BT is the most reliable broadband provider in terms of availability and network size. They are among the top three major providers in the UK in Ofcom customer ratings. As of 2022, the company has extended gigabit-capable full fibre service to more than seven million locations. 80% of BT customers gave favourable overall satisfaction ratings in the most recent Ofcom consumer experience report.Read BT Broadband Review
Plusnet is a good deal in terms of pricing compared with their primary competitors, BT and Virgin Media. While their customer service ratings are high, the broadband service delivered has lower speed test ratings (#10 compared with BT's #2 and Virgin's #1). The Wi-Fi equipment defaults are also more dated, resulting in issues extending Wi-Fi in larger homes.Read Plusnet Review
Virgin is a good broadband choice for customers who need an alternative to phone line broadband and are willing to pay a little extra to get it. While typically £5–15 above the monthly cost of basic broadband, the speed and reliability is worth it for homes with multiple people or home offices.Read Virgin Media Review
The average home in the UK has to dozens of broadband providers over 1–3 individual wired networks (Openreach, CityFibre, or Virgin Media).
To understand which is best, you need to consider overall performance as well as the network quality offered in your specific area.
There are three things that make a broadband provider reliable for home use:
To determine the best broadband providers in the UK, we’ve gathered hundreds of rows of data on each factor to compare apples-to-apples features and performance for each provider. The biggest dataset handled here is consumer speed test data, which we’ve pulled from Measurement Labs and Ookla.
We’ve also hand-tested connections for each of the providers with the most promising feature sets, and collected hundreds of user reviews to produce a three-layer review: raw data, customer sentiment, and editorial review.
|Speed range (advertised)||20–900 Mbps||20–80 Mbps||100–1,000 Mbps|
|Speed range (tested)||35–72 Mbps||17–70 Mbps||98–213 Mbps|
|Parental controls||Strong, but off by default||Good, but off by default||Mid-tier, off by default|
The biggest differences between BT, Plusnet, and Virgin come down to speed and the type of line used to deliver service.
BT operates both phone-line and full fibre networks. Plusnet uses the same network, but widespread access to full fibre has been slow to roll out. Virgin Media has their own network entirely, a privately owned and operated coaxial cable network.
|Provider||Top speed (download)||Top speed (upload)||UK coverage|
|BT||900 Mbps||300 Mbps||99%|
|Plusnet||80 Mbps||20 Mbps||99%|
|Virgin Media||1,000 Mbps||50 Mbps||55%|
In terms of reliability, BT is the winner because they have both a wide coverage footprint, the largest full fibre network in the UK, and the largest customer base.
This makes them very easy to move from home to home when moving without being subject to early termination fees.
BT owns Openreach, the heavily network provider underpinning most of the UK broadband market.
In theory, thanks to the regulation, they do not get special treatment when it comes to traffic prioritization, or prioritization of outage fixes and customer service issues.
In practice, customers who are concerned about these issues tend to choose BT anyway, since they have oddly high performance scores in consumer speed tests and reviews in spite of the regulatory requirements.
Plusnet is our pick for the best budget broadband provider because their plans are consistently priced £5–10 lower than equivalent plans from BT, and even more when compared with premium providers like Zen Internet or Andrews & Arnold.
When comparing providers that share an underlying network, such as BT and Plusnet, differences in performance are more often due to Wi-Fi equipment provided with the plans than with the network itself.
Plusnet is the best budget option, but it comes with a trademark in this department. The router provided with service is a re-branded BT router, and in many cases is an older model no longer used by BT.
Plusnet customers can get the best of both worlds by paying to upgrade their router to a more modern model, like the Plusnet Hub Two (a re-branded BT Smart Hub 2).
Most customers don’t know this, and opt for the cheap or free default router; and their speeds suffer as a result.
Virgin Media is the fastest provider in the UK, in no small part, because they do not interact with the phone line system for any part of their service area.
This is a stark contrast against BT, Plusnet, Vodafone, and virtually every other ISP in the UK market. Reliance on Openreach, CityFibre, and similar leased network providers is the norm, thanks to a pro-competition regulatory policy called “local loop unbundling.”
This policy has historically forced BT and Openreach to share lines with other providers, allowing dozens of providers to compete for last-mile service to consumers without building their own lines.
Virgin Media is the outlier, having bucked the trend and bet that building their own network would lead to faster speeds and a strong customer base. The bet was correct; so much so that the core issue facing their network is oversubscription, with slowdowns due to congestion during peak use hours being the most popular complaint seen in user reviews.