Why Cheaper Isn't Always Better

When you’re choosing broadband it’s important that you understand the overall costs of the broadband and not just the headline rate.  The  industry is notorious for having a far from transparent pricing policy.  And although it’s got better recently with some new regulations about advertised broadband speed and so forth, the cheapest internet headline rates aren’t always the best value or even the lowest prices.

This article will help you understand a bit about broadband advertising and the best way to get value for your money when you are looking for the best connection to match your requirements.

Broadband Advertising

It used to be the case that internet service providers could advertise their fastest possible broadband rate as the headline download speed.  Nowadays, they have to have the ability to deliver the services to at least 10% of their consumers in order to advertise an ‘up to’ rate.  This is a better situation but it still means that 90% of consumers will not get the advertised rate.

Of course, the situation is better with fibre optic broadband where consumers tend to get very close to their advertised rate.  With Virgin Media broadband, consumers tend to get 95% to 96% of their advertised speed.  This is because fibre optic cables don’t lose speed over distance whereas the BT copper cables used for ADSL connectivity are not optimum for transfer of internet data.

Therefore, when you’re looking at the speeds, do take them with a pinch of salt and perhaps do a postcode check to find out what the actual speed is that you’ll likely to get in your area.  A postcode check will enable you to see what other connections are in your area through different internet service providers to find out what level of connectivity they will offer.  It’s also a good idea to check the details of your local telephone exchange through a service such as Sam Knows Best to find out which internet service providers have a presence in your local exchange for ADSL.

This can make the difference between really fast ADSL and average to poor ADSL.

Your User Profile

If you’re looking at the cheapest broadband then chances are you are a fairly sporadic internet user.  Indeed, it’s important to understand your profile of usage to ensure that you get the cheapest broadband for your circumstances or you may end up paying additional data charges because you go over your data usage limit, or even end up without broadband for periods in the month because of data consumption over-use.

Generally, broadband users are classed into three different categories.  These are

  • Light broadband users
  • Average, or medium broadband users
  • Heavy broadband users

Essentially light broadband users will get away with minimum data requirements and probably won’t need very fast speeds either.  They will tend to do a little bit of browsing and e-mailing and not much else each week.

Medium users may well do a bit of streaming of video or audio through their connection as well, but again won’t consume intensely. 

Heavy users may well have several people on the same connection, and there will be streaming of movies and content, and perhaps multi-player gaming.  The cheapest broadband for a heavy consumer will not be the same as the cheapest broadband for a light user. 

Indeed a light user may well get away with a mobile broadband service where they can pay as they go and keep themselves light on their feet.  This will mean no fixed cost apart from the initial price of the modem dongle or MiFi router.

With the coming of the fourth generation of mobile internet, it’s now more possible than ever to use mobile broadband as your home  connection.

What to look out for in the cheapest broadband deals

The headline rates of the cheapest broadband deals like Tesco Broadband often don’t include line rental.  Line rental is a significant expense, often around £14.50 or, with BT, £15.45 per month.  Even services that offer cheaper line rental often stipulate that you have to pay for the whole year upfront.  So the cheapest contract in the long run may not be an option because of the upfront cost.

In addition, sometimes the broadband service providers offer a free router but states that the router remains the property of the internet service provider.  This can mean they can recall the router anytime and that you will have to shoulder the expense of returning it.

Even free routers sometimes come at a cost with postage and packaging costing £6, £7, or even £8.

Watch out for cheap deals that provide free installation.  Sometimes the installation is actually charged upfront and then is re-funded later down the line.

When you’re looking at unlimited packages, you need to also look at the fair usage policy.  The cheapest deals on an unlimited basis may not actually be the best.  Only a few providers actually provide truly unlimited  and these include BT, Sky, BE broadband, and Virgin Media on their top most expensive packages.

The other providers tend to have a fair usage policy with a cap.  Tesco for example offers 100GB per month as their top cap in their fair usage policy and Talk Talk offer 40GB.  It’s important to look out for these, especially if you are a media hungry home.

It really is important to look at the hidden costs and small print on packages before you decide on which is the cheapest broadband package for you.  With some providers, out of data limit consumption can be quite expensive.  For example with BT, you pay £5 for every 5GB.  You could therefore end up paying a fiver just for downloading another high definition movie; you might as well have bought it through Amazon.

The Type of Technology You Choose

The lowest priced broadband data is on fixed broadband but often the cheapest packages end up being mobile broadband.  If you go for ADSL, you have different options including ADSL Standard, ADSL 2, and ADSL 2+.  If you’re looking for a service from a provider but you are outside of their network jurisdiction, you’ll probably end up paying more than if you’re inside.  It really can be a postcode lottery.

It’s important to understand all the costs and the service you’ll actually achieve to get the best value for money.  For most consumers, the actual price isn’t the main factor.  Their priorities are the speed they’ll get, the reliability they’ll get, and the value for money that they’ll receive.

Take a look through different providers, develop a shortlist, and then ensure that you get value for money and don’t just get drawn in to the leading headline “cheapest broadband rates.”

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