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How to Save Money on Your Broadband Bill

In Britain today the internet has become nearly as indispensable as electricity. It transcends age groups and income brackets: in 2017, 90% of us had internet access in our homes, up from just 57% in 2006.

Even if you’re on a low income, you’ll want—and even need—an internet connection. Your children will use it for school assignments. Your utilities companies are now only sending electronic bills; and social media is the easiest way to stay in contact with family and friends.

Broadband can be expensive, with some high speed connections costing between £400 and £650 a year and often including setup charges. But it’s certainly not out of reach, and people on fixed incomes and budgets get online every day.

You can save money on broadband by comparing providers; choosing a budget ISP over BT, Sky, or Virgin Media; opting for slower speeds; selecting a package with—and then sticking too—a download allowance; bundling your broadband, TV, and phone, if you use all three; using promotions; and taking up a social tariff if you qualify.

The cheapest widely broadband deals on the market will set you back just £200-250 a year, plus setup charges, so there are certainly savings to be had, if you’re prepared to shop around and make a few sacrifices. We’ll show you where you can cut costs, which providers are known for their budget packages, other fees you should consider when comparing broadband tariffs, how to cut pounds off your broadband bill and avoid overpaying, and how to make mobile broadband economic for you.

Where to Trim Costs

Few of us need the speediest, shiniest full-fibre broadband connection. Often you can trim your monthly internet bill by making sacrifices on speeds, data allowance, or flexibility.

Do you have multiple people, or at least multiple devices, jockeying for space on the same connection? Do you like to stream video content? Maybe you ditched your TV and only watch iPlayer and Netflix. You’ll need the faster speeds of superfast broadband: that means a fibre or Virgin cable connection rather than a cheaper ADSL deal.

Are you only a casual internet user? You could opt for a deal with a data allowance to shave pounds off your monthly bill.

Are you planning on staying at your current address for a year or two years? Committing to a 12, 18, or 24-month contract could lower your startup costs and even your monthly bill.

Finding an affordable connection is about assessing your internet needs and selecting the provider and tariff that best matches them, for the most competitive price. You don’t want to commit to the cheapest connection on the market only to find yourself unable to do what you want online or incurring costly fees for exceeding a data allowance.

Let’s take a closer look at the three specs of broadband deals you should assess in addition to price and where, with compromises, you can find the greatest savings: speed (and type of connection), download allowance, and contract length.

Speeds
Today, with a few notable and cheap exceptions, unlimited download allowances are standard. The main differentiation in broadband packages is therefore technology and speed. Standard ADSL broadband, which uses the copper phone network and offers speeds averaging around 10 or 11 Mbps downstream, will be the cheapest on the market. You can usually get an ADSL package for under £20 per month.

However, ADSL connections may not be suitable for large household where multiple people will be online and sharing bandwidth—and thus dividing speeds—or for anyone who wants to regularly stream video, play online games, download files, or use peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing systems including torrents.

You’ll have to upgrade to fibre optic packages to achieve ‘superfast’ internet—defined as a connection with download speeds over 24 Mbps. FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) is the most widely available fibre connection in the UK and usually boasts speeds or around 35-36 Mbps or 62-67 Mbps. These connections cost more per month than ADSL broadband but not too much: fibre optic packages from low-cost providers start at just around £23 per month. Faster connections will be more expensive but may be worth the price if you have a large household with many devices sharing bandwidth.

However, not all providers, connection types, and speeds will be available in your area. Consult a broadband availability checker to see what speeds your postcode can achieve. When you contact a supplier, they should also be able to give you an idea of the speeds you can expect in your neighbourhood.

Read our guide to broadband speeds to see how much speed you need, based on the size of your household and what you like to do on the internet, as well as what factors may limit your internet speed and how you can address them to ensure you’re getting all the Mbps you’re paying for.

Download Allowances
95% of the broadband packages on the market today offer unlimited downloads, but if you’re a light internet user, you can often save some money by opting for a package with a download cap. Most tariffs with download allowances are fibre connections, so if speeds are a priority for you, fibre with a download allowance could be a good entry level superfast connection.

BT offers fibre packages with download allowances of 15 GB, 30 BG, and 50 GB per month. For example, BT’s Superfast Fibre Essential package boasts average speeds of 36 Mbps with a download cap of 30 GB. According to BT’s estimates, that allowance can support 2 hours of web browsing a day, 2 hours of video streaming a week, downloading 2 HD films and 200 music tracks and uploading 200 photos a month. At £24.99 per month it’s cheaper than BT’s other fibre connections, but won’t be cheaper than fibre connections from budget providers. It could be an option for light internet users who value speeds at comparatively low costs or someone who wants to bundle a connection with some of BT’s phone or TV services.

Sky offers fibre packages with average speeds of 36 Mbps and download caps of 25 GB for £21 per month, which is cheaper than the cheapest unlimited fibre connection on the market, but only by around £2 a month. Again, it’s an option for occasional internet users and people looking to bundle Sky television offers with their broadband.

BT’s social tariff, BT Basic, offers an ADSL connection available to claimants of certain benefits for £9.95 per month, has a download limit of 12 GB. BT says the allowance can support a half hour of internet browsing a day, an hour of gaming a week, and streaming one standard definition film a month and occasional music streaming and photo uploading. It’s a sensible option for benefit claimants who use the internet very sparingly. For more information, see the section about BT’s social tariff below.

Download allowances, if not carefully minded, can rack up fines that undo all their savings, however. Allowances generally aren’t caps, meaning your internet provider won’t cut you off when you exceed your 25 GB or 30 GB allocation. They will warn you as you you approach it however, generally with an email, but if you don’t heed the alerts, you can be subject to fines for usage outside of your allowance. BT, for example, levies a fine of £1.80 per extra gigabyte of data used. One hour of streaming Netflix in standard definition can eat 1 GB of data alone, so you can see how costly exceeding these limits can be.

Check out our guide to download allowances to see how much data you should budget, how much browsing and streaming certain download allowances can support, how you can limit your data usage, and ultimately, if a download allowance could save you money.

Contract length
Providers including NOW TV, Plusnet, and Virgin offer one-month, rolling contracts, which may be tempting if you’re reluctant or unable to commit to paying an internet bill for the 12, 18, or even 24 months a standard contract runs. However, you’ll often pay more for the flexibility of “no contract” broadband, both on your monthly bill and in upfront costs. Generally you’ll have to pay a higher setup fee and buy outright any equipment, such as a router, that would otherwise thrown in for free with a longer contract.

For example, Virgin’s cheapest fibre option, the Vivid 50 package, can be bought on a 30-day rolling contract for £40 per month, £11 more than the year-long introductory offer on the 12-month contract for the same package. You’ll also face a £65 upfront fee for the 30-day offers from Virgin, significantly higher than the £20 setup fee a 12-month contract entails.

NOW TV’s one-month, “no contract” broadband packages cost the same as they do on a 12-month contract, but one-month customers will face an additional £59.99 setup fee that contract customers will not.

In general, it’s cheaper to sign up for a broadband contract, unless you’re planning on moving before the contract term is up. Contracts also lock in your price for the length of the contract (excluding some introductory offers that may shave pounds off your monthly bill for the first six or 12 months). You’ll therefore be insulated from any further price increases—and often able to exit your contract without penalty if your provider does try to hike prices.

If you have a poor credit rating and worry you’ll struggle to be approved for a broadband contract, a one-month option could be a way of avoiding credit checks. Some providers explicitly don’t run credit checks: NOW TV seemingly doesn’t credit check customers for either its 12-month contracts or 30-day rolling deals.

However, you shouldn’t automatically assume you won’t qualify for a broadband contract from another provider if you have bad credit or a CCJ (county court judgment for debt). Different providers have different criteria when assessing potential subscribers and people who may be rejected by one ISP may be accepted by another. You may also be able to put down a deposit with the ISP to secure a contract if you have poor credit.

Cheaper internet providers seemingly have the least stringent credit requirements and you should try to obtain a broadband contract for them before settling for a rolling option that may cost more both upfront and in the longterm. See our guide to getting broadband with bad credit for more information.

Budget Internet Providers

There are a number of providers known for their affordable but still competitive broadband offerings, although some come from unusual places. Let’s take a closer look.

Remember that not all services and not all speeds will be available in your area. Plug your postcode (and sometimes your landline telephone number) into a broadband availability checker to see which providers operate in your area and with what specs.

All quoted prices, following an Advertising Standards Authority ruling, are inclusive of line rental.

The name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but Direct Save Telecom offers some of the cheapest internet deals around. Their standard broadband package, with speeds of 11 Mbps, starts, with a contract agreement, at £17.95 for the first 12 months. Fibre broadband with speeds of 35 Mbps and 63 Mbps starts at £29.95 per month for 12 months.

Did you know internet TV provider NOW TV offers broadband-only packages? They start from just £18 per month for the first year, for a standard unlimited broadband package with average speeds of 11 Mbps. NOW TV also recently waived it’s £8 fee for unlimited calling with any broadband package, meaning you can get landline calls and broadband for just £18 a month. Their fibre deals are similarly affordable—at least for the first year: £25 per month for 36 Mbps and £35 for 58 Mbps. Unfortunately, bills for all packages rise after year-long introductory offer ends but you can take advantage of 12-month contract and not renew.

plusnet

Owned by BT, Plusnet offers ADSL and fibre broadband packages for affordable prices—and with UK-based customer service to boot. Plusnet offers basic ADSL broadband with 10 Mbps average download speeds for starting from £19.99 per month and fibre packages starting from £23.99 and £27.99, depending on which speed tier you choose.

post-office

You could post that letter to your grandmother, or you could get her to sign up to one of the Post Office’s very economic £18 per month standard broadband packages and catch up with you on Facebook instead. Post Office broadband comes with average speeds of 11 Mbps and unlimited downloads and, as a bonus, you can pay your bill in cash at a Post Office counter.

talktalk

TalkTalk is known for its low-cost broadband options, including unlimited standard packages from £17 per month and a superfast fibre package, with average speeds of 35 Mbps, for £24.50 per month.

vodafone

Yep, the mobile phone provider has gotten into the home broadband game. They offer two superfast broadband packages, with average speeds of 35 Mbps and 63 Mbps, for £23 or £28 per month, respectively.

Other Providers

john-lewis

High-end department store John Lewis offers surprisingly affordable introductory offers on broadband packages, starting at just £20 per month for an ADSL connections with average speeds of 10 Mbps. Fibre packages start at £27.50. There are no activation fees. But be aware that these introductory offers only last for the first 12 months and prices rise between £6.50 and £10.50 a month in the 13th month.

sse

You’ve heard of bundling your TV, phone, and broadband and may have even entertained a quad play deal (that’s internet, television, landline phone, and mobile phone). But you probably hadn’t thought of looking to your energy supplier for your internet connection. SSE, the Big Six provider, offers a standard, 10 Mbps broadband package at £21 per month, and fibre connections starting at £24 Mbps. Those prices are fixed for three years for SSE energy customers and for 12 months for other customers.

Cheap Deals from the Big Providers

bt

BT’s standard unlimited broadband starts at £24.99 per month for average speeds of 10 Mbps. As described above the price of BT’s fibre connection can be trimmed by opting for a download allowance—30 GB comes for £24.99 per month.

sky

Existing Sky TV customers can get unlimited ADSL with average speeds of 11 Mbps for £18 per month, while everyone else can snag it for £20 per month. Sky’s fibre packages with 25 GB data allowances are £21 per month, while unlimited fibre with the same 36 Mbps speed starts at £25 per month.

virgin-media

Virgin Media cable internet has more limited availability but boasts higher speeds. Its entry level fibre package, Vivid 50, starts at £29 per month, with average speeds of 54 Mbps.

Cheap Fibre Options

Most providers offer two tiers of fibre broadband: one with speeds around 35-36 Mbps and one with speeds around 63-67 Mbps. usually branded ‘fibre plus’ or ‘extra.’ In most places, these are both FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) connections.

The slower speed will be cheaper—generally between £5 and £15 per month cheaper. Budget providers like Plusnet TalkTalk, and Vodafone, offer these entry level fibre connections for around £23 or £24 per month.

The Cheapest on the Market

Generally, excluding promotions, the cheapest home broadband connection you can get are unlimited ADSL connections with average speeds of 10 to 11 Mbps from TalkTalk, Post Office, and NOW TV. All hover around £18 per month, including line rental and some calls.

BT’s Social Tariff

BT has a universal service obligation (USO) to offer every home in the UK (excluding those in Hull covered by KCOM, also a designated universal provider) telephone service. BT achieves this with a social tariff available to customers on certain benefits, providing phone calls for just £5.10 per month. Customers of BT Basic can also buy BT Basic + Broadband, for £9.95 per month. BT Basic + Broadband offers landline calling and a standard, ADSL connection with average download speeds of 10 Mbps and a fairly strict download allowance of 12 GB. It’s the cheapest way to access home broadband in the UK.

BT Basic is available to people who claim one of the following benefits:
– Income Support
– Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
– Pensions Credit (Guaranteed Credit)
– Employment and Support Allowance (income related)
– Universal Credit (and are on zero earnings)

Eligibility will be checked through the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) when you apply, a process that can take up to a month. If approved, you may incur a small additional fee for a router.

Other Ways to Save Money on Your Broadband Contract

Be aware of ‘hidden’ fees
From setup fees to landline installation to ‘delivery’ fees, getting online may be more expensive than you initially anticipate. Some broadband providers charge you an upfront fee to activate your connection; some will give you the router for free but make you pay for its delivery. Broadband providers should advertise these setup fees prominently—they may be headlined as ‘activation,’ ‘delivery,’ or ‘P&P’—and comparison websites should account for them too. To save money, watch out for promotions that waive setup fees or, if practical, get broadband on a12-month or longer contract: set-up fees are generally lower for contract packages than for one-month, rolling ‘no contract’ broadband.

Generally, you’ll also need a landline to get internet. This shouldn’t be a problem if your property has had a telephone or broadband connection before. However, many new-build homes or recently converted flats may only have white BT sockets but no actual phone line. You may have to pay to have one installed: BT charges up to £140 for this service but this is a worst case scenario. If you’re taking out a broadband contract, most providers will install a phone line for free or at a significant discount.

Less well advertised are the other fees that the fine print of your contract makes you liable for: charges for early termination, penalties for late payment and contracts cancelled for non-payment, fees for not returning equipment after the contract is up, and charges for exceeding your data allowance. It’s important to familiarise yourself with the terms and conditions of your contract, pay all bills on time, and abide by all restrictions to avoid facing a surprise fee.

Once you’ve signed up to a broadband contract, you’re on the hook for the full 12, 18 or 24 month term. You generally can’t exit it early unless service falls below certain standards and your ISP makes no effort to repair it. If you need to relocate and can’t bring your broadband contract with you (either because your provider doesn’t operate in your new area or because their service is inadequate there) you may be forced to terminate it early, a process that will incur fees and generally see you still paying a significant portion of your monthly bill for a service you no longer use. For example, BT, John Lewis, and Vodafone all charge one-off cease fees that range between £15 and £30. All providers charge you fees that are typically between 40% and 80% of your previous bill for a terminated service for all months remaining your contract.

As you can see, cancelling because you can’t afford the contract will save you only a small amount of money—and force you to pay for a service you can no longer use—so should be avoided, if at all possible.

You should also strive to avoid late payments, which can not only incur fees but also possibly lead to the restriction of your internet and cancellation of your broadband contract and additionally can damage your credit score, impacting your ability to get a broadband contract in the future.

Set up a direct debit for your broadband bill so you don’t pay it late due to forgetfulness and if you’re struggling to pay, contract your broadband provider before you’ve missed a bill. They may be able to help you work out a repayment plan and possibly waive late payment fees if they’ve been notified in advance.

For more information see our complete guide to ‘hidden’ broadband fees, including tables of the setup fees, early termination charges, late payment fines charged by the major providers.

Pay line rental charges upfront

Almost all home broadband packages, with the exception of those from Virgin, will include line rental fees, which as of 2018 are usually around £18 or £19 a month. These costs will be included in the monthly bill you are quoted.

It used to be standard for broadband providers to allow customers to pay their yearly line rental fees upfront, for savings of between 10% and 30%. The offer is being phased out but BT and Plusnet, which is owned by BT, still allow you to pay the lump sum rather than being billed each month, for savings between 9% and 13%. Paying line rental upfront is a sensible way to save money and trim costs from your monthly bill, but you do need to have around £200 on hand. Additionally, line rental charges can generally only be refunded in exceptional circumstances, so it won’t be a sensible option if you’re planning on moving.

Even if you’re not using your landline telephone, line rental is a mostly inescapable charge. There are options for getting broadband without a telephone line and thus line rental, including Virgin cable connections and mobile broadband, but they generally aren’t cheaper than options with line rental and won’t be available to or even practical for all customers. Check out our guide to line rental and getting broadband without a telephone line to see if a landline-free alternative would work for you.

Pay via debit, credit card, or PayPal

According to 2018 Ofcom regulations, providers cannot charge you more for paying via debit card, credit card, or PayPal, effectively eliminating the savings you previously could rack up for paying via direct debit. They can however charge you a fee for paying by cash, cheque, or telephone or online banking. Providers should notify you of these extra charges for payment methods, but you might have to read the terms and conditions of your contract to find them.

Paperless billing

Many providers charge you extra to receive physical, paper bills in the post each month. You can often save yourself a couple quid on every bill by opting for paperless billing, receiving your bills via email or through your ISP’s online customer portal. For some providers, paperless billing is the default, due to environmental concerns, and arranging to receive paper bills can be impossible or tricky, with the cost for this service difficult to find. These are the costs for paper bills we could find.

Provider Extra Monthly Cost of Paper Bills Amount You Can Save Annually by Going Paperless
BT £2.50 (rising to £3 in Sept 2018) £30 (£36 from September 2018)
EE* £2.55 £30.6
John Lewis* doesn’t offer paper bills n/a
Plusnet* doesn’t offer paper bills n/a
Post Office £1.50  £18
Sky* doesn’t offer paper bills n/a
TalkTalk £2 £24
Virgin Media £1.75 £21

*indicates providers where, as far as we can tell, paperless billing is the default

If you need a paper bill to open a bank account or apply for a passport, you can either download and print out a PDF of your broadband bill or, sometimes, specifically request a paper bill from your provider, usually for an additional charge.

Consider bundling your telecom services
Broadband and landline calling packages are standard. In fact, unless you choose a cable broadband provider like Virgin, you’ll struggle to find broadband package that doesn’t come with line rental and some landline calling provision. But ISPs are also increasingly offering TV and even mobile phone deals to compete for your contracts, hoping you’ll sign up to a triple or even quad play bundle for the convenience of one monthly bill and one provider.

Bundling services can save you money, but only if you want and use all the services included. Don’t sign up to a Virgin “big bundle” only to get dozens of TV channels you don’t watch. And don’t commit to paying for months of superfast broadband when you could easily cope with ADSL because it’s bundled with a Sky TV box you want. You may find it’s cheaper to mix and match the services that best suit your needs, even if they’re from different providers. Bundles generally come with long contract terms so it pays to do your research—and your maths—before signing up to a deal.

See our guide to triple and quad play bundles for more information.

Take advantage of ‘cooling off periods’ to return

Generally, broadband providers allow you to cancel your package within 14 to 30 days of purchasing it, a time period specified in your contract. You may still incur some charges for cancellation during this time frame, but cooling off period can be useful if you find the service you’ve purchased doesn’t meet your needs or find a better deal elsewhere.

If in contract and if possible, keep your current provider when you move house

If you’re midway through a broadband contract, it’s generally cheaper to move your broadband package to your new address than terminate it early and face both monthly bills for a service you’re not using and a possible one-off cancellation fee. Many providers move your service for free, although you might face installation fees if, for example, your new property doesn’t have a phone line. You’ll generally be required to take equipment like routers to your address or face additional charges. Furthermore, some providers charge an administrative fee for switching a connection to a new address.

Be aware that not all providers and services are available in all areas. You may not be able to move your broadband contract to a new address simply because your provider doesn’t offer service in that area. This is especially true of people moving to the Kingston-upon-Hull area, where the telephone and broadband infrastructure is owned by KCOM and few of the national providers operate. In that case you may simple have to eat the early termination fees on your old contract and find a new provider in your area.

See our guide to moving house with broadband for more information.

Be aware of your rights

Inform yourself about your rights as a broadband consumer to avoid paying for inadequate service or facing mid-contract price increases.

If your provider hikes prices, you are sometimes able to leave your contract without penalty within 30 days of being notified of the increases.

Additionally, if your broadband service isn’t up to standard—for instance, if speeds consistently fall below those that were advertised or you’ve faced significant downtime—and your provider, when notified, hasn’t fixed the service, you may also be entitled to leave your contract early without penalty.

For more information see our guide to broadband consumer rights and making complaints to your internet service provider.

Switch to Save Money

If you haven’t assessed or switched your broadband provider in several years, you could be paying significantly over the odds, potentially for an outdated service.

A 2018 Ofcom study has found that 4 million households in the UK on standard ADSL broadband are outside their minimum contract period and are paying too much for their internet. The price you were quoted when you signed up for your broadband contract will only last the terms of the contract, and sometimes for less time, if it was just an introductory offer. Your supplier won’t cut your wires when your contract expires but will instead quietly move you onto a standard tariff. Without the promotional, in contract discount, this could could cost much more than you were paying before. Your supplier should contact you via phone call or letter when your contract and its promotional pricing is approaching expiry, but some people stick with their provider, continuing to pay out of contract pricing for years. Less informed customers, particularly the elderly, are particularly vulnerable and sometimes pay out of contract prices for years. Some customers are even paying more for ADSL with their current provider than they could be for superfast fibre optic internet from another supplier.

A broadband comparison engine can direct you cheaper deals, either from your current provider or another supplier, and an availability and speed search can show you what’s available in your area.

Furthermore, if your internet tariff is several years out of date, your needs may have changed since you last selected a provider. Maybe you’re still using a standard ADSL package but are now splitting its limited speeds among a range of new devices. Or maybe your children have moved away from home and you no longer need the fibre optic connection that supported their gaming.

Additionally, new providers and technologies may have moved into your area, offering faster speeds at cheaper prices. Maybe Virgin has rolled cable out to your area, offering blistering speeds, or your street cabinets have been upgraded to support FTTC. In general, speeds are increasing across the UK and people are paying less per Mbps. Don’t get left behind, paying too much for a dated, out of contract ADSL connection.

Can I Get Free Broadband? I Swear I Used to Get Free Broadband…

In the past providers may have advertised ‘free’ broadband: it wasn’t actually free because you still had to pay line rental but it sounded nice, right? Today broadband providers are legally required to advertise all-in prices, including line rental, so you’ll no longer get the illusion of free internet.

Today the only way to get on the internet for free is to rely on public WiFi, in locations such as cafes and libraries. Your mobile phone provider may also offer you access to certain WiFi hotspots with a contract. For instance, EE mobile customers can get access to more than 5,000,000 BT OpenZone Wifi hotspots, although data usage on them will be capped at 3 GB per month. O2 offers its mobile customers access to thousands of high speed WiFi hotspots in high street shops and cafes.

However, you shouldn’t rely on public WiFi or WiFi hotspots for all your internet needs. Connections will be slower because networks will be used by many people. Your browsing may be subjected to restrictions imposed by the host of the network and possibly tracked. The networks are also less secure and you should avoid using them while entering sensitive information or logging onto your online banking unless you take precautions such as using a VPN.

As we’ve seen home broadband connections can be obtained for less than £20 per month and less than £250 per year. If you’re continuously hopping onto public WiFi, you should look into a cheap ADSL broadband connection at home.

Can You Save Money with Mobile Broadband?

Mobile broadband uses the mobile phone network to deliver internet rather than the in-ground telephone network. It means mobile broadband can be accessed anywhere you can take your device and have adequate phone service. However, because bandwidths are more limited on the mobile network, speeds will be slower, generally averaging 20 Mbps downstream when you have 4G and just 3 Mbps when you have to rely on 3G. Data allowances are also strict, with the most lenient, and expensive, on the market coming in at 300 GB per month and 15 GB to 30 GB per month being standard. These data limits mean that mobile broadband can’t be used for streaming much video content or online gaming, without the risk of incurring steep fines.

Mobile broadband is often chosen for its portability and flexibility and generally isn’t an economical or practical replacement for fixed line broadband at home, unless you are a very light internet user. But if you frequently need internet on the go and can resist the lure of Netflix and iPlayer, it may be a good solution for you. Picking a package with the right data allowance; carefully monitoring your usage; choosing the correct equipment, be it a dongle or a portable WiFI hotspot, and ‘renting’ or buying it through a contract or purchasing an unlocked device outright and using a data-only SIM can help you save money on a mobile broadband contract. Read on if you want to find a cost-effective way of getting broadband on the go.

Cheap Mobile Broadband Deals

Because most mobile broadband operates over the 4G network—and 3G where you don’t have 4G coverage—the speeds of each package will be roughly the same (although some mobile networks are faster the others; EE is the leader in Britain.) Real life performance, of course, will vary and be dependent on the strength of mobile signal, the number of other people using the network at the same time, and things like tall buildings and thick walls.

The main price differentiation between mobile broadband packages will therefore be download allowances. You can get dongle and portable hotspot mobile broadband with between 2 GB and 3 GB of 4G data on contracts for around £10 per month, sometimes with upfront costs for the equipment. 2 GB of data is a very strict allowance, however, and would only be suitable for occasional internet browsing. You can generally get 15 GB to 18 GB of data for around £20 per month on contract, with some upfront costs involved, and 30 GB for around £25. The most expensive mobile broadband packages, MiFis from EE, can offer 100 GB to 300 GB a month, but at the cost of some of the priciest broadband packages on the market: £45 to £90 per month with £100 charged upfront.

Virgin offers some mobile internet deals that exclusively use 3G internet, the cheapest for as little as £5 per month and £39.99 upfront but with only 1 GB of data. Be aware that 3G speeds are generally very slow: just 3 Mbps downstream and 0.4 Mbps upstream.

Also make note of upfront costs for mobile broadband packages, which will generally cover the cost of the dongle or portable WiFi hotspot (also called a MiFi). They can range from £12 to nearly £40 for dongles and £19 to £100 for portable WiFi hotspots. You can often get the device for free by opting for a longer contract or paying a little more each month. It pays to do the maths and add up the total cost of each possible contract before committing to one.

You can also buy dongles and portable hotspots outright from other sources and load them with data using data-only SIMs. Mobile broadband equipment purchased from a supplier other than a mobile operator will be unlocked, meaning you can use it with any network. If you already have a locked device from previous mobile broadband tariff you may be to able to unlock it to buy data and use the network of the provider of your choice.

These SIM mobile broadband deals, which give you mobile broadband for an iPad or tablet or for a dongle or MiFi you already own, generally don’t have upfront costs. You can however bundle them with the tablet itself and spread the cost of the device over the length of a contract, much like you do a smartphone. But as which mobile phone contracts, you generally pay more for the device in the long run. If you have the cash at hand, it’s cheaper to buy the iPad or tablet upfront and get a SIM-only deal for its data.

If you do opt for a mobile broadband contract, be aware that some deals aren’t capped and providers can charge heavily for usage outside of your allowance. We’ve collected information about capping and potential overage charges from the main mobile broadband providers.

Provider Cap? Fees for Excessive Use Alerts?
EE Yes n/a texts when you’ve used 80% and then 100% of allowance
O2 Yes n/a texts when you’ve used 80% of data allowance and then 100%
Three capped for dongle and MiFis, not for HomeFi for HomeFi, 1p per MB used out of allowance text to device when at 100% of your allowance
Virgin Mobile No £1 per GB outside of allowance texts when you’ve reached 75%, 90%, and 100% of your allowance
Vodafone Voluntary capping; customer discretion £6.50 per 250 MB outside of allowance text when you “near the end of your allowance and again when you’ve reached your allowance”

Mobile broadband can also be purchased on a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) basis. Under these deals, you buy SIMs preloaded with data which you then have a month or 90 days to use. PAYG broadband usually works out to be more expensive per MB than pay monthly mobile broadband but could be useful if you’re using your mobile broadband device or SIM very sparingly and only want to pay for what you use.

Home Mobile Broadband via Relish

If you live in Central London or Swindon you can get “home mobile” broadband via Relish. Relish uses the 4G network to deliver unlimited internet to your home, through a Indoor Hub that creates a WiFi network. Speeds range from 20 Mbps to 30 Mbps, between ADSL and low-end fibre packages, and start at £22 per month. Upfront costs of £70 for the hub apply if you’re using a 30-day, rolling deal but are waived for 12-month contracts.

If you live in one of Relish’s coverage areas and get good 4G service at home, home mobile broadband could be an affordable, intermediary step between ADSL and fibre optic packages.

Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) Broadband?

It’s a tempting prospect, especially for light internet users: only paying for as little internet as you use. Unfortunately, with the exception of mobile broadband deals, there’s no way to get internet on a pay-as-you-go basis. If you do want mobile broadband, it’s more affordable when purchased on a multi-month or 30-day rolling contract with a data allowance. PAYG will see you pay more per MB of data. If you’re worried about exceeding your data allowance on a mobile broadband contract or one-month deal, you can purchase extra data through ‘bolt-ons,’ effectively adding a pay-as-you-go component to your bill.