Oh, I suppose you think that I’m about to recommend some cheap-as-chips home broadband deals, huh? Far from it, lovely reader!
Sadly for me, I have learned the hard way that shopping for a good home broadband deal is like shopping for shoes: the cheapo ones may look fine from a distance, but up close they lose their shine. Or fall to pieces. Or you end up hating them.
This was my experience with Orange Home Broadband (now EE). The deal looked fantastic on paper: line rental and broadband for just £10 a month. In reality, what we got was an internet connection that was so slow, even writing a simple blog post became a marathon effort. I tend to blog late at night, and sometimes I fell asleep while waiting and waiting for images to upload. Sometimes, when the signal was being particularly feeble, I ended up sitting on the floor downstairs, next to the router, with my laptop cabled into the back of it just so I could get anything done.
To make it worse, the internet connection kept cutting out and I would have to reconnect. Some nights this would happen every hour and some nights it would happen every few minutes, but it was always deeply, deeply irritating. I called Orange a couple of times to try and get the problem fixed, but I got passed from pillar to post.
Anyway, enough of this tragic money-saving tale. My lesson was learned: rubbish internet sucks, and cheap broadband isn’t always worth it. Also, if you spend as much time online as I do, it is probably worth investing a little more money each month to get a home broadband service that (shock, horror) actually meets your needs.
But when all the home broadband deals look so good on paper, how can you separate the good ones from the duffers?
It doesn’t help that the quality of home broadband seems to vary so markedly from area to area: some people recommend provider X to the heavens; others will tell you not to touch X with a bargepole.
When my home broadband contract came up for renewal, I put a lot of research in because I was determined not to make the same mistake twice. I chanced upon an invaluable tool on one of the comparison sites. It’s free, and I’d like to share it with you. Seriously, it’s useful.
Here it is: the USwitch StreetStats tool:
This free tool collates data from people who have made use of the USwitch UK Broadband Speed Test tool. Just enter your postcode:
And up pops a map:
This is the map for the area around the cafe in which I am sitting right now. As you can see, the broadband speeds differ markedly.
For example, both TalkTalk and Sky advertise broadband speeds of up to 16MB. As you can see from this map, however, they aren’t hitting them around here. If I lived locally and was looking to take out a new home broadband contract, I would approach with caution.
Incidentally, the StreetStats where I live show that TalkTalk home broadband speeds near me (about 10 miles down the road from this map) are much faster. Does it illustrate how dramatically the quality of broadband can vary, town to town? I think so.
Obviously, there are limitations to this tool. For starters, when you think about the number of households with home broadband, you are looking at a relatively small sample here. Secondly, I don’t know if USwitch features all broadband companies, or only those who are “preferred providers” of deals to the comparison site. The speed test I ran on my unsatisfactory EE broadband, just a couple of months ago, doesn’t show up when I do a StreetStats search for my area.
Finally, it is worth noting that other variables may be at play. For example, it is commonly thought that the closer to the telephone exchange you are, the faster your broadband speeds are likely to be. (The StreetStats tool always shows the location of the nearest exchange.)
That said, I’d recommend StreetStats as an essential tool when you are looking for a new home broadband contract. It all helps – and, as I discovered the hard way, the cheapest deal can dazzle but it isn’t always the wisest investment.
P.S. In case you are wondering, after using the StreetStats tool I signed up to BT, who had by far and away the fastest home broadband speeds in my part of town. They aren’t the cheapest provider here and yes, I know they can be a pain to deal with, but the extra investment has proved worthwhile. My internet is whizzy-bang fast and my quality of life has drastically improved as a result.
Image credit: Eris Stassi.