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2nd October 2020

Broadband in Northern Ireland

Max Beckett
Max Beckett

Broadband expert

Whether you’re a first-time customer or thinking of switching to a new deal, it’s important to do your research when you’re looking for broadband in Northern Ireland (NI). 

This simple guide will help you understand how to find the best broadband deals in NI and how to decide which of the many broadband options available might suit you best.

How can I compare broadband in NI?

When you’re looking to compare broadband in NI, the easiest way to start is by using an online comparison tool like this one to check what deals are available in your area.

Simply type in your postcode and you’ll get a list of the best broadband deals in NI currently available in your area. You’ll be able to see, in an easy-to-read table:

  • The fastest broadband speeds you could get

  • The maximum speed offered by each broadband provider in Northern Ireland who covers your area

  • The length of contract

  • The monthly cost

  • Any installation charges

You’ll also be able to click to ‘buy now’ when you see a deal you know is right for you, find a phone number or search for further information if required.

What is the best broadband for me in Northern Ireland?

The best broadband is the one that’s best suited to the needs of your household. 

Before you start looking for the best broadband deals in NI, take some time to consider what you’ll use it for. How many people are in your household? Do you work or study online from home, enjoy online games, stream live TV or make regular video calls with work colleagues, friends or family?

If you use the internet a lot for things like this, you’ll need higher-speed broadband for it to work well. If you’re mainly using the internet for email, social media and occasional YouTube clips, you might be better off saving money and having lower-speed broadband. 

Also consider whether you want a broadband-only deal, or a package deal that includes other services such as home phone calls and TV.

Can I get fast broadband in my area of Northern Ireland?

The good news is that the vast majority of homes in NI can now get fast broadband, although if you’re in a rural area your options may still be more limited than if you're installing broadband in Belfast or another of our larger towns and cities. 

The quickest way to check what broadband speed you should be able to get in your area of Northern Ireland is to use a simple postcode checker tool. Remember, the speed that comes up for your postcode may vary in practice – 50% of customers must be able to get the ‘average’ speed that broadband providers in Northern Ireland advertise. That means you have a 50/50 chance of getting a speed that’s higher or lower than this.

According to telecoms industry regulator Ofcom, Northern Ireland has the highest coverage of any UK nation of full fibre, the fastest, most reliable broadband. It also reports that 89% of homes in NI can now access superfast or fibre broadband, which offers download speeds fast enough for most households’ current needs*

 A number of government-backed projects are under way to extend faster broadband to more rural areas of Northern Ireland, so it’s worth keeping a regular check on the situation where you live.

Do I need fast broadband?

The speed of every type of broadband is measured in megabits per second (Mbps). The higher the number of Mbps, the faster your internet will be. But how fast does yours need to be?

One way of deciding this is to find out how long it would take to download different types of files to your computer or other device – such as a song, a YouTube clip, a TV show or a film. The larger the size of the file, the longer it will take to download on the same broadband speed.

For example, a music album would take 50 seconds to download at a broadband speed of 8Mbps, and just 2.5 seconds at 32Mbps. If you want to download a full film in HD (high definition), you’re talking 25 minutes 30 seconds at 8Mbps and six minutes 15 seconds at 32Mbps. Remember though that this speed is what the individual device will use, and you’re likely to have multiple connected devices in use that will all be using their fair share of bandwidth.

For basic use of the internet, a minimum of 10-11Mbps is a good download speed. With just 8Mbps you’ll be able to send email, share photos, watch the occasional Netflix show, use social media like Facebook and Instagram and play games. If you have several people in your household using the internet at once, especially if they’re downloading a lot of video content, 60Mbps would help to keep your internet running more smoothly.

What does Mbps mean for NI broadband?

The good news is that broadband in Northern Ireland is now available at download speeds of at least 30Mbps to almost nine out of every 10 homes in our towns and cities, according to this Ofcom report. And more homes in NI than ever – around half – can access ultrafast broadband speeds of at least 300Mbps. 

If you live in a rural part of NI, you may find you need to wait a bit longer to get the fastest broadband speeds – but be assured a lot of work is going on to bring them to you as soon as possible.

What type of broadband do I need?

Once you work out what kind of household yours is in terms of internet use, you’re a lot closer to being able to choose the right broadband deal for you. 

It’s worth making sure you understand the most popular types of broadband currently available in your area of Northern Ireland before you make your final choice.

Always make sure you check what speed the different providers are advertising for the deal you’re considering – and remember these are average speeds so the speed you end up with may be faster or slower. 

Non-fibre broadband in Northern Ireland

Nearly every major NI broadband provider offers non-fibre, traditionally known as ADSL, broadband, and it’s the most likely to be available to you, wherever you live. It comes through the copper wires of your existing phone line network, but you can still speak on the phone while you’re browsing the internet.

It’s easy to sign up to, installation is usually straightforward, and it may be cheaper than superfast or fibre options, especially if you already have a phone line. Although it offers slower speeds than other broadband options, it’s still fast enough for many households’ needs.

Should I get superfast or fibre broadband?

Superfast broadband is connected to homes through fibre-optic cables for at least part of its journey from the broadband provider to your broadband router. Superfast means any speed between 30 and 300 Mbps – the more fibre-optic cable in your connection, the faster your broadband speed will be.

Full fibre, or fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband offers the fastest, most reliable speeds and Northern Ireland has the highest coverage of any UK nation. This is still only accessible to a minority of homes, though – but most households don’t need broadband speeds this fast just yet.

Mobile broadband in Northern Ireland

Mobile broadband runs on the current 4G network, like mobile phones, so you don’t need to be connected to a phone or fibre-optic cable. It offers an average speed of 21Mbps – and will offer much more once the 5G network is rolled out.

If you live in a rural part of Northern Ireland where non-fibre and superfast options aren’t readily available then it would be worth considering – however, it would obviously depend on whether your rural area actually has mobile broadband coverage.

Which broadband providers are in Northern Ireland?

There is a wide choice of broadband providers in Northern Ireland, including the well-known names of BT, Sky, Virgin, Plusnet, TalkTalk, Vodafone and NOW Broadband.

If you are looking for broadband in Belfast or another densely populated town or city in NI, you might have more to choose from than if you’re looking for a broadband deal in a more rural area. But remember to keep checking back, as technology is moving fast. 

The best broadband deal for you will depend on what’s available in your area of NI. Use our postcode checker tool to see which broadband providers in NI can offer the kind of deal you’re looking for.

Most broadband providers are happy to let you upgrade if improvements in your area of NI mean a faster, more expensive broadband product becomes available mid-contract.