Which broadband provider in the UK?
July 29, 2008 4:30 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone have any particular recommendations/condemnations of UK broadband providers?

I use the internet a lot so I'd like to avoid capped packages or those that employ "traffic shaping". I don't watch television or use a landline but I'm happy to consider providers that include these services.

I'd like a decent speed (2Mb min) connection and I'm not fussy about IPv6 support or dynamic vs fixed IPs. I've already got a (wireless) router, but I don't own a modem so a degree of flexibility here would be good. I'm actually moving house, rather than just changing suppliers so LLU costs aren't important.
posted by alby to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you're going to go down the ADSL route, find out what speed you're actually going to get, as opposed to the 'up to 8Mb' or whatever the provider offers you.

I made the awful mistake of switching from NTL(Virgin) cable to a Sky package. Here's the story of that:

I got my BT line reconnected and the modem arrived from Sky very quickly and everything was set up and ready to go... and that's where it all spiralled downhill. I was getting an average speed of about 0.5Mb, which gradually tapered off to zero over a period of ten minutes. At that point I had to go downstairs and reset the modem. After a while I thought 'this is wrong' and got in touch with their support. They really had no idea and didn't resolve the issue. The next day the modem just stopped working. So back to tech support; they told me they'd send a new modem out within five days. Five days? I had a business to run. I tried my own ADSL modem, but it seems Sky's broadband service is 'locked in' to their own custom hardware. So I had no choice but to switch back to my old cable connection - NTL had it up and running again within 30 minutes. So after over two weeks I get my replacement Sky modem - and it's as bad as the first one. I call them to cancel and ask for a refund, but apparently I've been a subscriber for more than eight days, so I'm locked into a contract for 12 months. End result: I end up paying a 12 month subscription for something unusable, writing to customer services is a dead end, and when I cancel the subscription at the end of a year they try to foist a further month's fees on me because of a '30 day notice period'.

Short version: Avoid Sky. NTL/Virgin's cable service isn't too bad. Sites such as Broadband Checker may be useful.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 4:45 AM on July 29, 2008

i would recommend www.aquiss.com been using them for a while and they are fantastic
posted by moochoo at 4:46 AM on July 29, 2008

We use be and have no complaints, and we're very high bandwidth users.
posted by goo at 4:51 AM on July 29, 2008

We're using Virgin (NTL really) ADSL now. We've been sold 8MBS and since we can throw a rock and hit the BT exchange (ah, another plus for ghetto life!) we're getting 6.5MBS pretty consistently, contention issues aside. Have seen 7MBS a few times, but not often.

They recently start traffic shaping. We had a few back and forths with them on this issue, as it was unannounced and resulted in us losing high speed service. Their shaping (for ADSL customers) is backward looking, runs from Monday to Sunday and if you are in the top 5% of usage then the next week going forward you're capped to 750Kps during the "peak" period of 4PM to 12AM.

DNS is very slow, so much so that about one year ago I switched to OpenDNS. Wife did the same recently as NTL hasn't fixed those recent security holes (random port numbers / DNS cache poisoning).

Every now and then they'll have connectivity issues into Asia (Hong Kong). They do fix those problems very quickly - never seem to last longer than ten to fifteen minutes the time it starts until its over. As I've got three linux boxes co-located in Hong Kong and sometimes I'm dropping large files I notice these problems when more than likely most folks wouldn't - they probably wouldn't impact browsing, for example.

I've heard rumours they mess about with Torrents, but I don't have any direct knowledge of that (we keep a second flat in Amsterdam and do all our Torrenting from Netherlands, just dragging across completed images to the UK).

Previously customer support was a pay call but they've stopped that free now.

So largely positive (and no contract!). Works and works well.
posted by Mutant at 4:52 AM on July 29, 2008

I also use Be after doing quite a bit of research on this. They do LLU so its not just some BT re-branding.

I've been really happy with them so far. No caps. I usually get 10-12 Mbps.
posted by vacapinta at 5:06 AM on July 29, 2008

I recently switched from Plus.net to O2 broadband, largely because I have a mobile phone with them and get a good discount - but even without that they're better value, with an up-to-16Mb connection for £15 a month. Only had it for a couple of weeks, but so far so good. O2 has ADSL2 which is supposed to be better, and much faster upload speeds; no cap.

You're unlikely ever to get the maximum speed the providers claim, mind: 'up to 8mbps' has never been more than 6 in my experience; so far 'up to 16' means 'between 9 and 11'. Another issue to consider is the contention ratio (how many people you share your exchange with) - Plus.net's is apparently 50:1; I read somewhere that it doesn't apply to O2, though I'm not sure if that's true.
posted by hatmandu at 5:15 AM on July 29, 2008

I should have mentioned I'm currently with Virgin Media, but don't want to be in the future because of their collusion with Phorm and the BPI and their aforementioned traffic shaping escapades.
posted by alby at 5:56 AM on July 29, 2008

Should be mentioned that O2 bought Be but they're still letting them operate independently. I assume they're using the same infrastructure, though.
posted by vacapinta at 6:02 AM on July 29, 2008

Zen Internet have been good. I have a Zen 8000 Pro account with them. Not the cheapest ISP on the planet but rock solid reliable and very responsive when problems do crop up. Excellent speeds. There is a cap on my account but it is 50 GB per month.
posted by Dr.Pill at 7:02 AM on July 29, 2008

O2 Broadband and Be use the same infrastructure and O2 tend to be cheaper albeit with a 12-month contract. I've been using O2 for 6 months and couldn't be happier - good speeds, good support, no caps or taffic shaping, reasonable prices and no Phorm evilness. Use Quidco to get £20-odd cashback as well.

Used to use Pipex but they rapidly went downhill after being bought by Tiscali.
posted by HaloMan at 7:06 AM on July 29, 2008

Another vote for Be, they're really good.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:36 AM on July 29, 2008

I've been pretty happy with Tiscali's service over the last few years, but I think they're one of the companies that's been moaning about the impact of the BBC iPlayer and are using traffic shaping. (One of my less techie friends recently switched to them from Virgin and was very impressed by their at-home setup.)
posted by davemack at 10:18 AM on July 29, 2008

Yet another vote for Be. Btw, if someone recommends you to Be then you'll get free connection and they'll get a free month (and I'm not saying that you have to do this with me, but I wouldn't mind :)
posted by Magnakai at 10:48 AM on July 29, 2008

Pipex used to be great but is now part of Tiscali and therefore sucks big time (both in terms of connection quality/stability/speed and general customer service).

Waitrose broadband (which is a white label offering from Brightview ... who are now owned by BT I believe) has worked out pretty well for my parents (rock solid connection, good speed despite shitty quality copper in the area and good customer service). They're not exactly heavy p2p users, so don't know about traffic shaping etc.
posted by saintsguy at 11:03 AM on July 29, 2008

I used to use Pipex - but bailed out a few years ago when they started traffic shaping. Moved to Be, who are great. My only complaints would be occasional disconnections and the router needed a lot of fiddling with for Steam. Aside from this, great speed, cheapish, no messing about.
posted by prentiz at 12:07 PM on July 29, 2008

UKFSN, an Entanet reseller. I've been with them for a couple of years after escaping from the abysmal Orange, and couldn't be happier. All profits go towards supporting free software projects, too, rather than to shareholders.

For £20 a month I've got an 8mb service, with a monthly cap of 30GB during business hours and 300GB off-peak - if you exceed it you pay by the GB. It's more than enough for this house with several heavy net users, as long as large torrents are set to run overnight and not during the day. Don't forget that ALL UK ISPs operate a cap - most of them just obfuscate it with a 'Fair Use Policy', and send you pissy threatening letters if you go over their unstated limit.

There's no traffic shaping or any other limits - they just hook you up and leave you alone. Service has been faultless, entirely unlike my last ISP running through the same exchange, and they have Entanet's UK based phone support staff. The real kicker for me was the monthly rolling contract - you can leave at anytime, and don't get locked into impossible-to-break 12 month + contracts like most others. I wouldn't even consider touching any company that has a minimum contract period now, because if the service turns out to be poor you're stuck with them.
posted by boosh at 12:15 PM on July 29, 2008

I've used both Virgin Media and BT in the past. Seems like the best way to test/compare most providers in the UK is to see how they perform when things go bad, and assessing their competency at resolving your problems - speed/bandwidth/shaping options aside.

My experience with BT was particular poor. We were BT customers for 2 years at two different addresses, and had no problem at all. Moved house a third time and it all went horribly wrong- the customer service attempted to help, but everything was phone based and they refused to send an engineer out for at least two weeks. The BT people on the phone passed us from department to department, blaming each other. Since it was a new contract we cancelled and moved on.

Next up was telewest, which became Virgin Media. They seemed genuinely happy to have our business and take us on as customers - and their attention was much appreciated. They even went so far as to reinstall all the new wiring free of charge when the landlord complained about where they had fitted the wire/had entered the wall, and fixed the brickwork up. Speed and reliability was pretty good.

These experiences were all in Central London.
posted by newformula at 5:32 PM on July 29, 2008

We used BT for 6 years, but I got sick of their fair use policy - unstated caps on their "unlimited" service as mentioned above; no way of knowing where we stood in relation to the cap at any given time, and exceeding the mystery cap (currently thought to be ~30GB) could result in heavy throttling of your connection speed (this never happened to me, fortunately, but the thinkbroadband forums have plenty of horror stories). Add to that their Draconian traffic shaping and involvement with Phorm, and finally it was time to make a move.

Now with Zen, and I wish I'd moved sooner. It's not the cheapest provider, but it does what it says on the tin and things are out in the open. Like UKFSN, you can get a monthly rolling contract if you want. I am capped at 50GB/month d/l, uploads aren't counted. I can see how much bandwidth I've used at any time, and they also send email reminders at 50%, 75% and 90%. Should I ever need it I can easily top up a few extra gigs. No traffic shaping, no Phorm, and (so far) no collusion with the BPI. I've only needed to call tech support once since switching, and they were UK-based and gave top notch service including a follow-up call to make sure the problem had been sorted.
posted by Tholian at 10:08 AM on July 31, 2008

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