Home Living in the UK House & Home Setting up TV, phone, and internet in the UK
Last update on April 21, 2020
Written by Gary Buswell

Get connected in your new home with our guide to setting up TV, phone and internet in the UK.

Whether you’re renting in the UK or buying UK property of your own, you’ll want to make your new house a home as soon as possible. One way to do this is organizing your utilities. And with so much of modern life online, you’ll need to sort out setting up internet in the UK as well as TV and landline phone.

This guide will introduce you to everything you need to know about the UK telecoms market, with information on the following topics:

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Television, phone and internet in the UK

The British communications sector is highly competitive with a wide range of providers of TV phone and internet in the UK. Around 95% of the UK population uses the internet and customers can choose from a variety of packages and prices.

Many TV and internet providers in the UK offer deals for bundling communication services. This includes everything from home phone only packages to combined phone, satellite TV and broadband deals.

Therefore, it pays to spend time shopping around to calculate the best deal depending on your usage requirements.

However, there is no obligation to take out services with the same company. In fact, it’s possible to get a UK phone with one company, and broadband with another.

In some cases, though, your choice of UK broadband or TV provider will depend on where you live in the UK, although less so if you live in London or large cities.

Because of the level of choice available to UK consumers, there are many comparison sites and “concierge” services that support people with setting up telecommunications in the UK.

TV in the UK

All homes in the UK have access to digital Freeview TV. For this, you will need a modern TV and aerial. If you don’t have a digital TV, you will need to attach it to a Freeview box which you can buy from most electronics shops.

To watch TV in the UK, you will need to buy a TV license. The cost of this is currently £154.50 (or £52 for a black and white TV). This is to cover the cost of the publicly provided BBC channels, which are not funded through advertising.

You will also need to buy a TV license if you watch live television programs via a laptop, computer, tablet or mobile phone. If you are caught watching TV without a license, you will be fined. Check if you need one here.

Setting up a TV in the UK is fairly straightforward. All homes should be fitted with an aerial point. You simply need to connect your digital set to the aerial point and it should be ready for use, although you may need to check your manual for any further instructions.

If you have a problem connecting your TV, you will need to contact an engineer from a company such as Aerial Force.

TV channels in the UK

The UK offers both free and paid-for subscription channels, of which there are over 450 in total. Content is delivered through terrestrial, satellite and cable services. You can also watch most programs online, either at the time or broadcast or later through ‘catch-up’.

Services are delivered through different providers. For satellite or cable content, you will have to sign up with one of the providers and will typically receive a transmission box that you need to connect to your TV system.

Another option is to purchase a YouView digital box system that provides access to Freeview channels via a broadband connection, plus allows you to access additional services such as Freeview+, add satellite channels such as Sky Movies, Sky 1 and Comedy Central, and use streaming services such as Netflix.

National TV channels in the UK

The main national TV channels in the UK are broadcast through:

  • British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) – state-owned broadcaster that runs a number of free channels including BBC1, BBC2, BBC3 (now online only), BBC4, CBBC/CBeebies (children’s channels), BBC News and regional channels.
  • ITV – independent network that has traditionally rivaled BBC since its launch in 1955, with stations including ITV1, ITV2, ITV3, ITV4 and CITV (children’s channel).
  • Channel Four – launched in 1982 and runs Channel 4, Film4, E4, More4 and 4Music among others.
  • Viacom – runs the Channel 5 network, MTV stations and the Paramount Network among others.
  • UKTV – station owned by BBC Studios, which is a commercial arm of the BBC. Channels include Dave (comedy channel), Drama and Yesterday plus channels available through cable and satellite.

There are over 70 freeview channels in total.

Watching TV in the UK

International TV channels in the UK

Some of the satellite and cable providers of TV in the UK offer international channels. Which channels you can access will depend on your provider.

In addition to this, there are online subscription IP services where you can access TV channels from worldwide or different global regions.

Satellite, cable and broadband TV in the UK

The main providers in this area are:

  • Sky – the main provider of satellite TV in the UK, with a basic offer including over 350 channels including Sky One and Sky Atlantic for around £22 per month. Additional packages are available for Sky Sports, Sky Cinema, Kids and HD. Programs are transmitted through the Sky Q box which enables you to record and store programs as well as access Netflix.
  • Virgin Media – the UK’s main surviving cable TV provider. Comes in a bundle along with fibre internet and phone line rental. Packages start at £33 per month and include freeview channels as well as additional offers including Comedy Central and channels from BT and Sky.
  • BT – offers BT Sport as part of its packages but, like Virgin Media, is only available as part of a broadband and line rental bundle. Packages start at £45 a month and channels such as Discovery Channel and MTV are available.
  • TalkTalk – provides TV through its broadband package, which comes together with line rental. The basic package including TV is around £22 per month. Advanced packages are available including Fox, Disney, Nickelodeon and Sky TV channels.

In addition to this, you can also find Freesat free-to-air satellite services provided by Sky, BBC and ITV. These offer a selection of free channels.

You can search the latest cable and satellite TV packages at www.cable.co.uk. This site also allows you to check cable and satellite coverage in your area.

Streaming services in the UK

TV and movie lovers can access many online streaming platforms in the UK from a smart TV or using a laptop, tablet or smartphone. It’s advisable to have broadband capacity of at least 1 mbps (megabits per second) or 5mbps if you want to watch in higher definition (HD).

Additionally, if you’re watching on a smartphone, it’s better to do it using wifi rather than 3G/4G otherwise you’ll use a lot of data.

Popular streaming services available in the UK include:

  • Amazon Prime
  • Netflix
  • Now TV

You can search and compare streaming service deals in the UK using a tool such as uSwitch.

Landline phones in the UK

With the growth in popularity of mobile phones, landline phone usage in the UK has plummeted in recent years. Businesses and elderly residents still rely largely on landline, but younger people use it much less often, and many households are no longer fitted with a landline phone.

However, a majority of people still use landline services. This is because most internet connections rely on a landline. The most widely available broadband connection for internet in the UK is asymmetrical digital subscriber line (ASDL).

Until recently, British Telecom (BT) held a monopoly on landlines in the UK. Although it remains the leading provider, there are now a number of competitors offering landline provision. Many of these companies offer landline as part of a package deal with internet and/or TV.

Internet providers UK

Aside from BT, companies providing landline in the UK include:

Prices are usually around £15-20 per month for the line rental but usually come in packages along with broadband which can be around £25-30 a month. You can compare deals in the UK here.

To get a landline installed or activated, you will need to contact your landline provider. If you don’t have a provider, contact BT OpenReach and they will arrange for an engineer to visit. Information on switching landline providers is on the Ofcom website.

It is possible to use internet in the UK at home without using a landline. Telecommunications companies are now offering fiber-optic broadband. However, only Virgin Media currently has the capacity to deliver this landline-free. The other option is to connect to the internet using your mobile broadband using a gadget such as a MiFi dongle.

International and regional dialing codes in the UK

The international dialing code for the UK is +44. All local areas in the UK have their own dialing code which will need to be used if calling from another area or a mobile phone.

All regional codes start with 01 or 02. Phone area codes in the UK include:

  • London – 020
  • Manchester – 0161
  • Edinburgh – 0131
  • Cardiff – 029
  • Belfast – 028

Most UK mobile numbers start with 07. If you are calling the UK from overseas, you need to drop the first 0 from the local area code. For example, to call someone in London, you would dial +44 20 and then the rest of the number.

Internet in the UK

Around 95% of the population access the internet in the UK. Speed and quality varies between regions. Larger cities have better coverage whereas the quality of reception is poor in many rural areas.

The UK ranked 34th out of 207 countries in a recent study on internet speed. The average speed across the country was 22.37Mbps. However, there is capability of “superfast” speeds of over 24Mbps in 96% of UK premises. Furthermore, 55-60% can access “ultrafast” speeds of 100Mbps+.

Ofcom is the regulatory body for internet in the UK, along with other forms of telecommunication. The main providers are:

Monthly costs for internet in the UK start at around £15 per month. Average costs are around £20-25 a month for internet alone, and £30-35 for package deals combining internet, phone and TV. You can compare broadband deals here.

Your contract with your provider will usually be for periods of one year, and you are able to change providers by giving notice before this time; some may allow you to switch earlier if you pay an administration fee. Payment is usually monthly and will typically be a direct debit from your bank account.

The three most common types of internet in the UK are ASDL, cable and fiber-optic. Some companies still offer dial-up services at a very cheap rate. The type of internet you get may depend on the area in which you live.

If you don’t want a home-internet connection, you can get Wifi in many public places, such as shopping centers, cafes and bars, train stations and libraries. Internet cafes also provide internet services for an hourly or 30 min charge rate.

You can check broadband coverage and internet speed for your area on the Ofcom website by entering your postcode.

setting up internet in the UK

Connecting to the internet in the UK

Setting up internet in the UK when you move into a new home generally takes around two weeks, although this will depend on factors such as whether a phone line is installed, what kind of service you want provided and where you live.

If a phone line needs to be connected, an engineer will probably need to visit your property to carry out the necessary work. Otherwise, activation of internet in the UK can usually be done remotely.

Most companies require you to provide details of your address, the account holder’s name and bank details so that direct debit payments can be taken each month.

Telecommunications bills in the UK

Telecommunications companies in the UK will generally expect you to pay bills by direct debit every month. Some may give you the chance to pay monthly or quarterly by other means, for example credit/debit card online or over the phone, or cash/cheque at a bank or post office.

Check with your provider what their payment options are before signing up. Some providers may also take mobile payments.

If you pay by direct debit, you can often choose the payment’s recurring date of the month. (Make sure you have money in your account to cover bills, otherwise you may face charges from your bank. )

If you are with a company that lets you settle bills quarterly, you will normally need to pay within around 15 days of the bill date. Failure to pay usually results in service cancellation. If outstanding amounts are not settled promptly, the company may take you to court to enforce a payment order. This will mean additional charges.

Telecommunications repairs in the UK

If you experience any problems with TV, phone or internet in the UK, the first thing you should do is call the helpline of your telecommunications provider. They can often troubleshoot over the phone or via an internet chatline.

In situations where repair work needs to be carried out, your provider can usually arrange this for you, although there may be a fee. Check this if you are concerned. It may be possible to source a cheaper engineer yourself, but bear in mind you may lose out on your warranty if something goes wrong.

If you need to find an engineer yourself, you can check yell.com or a website such as Checkatrade. For more urgent situations, check the listed numbers in our guide to emergency numbers for the UK.

Making a complaint about a telecommunications company in the UK

If you have a problem with your service provider, for example a billing or customer service problem, you should first try to resolve the issue through the company complaints department.

You must give the company 8 weeks to resolve the complaint. If you’re not satisfied after this time, you can take the complaint to one of Ofcom’s Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) schemes. Full details on how to complain about different issues are listed on Ofcom’s website.

Mobile phones in the UK

With numerous UK mobile providers to choose from, it is easy to find a UK SIM or mobile plan to suit your budget, although the latter is usually limited to official residents only. When setting up a mobile plan, you will need to provide identification, proof of your address, a bank account and typically undergo a credit check to make sure you have no bad debts.

Some of the main mobile providers in the UK are EE, Vodafone, O2, BT Mobile, Sky Mobile, Virgin Mobile and TalkTalk. Some of these providers offer all-in-one packages combining mobile phone, landline, TV and internet.

Alternative communications platforms in the UK

VoIP and instant messaging

There are numerous alternative platforms for communicating with one another in the UK, ranging from mobile messaging to online video. Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) systems use software technology that allow users to communicate via broadband internet or SMS.

Many of these services are available for free as long as you are connected to a mobile phone network or internet in the UK. Typically you will have to download an online program or mobile app onto your device to begin using.

Some of the most popular VoIP providers available in the UK are:

  • WhatsApp Messenger
  • Skype
  • Vonage
  • BT
Broadband UK

Internet cafes in the UK

Internet cafes are not quite as popular in the UK as they were before smartphones, but you can still find them on high streets. Many operate as businesses providing other services, for example conventional cafe services, newsagents or mobile phone repair.

Internet use is charged per set period (e.g. 30 min, one hour…) or at a per minute rate. Prices can vary from £1-3 per hour for basic internet, with additional services costing extra.

You can find internet cafes in your area on the yell.com website.

Public phones in the UK

Public phones in the UK have an iconic image, traditionally rectangular red booths with a door that you can close for privacy. Nowadays, red phone booths can still be found but many of them have been replaced with less distinctive silver-black booths, some of which are more open plan. Because of the growth in popularity of mobile phones, public phones are not as commonplace in the UK as they were 20 or 30 years ago.

Public payphones in the UK accept coins and phone cards, which can be purchased from newsagents. Some also take credit cards, although minimum charges usually apply. The minimum cost of a call is 60p.

Useful resources

Ofcom – regulator for the telecoms sector in the UK

TV Licensing – information on getting a UK TV license

cable.co.uk – check broadband, TV and phone deals and check cable, satellite and broadband capability in your area

Broadband Genie – an independent UK comparison service for home broadband, TV, landline and mobile broadband services