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Quickest broadband installation: how long does it take to activate an internet service?

If you’re planning to get broadband for the first time, are moving house, or have finally gotten access, the process can see quite daunting. There are technical terms and lots of things to learn and consider when making your choices.

That’s why we put this no-nonsense guide to broadband installation together.

Over the course of this page, we'll have a look at how long it takes to get broadband installed. We'll let you know how having a phone line (or not) can impact installation times. We'll also give you an estimate on how disruptive that might be to your home life.

Broadband installation: the key points

  • It typically takes around 14 working days to set up a new broadband service. 
  • An engineer visit may not be needed if you already have a phone, fibre, or cable line coming into your property.
  • There may be a charge for a new line, even if the deal offers free setup. But some providers offer free installation for new lines.
  • Some providers offer to send out a 4G mobile broadband dongle whilst you're waiting to get connected.

How does broadband installation work?

First, let’s cover the mechanics of broadband installation. What happens, how long it takes, and the installation process for both ADSL and fibre optic broadband.

  • What's ADSL broadband?

    ADSL stands for ‘Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line’. It’s broadband technology that allows the transfer data across regular telephone lines. You can make calls at the same time as being connected to the internet.

    An ADSL line will, at minimum, allow for a broadband connection of up to 8Mb. These days, that’s pretty slow and won’t allow you to do much other than emailing or basic web searches.

    ADSL2+ is now available at nearly all exchanges across the UK with slightly faster data transfer rates of around 10-11Mb.

Your choice of broadband provider is your own, but there are things out of your control that will have an impact on your decision. For example:

  • Are you in a Virgin Media cable area?
  • Do you have a landline already?
  • Can you get fibre optic broadband?

And while fibre is now available to most homes, not everyone can get it.

You can discover what kind of broadband you can get by entering address, here:

Broadband Genie deals checker

You'll also find an address checker on any of our broadband deal pages.

If you already have a line, then setup and installation will be cheaper and quicker. If you don’t have a landline installed or the line is present, but inactive, the entire process will take longer and cost more. You’ll need some work done.

Check out our guide to new phone line installation for more information.

For a Virgin connection, Virgin engineers will carry out the work.

Most other providers will need an Openreach engineer to visit and check out the site. This is because BT Openreach owns the infrastructure, but other companies, like Vodafone or Plusnet, buy access and resell it as their own. So, if you buy broadband from another provider, don’t worry if BT Openreach suddenly calls asking for a time for an engineer to visit.

  • What is Openreach?

    Openreach is the company that maintains the former British Telecom Network used for the majority of broadband and phone services. If a repair or installation is required, it’s Openreach who will send an engineer, not your provider.

    More than 650 service providers using the Openreach network. That’s the majority of the UK’s broadband providers. This includes Sky, TalkTalk and BT. The exception to this is Virgin Media - it uses its own, separate cable network.

If you’re lucky to be in an area where alternative network providers such as Hyperoptic or Community Fibre are available, their own engineers will attend to complete the installation process. FTTP can reach ultrafast speeds, so we definitely recommend going with this if the broadband is shared with lots of people.

  • What’s FTTP broadband?

    Full Fibre broadband is also known as ‘Fibre To The Premises’, ‘Fibre To The Home’. This is often shortened to FTTP or FTTH. They’re all the same thing!

    Instead of copper telephone wire making up the final part of the journey from that green cabinet on the street, fibre optic cables are installed right up to your home.

    It’s amazing the difference in speed this small data journey can have. With full fibre broadband, you can expect to receive speeds of 1Gb+.

    The downside is full fibre is only available to a small percentage of homes in the UK, and it’s taking a good while to get everyone up to speed.

What happens when broadband is installed?

The broadband installation process for any fixed-line broadband is similar and goes something like this:

  1. Get an installation date: Once you sign up with a provider, you’ll be given an approximate installation day and time.
     
  2. The day of installation: The engineer will arrive and inform you they’re working on your connection. They may not need access to your home immediately. There may be prep work they need to get done outside first. When they arrive, they’ll likely ask where you want your connection to enter your home.
     
  3. Engineer access: Once ready, the engineer may need access to your home to install a box on the wall. They’ll need to drill a small hole. This box connects your house to the network.
     
  4. Checking the connection: The engineer will carry out checks and perhaps provide a modem or router, which may also be tested. Some providers will send you the broadband router before the visit.
     
  5. Sign if you're happy: Once complete, you will be asked to sign for the work and to confirm everything is working. Don’t sign until you have seen for yourself that all is well.
     

The actual installation time varies, but should be between an hour or two, depending on the property and what’s being installed. Your engineer should give you an idea of how long it will take.

Openreach provider activation times

Here are some approximate broadband installation times and costs broken down for the major providers who use the Openreach network. Lead times are counted as the time between signing the contract and being connected.

Setting up BT Broadband: activation times

BT Broadband requires approximately two weeks of lead time to set up broadband, although it occassionally takes longer.

A new landline costs around £140 to install, while there is a £70 charge to reactivate an existing line. However, BT does waive these charges if you're getting a broadband service at the same time.

EE TV (the new name for BT TV) also takes approximately two weeks to install.

If you're already an existing BT customer, and you're staying at the same address but want to sign up to a different product, installation could be quicker at one week.

Dynamic deal panel

Sky Broadband installation times

Sky broadband uses the BT Openreach network and requires similar lead times to other providers.

If you have a landline already, installation takes approximately two weeks. If you don’t have a landline, it could take up to three weeks.

A new Sky Broadband connection costs £20 if you need a new landline, but it's free if you already have one. There may also be a setup cost depending on the bundle you choose.

Sky TV also takes around two weeks and will require a working phone line or broadband connection. The installation can happen at the same time. The installation will depend on your broadband package.

Dynamic deal panel

Plusnet installation times

Plusnet also uses the BT Openreach network but gives an estimate of around 10 working days for installation (so, again, two weeks). If you already have a landline and broadband connection, the switch can happen remotely within 3 working days, and an engineer shouldn't need to visit.

Plusnet charges £49.99 for a new landline, but it’s free if you already have one. There may also be a set-up cost, depending on the package.

Dynamic deal panel

TalkTalk installation times

TalkTalk activation times are the same as Plusnet, Sky and BT as they also use the Openreach network. That means a lead time of around two weeks on average if you have a landline and three weeks if you don’t.

Switching from another provider to TalkTalk takes around 15 days. It can be done without an engineer visit if you already have broadband.

TalkTalk charges up to £60 for a new landline if one is required. There is usually no setup fee, depending on the package you choose.

Dynamic deal panel

Other Openreach broadband provider installation times

There are dozens of other broadband providers who use the BT Openreach network to provide services. Some include EE, italk, NOW Broadband, and Shell Energy Broadband. As they all use BT Openreach, the installation times are similar. Typically, that would be two weeks lead time for an engineer visit if one is necessary.

Setup charges vary by provider. Any setup or installation charge should be clearly outlined before you sign up.

Dynamic deal panel

How long does Virgin broadband take to activate?

Virgin Media has its own network, but installation times are similar to Openreach network providers, at approximately 14 days for a new customer.

However, if you have an existing Virgin Media connection, they offer a self-install package called QuickStart. You can have it posted to your home or collect it from a Collect+ store and set up your own connection next working day to up to 7 days, if your home's had Virgin Media before. This will save you £30 on a technician's appointment.

Installation fees depend on your package, but there's always a £35 activation fee.

Which provider does the quickest broadband installation?

There's not much in it between broadband providers when it comes to installation time. Regardless of whether you're signing up to an internet service provider on the Openreach network, or Virgin Media, there's a standard set-up time of 2 weeks. This might be quicker if you're already a customer. But it can take longer if you also need to wait for a line to be installed.

There are some exceptions, though. Hyperoptic aims to get your service installed as quickly as possible. If it has availability, it's possible to get it booked in for the next day.

If you're keen to get connected, Cuckoo broadband offers to send out a mobile broadband dongle whilst you're waiting for your router lights to turn green. It's worth having this conversation with your new broadband provider to see if they can offer a similar service.

Here are some examples of broadband installation waiting times for new customers:

Last checked May 2024
Provider Installation Waiting Time
Onestream 16 days
TalkTalk 15 days
BT 2 weeks
Sky  2 weeks
Virgin Media up to 2 weeks
NOW Broadband 2 weeks

Cuckoo

2 weeks
Hyperoptic 1 day +

What to watch out for with broadband installation

The installation and activation process has undergone changes over the past ten years. What used to be a painful and complicated process is now as easy as switching gas or electricity providers. You shop around, decide on a package that’s right for you, and the provider handles everything else.

There are things that can delay broadband installation, though:

  • No landline. As described above, having a line installed can delay your connection. Much depends on the provider, how busy they are and how many engineers they have on hand.
  • Rented accommodation. As broadband installation can require invasive work, you'll need permission from your landlord or agency before it takes place. The disruption is minimal — a hole drilled into a wall and a box fitted — but you should still seek permission in writing before any installation.
  • Flats. Some flats can provide a challenge for broadband installation, depending on whether they were purpose-built or converted. Your flat may be considered a non-standard installation. This will mean extra costs. It makes sense to discuss this when you’re signing up for your deal.
  • Self-build or new-build properties. If you’re a self-builder, or have just moved into a brand-new house, the Post Office and your broadband provider may not have caught up. You need a postcode for any installation. Not having one can delay things slightly.

Do you always need an engineer to install your broadband?

No, you don’t always need an engineer visit. If you’re switching providers within the same network (such as from BT to Plusnet) and have all the connections in place, the switch can happen remotely. If you have an existing Virgin Media connection and it just lapsed, you may not need an engineer visit either.

Usually, an engineer will need to visit if new equipment needs to be installed, like the wall box, Sky TV, or Virgin Media TV. Your provider should tell you at the time whether an engineer will need to visit or not.

How to speed up broadband installation

The typical process is relatively fast and very straightforward. There are a couple of things you can do to ensure a quick broadband installation, though. 

  • Make sure you’re home. Staying home and being available when the engineer is due to visit may sound obvious, but lots of people forget or have other obligations. Someone over the age of 18 needs to be present to let the engineer into your home and sign off the work. Missing the appointment can cause weeks of delay and perhaps extra costs.
  • Clear the way. The installation of a new phone line, Virgin Media cable, or Sky TV is minimally invasive. But it does require a hole to be drilled in your outside wall and a box fitted to house the connection. If you can ensure both the inside and outside where the box will go are clear, it’ll save the engineer a lot of time.

Frequently asked questions about broadband installation

  • Can you cancel before installation?

    If your circumstances change, and you need to cancel your installation before it’s installed, you can! You can use the cooling-off period to cancel within 14 days of the provider agreeing to your contract. This is usually counted from the moment you press 'Submit 'on the order form or said 'yes' to the customer services rep.

    The 14-day cooling-off period is a statutory right, and no provider can ignore it. However, some do offer more than the minimum.

  • Can you get a router sent to a different address?

    Typically, the broadband router for your connection will need to be sent to the billing or installation address. Most providers won’t send your new router to a different address. Still, since this is your new home, it shouldn’t be a problem.

  • Do you need to be at home for the engineer?

    Yes, you do need to be at home. You'll need to allow them access to the property. They’ll want you to show them where you want the connection box fitted, verify the connection and sign off their work before they can leave. If you can't stay in yourself, a nominated adult should be enough.

    Remember, you won’t need an engineer’s visit if your broadband provider just has to reactivate a stopped line. They’ll do this on your activation date without a need for a visit.

    Be aware, you may be charged if you have a booked engineer visit but you're not in.

  • Can I get free installation with my broadband deal?

    Some providers do offer free setup, but the installation of the actual landline will usually cost something. There may sometimes be deals where you can get everything free. Usually, free installation is only offered if you’re already using the infrastructure that your new provider is on. Such as when you’re going from Sky to BT.

Expert Summary

It will usually take around two weeks for your internet connection to be activated. Most of that time will be spent on administration. It’ll only take a few hours for the actual engineer. If your home has had the connections installed by prior residents, it could take even less. They’ll just need to be switched back on.

That goes for both FTTC and FTTP connections. If you’re just switching between Openreach providers like BT to Sky, you won’t need a visit at all. You also probably won’t need an engineer if you sign up for Virgin Media and already have a Virgin line in your home.

Smaller ISPs, such as Hyperoptic who run off their own network, can offer quicker installation times. However, you may find the availability of these much more limited.

You’ll need to make sure that someone is home to collect the router and for the engineer’s visit if you need one. If you’re renting a place or haven’t moved in yet, make sure that this is all okay beforehand.

Check out our guide on what to do about broadband when moving home, for more information.

Meet the author:

Contributor

Jamie worked as a NOC engineer with a national telecoms provider for over a decade before deciding he preferred writing for a living. He is passionate about making technical subjects understandable to all. He has written for PC Gamer, Tom's Hardware, Hilton Hotels, DHL, Dyson and others.


Specialist subject: As an ex-engineer, it has to be networks and installation

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