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Regular Broadband-related news and comment from the Broadband.co.uk team.

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Openreach connecting rural areas

Over three million rural homes set to get full fibre broadband

Posted on 2020-08-03 16:06 in News

Millions of extra homes in rural regions are set to be upgraded to full fibre broadband over the next three years.

Openreach have unveiled plans to extend their gigabit-capable broadband network to a further 3.2 million properties across 251 market towns and villages.

It forms part of a £12 billion investment they've already committed to upgrade the network for another 20 million homes by the middle of the decade.

BT-owned Openreach provide the broadband infrastructure for most of the major broadband suppliers. The areas they're targetting in the latest announcement are in the so-called 'final third' of the country, the regions most at risk of being left behind as the UK moves towards faster broadband.

Many of these places still only have spotty internet coverage. The extra expense of installing new technology in more remote areas, coupled with a smaller population using it, makes them less cost effective for providers. Around 2% of UK properties are unable to access services of 10Mb.

The new locations are across the whole of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, from Penryn in Cornwall up to Thurso in the Scottish Highlands. You can find out if your town is on the list here.

Work is expected to get under way in the next 12-18 months.

Industry regulator Ofcom have proposed changes to their own rules to help make Openreach's plan financially viable. They will allow BT to recover their investment costs from their customers (the networks) through a wider range of services, including the new fibre services and the older copper ones.

Upgrading UK broadband was a major policy for the Conservatives in the last General Election. They pledged £5 billion towards the works - again with a focus on the less competitive regions - and wanter to deliver nationwide gigabit broadband within five years. This is likely to include 5G as well as fibre. The public money will come in addition to Openreach's investment.

Around 12% of properties throughout the UK currently have access to full fibre broadband, and the country ranks outside the top 30 for broadband speeds worldwide. While the promised upgrade was long overdue, it's potentially even more urgent now given the likely rise in the number of people who will be permanently working from home.

Good news, then, for rural communities. But it's still some way off. In the meantime, if you're out in the country and struggling with poor internet access, take a look at our rural broadband guide to find out what are your best options.

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Out of contract customers

Out of contract broadband users to save £270 million a year

Posted on 2020-07-31 12:08 in News Sky BT Plusnet EE Virgin Media TalkTalk

Coming to the end of your broadband contract? You could be set to take your share of a £270 million saving following a new agreement between Ofcom and some of the industry's biggest brands.

The deal will see EE, Plusnet and Sky join BT, TalkTalk and Virgin Media in cutting prices for vulnerable customers when their contract ends.

On top of that, EE, Plusnet, Sky, BT and TalkTalk have also all agreed to make New Customer pricing available to their existing users when they upgrade. It guarantees them access to the most attractive deals.

The changes will result in price cuts worth £270 million each year for the UK's nearly nine million out-of-contract customers, slashing the half a billion pound excess they normally pay.

The measures are the latest part of the industry watchdog's ongoing plan to ensure that everyone gets the best deal on their broadband by avoiding the often hefty price rises that follow when a user's initial contract period ends.

The benefits of signing a new deal or switching providers are well known. Yet as many as 40% of all users are still on an out-of-contract deal, paying an average of £56 a year more than they should be.

Ofcom found that Virgin Media have the highest proportion of out-of-contract users, at a massive 61%. Sky and Plusnet are also above average, with 42% still on old deals.

But EE's out-of-contract customers pay the most, at an average of £7.90 extra each month - or nearly £95 per year.

Research shows that older and vulnerable users are the least likely to switch, so they've been a large focus of Ofcom's campaign. Only last week they called on the industry to treat vulnerable people - including those with disabilities, health or financial problems - more fairly, to identify them more quickly, and to increase staff training.

Ofcom say that around a million vulnerable customers should save as much as £70 each per year as a result of these new rules.

Don't pay more than you need to

Other Ofcom rules came into force in February that require your broadband supplier to contact you when your deal ends. They now need to tell you how much you'll be paying if you remain on the same deal, compared to what you could pay if you took on a new contract. But you still need to act on it.

Even if you're happy with your current supplier, you shouldn't simply remain on your old deal. Do that, and the price will go up. If you're willing to sign a new contract with them you'll be able to get a much better price. You might even get other perks, too, like a new router, a speed guarantee, extra data on your mobile plan, and so on.

If you're open minded about switching, use our postcode checker to see what broadband deals are available in your area. Prices rise by as much as 50% when your contract ends, so you should be able to find a far better price than what you would pay if you did nothing.

Make sure you factor in the value of rewards like cashback. And remember that this is also your chance to bring several services together in a single bundle. Getting TV, mobile and landline calls from one provider will often bag you a better deal than if you get them all from different companies.

Sound like a plan? Then compare then best broadband deals now.

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A laptop displaying a no internet message

How to fix your broadband when it goes down

Posted on 2020-07-24 16:58 in Features

Broadband problems hit everyone from time to time. No matter how good your service, or how reliable your provider, you will occasionally find that you are unable to connect to the internet.

There can be countless reasons why it happens. Maybe it's a problem with your ISP, or your phone line. Or maybe it's your own hardware that's at fault.

So how do you identify the cause, so that you can fix it? Here's a checklist of things to work through when your broadband goes down.

1. Check the service status

First up, grab your phone and jump online to check if your broadband provider has a problem. If it's a major provider and a widespread problem it'll probably be in the news. But most providers also have a service status page on their website that flags up any ongoing issues (see, for example, BT, Plusnet, Sky, or Virgin Media). If you're a Twitter user it's also worth following the support page for your provider so that you catch any announcements, or can easily report problems.

2. Is it a hardware problem?

If that seems to be okay, then check whether the problem is with your own hardware. If your laptop or set-top box can't connect but your phone or tablet can, try rebooting the problematic device. Failing that, try removing the Wi-Fi connection from the device, then reconnecting from scratch. (Also, have you installed any software recently that could interfere with your connection, like security software?)

3. Reboot your router

When the problem isn't device specific, reboot your router. This will force the router to try and reconnect to the internet, and will hopefully fix any problems with the Wi-Fi signal as well. If you know how to log in to your router's dashboard - or it comes with a companion app - you can do the reset on your phone or laptop. But it might just be easier to press the little reset button on the back of the router instead. The process can take a couple of minutes, so be patient.

4. Check the router connection

Still no joy? Check whether you're still connected to the router itself. If the Wi-Fi icon on your computer or phone shows a connection then you're okay - although do make sure you're connected to the right network if you've got more than one in the nearby area. If the icon shows no connection then you're looking at a Wi-Fi problem. Try a wired connection between your router and laptop if you've got a suitable cable (you might need a USB adapter as well, since modern laptops don't tend to have ethernet ports). When the wired connection works and the wireless one doesn't it would indicate that your router is at fault. It was probably supplied by your ISP, so give them a call. They'll be able to do some tests and replace it if necessary.

5. Check the router and phone line

If the router's working but you still can't get online, it's worth quickly checking that it's all still set up properly. Make sure that it's plugged in to your phone socket properly, and that the micro-filters are in place. This is unlikely to be the cause unless you've been moving it around recently. Also, use a landline phone to see if your phone line is still working.

6. Contact your broadband provider

With all that done, and still no sign of a fault on the service page, it's time to give your provider a call. The fault can have many causes. It could be a problem with your own connection, and they may be able to fix it remotely or you might need a visit from an engineer. Or it might be a wider issue, like with your street cabinet. At this point, keep an eye on your provider's downtime policy - you should be eligible for a refund or compensation if the fault isn't fixed within two working days.

As we said, broadband problems will affect everyone from time to time. But if you have ongoing problems with your provider, then read up on your rights and how to complain.

And at some point you might decide it's time to switch, and start shopping for a new broadband supplier.

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How to claim your free broadband rewards

How to claim your free broadband rewards

Posted on 2020-07-17 16:26 in Features BT John Lewis Plusnet EE Virgin Media Sky NOW Broadband TalkTalk

A lot of broadband suppliers offer freebies to tempt you to sign up, and some of them are really worth having. They can range from cashback and bill credit, to shopping vouchers, and sometimes even tech gadgets. They change all the time, so if you're on the hunt for a new deal it's worth keeping an eye out for what's around.

But the important thing to remember is that you very often have to claim your reward separately. And you normally only get a short window in which to do so - miss it and you'll miss out!

We've got a full guide to broadband rewards and free gifts if you want to know more. Or if you just want to know how to claim your swag for many of the main providers, here's what you need to do.

How to claim Plusnet rewards

Plusnet regularly offer cashback, gift cards and reward cards to new customers. They'll send you an email within 10 days of your signing up with a link to claim your reward. You then need to claim it within two months, and should get it around 10 days later.

How to claim BT rewards

A lot of BT Broadband deals include a BT Reward Card as their special offer. This is preloaded with a cash sum that you can spend in most places that accept Mastercard payments. You can claim up to three months after your broadband is activated, and it should arrive within 30 days. Visit https://www.bt.com/manage/bt-reward-card/ to start your claim.

How to claim Sky Broadband rewards

Sky Broadband offer a range of sweeteners at various times, including a pre-paid Mastercard and high street vouchers. You get 90 days to claim your reward. If you're eligible, head over to sky.com/claim and log in with your Sky ID to start the process.

How to claim John Lewis Broadband rewards

Rewards from John Lewis Broadband include e-gift cards that can be spent at John Lewis or Waitrose. You don't need to claim this one - it should be sent via email within 60 days of the activation of your broadband service, so keep an eye on your inbox.

How to claim NOW Broadband rewards

NOW Broadband don't offer as many extra perks as other providers, but when they do have them they'll send the info on how to claim via email. You should get this within two weeks of your service being activated.

How to claim EE rewards

EE Broadband regularly offer cashback or Amazon gift cards as a reward for signing up. If you're eligible for one of the gift cards you'll be sent an email with instructions on how to claim it after your broadband goes live.

How to claim TalkTalk rewards

When TalkTalk offer rewards, they're normally either e-gift cards for specific stores or vouchers to be spent on the high street. Look out for an email with all the details, and you should receive your reward within 90 days of activation.

How to claim Virgin Media rewards

Virgin Media rewards can include bill credit, tech products or even wine, and you don't normally have to claim. The credit will be applied to your bill automatically, and any free gift will be sent out within 28 days of installation of your Virgin service.

To see what free gifts are available right now, take a look at the best broadband deals available today.

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Elderly gentleman on a laptop

Over 55s most likely to be hit by broadband price hikes

Posted on 2020-07-07 16:46 in Features Zen

If there's one thing we recommend above everything else it's that you should never stay on your old broadband deal once your contract has ended.

Now a new study from Zen Broadband has shown that people over 55 are the most likely to do exactly that - and they're leaving themselves open to being hit with massive price hikes.

The survey shows that 83% of over-55s haven't switched broadband providers in the last year, and in some cases have never switched at all. This contrasts to the under-24s who are much happier to shop around for a better deal - over half have moved to a new provider in the last 12 months alone.

Data from industry watchdog Ofcom shows that some 25 thousand people come to the end of their broadband deal every day. Anyone who remains on that same deal will be hit by an immediate price rise of as much as 60% as the introductory price they were offered comes to an end. And that's followed by further annual - and sometimes even mid-year - increases.

If you don't take action when your contract ends you can easily wind up wasting hundreds of pounds a year. It's estimated that as many as nine million of us are paying too much.

Ofcom changed the rules earlier this year to try and address the problem. Your broadband provider now has to contact you when your contract is coming to an end to let you know how much the price is about to go up, and to show you what better deals they've got to offer. The changes came into force in February, so it's still too early to know what impact they've had.

So why aren't people switching? The Zen survey shows that apathy plays a part for around a third of people. But the biggest worry for non-switchers - 43% of the over 55 group - is that they'll end up with a worse service if they move to another provider.

If you share this concern, it's worth remembering that you don't actually have to change ISPs to get a cheaper deal. At the very least you should give your existing provider a call to negotiate a better price. Have a look at what other providers are offering first, so you know the going rate, and you'll find that they'll be more than happy to give you something better in return for you committing yourself to them for another year or two.

You can also check out our customer reviews to get an idea of the kind of service you'll receive from all the main broadband suppliers.

You'll get the best deals if you're willing to change broadband suppliers, and switching is a lot easier than you might think. In most cases (the main exception being if you're moving from or to Virgin Media) your new provider will handle the entire process for you. The survey revealed that nearly half of those asked found the process easier than expected, and a huge 89% believed they had benefited from making the switch.

Are you coming to the end of your contract soon? Why not use our postcode checker to find the best broadband deals available in your area today. In just a few minutes you could easily save yourself £150 or more this year.

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A family using the internet

Internet use is soaring - is your broadband good enough to keep up?

Posted on 2020-06-29 17:03 in News SSE Virgin Media Vodafone BT TalkTalk Plusnet

The average Brit is now spending over four hours a day online, according to a new Ofcom study.

The industry watchdog's latest Online Nation report shows that a combination of factors have caused internet use to surge to record levels, up by almost an hour a day in less than two years.

Inevitably, the coronavirus lockdown was part of the cause - the Zoom video conferencing app, for instance, has grown by nearly 2000%, from 659 thousand UK users to over 13 million in just four months. But it's not just that. The popularity of streaming services continues to grow, plus there's the emergence of video sharing sites like Twitch and TikTok. The latter has moved well beyond its initial teen user base, with 12.9 million UK adults now joining in.

Even as the lockdown begins to ease, it's unlikely that our online activity is going to decline. So the question is, is your broadband connection up to the demands of this "new normal"?

Signs that your service might be struggling include:

  • Downtime - we know that the internet infrastructure held up remarkably well during the lockdown, but if your connection keeps dropping, or you're being left without service for hours at a time, it's often a sign that it might be time to look elsewhere.
  • Slow downloads or uploads - your download and upload speeds will slow down when you've got more people sharing your connection at the same time. Speed problems can be especially noticeable when your usage patterns change - like when you're working from home and sharing large files or connecting to your office server.
  • Poor video performance - nothing ruins a boxset binge more than buffering, or even just seeing the picture quality plummet. Both are signs that your broadband can't keep up with the demands of your chosen streaming TV service.
  • Laggy gaming or video calls - speed problems can also ruin the picture or sound quality in your video calls, and render online games unplayable. Occasional lag is to be expected, but if you keep seeing it it might be time for an upgrade.

The best broadband upgrades

So what should you look for in an upgrade? Try and prioritise what you need. That could be a faster service generally, or more specifically faster uploads. Or perhaps a more reliable service, or better customer support.

The obvious upgrade, if you haven't already made it, is to go from standard broadband to fibre. An entry level fibre deal will triple your download speed and should only cost a few pounds extra each month. If you're upgrading to a new deal with your existing provider you might even be able to negotiate a better offer. Plusnet and SSE currently offer the cheapest fibre broadband deals.

The next step is from the basic fibre (around 36Mb) to the higher end fibre, with speeds around 63Mb. Vodafone and TalkTalk have the cheapest deals at this faster speed.

If even that isn't enough, you can get over 100Mb speeds from a number of ISPs. The most widely available are from Virgin Media, who offer speeds up to 516Mb on average. Other big name providers like Vodafone and BT also offer ultrafast packages, but only in certain areas. These faster speeds will give you much better upload speeds as well as downloads.

If reliability and customer service are a bigger priority, the best way to check what you can expect from each provider is to read their customer reviews. Dig into our thousands of reviews for help on deciding your next move.

Ready to start shopping for a new internet deal? Use our postcode checker to find the best broadband offers where you live.

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Watching football on TV

How to watch the Premier League season when it restarts

Posted on 2020-06-16 17:08 in News Features Virgin Media Sky BT NOW Broadband

After a three month delay the Premier League season is finally set to return. It kicks off again on 17 June with a double header including the Man City - Arsenal game. With no fans allowed in the stadiums, all the remaining 92 matches will be shown live on TV, across a mix of free-to-air and premium channels.

Here's how you can watch.

How to watch Premier League games for free

For the first time ever, Premier League games will be shown live on free-to-air TV. There will be 33 free matches in all, spread across three channels.

BBC: The BBC will be showing four matches, starting with Bournemouth vs Crystal Palace on 20 June. The Beeb will also have their usual FA Cup coverage when the competition resumes on 27 June.

Amazon: Amazon have also got four games, which begin with Palace against Burnley on 29 June. You'll be able to watch these even if you aren't a Prime subscriber (although you probably will need a normal Amazon account).

Pick: The remaining 25 free games are on the Pick channel. "What is Pick?", you ask. Good question! It's a channel owned by Sky that you can watch for free on every platform. You'll find it on Freeview channel 11, Freesat channel 144, Sky channel 159 and Virgin Media channel 165.

Don't assume that it's just the less fashionable games that will be available for free. Pick will be showing the Merseyside derby on Sunday 21 June, which could be the night that Liverpool are finally confirmed as champions.

How to watch Premier League football on Sky Sports and BT Sport

If the free coverage isn't enough for you, now's the perfect time to subscribe to a premium sports channel. If you've got broadband from the likes of Sky or BT you should be able to add the channels to your existing deal, or you could even consider switching providers and making a saving on a bundle.

Sky Sports have got 39 exclusive matches (they'll also be showing the games on Pick), which begins with Aston Villa vs Sheffield Utd at 6pm on 17 June. They've got the pick of the big fixtures. They will also be covering the Championship, currently slated to resume on 20 June.

BT Sport will be showing 20 games - 12 more than they originally had - with the first seeing Watford take on Leicester at 12.30pm on 20 June. They've also got the rights to the Champions League, although there's no date yet for when that will come back.

There are four main ways to sign up to watch Premier League football on Sky Sports and BT Sport.

Sky: The most obvious way to get Sky Sports is direct from Sky, via a dish, and you can add BT Sport to your package as well. You can sign up to Sky regardless of what internet provider you use, although you should be able to save on your monthly bill by taking it as part of a bundle with Sky broadband.

Take a look at the latest Sky broadband and TV bundles.

BT: BT now offer a full BT TV service to their broadband customers. This gives you a choice of channel packages, with the sports offerings including BT Sport along with all the Sky Sports channels streamed through NOW TV. What we like about BT TV is that even though you have to take a 24 month contract, your choice of channels is flexible. So, you can sign up for the football now, then when the season ends you can switch to a movie package instead.

Check out the best BT broadband and TV bundles.

Virgin Media: You can get Sky Sports and BT Sport through Virgin Media both as a standalone service or as part of a bundle with Virgin Media broadband. Virgin offer some of the fastest broadband plans that are widely available, with speeds up to an average of 516Mb.

See the latest Virgin Media broadband and TV bundles.

NOW TV: With the streaming service NOW TV you can watch Sky Sports without a dish. It can work out a little more expensive than getting it through Sky, but that's because you don't need a contract - you can cancel at any time. NOW TV doesn't offer BT Sport. You can make further savings by getting the service with a NOW Broadband bundle.

Check the latest NOW Broadband deals.

Upcoming games

So now you're ready for a feast of summer football. Matches take place throughout the week, at a range of kick-off times:

  • Monday: 8pm
  • Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday: 6pm, 8.15pm
  • Friday: 6pm, 8.15pm
  • Saturday: 12:30pm, 3pm, 5:30pm, 7.45pm
  • Sunday: 12pm, 2pm, 4:30pm, 7pm

About a third of the schedule has been announced so far. Here's the list of games, and where you can find them:

  • Wednesday 17 June

    Aston Villa v Sheffield United (18:00), Sky

    Manchester City v Arsenal (20:15), Sky

  • Friday 19 June

    Norwich v Southampton (18:00), Sky and Pick

    Tottenham v Manchester United (20:15), Sky

  • Saturday 20 June

    Watford v Leicester City (12:30), BT

    Brighton v Arsenal (15:00), BT

    West Ham v Wolves (17:30), Sky

    AFC Bournemouth v Crystal Palace (19:45), BBC

  • Sunday 21 June

    Newcastle v Sheffield United (14:00), Sky and Pick

    Aston Villa v Chelsea (16:15), Sky

    Everton v Liverpool (19:00), Sky and Pick

  • Monday 22 June

    Manchester City v Burnley (20:00), Sky

  • Tuesday 23 June

    Leicester v Brighton (18:00), Sky

    Tottenham v West Ham (20:15), Sky

  • Wednesday 24 June

    Manchester United v Sheffield United (18:00), Sky and Pick

    Newcastle v Aston Villa (18:00), BT

    Wolves v AFC Bournemouth (18:00), BT

    Norwich v Everton (18:00), BBC

    Liverpool v Crystal Palace (20:15), Sky

  • Thursday 25 June

    Burnley v Watford (18:00), Sky and Pick

    Southampton v Arsenal (18:00), Sky

    Chelsea v Manchester City (20:15), BT

  • Saturday 27 June

    Aston Villa v Wolves (12:30), BT

  • Sunday 28 June

    Watford v Southampton (16:30), Sky and Pick

  • Monday 29 June

    Crystal Palace v Burnley (20:00), Amazon

  • Tuesday 30 June

    Brighton v Manchester United (20:15), Sky and Pick

  • Wednesday 1 July

    AFC Bournemouth v Newcastle (18:00), Sky and Pick

    Arsenal v Norwich (18:00), BT

    Everton v Leicester (18:00), Sky

    West Ham v Chelsea (20:15), Sky

  • Thursday 2 July

    Sheffield United v Tottenham (18:00), Sky

    Manchester City v Liverpool (20:15), Sky

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Impact of coronavirus on UK broadband

How well has UK broadband held up during the lockdown?

Posted on 2020-05-18 16:49 in Features

As expected, the UK's broadband network has held up pretty well in the face of the massive surge in demand caused by the coronavirus lockdown.

Despite a few high profile blips, most notably from Virgin Media and Sky Broadband, the network has been untroubled by the new normal of remote working, home schooling and daily PE lessons.

There has been a small impact. Download speeds have dropped by an average of 2%, and upload speeds by 1%, but neither is enough that you'd notice unless you're actively measuring your provider's performance on a regular basis.

Our own speed test figures for April show that the decline equated to less than 2Mb on average.

This impact of Covid-19 on broadband has been studied in a report by Ofcom. The industry watchdog installed modified routers in 1950 homes to get a clear picture of what was happening, and you can read it all in their latest UK Home Broadband Performance report.

Among the main effects of the lockdown were:

  • Download speeds started to decline around the middle of March, as more people began staying at home. The decline slowed from the 23rd of the month after Netflix reduced their video streaming quality.
  • Speeds during working hours fell by around 1-2%, with a slightly bigger drop during peak evening hours.
  • Virgin Media was the worst affected, with their average download speeds dropping by 6% at 8pm, and their upload speeds falling by over 4% between 3pm and 5pm. However, the faster speeds they offer on their services mean that customers would still be unlikely to be overly inconvenienced.
  • Netflix speeds were 4% lower before 6pm, likely due to increased use by kids off school, but 1% higher than usual in the evening - as a result of the lower streaming quality Netflix put in place.
  • Facebook, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Twitter all saw an increase in latency of up to 4%, meaning slightly slower connections to the services, or potentially a little more lag in video calls.

On the whole, the impact is encouragingly slight, given the way broadband usage has rocketed during the last couple of months. BT figures showed that daytime use soared by more than 60% in the first week after the restrictions were put in place.

While things are starting to ease a little, it looks as though the lockdown will be with us for some time yet. If you have any questions about broadband during the pandemic - whether about working from home, switching providers or keeping yourself entertained - you'll find the answers in our ongoing coronavirus series:

Graph source: Ofcom, using data provided by SamKnows. Graph shows the percentage change between week closing 2 March 2020 and week closing 23 March 2020; higher values are better; results are derived from tests to SamKnows' off-net London servers using 3 parallel TCP sessions for 10 seconds.

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The best broadband for older people

The best broadband for older users

Posted on 2020-05-12 16:56 in Features EE Sky BT Zen

For lots of us, the internet is a major source of entertainment, or a tool that enables us to work from home. For millions of older people it's a lifeline, the main way to keep in touch with the family, and interact with the outside world at a time when this is otherwise not possible. A good broadband service is vital.

So whether you're shopping for yourself, or seeking out broadband for an elderly parent, what are the priorities you need to look out for?

Reliability and support

We're all a lot more reliant on online shopping at the moment, especially snagging those all too scarce supermarket delivery slots. For a lot of older people renewing prescriptions, managing state pensions, paying the TV license, and lots of other things are important online activities, too.

For this reason, reliability is perhaps the most important point to consider. You need a broadband service that works whenever you need it, and also one that won't cut you off when you hit a data limit. These limits are fortunately quite scarce now, though if you're shopping at the budget end of the market you might still encounter them.

Customer service is also important. If you do experience any problems you need to be confident that your provider will fix them as quickly as possible.

Our Customer Reviews page contains feedback and ratings from thousands of broadband users. It's an ideal way to find out what kind of service each provider offers, and what problems you might face with them. Right now, Zen Broadband top the list for customer satisfaction, although if you'd be more comfortable with a mainstream brand EE rate well, gaining the lowest level of complaints according to a recent Ofcom study.

Speed

Speed might be less important for a lot of older users, but it really depends on what they want to do online.

There's no one-size-fits-all solution. For every older person who is a reluctant technology user, you'll find others who are enthusiastic online shoppers and Facebook posters, alongside those happily working their way through the Netflix catalogue.

There are options for all groups. Anyone who receives pension credit and has minimal internet needs can apply for the BT Basic + Broadband plan. It's cheap, but comes with a very low data allowance so isn't suitable for anything more than the absolute basics.

Beyond that, a basic standard broadband package - which uses a BT phone line - will usually work out the cheapest. It's fine for simple things like email, browsing and shopping, as well as for video calls with the family. It's worth considering if you're in a one computer household. A basic fibre deal, which is faster and allows for a wider range of uses including watching TV, as well as more simultaneous users, typically starts at around £5 a month extra.

Phone calls and TV

The extras you can take with a broadband deal are also important to consider. Most broadband services need a phone line - with line rental included in the price - and many providers give the option to buy a call plan as part of the deal. The plans on offer usually allow a choice of either unlimited calls during evenings and weekends, or unlimited calls anytime.

These can be tempting during a time when staying in touch with family is so important, but don't assume it's a must-have. If you don't take a call plan you'll still be able to make calls. You just pay for them at a rate of a few pence per minute, just like we always used to.

Some providers, especially Sky, also offer pay TV as well, include sports and movie channels. In some cases, though you might be able to get these channels cheaper elsewhere.

Price and contract length

And then there's the price and contract length, and the two often go hand in hand: sign up to a longer deal and you can shave a few pounds off your monthly bill. Anything shorter than 12 months is likely to cost you quite a bit more, while longer than that leaves you at risk of being stuck with a service you're not totally happy with.

Our price comparison guide will help you find the best broadband prices, and identify those deals that are within your budget. Make sure you check the 1st Year Cost column to see how much you'll pay in the initial 12 months - this includes those easy to overlook extras like postage or a setup fee.

Ready to start shopping for broadband? Use our postcode checker to find the best broadband deals available in your area today.

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A family making a video call

How to keep in touch with older relatives during the coronavirus outbreak

Posted on 2020-05-04 16:37 in Features

While it's important for all of us to keep in touch with family and friends during the coronavirus outbreak, it's especially important to check in with older relatives, friends and neighbours to make sure that they're okay. They're most at risk of becoming isolated, and they may have to live with the lockdown for longer.

Fortunately, video calling has made it a whole lot easier to stay in touch. It may sound like a daunting prospect to older people who aren't confident with technology, but it doesn't need to be.

If they've got a smartphone, tablet or laptop, then there are loads of free apps to try, from services that most of them probably already use. Or if that's too much, you can set them up with a video chat device that requires no tech know-how at all.

Video chat software

The easiest options for video calling are by using services that everyone already has access to. If you and the person you're calling use Apple devices, then this is likely to mean FaceTime. If not, then most people have a Facebook or Google account - or both - and both offer their own video chat services.

You can use Facebook Messenger through a dedicated app on your phone, or with the webcam on a laptop, just by logging in to your account in the Chrome or Microsoft Edge browser as you normally would. You can chat with up to 50 people at once, so it's ideal for virtual family get togethers.

Likewise, Google Duo runs in most browsers as long as you're signed in to your account, and it should also be pre-installed on every Android phone or tablet. Up to 12 people can join in a call, and you just need their Google address or phone number to invite them. If you need more than 12 people, take a look at Google Meet. This is primarily a business tool for video conferencing, but Google are now making it free for everyone. You can add up to 100 people to your call, and chat for an hour.

If the person you're calling has a smartphone or tablet, then WhatsApp is another good choice to look into. You - and the people you're calling - will need to install the app from the app store, but the setup process is minimal. When you first launch WhatsApp you just need to register your phone number by entering a short code you'll be sent by text. After that, you're good to go. Just tap the green Chat icon in the bottom right corner, select a contact or create a new group to start a group chat, then hit the Video Call button to begin.

And then there's Zoom, which has become one of the big names in video chat during the lockdown. Similar to Google Meet, you can add up to 100 people to your call, and chat for 40 minutes at a time. It's pretty easy to get started with. The person who starts and hosts the call will need to create a Zoom account first, and can then invite people to join by sending them a link or code via email or text message. People joining the chat don't even need to create an account, although they will have to install the Zoom app on their laptop or phone first.

Video chat hardware

Even easier than using software on your phone or laptop is using dedicated hardware. These devices tend to be plug and play, so once you're connected and logged in there's no other configuration needed. They're ideal for less tech-savvy users - especially if you set it up yourself before you give it to them.

You've probably seen the TV ads for Facebook Portal, which is a series of tablet-style video calling devices starting with an eight-inch model priced at £129. Portal is easy to set up - you just need to connect it to your Wi-Fi network and log in to your Facebook account - and then it's ready to use. The best thing is that it works with WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger as well, so not everyone on the chat needs to buy the hardware to join in the fun.

Google have their own equivalent in the form of the Google Nest Hub Max, albeit at a pricier £219. This is part digital photo frame, part hands-free Google Assistant smart speaker, part home security system, and part video calling device. It works with Google Duo for the latter, which, as we've seen, comes on every Android phone and is also available as an iPhone or iPad app.

And there's also Amazon's Echo Show, which is the most affordable option, starting at £79.99 for a 5.5 inch model. This combines the Alexa smart speaker tools with the ability to make video calls to any device with the Alexa app installed - this could be another Echo device, an Amazon Fire HD tablet, or an iPhone or Android phone running the app. What makes this especially user friendly is that when you buy it you can have it automatically set up with your Amazon account details, and even linked to your Wi-Fi network in some cases.

The right broadband for video calls

Video calling doesn't require very much bandwidth, so is usable even on slower broadband plans. The quality of the video drops to a level that is right for your broadband speed.

But if you, or a family member, are becoming more reliant on video calling as well as things like TV streaming or getting used to the demands of working from home, it may be a good time to consider upgrading your broadband to something faster. Use our postcode checker to find the best broadband deals in your area today.

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