In the UK, broadband can be provided in several ways, the most common being ADSL, mobile broadband via 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:
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 4G, but only to selected areas of the UK.
Virgin Media operates one of the largest and arguably most advanced cable broadband networks 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 100Mbps over short distances and a blazing fast 300Mbps in select locations. BT's cable infrastructure is utilised by a host of rival providers who use it to offer fibre broadband services of their own.
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 4G technology. In the UK, most of the major mobile phone providers all offer 4G broadband packages via a dongle, MiFi or tethered mobile phone.
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.
Mobile broadband is an excellent solution for commuters or those who spend time off-site or travelling, but it's not particularly suitable for home connections. The emphasis is on mobility as opposed to speed — while 4G offers speeds of up to 60Mbps, the average is around 21Mbps.
In reality this can be lower still, and is heavily dependent on location and signal strength. For basic office tasks, e-mail 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.
Mobile broadband is an excellent solution while abroad, and all companies offer 4G 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.