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Regular Broadband-related news and comment from the Broadband.co.uk team.

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Broadband without a phone line

How to get broadband without a phone line

Posted by Andy Betts on in FeaturesVirgin MediaDirect SaveBTGigaclearEE

How often do you make calls on your landline these days? Chances are, it's not often at all.

The number of landline calls has been slashed by well over a half over the last few years. Millions of us now only have landlines because we need them for our broadband. But that's about to change.

A new wave of standalone, broadband-only services are on their way, spearheaded by BT and EE. And it's not just a passing trend. Within five years this will be the norm.

So why is this happening now? Simple answer: the days of the landline are numbered. The UK's ageing phone network is set to be switched off in 2025, to be replaced by a combination of mobile and internet calls. The transition is already under way.

What's happened is that Openreach, the BT-owned company that runs the network, has effectively split the phone service out from the copper wire network that it works on. So where you'd normally automatically get a phone sevice whenever you signed up to a broadband package that uses the copper network (which is most of them), now you won't.

Most fibre services still need to use the copper lines, but increasingly you won't get a phone number or dial tone unless you really need one.

Broadband-only

This is leading to the launch of new broadband-only packages (the technical name for these is SOGEA broadband, but you don't need to worry about that). Our newly updated guide to Broadband Without a Phone Line has got all the details you need.

Leading the way in this new generation are BT and EE.

  • BT are offering their Fibre Essential, Fibre 1 and Fibre 2 deals as broadband-only packages, on two-year contracts and priced at the same rate as the equivalent with-landline deals.
  • EE offer as standard all their regular fibre packages as broadband-only on 18-month contracts. If you do want to keep your landline you have to add it during checkout, and also pay a little extra for a call package.

This is awesome news for those of us whose landlines attract cold callers and scammers and nothing else. But you do need to be slightly cautious before you sign up. When you take on broadband-only you will give up your phone line and lose your number. If you later have second thoughts, you'll be able to get a new line, but you won't get your number back.

If you're in any doubt, a simple compromise solution is to stick with what you've got for now and just unplug your phone. There's no real cost difference either way, at the moment.

These new services aren't your only options for landline-free internet. The biggest provider that can give you this is Virgin Media, who offer all their broadband deals with or without a phone connection. Either way, you don't need a BT line installed to get them.

There's also the small but growing band of full fibre providers, like Gigaclear and Direct Save. They have limited coverage, which is expanding all the time, and come with the added benefit of delivering the fastest broadband in the UK. You can get top speeds averaging around 900Mb - around 13 times faster than the most popular fibre deals.

If you're keen to switch to broadband-only, or want to find out what your options are, use our postcode checker to see the best broadband deals available in your area today.

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Christmas Broadband and TV

Missed the deadline for broadband or TV installation? You can still upgrade for Xmas!

Posted by Andy Betts on in FeaturesNOW BroadbandThreeVodafone4GEEO2

Were you planning to upgrade your broadband or TV in time for the holidays? It's now the middle of December, so it's probably too late, right? Oh no it isn't!

We can still save your Christmas with faster broadband and more TV than you could ever possibly watch. Here's what you can do.

Broadband

If you aren't sure your current broadband will hold up under the strain of endless Zoom chats, Netflix bingeing and PS5 gaming, you still have options.

Although it is too late to get a new fibre deal connected in time for Christmas, mobile broadband can still give a decent internet boost.

There are 4G home broadband plans that offer you unlimited data at speeds on a par with a basic fibre deal. And if you're lucky enough to live in a 5G area, you can switch to something that is potentially a whole lot faster than the broadband you've currently got.

What makes it better is that you don't even need to make the switch permanent, since providers like Three and Vodafone let you sign up on 30-day plans. So if you just want to add a bit more bandwidth alongside your existing service for a few weeks, or are visiting family and need to take a decent internet connection with you, then this could work a treat.

Among the best deals available:

  • Three have unlimited 4G on deals up to two years long. You can get a 30-day plan for £30, plus £49 for a wireless hub (which you'll be able to continue using in future, too). They also do 5G in select areas, with unlimited data and speeds up to an impressive 200Mb. Prices start at £29 a month.
  • Vodafone have a range of mobile broadband plans, including some with the very highly rated GigaCube wireless router, for both 4G and 5G. You can pick up both on 30-day deals with unlimited 5G data, or up to 300GB on 4G.

EE and O2 also offer mobile broadband, albeit with lower usage allowances or on longer deals. And don't forget that your phone also offers a tethering feature, where you can make it function as a wireless router. Just be careful that you've got a big enough data allowance, as you can burn through it pretty quickly and don't want to be hit with any excess charges.

To unwrap the best festive offers, check out the best mobile broadband deals available today.

TV

Parties might be off the agenda this Christmas, so we'll all be relying on boxsets, movies and Premier League football to keep ourselves entertained.

You can access Sky TV without a dish, installation or commitment through NOW TV. This streaming service lets you choose which bundle of channels you want through a range of TV Passes. Among the best offers are:

  • Entertainment Pass with NOW TV Boost gives you all the Sky entertainment channels including Sky One and Sky Atlantic, while the Boost add-on lets you watch in full HD on up to three TVs at the same time.
  • Cinema Pass with NOW TV Boost gives you over a thousand movies to watch on demand. You can also get Entertainment and Cinema in a single bundle.
  • Sky Sports Day Pass with Mobile Month Pass lets you watch Sky Sports for 24 hours for a one-off fee of £9.98. It's ideal if you want to enjoy specific football matches.
  • Sky Sports Month Pass with Boost gives you the full Sky Sports experience for a full month.
  • Kids Pass is the perfect way to keep the kids quiet, with ad-free shows. This no longer includes the Disney channels, though, which have switched over to Disney+.

All the monthly deals auto-renew, so make sure you cancel if you only want them for a month. You can cancel early so that you don't forget, and you'll still be able to watch until your month ends.

Better yet, the Entertainment and Cinema Passes come with a seven day free trial. If you haven't signed up before (or if you've got a different email address and payment card you can use), and you're feeling particularly sneaky, you can time your signup so that you get your free week over Christmas - and then cancel before you pay anything.

In fact, you can get a few nice Christmas treats by making good use of free trials on a few other streaming services. Amazon Prime offers 30 days, and Apple TV and BritBox both give you a free week.

Sadly, Netflix and Disney+ no longer do free trials. But you can spend around £15 in total for a month of the two, more than enough time to binge through the latest series' of The Crown and The Mandalorian while troughing the last of the Quality Street.

And if you're ready to upgrade your broadband in 2021, use our postcode checker to find the best Christmas and New Year broadband deals in your area today.

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Christmas Broadband

Upgrade your broadband and TV in time for Christmas

Posted by Andy Betts on in FeaturesNewsNOW BroadbandTalkTalkPlusnetVirgin MediaSkyBT

Christmas is going to be a bit different this year.

Even with the hope of relaxed restrictions, it's likely that for many of us, large family gatherings will be replaced by virtual get-togethers, and nights out at pubs and parties will be swapped for nights in with a boxset.

And what does this mean? Our internet connections are going to be more important than ever.

So why not treat yourself to an early Christmas present by upgrading to a fantastic new broadband deal? If your current contract is coming to an end - or maybe it ran out a while back and you haven't got round to sorting it yet - now is the perfect time to start shopping.

There's loads of festive offers on right now, and if you act quickly there's still time to get connected before the holiday season kicks off.

You can even sign up to a premium TV service, so you can catch the latest movies, the hottest new shows, and enjoy the Premier League's hectic Christmas schedule.

  • Sign up to Virgin Media by 9th December for guaranteed installation by Christmas. You can get both broadband and TV, and activation is free - saving you £35!
  • You can still get Sky TV bundles up and running in time for Christmas.
  • For other TV and broadband bundles, check out the latest deals from BT and TalkTalk - TalkTalk packages still come with the promise of no mid-contract price rises.
  • Plusnet have seasonal offers available until 16th December.
  • You can get NOW Broadband with a range of TV Passes, covering your choice of entertainment, movies and sports.

When choosing a new broadband deal, always make sure you pick the right speed for your household. Put simply, the more people in it, the faster you need. So while one person making a video call or watching Netflix can get away with a relatively low speed, a few people all doing the same together will need much faster.

And keep in mind any large downloads you need to make. For example, games for the Playstation 5 or new Xbox consoles typically start at around 50GB, and can be double that. To make things a little easier, schedule these downloads to happen overnight, so they're ready and waiting the following morning.

You'll have to hurry if you want to get your broadband set up in time for Christmas. Use our postcode checker to find the best broadband bargains available where you live right now.

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NOW Broadband

Grab a Black Friday bargain with a deal from NOW Broadband

Posted by Edd Dawson on in OffersNOW Broadband

Looking for a great broadband deal this Black Friday? Take a look at the fab deals that NOW Broadband have on offer. You can get their fastest speeds at their lowest ever price for just £24 a month. The Super Fibre Broadband package comes with free Anytime calls, has average speeds of 63Mb, unlimited downloads, and comes on a 12 month contract with free connection. If you want a shorter contract, the offer also applies to the 1 month contract with a £60 up front fee.

If you can't get Super Fibre in your area, NOW have some other great offers on. You can get Fab Fibre with Anytime calls and average speeds of 36Mb for just £22 a month, and Brilliant Broadband with Anytime calls and average speeds of 11Mb for £18 a month. Both packages come with unlimited downloads and are available on 1 month and 12 month contracts.

Of course, NOW are well known for their excellent TV streaming service, so why not throw in one of their Passes on top of these offers? These are also reduced price for 12 months, and you can mix and match with your chosen broadband deal. You can get the Fab Fibre broadband with Entertainment Pass bundle for just £27.99 a month. You also have option of the Sky Cinema Pass for £9.99 extra a month or the Sky Sports Pass for £25 extra a month.

 


All offers available to new customers only unless otherwise specified. Actual speeds offered subject to a line check and will be displayed on checkout. Only available in NOW Fibre areas. Offer ends midnight on 10/12/2020.

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BT Group logos

BT, EE, Plusnet and John Lewis announce mid-contract price hikes - what can you do?

Posted by Andy Betts on in FeaturesNewsEEBTJohn LewisPlusnet

Make sure you read the terms carefully when you take out a new broadband deal: there's a growing trend for some providers to sneak in new clauses promising significant mid-contract price rises.

The four BT Group brands - BT, EE, Plusnet and John Lewis - have now all announced new policies to allow bigger price hikes on their deals. They will see annual increases equal to the consumer price index (CPI) inflation rate - plus an extra 3.9% on top.

Previously, ISPs would typically peg their rises to the CPI, or in some cases promise none at all.

Plusnet, for example, have effectively replaced their heralded fixed price guarantee with the guarantee of at least one - and potentially two - price rises over the course of a broadband deal.

BT, meanwhile, no longer offer contracts shorter than the two-year maximum that Ofcom allows. That means you'll be paying at least 7.95% more at the end of your deal than you were at the start.

Here's what they've announced:

  • BT and EE are using the CPI published every January. The price rises go into effect from 31st March each year, and apply to customers who signed up after 1st September 2020.
  • For the 2021 increase, Plusnet and John Lewis are using the CPI published in April and applying the increase from 1st June. After that, they're using the CPI published every January, and adding the increase to bills from 1st March. It affects customers who signed up from 7th October.

If you're on an older deal and still within your initial contract period you won't be affected by these changes until the time comes for you to renew. If you're out of contract you will be affected, although you should never stay on an out-of-contract deal for long.

So how much more will you be paying? For reference, the CPI rate for December 2019 was 1.3%, so that's the rate by which your price would have gone up on most deals. Under the new policy, that increase would have been a hefty 5.2%.

The Bank of England's target for the CPI is even higher at 2%. Of course, with the uncertainty that comes from the UK being in the middle of the biggest economic slump in 300 years, it's hard to predict what that rate will be in future. Needless to say, negative inflation won't result in a discount as that 3.9% will stay in place regardless.

What can you do?

Ofcom rules state that you can quit your contract without penalty if your broadband provider introduces "unexpected" mid-contract increases. But by announcing these plans, and writing them into your contract, they won't be classed as unexpected, so there's no escape.

What you can do instead is ensure you factor in the changes in your monthly charges when you're comparing broadband deals. And also keep in mind the date you sign up. If you take out one of these deals in February or March you'll be hit by an immediate price hike.

This move makes genuine fixed price guarantees more valuable than ever, especially if you're signing up for longer than 12 months. TalkTalk, italk and SSE are among the suppliers still offering them, so if you want clarity over what your bills will look like over the next couple of years they're worth checking out.

If you're ready to find a better deal on your broadband, use our postcode checker to see what's available in your area.

 
 

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Person using a tablet

These are the places with the best and worst broadband in the UK

Posted by Andy Betts on in News

What are your broadband options like where you live?

If you live in places like Hull, Birmingham or Milton Keynes (or at least the right parts of these places), chances are you're pretty happy. But if you're in rural Scotland or Northern Ireland, or in the West Country, your internet coverage might be seriously lacking.

Comprehensive data released by industry watchdog Ofcom breaks down the level of broadband coverage in every area, and reveals massive differences across the UK.

It shows that while some parts have almost blanket full fibre coverage, others have a small but significant number of premises that cannot even get a 2Mb fixed-line connection.

Let's take a look at the numbers to find the best and worst places for broadband in the UK.

The best broadband coverage in the UK

Ofcom's data is split into multiple groups of varying sizes, from local authority right down to postcode level. It shows both the percentage and exact number of premises in each area that can access broadband of certain speeds. The data was collected in May this year.

It's all presented in a series of fairly unwieldy spreadsheets and PDF files, but you can check it all out if you want see how your area fares.

Using the data for each parliamentary constituency - which splits the country in 650 regions - we can see that in 49 areas, 99% of premises have access to at least 30Mb broadband. In 30 areas, 90% of premises can get at least 300Mb broadband.

The 10 constituencies where the highest proportion of premises have access to superfast broadband (30Mb or over) and ultrafast broadband (300Mb or above) are:

Rank Superfast availability (30-300Mb) %
1 Gosport 99.8
2 Luton North 99.8
3 Glasgow North West 99.6
4 Gedling 99.6
5 Bootle 99.5
6 Leicester West 99.5
7 Nottingham North 99.5
8 Birmingham, Hodge Hill 99.5
9 Liverpool, West Derby 99.5
10 Swansea West 99.5
Rank Ultrafast availability (over 300Mb) %
1 Kingston upon Hull North 98.8
2 Kingston upon Hull West & Hessle 97.6
3 Kingston upon Hull East 97.4
4 Birmingham, Yardley 97.0
5 Birmingham, Hodge Hill 96.8
6 Bristol South 95.5
7 Luton North 94.8
8 Birmingham, Perry Barr 94.4
9 Worsley & Eccles South 94.1
10 Leeds North East 93.9

 

The figures for full fibre are inevitably a lot less impressive. In total there are 17 constituencies where two-thirds of premises can get gigabit broadband. Here's the top 10:

Rank Full fibre availability %
1 Kingston upon Hull North 98.8
2 Kingston upon Hull West & Hessle 97.6
3 Kingston upon Hull East 97.4
4 Coventry North West 78.0
5 Milton Keynes South 77.7
6 Wallasey 77.1
7 Birmingham, Yardley 76.1
8 Worsley & Eccles South 73.9
9 Belfast North 73.5
10 Haltemprice & Howden 72.5

 

It's no surprise that Hull comes out on top in these figures, since the city has a unique broadband setup. For historical reasons Hull has no BT presence at all - not even landlines - and there's just one broadband provider in the form of KCOM. The company has invested a large amount of money in the region's infrastructure.

The worst broadband coverage in the UK

It's not all good news. The data also highlights the areas where fixed line broadband coverage is woefully lacking. Never mind full fibre broadband, homes in some parts of the country don't have access to even a basic broadband service.

Nationwide, there are around 7500 postcodes where no premises at all can access faster than 2Mb broadband. Most of these are rural areas, and are found in all four countries of the UK. Some of these areas will be targeted under the Government's plan to fund investment in broadband over the next few years. These are the parts that are not financially viable enough for competition to drive the market on its own.

In addition, the Government's universal service obligation guarantees all properties should be able to get 10Mb broadband. If not, they will pay up to £3400 to upgrade the infrastructure and get it connected.

The constituencies with the highest proportion of properties unable to get 2Mb broadband are:

Rank Unable to get 2Mb %
1 West Tyrone 6.7
2 Fermanagh & South Tyrone 6.6
3 Penrith & The Border 4.0
4 South Down 3.6
5 Brecon & Radnorshire 3.6
6 Orkney & Shetland 3.6
7 Ross, Skye & Lochaber 3.5
8 Montgomeryshire 3.3
9 Argyll & Bute 3.2
10 Mid Ulster 3.1

 

On top this of this, there are many parts of the country that are under-served when it comes to faster broadband. Over a quarter of properties in some regions are unable to access 30Mb internet, while full fibre is essentially in non-existent in others.

Rank Unable to get 30Mb %
1 Orkney & Shetland 29.6
2 Fermanagh & South Tyrone 27.6
3 West Tyrone 23.5
4 Brecon & Radnorshire 22.9
5 Cities of London & Westminster 22.4
6 Mid Ulster 21.8
7 Central Devon 21.7
8 Ross, Skye & Lochaber 21.6
9 Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross 21.6
10 Carmarthen East & Dinefwr 20.5
Rank Full fibre availability %
1 Plymouth, Sutton & Devonport 0.1
2 Great Grimsby 0.2
3 Hazel Grove 0.3
4 Norwich South 0.3
5 Washington & Sunderland West 0.3
6 Rhondda 0.3
7 Blackpool North & Cleveleys 0.4
8 Hartlepool 0.5
9 Stourbridge 0.5
10 West Dunbartonshire 0.5

 

Of course, we do need to point out that some of these areas could possibly have access to high speed internet that's not been counted in these results, due to local initiatives from companies such as B4RN or Call Flow or wireless broadband services via a local mast. Many of these places are also able to get faster internet speeds with comparable prices and services to fixed-line broadband over the mobile network with 4G and 5G home routers from the bigger networks, like EE and Three.

Want to see how you measure up? Give our speed test a whirl to find out how fast your current broadband service is, then use our postcode checker to discover the best broadband deals in your area right now.

 

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What is latency?

What is latency and is it slowing down your broadband?

Posted by Andy Betts on in Features

While we always do our best to guide you towards your perfect broadband deal in a jargon-free way, you cannot avoid bumping up against technical terms from time to time.

One such example is latency, a hidden spec that broadband providers don't advertise, but which can make even a lightning fast internet connection feel slow.

Put simply, latency is a measurement of the time it takes to send data and receive a response. If you think of your broadband speed as being like the top speed of a car, then it's latency is more like how long it takes to get the car moving when you first start the ignition and push down the accelerator pedal. And, although it's recorded in milliseconds, this delay can happen every time you send or request new information from the internet, which can quickly add up.

Often called the ping rate or ping time, latency affects everything you do online. Like when you're filling in an online form and there's a lag between you tapping the keyboard and your words appearing on screen. Or when you click a link and the lack of an immediate response leaves you wondering if you need to click it again.

The net result is that high latency leaves even fast internet connections feeling a lot slower and less responsive than they should do. It doesn't affect the speed itself - you can still stream a Netflix movie in 4K, but all the button presses you need to queue up the movie in the first place could be the digital equivalent of wading through mud.

Latency is most often discussed in relation to online gaming: it's the delay between pressing a button on your gamepad and seeing the resulting action on screen. It's especially important for multiplayer gaming. If you've got a higher latency connection than your opponent it's going to be like you've got much slower reactions. It puts you at a real disadvantage, and if it's too bad you can even get kicked out of a game.

In fact, for gamers, latency is a bigger problem than a slow connection. Online gaming doesn't actually need that much bandwidth, so you can get away with gaming on slow broadband as long as your ping time is good enough.

And latency is affecting many more people today, as we spend more and more time in video conferences, for work, education, social and family gatherings. Your latency could be affecting how long the delays are between what you say and what everyone else in the meeting or hangout hears. Your high latency could be the reason why you end up talking over other people, or why they're talking over you. It could making Zoom, Teams or Meet more awkward than it needs to be.

How can you improve latency?

So what does this mean for you? How do you measure latency, and is there anything you can do about it? Part of the problem is that broadband suppliers cannot guarantee a certain performance level because there are too many factors that affect it.

You're most likely to experience high latency when there are high traffic levels on the network. Ofcom research showed that latency increased by 2% in March as a result of the surge in internet usage at the start of the lockdown. You might generally find it's worse during peak hours, which are mostly during the evening.

High latency can be caused by a fault somewhere on the network. It can happen if the website or service you're connecting to is busy, or if there's a lot of traffic on your own router. Things like Wi-Fi extenders, used to improve the wireless throughout your house, can increase latency a little.

It can also be a factor of the type of internet you're using. So, full fibre is likely to be better than fibre-to-the-home, which is better than an old standard connection that runs fully on copper cables. Niche broadband services for rural users - like satellite broadband - will have the highest latency of all.

You can find out how your own broadband connection is doing by using our Speed Test tool. It only takes a few seconds, just run the test, and you'll see the results - your download and upload speeds, plus your ping time, in milliseconds. Ideally, you'll be in the region of 50ms or less; 100ms is the point where you might start to notice it; and 150ms or more could cause you problems, and might even make online gaming impossible.

What can you do about it? To be honest, not that much, since the problem will often be with your service, not with you. But there are some things you can try.

A wired connection should have a lower ping rate than a wireless one. If that isn't an option, check that you've got a good Wi-Fi signal and that your router is set up properly. You could also consider upgrading to a newer, better router. If you've got a large number of devices connected, you could try removing a few that you aren't using.

If the problem keeps on, or gets too bad, speak to your broadband provider to see if there's a problem on their end that they can fix.

For more information, check out our guide to broadband for gamers. To upgrade to a better internet service, take a look at the best broadband deals available right now or use our postcode checker to see what's available where you live.

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WiFi router

How to replace your broadband router, and why you might want to

Posted by Andy Betts on in Features

When you sign up to a broadband deal, your new provider will send you a wireless router to get started. You just have to plug it in, wait for it to light up, and you're ready to go. Other than having to type in the passcode on all your devices, there's no other setup at all. It couldn't be easier.

But here's the thing: not all routers are made equal. Some are very high end, packed with the latest technology and able to get the absolute most from your home network. Others aren't.

An easy way for a broadband supplier to keep their costs down is to work with only bare-bones routers, or models from a generation or two ago. And many people will be fine with that; for others, there's room for improvement.

Why use your own router?

Did you know that you don't have to settle for the router your provider gives you? You can use your own router instead, and there are lots of good reasons why you'd want to:

  • A new router can offer a stronger and more reliable connection.
  • It can give you better coverage throughout your home - maybe even stretching the signal into your garden.
  • It can handle more users connected at the same time.
  • A new router can let you use the latest tech with your compatible gadgets - like the latest Wi-Fi spec, Wi-Fi 6, which works on recent iPhones and many Android phones.
  • It might offer built-in parental controls, which you can manage through a phone app.
  • It can give you access to more advanced features, like support for a VPN or your own choice of DNS service.

What a new router won't do is make your broadband connection itself faster. If you're thirsting for more speed, take a look at the latest broadband deals or check what's available in your area to see what's on offer.

Potential downsides and other things you should know

Many broadband providers aren't overly keen on you using your own router, even though Ofcom says that you can. So while providers can't stop you, they generally won't offer tech support if you aren't using their supplied gear. And that's fair enough, since there are so many different brands and models of router on sale and they can't be expected to know how they all work.

There may also be compatibility issues with some networks. Sky, for instance, use a special kind of authentication system called MER encapsulation, so you need to make sure your router supports that - and not all do.

On Virgin Media, you can set up your own router but you need to keep your Hub or Super Hub plugged in as well, set to Modem Mode.

It can be even more complex for some specialist providers. On Hyperoptic, for example, your router needs to accept an Ethernet connection, and it won't work with your call plan. If you need to, you can use your own router for internet and the Hyperoptic router for calls.

So if you do decide to switch, always check exactly what you need before you buy, and don't chuck your official router - it might only be on loan to you, for a start! But if you ever need tech support you'll be better off plugging it back in before making the call. That's likely to be the first thing they tell you to do anyway, and - you never know - reconnecting it might actually solve your problem.

How to set up your own router

Once you've bought your router, you need to set it up. Most providers offer basic instructions on how to do this, although the precise details will differ depending on which router you're using.

The process is a little more hands-on than connecting the supplied model. In most cases you need to turn the router on, connect to it on your laptop, then log in to its Settings panel. Check the manual for details on how to do this.

From there, you'll probably have to enter a few details, including a username, as well as tick a few boxes and select a few items from drop-down lists. These are all technical things, but don't worry about that. You don't actually need to know what any of them mean.

Finally, reboot your router and - fingers crossed - it should connect you to the internet. Now all you need to do is connect all your devices again, and you're done.

Using your own router is something for more tech-minded users. You might be perfectly happy with the setup you've currently got, and see no reason to change. Either way, it is useful to get to know how your router works. In particular, it's worth taking a moment to beef up your router's security settings to help keep you safe online.

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Lockdown Lessons Report

How internet use surged and workers became more productive during lockdown

Posted by Andy Betts on in FeaturesTalkTalk

Internet usage surged by 40% during the lockdown this year, and working-from-home Brits became a whole lot more productive, according to a new survey.

The TalkTalk Lockdown Lessons Report looks at how we spent our time online during the lockdown. The survey gathered feedback in August from users and businesses, and analysed TalkTalk's own network usage patterns to discover the trends that emerged, and what changes it may lead to in the future.

The most unsurprising detail was that internet usage jumped by 40% during the lockdown period, compared to the same time a year ago. This is a large increase, even factoring in the usual year-on-year increase in data use.

The number hasn't dropped since restrictions eased, either, suggesting the change may be permanent. In fact, users ranked internet access as the second most important thing to have during a lockdown - behind only a garden or outdoor space.

So how were we spending all this extra time online?

For leisure use, video chat was the big winner. Some 44% spent time chatting with family and friends, and many of these would have been first time or reluctant users. More than a third said they were now a lot more confident using the technology.

Inevitably, video streaming services also proved popular, with an amazing 4.6 million households picking up a new subscription. 27% spent extra time on social networks, while 11% did more online gaming than usual.

Productivity increases

It wasn't all fun and games. 58% of those who had started working from home felt they'd become more productive, and over half don't expect to ever return to the office full time. More than four in five identified a fast, reliable broadband connection as the most important thing to enable them to work away from the office.

Around a third of business leaders agreed that remote working had increased productivity among their teams. 40% said they'd made a contribution towards their employees' phone or broadband bills, and the same number had contributed up to £200 to improve their staff's home-working environment. A quarter invested in mental wellbeing apps.

And there's one more intriguing consequence of the lockdown: it has sparked a revolution in self-improvement.

Over half of all the people surveyed said that they'd learned new skills during the lockdown. 40% had looked up "how-to" videos, 19% had used learning apps, and an impressive 16% signed up to a full, online educational course. Languages, cooking, IT skills, gardening and yoga were the popular areas for learning.

Overall, a third developed a new skill, and the same number plan to continue learning into the future. Nearly a fifth of 18-24 years even felt their career prospects had improved. Younger people were also the driving force behind the trend for setting up an online side-hustle. One in ten said they'd pursued their own part-time business, like selling stuff or offering freelance services.

It remains to be seen what the digital legacy of lockdown will be. Many of the changes we've seen do seem to be an acceleration of trends that were already well underway. And if the results of this survey are anything to go by, changes in how we keep in touch with family, how we spend our leisure time, and how we work may well be here to stay.

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A couple watching TV

The cheapest way to watch specific TV shows and films

Posted by Andy Betts on in Features

Subscription TV services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are great for giving you a greater selection of stuff to watch. But what happens when you want to watch a specific movie or TV show?

With so many different services available, it can be hard to keep track of which films or shows are available on which one.

Some TV shows may be exclusive to a particular streaming service, or others - especially those made for broadcast TV in the States - might be available to rent on an episode by episode (or season by season) basis. Some will have both options on different providers.

The picture's even more complicated with films. Not only is there the same subscription/rental confusion, but the recent lockdown meant that a lot of new movies skipped the cinema release entirely.

The new Disney film Mulan is the biggest example. If you want to watch that you have to subscribe to the Disney+ service (or at least take out a free trial), then pay £19.99 on top. Or you can wait until December when it will become available as part of the standard Disney+ plan.

How to find what's showing, and where

Finding where the show or film you want is only part of the problem. When it's available through more than one service you'll often find that the prices vary considerably. Fortunately, there is a good solution.

The best way to keep track of all the streaming services, to find out which one is showing what, and how much you'll have to pay to watch, is through JustWatch.com.

JustWatch is part search engine, part comparison site for streaming services. It covers pretty much every major service available in the UK, including:

  • Netflix
  • Amazon Prime Video and Amazon Video
  • Apple TV and Apple TV+
  • NOW TV
  • Sky Go and Sky Store
  • Disney+
  • Google Play
  • Rakuten TV
  • TalkTalk TV
  • Curzon
  • Mubi
  • BritBox
  • BBC iPlayer
  • ITV Hub
  • All4
  • YouTube, and many others

TV and film price comparison

All you need to do is search for a particular title, and it will show you where you can watch it. The results are split into streaming, buying and renting, and you can filter or sort them by price or resolution. So, if you want the cheapest 4K version of your favourite film, this is where you'll find it.

JustWatch has a stack of extra features, like a watchlist and a very useful recommendation engine to point you towards the kind of stuff you might like. It's completely free, and there are apps for your phone as well.

While JustWatch is our favourite among the TV search guides, and certainly the most well known of these services, it isn't the only one. Check out ReelGood and TMDB for two of the best JustWatch alternatives. It's worth giving them all a trial run to see which you prefer.

Where to buy or rent

Once you've tracked down the show or film you want to watch, you might have to decide which service to use to view it.

If it's exclusive to one subscription service, then your choice is made for you. If you aren't already a customer, make sure you make use of the free trials most services offer. And don't forget to cancel your subscriptions to any that aren't actively using - your monthly fees are going to rack up quickly if you sign up to every possible service.

If you're planning to buy, it's probably a good idea to stick to a single provider so you can keep your collection in one place. Amazon has good compatibility across devices and platforms, as do Apple and Google Play. Rakuten TV is convenient because it's built into many smart TVs - but not all. You don't want to lose all the films you've bought next time you upgrade your telly. Similarly, you can only access things like Sky Store and TalkTalk TV while you have a contract for those services.

For renting, it doesn't really matter where you shop, as long as you've got an easy way to watch it. You can choose whichever offers the best price.

What speed broadband do you need for streaming?

Streaming should be possible on almost any reasonable internet connection. You need a broadband speed of around 5Mb to stream in HD, or closer to 25Mb if you prefer to watch in 4K. A decent fibre deal will clear this comfortably, though remember that the actual speed available to you depends on how many people in your household are online at the same time. So, if two people wanted to watch their own 4K streams together, you'd need a 50Mb connection.

Our broadband Speed Test tool can show you if your connection is fast enough for streaming.

Broadband speed is now a vital part of the TV experience, so consider upgrading to something faster if you think it will help. Take a look at the best broadband deals to see what's on offer today.

Also, if you don't fancy streaming, you can still get on-demand viewing via Sky, Virgin Media or Freeview. See our premium TV guide to see how you can get the best channels for the lowest price.

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