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How to Choose the Right One

When you move into a student house, sorting out the internet is as, if not more, important than sorting out your electricity and water. You could probably skip a few showers, but move in without internet? How are you supposed to Facebook stalk your new classmates, order takeaway every night for a week, squander the night before an exam online shopping, and download a couple article PDFs with every intention of reading them for that essay? The internet is clearly crucial for your education.

When you move into a student house, your parents are no longer paying the internet bill. That means, thankfully, they’re no longer enforcing the download allowance and scolding you for gaming all night long. But they’re also not there to decide between providers,
tariffs, technologies or speeds. So what provider and tariff do you go with?With students budgets tight, relationships between housemates delicate, half your social life and coursework conducted online, you’ve gotta get this right.

Before you call your dad, read this. We can help you make sense of the broadband market and find a contract that best suits the needs of you and your housemates. Because face it: they’re not going to help. They’ll just turn up and expect the WiFi password.

Unlimited or a Download Allowance?

Researching for an essay and checking your email may not be data-intensive, but we know that’s not all university students do on the internet. There’s streaming, gaming, social media. Do you want to be conducting a house-wide witch hunt to discover who blew through your monthly 50 GB allowance in two weeks? Was it Jack with all the World of Warcraft or Chloe with the 16-hour Netflix binges? It’s best not to know.

Unless you want to stir tensions, you should opt for an unlimited download allowance when sharing a house with three to five internet-hungry students. Most home broadband packages on the market today are unlimited and all of those specifically aimed at students are.
You’ll pay more month by month, but it’ll spare you from being the house internet killjoy, monitoring everyone’s downloads. With unlimited you won’t incur costly fees for overages that you then have to divide up among the offenders. (You’ll definitely end up paying those fines too. You’re the one sorting out the broadband, you buy all the cleaning supplies—you’re gonna stump up.)

Be aware that unlimited contracts are still subject to ‘fair usage’ policies that allow internet providers to curb the download speeds of particularly heavy users at peak times. However, those limits are so high even a household of Netflix-bingeing, gaming students are unlikely to exceed them. Still, it’s important to listen to your dad and read the fine print of any broadband contract before you sign it, even one that markets itself as ‘unlimited.’

How Fast Should Your Internet Be?

If you’re sharing a house and an internet connection with a load of people, you’ll also be sharing limited bandwidth (and a bathroom and refrigerator full of leftovers and a kitchen surface covered in unwashed dishes, but let’s not get into that). You don’t want to be stuck with buffering streams and lagging page loads, particularly at peak times when all your housemates are also on iPlaye and Instagram. You need to ensure you have enough bandwidth to split between all of you and not be stuck waiting for your 14th consecutive episode of Peep Show to load.

But what speeds are fast and what kind of broadband should you opt for to guarantee them?

Speeds above 24 Mbit/sec are, by definition, ‘superfast.’ You won’t achieve them with ADSL, where top speeds of 8 Mbit/sec or 24 Mbit/sec are standard. A fibre optic deal will do the trick and give you enough speed that you’ll be able to download 15 lecture note powerpoint presentations the night before an exam, even if Jack is simultaneously downloading a Blu-ray film. Superfast broadband will cost more but remember, you’ll be dividing the monthly bill up among your housemates.

If you really have a need for speed, consider one of Virgin Media’s cable broadband packages, which can push speeds up to 350 Mbit/sec, or a FTTP (fibre to the premises) fibre optic connection. You’ll just have to get your housemates on board for the extra charges…

How Long Should Your Contract Be?

If you’re moving into a student house for the academic year, you’ll want, at most, a 12-month broadband contract. Some providers, including BT, Sky, and Virgin Media, offer university students special 9-month contracts. These are usually available between July and October and will run through the academic year.

If you’re planning on staying in your house for a full calendar year, you should obviously consider a 12-month deal. But even if you’ll be decamping to your parents’ house or Ibiza or Nepal in the summer, a 12-month contract could be cheaper than a student one. It pays to do your research—and your maths.

There’s technically no such thing as ‘no contract’ broadband but you can get broadband that operates on a rolling, month-to-month contract. This could be an option if you’re planning on being elsewhere over the summer and don’t want to be tied into a year-long contract.
It’ll renew automatically every month so you’ll have to remember to cancel with sufficient notice (as specified in the fine print, usually 28 days, 30 days, or a month) in April or May so you’re not forced to pay for another month of internet for a house you’re moved out of.

Be aware that terminating contracts early often comes with a hefty fee, generally the total of the bills for the remaining months on the contract. So don’t take out a longer broadband contract with the intention of cancelling it after the term ends.

Who’s On the Contract?

Most internet service providers only allow one name on the contract—and that person is then legally responsible for the bill. Make sure you negotiate bill-splitting with your housemates and also ensure that the person whose name is on the contract has enough money in his or her bank account each month to pay it. You don’t want your internet to be disconnected because Jack can’t budget and everyone else forgot to transfer him their share. A common strategy in shared households is for one person to be named on and to be pay the broadband bill, another to be named on the electric bill, and a third on the water bill.

Do You Need a Landline?

We know you don’t have a landline phone. You’d be hard pressed to find a student house in the UK that does. If you’re opting for a ADSL or fibre optic internet connection you’ll have to pay line rental on a landline, however. That charge—usually between £10 and £20 a month—will be included in the total advertised monthly cost so you won’t be hit with hidden fees. However, if your phone line isn’t active your provider will charge a call-out fee to activate it. This can range from £20 to £130.

If you really want to ditch the landline, consider one of Virgin Media’s broadband packages. Virgin has a fibre optic network that’s completely separate from BT’s so is able to offer internet connections without line rental—and at speeds of up to 350 Mbit/sec. They’re currently available to just under half of UK addresses however, so consult an online broadband availability checker before passing a link on to all your housemates.

Do You Need to Buy a Router?

You’ll need to a router to connect to the internet in your student home. Sometimes your internet provider will give you one for “free” (although the cost will likely be rolled into your connection or installation fee) and sometimes you’ll be made to “rent” one, the cost included in your monthly bill. If you want a better-performance router—or an extender to beam the internet into the far reaches and bedrooms of your student house—you can purchase your own but check to see if it’s compatible with your internet connection before laying out the cash.

When Should You Arrange Your Broadband?

Remember that it usually takes at least two weeks for your internet connection to be activated, following installation and set-up. Plan ahead so you’re not stuck in your student digs without WiFi for two weeks at the start of term.

Broadband offers that specifically target students are generally available from July to October.

Special Broadband Deals for Students

Some internet providers—notably BT and Virgin—offer broadband deals specifically aimed at university students. Sometimes you have to show proof of your student status, such as a university ID, to access these. They typically come with 9-month contracts, decent speeds and unlimited downloads, but they may not be cheaper than other introductory offers, even on 12-month contracts. It’s worth exploring all your options before signing up to a contract pitched at students.

What about Bundling?

We know you aren’t using a landline phone in your student house so bundling your broadband with calling likely isn’t attractive. While most students are wizards at streaming TV series and films, some may miss the familiar background noise of the TV or aspire to cozy household viewings of… University Challenge? Something wholesome and educational. In that case you may want to consider bundling your broadband with a TV deal—but remember you’ll need a TV licence for the household.

However the most attractive bundling options are typically only available on contracts with a minimum length of 18 months—much longer than you’re likely planning on staying in your student house.

What About Mobile Broadband?

Mobile broadband contracts deliver internet over the mobile phone network rather than in-ground telephone or fibre lines. They can be bought on a contract as short as one month on a pay as you go basis and don’t require a phone line, so they might be tempting for a student household looking for flexibility and low upfront costs.

However, mobile broadband contracts are unlikely to offer the download allowances and speed a multi-student household requires.
The most generous allowances mobile broadband allowances are just 50 GB a month and most are much lower: 10 GB per month is standard. Consider that Netflix uses about 1 GB per hour streaming standard video and 3 GB per hour streaming HD video and you can see how that allowance could evaporate overnight. Speeds are often slow too: usually 20 Mbit/sec download for 4G but only 3 Mbit/sec download if you’re stuck using 3G. If you want really want to go fully mobile, each housemate should consider getting a separate mobile broadband contract.

However while mobile broadband might not be the best option for your student house it could be handy for personal use, in addition to a home broadband contract. For instance, mobile broadband via a dongle may be convenient if you frequently study outside of the house. Most university libraries and buildings will have WiFi accessible by students but you might want to work elsewhere: say a cafe with great cold brew coffee but spotty WiFi or the park near your student house. A mobile broadband contract ensures you can connect anywhere you have good mobile signal, so you can finish that essay on the go.