Shared students homes need decent, reliable home internet connections more than most.
Not only are syllabuses, timetables and essential course resources all migrating online there are a few small social essentials, like Facebook, and that antisocial essential, iPlayer to think about too.
In this guide we look at which of the ISPs available in Durham is offering the best deal for high usage student houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs).
The options in Durham
The following services are available to most households served by the main Durham exchange: AOL, BT, O2/Be, C&W, Sky and TalkTalk.
Notably not available anywhere in Durham or its surrounds are cable broadband packages from Virgin Media, currently, whatever the ASA says, the fastest widely available broadband in the country.
However, fibre services are available to a limited number of homes through BT and the ISPs reselling their service.
We found decent availability for BT Infinity and Plusnet, TalkTalk and Sky fibre deals in the Neville’s Cross area and on Church Street. Coverage is more patchy once you start getting a bit further away from the exchange – for example, in Gilesgate. Coverage is improving, so it’s worth checking by postcode on provider sites, but it’s nowhere near guaranteed.
BT’s fibre network is currently advertising up to 38Mb download speeds (38Mb is the speed available to at least 10% of users) and upgrading everyone on the network to up to 76Mb for free. What’s more the speed difference is larger than it appears.
The average household with an up to 16Mb deal will get between 5 and 8Mb speeds. Those with fibre are far more likely to actually reach that ‘up to’ amount because the fibre cables are subject to much less interference.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that fibre is still a good extra not an essential and the mix of ISPs that are near universally available throughout Durham means that most households will have access to some of the cheapest and most flexible broadband deals around.
Choosing between them
Student households – with their short tenancy agreements, high usage and aversion to landlines – don’t always make a good fit with the packages providers are most eager to push.
When students are sold any product price tends to take centre stage and budget providers like TalkTalk love to target student areas. But if you’re in a house with more than three people sharing the cost of internet access will make it by far your cheapest utility, even if you go for a slightly more pricey deal.
With that in mind, it’s worth looking for a decent download allowance, reliable service and, if you’re staying less than nine months, a flexible contract before worrying too much about cost.
We’ve covered all these aspects in more detail in our monthly guide to student broadband (available on Choose.net here), but here’s a run down of those factors and which ISPs to look out for.
Short or flexible contracts
ISPs to watch: Plusnet, O2
Most student households don’t need a short term or flexible contract.
Those staying in one place for more than nine months are usually best off just committing to a twelve month contract. It’s cheaper that way because short-term contracts need an upfront payment and often don’t come with a free router or promotional offers of free months. The exception to this rule are the nine month contracts that come around every year in August and September: all the free extras, minus three contract months.
For those who are really not staying long, though, Plusnet and O2 do good short or no contract options.
High usage allowances
ISPs to watch: O2, TalkTalk, Orange
Download allowances for student broadband packages should, as a rule, be high. If you’re just study-happy you’ll likely be downloading a lot of large PDFs and, studying or not, it’s a fair bet that student households will be watching more than the average amount through streaming and download services.
Tesco broadband, O2 All Rounder, TalkTalk Plus and Orange all offer unlimited deals and are cheap (especially for Orange and O2 mobile phone customers) and are widely available in Durham.
Note that particularly high downloading student households – i.e. those in which one or more members are big P2P fans – may fall foul of “fair use” policies. You can find out more on these in our updated guide to the UK ISP’s fair use definitions available on Choose.net here.
Cheaper line rental
ISPs to watch: O2, Be, paying upfront
Mobile-loving student households tend not to really use the landline and, if they’ve got any sense, most will take the opportunity to bypass “who made this call” rows by not using it at all.
However, as we’ve said above, Virgin Media, the only home ISP to offer broadband without a phone line at all, aren’t available in Durham. O2 and Be broadband’s PAYG line rental, the cheapest on the market, is a great alternative student choice.
Although line rental is now pushing fifteen quid a month, another good option is to pay upfront for the landline service for the whole year. That means paying a lump sum of over £100 but, between several people, it may not be too much of an outlay considering the potential saving.
This is a guest post for The Bubble by Choose, a consumer focused online guide and price comparison service covering home and mobile broadband.
Feel free to leave your experiences of student broadband in Durham in the comments section.