it may cost you more to use an alternative provider.

What is a MAC code?

If you want to move from one provider to another, you'll need to ask for a migration authorisation code, more commonly called a MAC. This is a alpha numeric series of digits (e.g. LAEM1234567/1F6HT) that holds the details for your address and line. Your new provider will need it this to be able to move your service. From the date of requesting the MAC code, your existing provider has up to 5 working days to provide this to you. Thereafter the code is viable for 30 days. The MAC code method of migrating will be removed in June 2015 – as such from this date onward you will no longer need to request a MAC from your current provider; instead your new provider will be able to do everything from their end.

What is a fair usage policy?

Quite often, when a provider advertises a package with 'unlimited downloads', it's actually subject to a fair usage policy. That means that, if your internet usage is deemed excessive, you could be asked to limit your browsing. If you continue to exceed the fair usage limit you could find that your provider slows your connection during peak times, or even terminates it. For most people, this limit will be so high that it won't be an issue, but some particularly heavy users could find this an issue.

What is a bundle?

A broadband bundle is a package that will allow you to purchase your broadband and home phone along with some other services such as a TV package or a mobile phone SIM. In many cases you can make significant savings by having just one provider for your broadband, home phone, digital TV or mobile phone SIM.

What is mobile broadband?

Mobile broadband allows you access to the web wherever you are, as long as there is network coverage. Unlike Wi-Fi. It allows you to gain access to the internet anywhere at any time of day. The benefits of mobile broadband are its flexibility and ease of use, meaning you don't need any wires and you don't need a landline to operate.

Can I switch provider at any time?

You will need to check that you are out of contract with your current provider (typically most long-term contracts are 12 - 18 months). In the event that you are still under contract you will need to review the cancellation terms in your agreement. In most cases, the provider will request that in order to cancel the contract you pay the remaining monthly costs. Once you know how much you would need to pay it is simply a case of working out if you're better off seeing out the remainder of your contract or switching to a new, cheaper deal.

How do I switch provider?

Check with your current provider to find out if you're free to switch and if you're still under contract, check the terms for early cancellation. Compare the broadband market fully to find the right deal for your needs, both in terms of price and speed. The watchdog Ofcom regulation states that before signing you up, a provider must give you the opportunity to view an estimated speed that they think you'll get. Once you've found a deal to switch to, ask your existing provider for a MAC code (they have five days to comply) and give this to your new supplier within 30 days. The new company will do the rest! Note – MAC codes will no longer be needed from June 15 2015 onward.

What's the best bundle to go for?

This all depends on what you want from a bundle - there are a number of options meaning you can really find one that meets your specific needs. This can include the speed or usage of broadband, the times at which you make your phone calls or what TV packages you want to include. If you're not sure, try using our broadband finder tool.

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