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Switching broadband providers: a step-by-step guide

switching broadband providers

Whether it's to save money, increase internet speed, or seek out better customer service, there are many reasons you may want to switch broadband providers.

But maybe it's been a while since you last switched and you're not sure what to expect or even how long the process can take.

What to do before you switch broadband provider

Before switching broadband providers, there are a few things you should do.

Below are the steps you should take before switching your broadband service.

1. Check if you're still in contract

If you've been with the same broadband provider for more than a couple of years, you're likely paying a lot more for your monthly broadband than when you first signed-up.

Although you may have gotten a good deal on sign-up, once your contract ends, it's common for providers to increase your monthly costs - often by an exceptional amount.

To give you an idea of these price increases, the table below compares deals from some broadband providers, with the monthly in-contract price and cost per-month once the contract ends.

ProviderDeal/Contract TermIn-contract priceOut of contract price% increaseMonthly difference over 12 months
Virgin MediaBroadband 108Mbps + Phone/18 months£26.00£51.0096.15%£300.00
Shell Energy BroadbandSuperfast Fibre Plus 67Mbps/18 Months£23.99£38.1959.19%£170.40
VodafoneSuperfast 100/24 months£25.00£36.0044.00%£132.00
BTFibre 2/24 months£29.99£36.9923.34%£84.00
Prices and plans current as of 6 January 2023

End of contract notification

Owing to strict rules introduced by Ofcom in early 2020, your broadband provider is now legally obligated to send you an 'End of Contract Notification' (ECN). This is a reminder you'll receive anywhere between 10 - 40 days prior to your contract ending, and will let you know when you can either re-contract to a new deal, or switch to a new provider.

What if I'm still in contract?

If you're still in contract with your current provider, you can switch but be aware that doing so may incur Early Repayment Charges (ERCs).

The exception to this rule is that if you're mid-contract and your provider raises the price of your monthly bill above the rate of inflation, you can cancel or switch to another provider penalty-free. If you decide to go this route, Ofcom stipulates that this must be done within 30 days of being told about the price increase.

2. Check your postcode

The type of broadband you can get largely depends on where you live. Using a postcode checker will give you a good indication of what broadband is available in your area.

If you haven't changed providers in quite a while, you may still be accessing the internet via an older, slower, connection such as 'Standard' (ADSL) broadband. But there are now much faster alternatives out there.

For example, Superfast - also known as 'fibre' or 'Fibre to the Cabinet' (FTTC) broadband - is now available to over 96% of the UK and is at least three times faster than ADSL. It's also become more and more competitively priced, with some of the cheapest broadband deals on the market being fibre connections. This means that, if you are currently on ADSL, you could potentially upgrade to much faster speeds and be paying less.

To give you more of an idea, below is a brief breakdown of the speeds each broadband type is capable of:-

  • ADSL broadband (copper telephone cable connection) : 10 - 11Mbps.
  • FTTC broadband (fibre cables from the telephone exchange to the cabinet. Copper wires from the cabinet to your home): 30 - 80Mbps.
  • FTTP broadband (full fibre connection from the telephone exchange to your premises): 100 - 1000+Mbps.

Can I get ultrafast, 'Fibre to the Premises' (FTTP) broadband?

Although full fibre - or 'Fibre to the Premises' (FTTP) is the fastest type of broadband available in the UK, you may not necessarily be able to get it.

A recent report from Ofcom - released in May 2022 - indicates that around 33% of the UK currently has access to ultrafast broadband. So whether you'll be able to access FTTP broadband will be dependent on the broadband infrastructure where you live. But even if you're not able to access these speeds just yet, it might not be too long before you can: the UK government has announced its plans to have full fibre broadband available to 85% of all premises across the UK by 2025.

3. Compare broadband deals

The broadband deal that's right for you comes down to your online activities (e.g., gaming, streaming TV shows and movies), how much you use the internet for these activities, who else will be using your internet connection, and when. Depending on these factors, you may not need the fastest speeds available.

A good rule of thumb ind determining how much broadband speed you need, is to allow at least 10Mbps for every member of your household who regularly uses the internet for light activities such as browsing and checking emails. For more bandwidth-heavy activities such as streaming content in 4K or gaming online, it's recommended to allow around 20Mbps per person.

Decide whether you want only broadband, or if you would rather bundle multiple services

Another factor to consider when comparing broadband deals is whether you'd like to bundle your broadband with other telecoms services such as subscription TV or a home phone.

You'll often find broadband deals that have a TV and/or home phone package bundled-in at prices that are far cheaper than paying for the same services separately. Some broadband providers - such as Virgin Media - even offer 'quad play' packages which, in addition to broadband, includes subscription TV, a home phone, and a mobile phone SIM.

On the other hand, perhaps you're currently on a deal that includes these services and you've found you're not getting much use out of them. In this instance, cutting back to just a broadband service could be beneficial in saving you money.

4. See if you need to contact your new provider

If your current broadband provider operates on the BT Openreach network and you’re switching to a provider also on this network, then your new provider will arrange the switch for you.

Once your new provider has been in touch with your current provider to let them know of the intended switch, you'll be sent a letter from both. This letter will contain details outlining the switch, when the transfer is intended to take place, as well as any other important information, such as if your home requires a visit from an engineer, or any early termination charges you may need to pay. The letter will also give you 14 days in which to cancel the switch.

If you've signed up for ADSL or FTTC broadband, your new provider may require you to have phone line rental with them. For this reason it's a good idea to be aware of any existing line rental contract you may have with another provider or telephone company as it could delay your switch.

What if I'm switching to or from a provider not on the Openreach network?

If you're switching to or from a provider not on the Openreach network - such as Virgin Media, Community Fibre or Hyperoptic broadband - you will need to stop your service with your current provider and start a new one with a new provider. In other words, you will need to contact both providers.

Your current provider will then confirm your intention to switch, as well as outlay any early termination charges that may apply. Your new provider will also be in touch to let you know when your new contract will begin.

How long does it take to switch?

On average, it takes about two weeks to switch broadband providers. Bear in mind that these timescales may be longer if you require a visit from an engineer.

Will there be any downtime when switching?

Your new provider will liaise with you to let you know when your new broadband connection will be switched on. They'll also let you know if you require anything more complicated - such as a visit from an engineer. In the event your switchover does require a visit from an engineer, your new provider will work out with you a time and date for this to happen.

It takes around two weeks from the date of sign-up for a new broadband plan to kick in. Your new connection should also begin on the same day your old one is switched off.

If you're only switching your broadband and not anything else - such as a home phone service, then you can expect to experience only a few minutes of downtime.

However, if you're switching your landline at the same time as your broadband, then there may be a bit more downtime as an engineer may have to visit your local exchange to make changes to your line. But this shouldn't take long - a few hours at most.

Also, if you're switching between either standard ADSL or partial-fibre broadband (FTTC) to full fibre broadband, then your old service cannot be switched automatically. You'll need to cancel with your current provider and make arrangements with your new provider to have your broadband set-up and installed.

Can I switch between broadband types?

As long as the area you live in has the required network infrastructure, you can switch between broadband types.

If you're switching from standard ADSL broadband (which is connected via copper telephone cables) to a partial-fibre connection (known as 'Fibre to the Cabinet' and is a mix of copper telephone wires and fibre optic cables), your green street cabinet may require a visit from an engineer.

Likewise, if you're switching from either ADSL or Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) to either a full fibre connection or to Virgin Media, then your old service cannot be switched automatically and must be fully cancelled and replaced with a new service.

Why might I experience a delay when switching broadband providers?

Your phone line

The majority of properties will have had a BT landline installed at some point, which will be used as an access point for most providers who operate on BT's network. But if your home doesn’t have any kind of home phone or line rental, you’ll need to arrange for one to be set-up and activated.

Address registration

If you are moving into a new build property, you'll need to ensure your address has been registered with Royal Mail before you can place an order for a new broadband connection.

In most cases, the building group will register the property for you.

You live in an apartment complex

If you live in an apartment complex or high rise flat there may be some limitations as to what you can have installed. For example, some leasehold flats prohibit the installation of Sky satellite dishes, so be sure to check the details on your lease.

Most buildings will have a group distribution point from which all flats receive their signal. If your broadband installation requires a visit from an engineer, make sure you've located this point in advance so they can get you set-up quickly and easily. 

You are renting

If you live in any kind of rental property, it's wise to ask your landlord for permission before switching your broadband. While it's unlikely they'll object to any changes, it’s always better to confirm.  

Your engineer appointment

A surefire way of encountering delays will be if you miss your engineer appointment. Missing an appointment can also lead to charges from your new supplier under time wasting. For this reason, make sure you've provided your full contact details and any instructions your engineer may need to gain access to your property.

Automatic compensation scheme

If you're experiencing delays to the start of a new broadband service you've signed up for, or your existing service has gone down, you may be eligible to claim automatic compensation.

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