In the UK, broadband can be provided in several ways, the most common being ADSL, mobile broadband via 3G or 4G and cable. There are a huge number of providers who all offer a huge number of packages and services, and with so many sales-driven pitches it’s very difficult to know exactly what’s what.
ADSL broadband suppliers
ADSL broadband is provided through existing BT phone lines, and for this reason it is the most popular, and easiest to set-up, of all the connection types. Even though BT lines are used, many other companies supply ADSL broadband by renting space in BT’s telephone exchanges.
Through a process called Local Loop Unbundling (LLU), BT allows other suppliers to install their own software in BT exchanges and provide broadband to customers. Customers still need to pay a monthly line rental to BT as well as the broadband charges.
Key home broadband suppliers are:
- O2 broadband
- Talk Talk broadband
- BT broadband
- Virgin Media
- AOL broadband
- Be broadband
- Orange broadband
- Plusnet broadband
- Sky broadband
- EE broadband
Cable broadband suppliers
Cable broadband is transferred along fibre-optic cables under the ground, providing a much faster and more reliable connection than ADSL or 3G, but only to selected areas of the UK.
Virgin Media operates one of the largest and arguably most advanced cable broadband network in the UK, after buying it from the NTL and Telewest group in 2006.
The BT alternative, BT Infinity, uses existing phone lines with new VDSL (very high speed DSL) technology, capable of up to 100Mb over short distances. BT's cable infrastructure is used by a host of rival providers who have used it to offer fibre broadband services of their own.
Combined, BT and Virgin Media's cable networks currently provide fibre-optic connections to around 15 million homes, although both companies aim to increase the provision to around two thirds of UK homes by 2015.
Cable broadband is available with phone and television packages from a host of providers, including Virgin Media, BT Infinity, Sky, EE, Plusnet and TalkTalk.
To find out which providers offer a service in your area, check with the uSwitch broadband postcode checker.
Mobile Broadband Suppliers
Mobile broadband is provided over mobile phone networks using 3G or 4G technology. In the UK the major mobile phone providers all offer 3G broadband packages via a dongle, MiFi or tethered mobile phone. However, 4G technology is much less widespread and offers far narrower choice of providers.
One of the most notable advantages of mobile broadband is that the contracts can run for one month only, offering a lot more flexibility than the 12 month contracts on fixed-line connections.
- Three Mobile Broadband
- Vodafone Mobile Broadband
- T-Mobile Mobile Broadband
- Orange Mobile Broadband
- O2 Mobile Broadband
- Virgin Media Mobile Broadband
Mobile broadband is an excellent solution for commuters, or those who spend time off-site or travelling, but is not particularly suitable for home connections. The emphasis is on mobility as opposed to speed - while 3G offers speeds of up to 21Mb, the average is around 3.2Mb.
In reality this can be lower still, and is heavily dependent on location and signal strength. For basic office tasks, email and keeping in touch this is fine, but for heavy web users or those who require a constant connection, it’s simply not quick enough.
4G technology is faster and provides speeds up to five times the UK's 3G average. But this comes at a premium and is far less widely available. The sole UK supplier at the time of writing is EE.
Mobile broadband is an excellent solution while abroad, and all companies offer 3G packages and pricing plans for most countries. Data charges vary, and in some cases can be quite high, so it's worth reading the small print before you travel.