This guide explains how to connect to UK broadband internet, a landline phone and television, plus provides a list of the main broadband internet, phone and TV providers in the UK.
Whether you’re renting in the UK or buying UK property of your own, one of the first things you will want to organise after moving to the UK is a UK phone, broadband internet and television connection, along with UK utilities. Your UK broadband connection and TV may be the priorities, but you’ll need to arrange other steps before you can connect, such as activate a landline phone and register for a UK TV licence. As many TV and internet providers in the UK offer deals for bundling communication services, it pays to spend time shopping around to calculate the best deal depending on your usage requirements.
The British communications sector is highly competitive with a wide range of internet, telephone, television and internet providers in the UK. As such, customers can choose from a variety of packages and prices, from landline only packages to combined phone, cable TV and broadband deals. In some cases, however, 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.
Similar to elsewhere, some services use the same line, meaning it is typically difficult to get internet without a UK landline. However, you are not obliged to take out services with the same company – it is possible to get a UK phone with one company, and broadband with another.
This guide includes:
- Comparing phone, TV and internet providers in the UK
- Landline phones in the UK
- Internet in the UK
- Mobile phones in the UK
- TV licences in the UK
- Television in the UK
- Using British Post services
- List of UK phone, TV and internet providers
When assessing which are the cheapest phone, TV and broadband deals, it’s important to consider what you will use. A company may offer ‘free internet’ or a ‘free landline’ in a package, but this doesn’t always mean the overall package will be cheaper than taking out individual services, especially if you will be a high user of certain services, such as unlimited internet or discounted international calls. However, UK landline and broadband packages tend to offer good value.
In the UK phone and broadband providers all use the infrastructure set up by British Telecom (BT) to provide these services, but they are free to offer their own services at the rates they choose. Some of the largest providers offering combined deals include BT, Plusnet, TalkTalk, Virgin and Sky. Contracts typically last for 12–18 months.
Doing an online search will reveal many comparison sites where you can check the best broadband, phone TV deals in your area, including:
Your basic phone in the UK is referred to as a landline. A UK landline connection is usually required if you want to access any other connection services including subscription TV and broadband.
In the past, British Telecom (BT) held the monopoly of the UK phone sector and still remains the leader in UK phone lines, although many competitors have now entered the market. While competing services still use BT’s infrastructure, you are not required to take out a UK landline directly with BT, but can arrange it directly through one of the many competitors.
In terms of UK phone line prices, there is not much difference between rates; where they compete is in introductory discount offers, but you should check what the final rate will be once the discount period is finished. Evening, weekend and unlimited calls are also some add-on benefits, while some UK phone providers specialise in fixed international call packages or discounted rates for specific locations abroad. However, some customers opt for choosing a better internet connection instead to take advantage of call apps, such as Skype, Whatsapp or Viber. There are also router companies and international calling cards where you call via a special phone number to take advantage of cheaper rates.
To use one of the UK’s iconic red phone boxes – although many are being converted as they fall out of use – you will need a phone card which can be found in most convenience stores,
Some of the main UK phone providers include BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin and EE.
Because the infrastructure such as underground lines and roadside cabinets are already in place, you will be limited to the maximum broadband speed that already exists in your area. Your choice of provider will not impact on this. Speeds vary between providers, although 16–18MB is common. The UK government aims to provide at least 2MB for every household, although superfast broadband is already offered in larger cities at rates of 30–40MB, or up to 70–200MB from particular providers such as Virgin and Plusnet. While fast broadband on fibre optic lines is being rolled out across the country, it is not yet available everywhere.
The phone and broadband supply in the UK is tightly regulated and the regulator is designed to ensure that everyone gets a fair deal. This includes ensuring that your receive the correct information regarding the broadband speed you are able to get.
Your contract with your provider will usually be 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 drawn from your bank account via direct debit.
Some companies offer broadband only deals (with a phone), such as Vodafone, O2, Tesco broadband, EE and AOL.
It is possible to still get dial-connection with no subscription fee, where you pay only what you use. This can be a feasible option if you don’t use the internet much, although it will block your UK landline while in use and certain functions will be limited, such as streaming and downloads.
If you don’t need a home-internet line, WiFi is offered in many public places, such as shopping centres, cafes and bars, train stations and libraries.
Coverage may also be a factor in which UK internet provider you choose. To check the best broadband coverage in your area, Ofcom provides a review of your postcode area.
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 an income statement as well (for the last three months). If you have yet to collect utility bills or bank statements, you may be limited to a pre-paid phone.
To find out the best deals on mobile phones, there are many online comparison sites online sites, whether you’re looking for a SIM only, Pay As You Go (PAYG), or including a mobile phone as well. Before choosing a provider it is advised to check the coverage in your area (Ofcom, for example). If you want to make a complaint about a mobile phone provider, follow this link for advice.
Some of the main providers include BT, TalkTalk, Virgin, EE, Three, Vodafone and O2.
Read more in our guide to getting a UK mobile phone and UK SIM.
To watch UK television, all homes have access to digital freeview (providing you have a modern TV and aerial). These basic channels include the BBC and therefore means you will need to buy a TV licence. This allows you to watch the ad-free service. A UK television licence is also required if you watch live television programmes via a laptop, computer, tablet or game console.
If you get caught without a TV licence, the fine will offset any ‘savings’ you made. Check if you need one here.
If you do not watch TV, you are still allowed to listen to the BBC on the radio without paying. However, if you play music in a public setting, for example on a business premesis or for customers or staff, you will need a radio licence in the UK. Read more on Ofcom’s website.
Freeview UK TV
There is a wide selection of digital TV in the UK, and many companies combine television packages with broadband deals. Freeview TV in the UK (or digital terrestrial television; DDT) includes around 70 channels, including:
|UK TV channels: BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, ITV2, BBC Four, ITV3, Pick, Dave, More4, Really, Yesterday, Drama, 5USA, ITV4, ITVBe, E4, 5STAR, Spike, Quest, Food Network, Challenge, Four7, My5, True Entertainment, CBS Action, CBS Reality, Tru TV, Horror Channel, CBS Drama, Your TV, Blaze, Community Channel|
|News and sport: BBC News, BBC Parliament, Sky News, RT, Front Runner|
|Films: Film4, Movie Mix, Movies4Men, True Movies, Talking Pictures TV|
|Kids: CBBC, Cbeebies, CITV, Pop, Tiny Pop, Kix|
UK TV via a digital box
If you want to use additional services such as Freeview+, Freeview Play and BBC Sport, you will need to purchase a digital box.
YouView is the digital box system that provides access to freeview channels via a broadband connection, plus allows you to add additional channels, for example, Sky Movies, Sky 1, Nat Geo, Comedy Central and Disney Channel, as well as use streaming services such as Netflix.
BT TV, TalkTalk TV and Plusnet TV all use YouView for their television services, which can be included in a package or bought for a one-off fee if you don’t want to be tied to a contract. You can buy YouView boxes from John Lewis, Currys, or Argos, although they can be costly (ranging from GBP 50–250) depending on the quality.
Many online streaming platforms can also be accessed in the UK, such as freeview and Netflix, or you can order DVDs through the post via Lovefilm. It’s important to check your internet usage limits, however; you will typically need unlimited internetn if you plan to use streaming services often.
Cable and satellite TV in the UK
To access specific channel, you can opt for satellite TV, such as Sky, or cable TV services, the largest being Virgin Media. You may be able to find channels from your home country, plus take advantage of services such as recording, live pause TV and 3D TV. These packages are typically more expensive, upwards of GBP 30 per month for a basic service. You can use a comparison site to find the best deals for your needs and then contact the provider to set up your account. You will need to show proof of your address and ID.
However, UK cable TV isn’t as widespread as in some other countries (like the US), with few competitors operating in the market, although you will be able to access more than 245 channels, 50 HD channels and on-demand content without requiring a satellite.
You can check cable TV deals, as well as if there is cable TV coverage in your area, at www.cable.co.uk; in some cases, your choice of cable TV provider will depend on what’s available in your area. There may not be cable TV lines laid in your area yet, in which case you will need to wait.
The main broadband and cable TV providers in the UK are:
- Virgin Media – almost half of UK homes fall within their fibre optic coverage area, and essentially it is the only real ‘national’ cable TV provider; TV can be bundled with internet and phone packages.
- Small World – a regional cable TV provider operating in Scotland, the Borders, Cumbria and Lancashire.
- Wight Cable – offers cable TV, broadband internet and phone services on the Isle of Wight.
- BT Vision – BT vision offers an on-demand library of serials and movies via broadband internet, though not technically a cable TV provider.
- TalkTalk – offers television and broadband internet packages via standard and fibre optic lines.
- Now TV – offers TV and some Sky channels via broadband internet.
- Plusnet TV – offers extra TV services via a digital box.
When setting up your home it is important that all of your correspondence goes to your new address. You should also set up a redirect service from a previous address for a set period of time. The UK Post Office also offers broadband, phone and mobile services, alongside bank accounts, insurance, licences and currency exchange. You can check prices online.
UK post offices are marked by a red and yellow sign reading ‘Post Office’ or ‘Royal Mail’. Some post offices are small and located inside shops such as newsagents and convenient stores, although they all provide basic mail services.
Post boxes are red and situated on main roads in most neighbourhoods, with one slot and information on post pick up times; you can simply pop your letters into the boxes as long as they are correctly stamped. You can buy postage stamps online and print them at home to save a trip the post office. Stamps are also sold in post offices, newsagents and larger supermarkets.