Best broadband service in the UK?

Updated on September 27, 2006

The day is looming for temporary online shutdown as I finalize preparations for our move back to the UK.

The movers come tomorrow to take our stuff away. Things have been topsy-turvy for much of the past week as we sort and pack everything to be ready for them. If you’ve done your own packing-up before, you’ll know the complete disruption it means especially if you’re trying to work at the same time.

I’ll be largely offline from tomorrow until about October 4 after we’re in our new home in the UK. Desktop computers go with the movers but I’ll have my traveling laptop so I have options for connectivity via wi-fi hotspots.

Now I’m thinking about broadband internet connectivity and which provider to choose. I’ve already arranged the phone line – impressive service from BT in setting this up from here – but not yet broadband service. The phone line has to be enabled and active before we can add broadband service, and that won’t be until we get there next week.

With such an array of choice in my area in the UK (Wokingham in Berkshire), it’s hard to make an actual choice. There’s even satellite internet service.

My inclination is to go for BT’s Option 3 deal which looks a very good one. They say they can have the connection up and running within four business days. Should I believe that, though? I hear from friends in the UK that this might be extremely optimistic.

In asking around, one name crops up constantly as a provider to avoid at all costs – NTL. Appalling customer service and support, I’m told. I’m heeding such advice so NTL is not on my shopping list. I’m actually discounting any cable service provider – no interest in getting cable TV – so my focus is on ADSL.

So my actual choices for internet connectivity look to be from amongst BT, Tiscali, AOL, Orange, Virgin.net, Pipex or TalkTalk.

Main criteria for me – fastest connections up and down, generous fair usage policy, terrific customer service and support and all at the lowest cost. What everyone wants, of course :)

Who would you recommend?

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Niall Cook

    I’ve been a Pipex customer for three house moves now, Neville. Every time I think about changing there’s always a cheaper deal, but then I read some of the problems people have with connection speeds – so I end up sticking with them.

    I can’t vouch for the others (I won’t use BT out of principle because so many people think they have to buy their ADSL service from them – the joys of vertically integrated businesses), but my Pipex service has been very reliable, even if it is more expensive than the competition.

    The only negative against them online is their customer service. Luckily I don’t have to use it too often.

    There’s a great site (adslguide.org.uk) that compares all the UK ADSL suppliers. Check out their forums – they have ones dedicated to each ISP.

  2. Alex M

    Neville,

    I’ve had good experiences with both Freedom 2 Surf (unlimited downloads, 8Mb line that regulary downloaded at 900KB/s for £27.99p/month) and Pipex, who now own Freedom 2 Surf.

    I’d steer clear of Talk Talk and any other “free broadband” provider as they usually have major limits to their services.

    BT is a stickler. Some good and some bad experiences from friends, family and business. They’re kind of the middle ground bet for me as the service could go either way. I have to say though, that there BT Home Hub set up is excellent from what I’ve seen and could be just the ticket for a technology lover.

    A couple of people have used Virgin and been impressed with the speeds and set up times, although they charge you for support calls (which I don’t really agree with) and they’re more geared towards “making it easy” – so you get a free, cheap and nasty USB modem etc.

    I would also advise against NTL. Took my other half 3 months of calls and letters for them to stop charging her and close her account once we moved.

    Good luck with the move as well!

  3. Neil MacLean

    My 2¢
    I have never had a problem with Tiscali, Neville.
    Touch wood.
    Any (very infrequent) downtime has been BT’s fault (surprise surprise). And Tiscali’s call centre people – from whichever continent – have been friendly and helpful.

  4. Martyn Davies

    I know several people that have Tiscali and are happy with the service, one even in Wokingham. They support all the latest high speed options, and get some pretty good throughput.

    I’ve been using BT for over 5 years, and have found the service reliable and good, although I don’t use one of their routers. I used to use an Eicon router, but now use a USRobotics one (cost about £45) that has 802.11g wireless and has the CPU power to keep up with the 2 Megabit line. The downside of BT is the monthly cost – they are still one of the most expensive. However, they have a couple of sweeteners: if you order a new line they give you the BT home hub, and there’s also a tie-in that gives you free minutes on the Openzone Wi-Fi service.

  5. anu

    Neville,

    check out adslguide.org.uk. Personal recommendations are either nildram (who I’m with), or Zen, who regularly win awards for service provision – in both cases clueful support people and reliable service.

  6. matthew yeomans

    Hey Neville,

    Try four weeks for BT broadband hook up.

    First they need to confirm your business and add you to the system. Then they send out an engineer (can take up to two weeks).

    Then the engineer turns it on and you have to wait for BT to send you the broadband router hardware – that can take another five days.

    In my case, BT sent an engineer to the wrong address so, while I moved into a new space on August 20th, I’m still waiting for full broadband access.

    best of luck with the move.

    Matthew

  7. Stuart Bruce, BMA PR

    Zen, Zen, Zen. We’ve been with them for years. The one downside is that they are more expensive than just about every other provider. The huge upside is fantastic customer service and reliability. Karen has just made me look at other providers to see if any were better, but in the end we decided we couldn’t risk it for a small saving. Our internet connection is too important to risk just to save a few pounds.

    I would advise against Tiscali (know several people who’ve had problems – mainly poor customer service) and my Dad uses Pipex, which also has poor customer service.

    Looking at the number of comments you’ve already had, you’re probably more confused than before you asked the question!

  8. Ian Betteridge

    I’d really back up Stuart’s recommendation for Zen. I was with them for a year, and in that time I didn’t have a second’s downtime. These days, I’m with Be Unlimited, which is fast (24Mb) but has rotten customer service – not recommended unless speed is more important to you than reliability.

  9. neville

    Thanks, everyone, I really appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts.

    So I summarize things based on all your comments –

    Good:
    – Pipex
    – BT
    – Zen
    – Tiscali

    Not good:
    – BT
    – TalkTalk
    – Tiscali

    Pipex and Zen are the only ones which appear only in the ‘good’ ranking. Zen isn’t available in my area, according to the BroadbandChecker website, so that would leave Pipex.

    That’s a good recommendation. Yet I’m still inclined towards BT’s Option 3 because it looks such a good deal compared to others I’ve looked at. However, if your awful experience with BT is typical, Matthew, then that may not be a good idea.

    So it looks like two simple choices – make a (masochistic?) choice or listen to the recommendations.

    I’ll let you know once I get to the UK next week!

  10. james

    Hi nev,
    only just discovered you are moving back to Old Blighty. Innings over here. Why the move?…i guess you explain it somewhere on your blog. It’s been a pleasure knowing you however briefly here in Dam. Good luck…and see you online:) or off. at some conference or another
    james

    ps which wordpress plugin provides the check box “Notify me of follow-up comments via email”?…i want it!

  11. Pam Hobson

    Well Neville,

    I’m looking forward to having you and Laura back in the UK after so many years! As you know I’ve been an ntl customer for the last 5 years for broadband (gave up their very expensive cable option last year and got a Sagem freeview box with 80G hard drive for recording – excellent!). ntl have been very good – no real probs. A friend of mine however recommends http://www.plus.net for broadband, which I’ve not checked out yet. From a home telephone perspective I’ve been a customer of http://www.onetel.co.uk for the last 4 years – also excellent – now owned by Carphonewarehouse.

    Have a safe journey back to the UK!

  12. Corrado Mella

    Hi Nev!
    Sorry you ruled out NTL (now teamed up with Telewest) just for their supposedly poor customer service.
    You don’t have to believe in every word you hear, and all of us had, or was told of, horror stories with every Broadband provider Customer Service.
    Cable broadband is lightening fast, stable, efficient, with a low contention ratio, competitive prices, and – yes – you don’t have to take CableTV or telephone service with it, you can have just the BB.
    I won’t move from my Telewest cable broadband connection for a million dollars.
    Please reconsider your choice, if you are in a cabled area don’t miss the occasion.
    ADSL speed is still a vague promise (UP TO XX MB), while cable IS XX MB (and usually more).
    From big websites and servers, with enough output bandwidth, I get a stable download speed of a 10/15% more than the 4MB download I’m paying for, and my upload speed is 384 KB, with a throughput sometimes reaching 400KB.
    Reliability: in two years of service 99.9999%, 35 minutes of downtime, due to programmed maintenance.
    I’m running four VoIP lines on this connection, sometimes all of them busy, AND surfing and emailing at the same time.
    Wonderland, let me tell you. I’ve been taunted by many ADSL nightmares during my IT consultancies all over Europe, and I know my lesson: wherever there’s cable or optic fibre, ditch the copper.
    Huh, almost forgot: the current maximum speed sold on cable is 10 MB, whereas the technical constraints (local devices and cable modem) are actually capable of 32 MB full duplex without any modification.
    In some UK areas there are trials of 100 MB connections.
    ADSL? Don’t think so.

    Cheers!

  13. David Brain

    NTL should not be in the bad list. . . they should have a list of their own labelled TERRIBLE. I would add Demon to the good list. Pricey, but terrific back-up. You are not short of choices Neville!

  14. Simon Wakeman

    Hi Neville,

    Welcome back!

    We get our telephone and broadband from Talk Talk. The service itself is good, but I haven’t had to contact their customer service. I get the impression it wouldn’t be great, as when I log onto my account on their website it thinks I haven’t yet been connected and keeps sending me welcome emails. So far they’ve sent me two free broadband modems (I told them I didn’t need one as I have a wireless router!).

    Before Talk Talk I got broadband from Nildram – a small business specialist provider – prices were comparable with most larger providers and the customer service was absolutely superb. They answered questions quickly and effectively, and the service itself was very reliable.

    cheers,
    sw

  15. Gerald Baxter

    HI Nev,
    Just saw this. I use BT via the Demon subscription – no problems – excellent customer service (so far!). With Demon you get a whole domain name (unlimited email addresses) – could be useful? Downside is that spammers seem to exploit it as well. http://www.demon.net

  16. neville

    Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts and opinions. Great to hear so many different views on the different providers.

    I had hoped to hear some unanimous opinion about one or two partucular providers, which would make my decision-making a lot easier. Very interesting to hear so many different thoughts. So I am very spoiled for choice, David.

    Re NTL, I didn’t know you’d dropped the cable part, Pam. Apart from all the negative comments I’ve heard about NTL (and the comments have all been negative: not a single positive one), I don’t want to get cable TV service. I’d assumed you had to have the lot. Carrado, you’ve had a good experience so maybe I should not just dismiss NTL out of hand. I’ll chat with you re this, Pam, next week.

    Sebastian, I have only really talked about my UK move on FIR. Couple of times.

    Thanks for your good wishes.

    Meanwhile, back to thinking about broadband providers…

  17. neville

    James, I haven’t talked much about why the move back to the UK, only in general terms here a couple of times and in my podcast.

    New thinking, new ideas, new ventures. More soon.

    I’ve not had a chance yet to email everyone in Amsterdam re my move. Now in the final stages of completing the packing – the movers came yesterday and everything’s gone – so I’m a bit on/offline from my hotel.

    Hope to get a chance to email everyone before Monday, otherwise it will be when I’m in the UK next week.

    Re the plugin, it’s Subscribe to comments.

  18. Anna Farmery

    As a NTL customer I would absolutely say avoid them – the customer service is dreadful, which begs that question of why I don’t change – the hassle. One thing I would say is Virgin who are now a partner of NTL – Fantastic customer service, they normally sort out my NTL issues for me!
    But always check that Virgin provides the broadband engineering support I think they outsource it, a lot of the smaller companies do?
    Anyway, welcome home…good to have talent coming back to the UK.

  19. Manoj Solanki

    Neville,

    What you will find is probably some criticism about all the major service providers. I think a unanimous opinion would be lucky.

    You haven’t specified what you will use your broadband for exactly? If you plan to use it for anything like peer to peer or high data transfer applications, you should be aware that many, if not most of the major providers use traffic management on their networks.

    Often when too much bandwidth is being used, the transfer rate is slowed down, or stopped. It depends on the provider. To be fair, many of them (like Plusnet) do explain that they use traffic management (google for more info) on their network. Just something to be aware of if it applies to you. If you do not plan to do much heavy downloading, then a package with a 2Gb limit would suffice (even if downloading a few songs).

    Good luck.

  20. MHarrison

    Don’t use Tiscali under any circumstances.
    Tech support is awful.
    They throttled my bandwidth without telling me. After about 6 hours over 4 weeks where I was told ‘its a problem with BT line’ I finally managed to speak to an idiot who suggested the FUP. I am certain I hadn’t exceeded it and I definitely did not receive the 3 warning e-mails their terms and conditions say you will get. They revoked the throttling on this basis and I did not use my broadband connection between 6-11pm ( the peak hours ).
    5 days later I get 3 FUP e-mails in quick succession and now I have worse than dial up between 6-11pm despite not exceeding their policy.
    Calling tech support is worse than smashing your head against the wall and hitting it with a hammer at the same time.

    Avoid them like the plague !!

  21. Wolfeymole

    I am with Pipex on a 4mb 2gb package and during the day it is superb but at night, well it’s hell on earth.
    Disconnections happen on average every 30 minutes and as we spaek I am waiting for a call from them regarding this outrageous service.
    Apparently they have been in discussion with BT as to who’s at fault, them or BT but I said how is it BT as it’s ok during the day.
    I can appreciate traffic and a drop in speed perhaps but not cut offs every half hour.
    DON’T GET PIPEX.

  22. Dick Cheney

    I’ve been on internet since the early days of demon and have been through many ISPs, as have my friends. With the cheaper ISPs like Tiscali, you can be lucky and get a good service but if you have problems, you are stuffed – the customer service is often appalling. The 3 to look at for good service are Zen, Pipex and Demon. They cost a bit more but are rock solid and the customer service is excellent. Demon, for example, is moving all customers to 8 Mb/s service currently and there is a 10 day period while the connections stabilise. Pipex have an unlimited 8 Mb/s service available now with fixed IP for 25 quid/month. Zen are good but capped now – I am lucky to have an existing uncapped account with them. BT tends to be a bit overpriced and the service not so good – I avoid them on principle.

  23. Surreal disconnect at NevilleHobson.com

    […] As I write these words at just before 2pm, there is still no net. That’s about six hours from when I reported the fault to my broadband service provider, NTL. Whatever anyone says about NTL support (and many people say pretty bad things), my experience in the very few times I’ve had to call them has generally been pretty good. […]

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