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Choosing the best student broadband deal

20th August 2013 Print

For modern day students broadband is an essential utility. It helps with studying, accessing university services, socialising, money management and staying in touch with loved ones. Going without is simply not an option, but actually choosing the right broadband deal can be tricky to navigate for the average uni-goer who is learning to handle their finances for the first time.
Standard ADSL (‘copper wire') broadband services can cost an average of £219 over 12 months, with fibre optic deals even more expensive at £390 - equivalent to around 130 pints of lager - so a broadband connection can be a considerable chunk of the average student's living costs. Broadband providers are waking up to the specialist needs of students and launching 9 month packages to offer greater flexibility, but this doesn't automatically mean that students should choose these deals before fully weighing up the options.
Dominic Baliszewski, telecoms expert at commented: "A student without broadband is rarer than a free space at the union bar these days - it is such an essential utility for university life. However, budgets are under pressure with increasing living costs and students need to be smart with how they spend their money.
"Savvy students can get a great deal on their broadband as long as they do their homework and remember that a 9 month ‘student' contract may not automatically be the right choice for them. For example, the average cost of a fibre optic student broadband and phone deal is £330 over 9 months. This is actually more expensive than the average ADSL package and only £60 cheaper than the average 12-month fibre optic package. Bigger savings can be made if students decide to opt for a broadband only package, but Virgin Media is currently the only provider to offer this option with an average cost of approx £270 over 9 months.
"Students must look beyond contract length and price, considering things like connection speed, data allowance, added extras and also the number of people they will share a broadband package with if they are in communal housing. Compare the options available in your location on an Ofcom accredited site to make an informed decision without being dazzled by the marketing."'s top tips for students looking to find a broadband deal:

Timescale - Students may go home as soon as their studies are finished for the year, or stay put for the long term. Either way this will affect your choice of broadband connection. If you are planning on going home as soon as the term ends, opt for a 9 month student broadband deal as this will help you avoid needlessly paying for the months you are not using the connection. However, if you intend to permanently reside in your student housing over the summer break, opt for a 12 or 18 month contract instead.

TOP TIP: If you are living alone or with one other person, consider a 12 month ADSL deal, even if you intend to go home for the summer. This is because 12 month ADSL packages tend to be much cheaper than the 9 month fibre optic deals for students, and are suitable for one or two users.

Speed - Students will face a postcode lottery when it comes to broadband speed, as some regions can receive over 25Mb on average, but other areas barely clear 10Mb. Connection speed has a massive impact on whether you have a positive or negative experience as a broadband customer and is particularly important if you live in shared housing. For example, the minimum speed you will need to stream video comfortably is about 3Mb but you will need a speed well in excess of this if you are to have several people in one house all streaming at the same time with no buffering. If at all possible, opt for a fibre optic package as this type of service can provide much faster and more reliable broadband speeds.

TOP TIP: Broadband speed is dependent on your house's distance from the local ‘broadband exchange,' so ask your provider for an estimate of the connection speed you can expect before you actually sign up. If they can't give you what you need, shop around other providers.

Consider mobile - If you know that you will move around several times over the course of your term, it is pointless to sign up to a lengthy fixed line contract. Opt for a mobile broadband deal (only suitable if you are a very light downloader) that you will be able to take with you wherever you end up living, although do bear in mind that these are only really suitable for one person to use so you won't be able to split this bill with your friends.

TOP TIP: Mobile broadband coverage is still not available to 100% of the UK, so check your chosen provider's coverage in the area you will be living - particularly if your university is in a rural area where signals are usually bad. If their coverage is patchy and your service does not work properly you will only have a limited amount of time to cancel the service, so don't delay and get your money back.

Go Monthly - If you are budgeting for the first time and unsure how your finances will be over the course of the year, consider a monthly contract. This will allow you the flexibility you need to stop paying for the service if you find your budget is overstretched and you need to cut back for a while. Plusnet, for example, offer a ‘no contract' option, allowing students to cancel as and when they need to, meaning they can benefit from a fixed line connection without the burden of a fixed contract.

TOP TIP: Some ‘monthly' contracts come with restrictive download limits that may cramp a student's online style. Avoid using up your data allowance before the month is up by supplementing your use with free wi-fi hotspots in cafes and bars. You get access to free broadband for the price of a cup of coffee!

Sharing is caring - If you are sharing accommodation with 2 or more students, you may find that your combined spending power allows you to get a better quality broadband service that bundles in other services such as paid TV. Bundled deals offer considerable discounts nowadays so use an Ofcom-accredited website to check what is available in your area.

TOP TIP: Sharing a service like broadband and TV can inevitably lead to arguments over who is hogging all the bandwidth. Encourage your housemates to install a broadband data monitor on their devices to help everyone track their online activity and alert them when they are downloading excessively.

Ignore any freebies - So-called ‘free extras' have been used by companies for years to entice students to purchase their products, but it is important to ignore these incentives and judge the freebie on whether you need it/will use it and compare that against the other factors of the broadband deal. For example, all BT broadband packages come with free access to BT Sport included (via their online app). This is a huge plus for sports mad students but not so much for customers who don't really follow sports and may be better off going for an alternative deal.

TOP TIP: If your parents have a paid TV service at home that includes access to online TV services such as Sky Go or Virgin TV Anywhere, you can ask them if you may register your device with these services and watch premium TV content from your uni digs - all without having to pay a penny extra!

Download with caution - Some broadband deals, especially mobile ones, do not always have the most generous download allowances. You must be careful to avoid breaching your usage cap with too many episodes of Mad Men and if you are in shared accommodation with more than one other person you should automatically opt for an unlimited usage deal. Excess data costs can seriously inflate your monthly bill, so keep an eye on the limits set on your contract and upgrade to an unlimited data package if you find you frequently can't stay within your allowance.

TOP TIP: Some providers such as Plusnet allow you to download anything you want during designated off-peak hours without it counting towards your data usage. If possible, download any documents, files, pictures and videos you want to make use of for the next day overnight - this will help you avoid any nasty bill shocks at the end of the month.

Beware traffic management - Despite a huge number of ‘unlimited data' broadband deals available on the market, there are still some conflicting definitions of what ‘unlimited' really means. Some providers impose ‘traffic management' policies on their unlimited broadband packages. These are designed to make sure the excessive downloading of one customer does not hog all the bandwidth, thus slowing down the broadband connections of all other customers nearby, but it can also be very frustrating when someone finds they have unwittingly fallen foul of the traffic management rules and end up having their connection speed massively slowed down. This is unlikely to affect the majority of broadband customers but can be a particular stumbling block for student houses with multiple occupants who are all online at the same time and engaging in data heavy activities.

TOP TIP: Unfortunately there is not much you can do to mitigate this risk except avoid too much downloading during specific ‘peak times' that will be set out by the provider in their T&Cs. If you think you will not be able to avoid this problem, opt for a provider that offers ‘truly unlimited' broadband without any limits, restrictions or policies in place that will affect your online activity.