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Can I still switch? Help and advice on broadband during the coronavirus crisis

Help and support signThe coronavirus outbreak has caused serious disruption to all aspects of our lives, and we’re getting lots of questions about how to deal with broadband and phone lines during this time.

So, to answer common queries and get you pointed in the right direction we’ve put together some info covering topics like broadband installation, working from home, and broadband for the elderly and vulnerable.

If there’s anything you need help with that isn’t covered here, please get in touch; you can message us on Twitter and Facebook, or drop us an email on [email protected]

Can I still switch broadband, and how long will it take?

Key points: 

  • You can buy and switch broadband as normal.
  • Installation usually takes around 14 days, but might be longer due to demand or staff shortage.

Update 20/05/20: Openreach has announced that it is resuming normal service and engineers can now enter homes for installations. They will be obeying social distancing and taking precautions.

The vast majority of customers will not need an engineer and can get broadband without anyone entering their home. If you are looking to switch, you can start by using the postcode checker below to see what's available in your area:

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Broadband commitments during coronavirus

As of the 30th March, most major broadband providers have agreed to the following commitments to help support customers: 

  • All providers have committed to working with customers who find it difficult to pay their bill as a result of COVID-19 to ensure that they are treated fairly and appropriately supported.
  • All providers will remove all data allowance caps on all current fixed broadband services.
  • All providers have agreed to offer some new, generous mobile and landline packages to ensure people are connected and the most vulnerable continue to be supported. For example, some of these packages include data boosts at low prices and free calls from their landline or mobile.
  • All providers will ensure that vulnerable customers or those self-isolating receive alternative methods of communication wherever possible if priority repairs to fixed broadband and landlines cannot be carried out.

The above has been agreed by: BT, EE, Openreach, Virgin Media, Sky, TalkTalk, O2, Vodafone, Three, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, and KCOM

Broadband installation and coronavirus

As mentioned, while some broadband installations may be delayed - most switches will not require an engineer visit to set up your new connection. Read on to find out more about broadband installation in the current climate:

How to get a contact-free broadband installation

In many cases, an engineer doesn't need to visit as the only work required takes place outside your home.

If you are moving between Openreach providers (for example, from BT to Sky, Plusnet to TalkTalk, and so on) or you already have a phone line, then you should not need an engineer. The provider will send your router and other equipment through the post, and you’ll just need to plug it in the day the broadband is activated. 

You may also not need an engineer to enter your premises if you’re getting Virgin Media. If your home already has a Virgin Media socket, you can choose a self-install option.

An engineer is also not required if you get a mobile broadband service (see below for some unlimited mobile broadband deals).

Broadband installation times

Installing a new broadband service or switching providers usually takes around 14 working days. Virgin Media can provide broadband within seven working days if you already have a Virgin socket in your home. 

However, delays are possible if the providers experience a surge in demand or there is a staff shortage.

If you need broadband very quickly then a mobile broadband service is the fastest way to get internet access.

Read more:

Will I be left without broadband when I switch providers?

When moving broadband providers you should only experience a minimal amount of disruption on the day of the switch itself. Your current broadband service will go offline, then your new service will take over. Assuming it all works correctly, it should only cause you to be without broadband for a brief period of time and you'll be up and running with the new ISP that day. 

It is always possible that something could go wrong and you may be left without internet for an extended period. In that situation, you could use a tethered smartphone as an emergency backup. If there is a problem then you should contact the provider immediately, though be prepared to wait longer than usual for help.

You may also wish to contact the provider if your switchover date is approaching and you haven't yet received your new Wi-Fi router or any other equipment - if this doesn't arrive in time it could mean you can't get online until it turns up. However, many providers will let you use another Wi-Fi router, so you can set up a spare in the meantime, though you'll probably need to contact support for guidance about how to connect it.

What happens if an engineer has to work inside my home?

If at all possible, providers will activate your broadband without an engineer visit. But if it is required, engineers will be following social distancing guidelines and taking precautions to reduce the risk.

You can help by ensuring that you maintain a reasonable distance while they are in your home, and by having no more than one person in the room while they work. Also, ensure that the area they will be working in is clear of furniture or other obstacles, and open doors and windows in the room.

Broadband and working from home

Key points:

  • Your broadband could become slow if the connection is shared. 
  • Fibre optic is recommended, but ADSL may be suitable.
  • You could use a second broadband connection for work.
  • Your current provider may be able to supply a static IP address.

A considerable number of us have been forced to work from home due to the coronavirus, many for the first time. You might find that your broadband is not fast enough or that you need to get some extra equipment. 

However, the good news is that many people will find their existing broadband service is suitable.

What broadband speed do you need to work from home?

Your broadband service may be more than fast enough already, but it entirely depends on what you’re doing with the connection. 

Web browsing, email, social media, and text-based communications do not generally require very high speeds. 

However, if you are regularly using it for more demanding tasks - such as transferring a large amount of data, video conferencing, or streaming video - then it may struggle. 

It also depends on how many people are sharing the connection. If several of you are working from home, then you may experience connectivity problems. 

A fast fibre optic broadband service is highly recommended for shared homes. But we recommend at least entry-level fibre broadband (average speed of around 35Mb) for everyone, regardless of whether it is shared.

Cheap ADSL broadband connection may be suitable for a single person. It is capable of handling video conferencing, though big downloads and uploads can take a while. 

Read more: 

How to get a second broadband connection

If necessary, you can get a second broadband connection just for work.  

If you already have an active second phone line, then you can probably get a new broadband deal installed without an engineer (see the information on broadband installation above). 

If you do not currently have a second line, an engineer will need to attend. Alternatively, you can use mobile broadband (see below).

Can you use mobile broadband to work from home?

Provided you have a strong signal in your home, 4G and 5G mobile broadband can be fast enough for work. It also the advantages of being portable, not requiring an engineer, and being very quick to set up.

But most mobile broadband packages have data usage caps, so it could quickly become expensive if you have to frequently top-up or increase the limit.

There are now some unlimited mobile broadband deals, though to get the lowest monthly price you’ll need to commit to a 12 or 24-month contract. Monthly deals are available but are a little more expensive. 

Here are some of the best mobile unlimited mobile broadband deals currently available: 

Network Monthly £ Setup £ Data limit Contract Device
Three £13 £0 40GB 24-mo HomeFi Plus router Buy now
Three £22 £0 UNLIMITED 24-mo HomeFi Plus router Buy now
Three £25 £0 UNLIMITED 24-mo AI Cube Wi-Fi hotspot Buy now
Vodafone £22 £0 UNLIMITED 12-mo R218 Wi-Fi hotspot Buy now
Vodafone £37 £35 UNLIMITED 1-mo R218 Wi-Fi hotspot Buy now

Some of the above packages are 4G and 5G home services, which include a router or Wi-Fi hotspot which is not intended to be portable. Others use a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot or USB dongle.

If you think you might use it outside the home, get a Wi-Fi hotspot. A USB dongle is only suitable for installation on a single computer at a time, and it will not support other Wi-Fi devices like tablets. 

Read more: 

How can I get a static IP address? Do I need one?

A static IP address may be required for specific purposes (such as securely accessing a remote system, or running a server) but otherwise, you should not need it to work from home.

If your work requires a static IP address, then you can ask your ISP to set this up, though not every provider offers this feature. A Dynamic DNS service or VPN with static IP can be used instead. 

Read more: 

Do I need a VPN? 

Your employer may require you to use a VPN to access a remote system; they should have provided all the information and tools to do this.

Otherwise, you should not need a VPN to work from home unless you have to bypass a web site block or geographical restriction.

VPNs are also used to increase security by encrypting all internet traffic when connected to insecure networks, such as a public Wi-Fi hotspot, but when working from a home connection that should not be necessary.

Read more: 

Do I need business broadband?

Business broadband deals often use the same infrastructure as consumer broadband and provide similar speeds, but offer dedicated support teams, lower contention ratios, service level agreements, and static IP addresses. 

If you would find these features useful and are working from home in the long term (and not just for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak), then it may be beneficial to have business broadband. Otherwise, you probably don’t need it.

Read more: 

How to improve home Wi-Fi signal strength

Weak Wi-Fi signal can seriously affect your broadband speed, but there are some easy fixes. 

Get closer to the router
If at all possible, move closer to the Wi-Fi router. Ideally, you’ll be close enough to use a wired network connection which will be faster and more reliable than Wi-Fi.

Move the router
Alternatively, adjust the position of the router. It should be placed in a central location in your home, away from walls and appliances (particularly fridges, microwaves, and cordless phones) which can interfere with the signal.

Get a Wi-Fi booster
Another solution is to use a Wi-Fi signal extender. These sit between you and the router and boost the range. They can be cheap (under £30) and are generally easy to set up. Although you can save some money by using an old Wi-Fi router as an extender

Use powerline networking
Powerline network adapters can easily extend your home network by transmitting data over electrical circuits. Fit one adapter next to the router, and you can bring a wired or wireless connection to any other power socket on the same circuit. 

Read more: 

Problems paying the broadband bill?

If you run into financial difficulties and have trouble paying your broadband bill, contact your provider immediately.  Ofcom has said that it expects providers to keep customers connected during the crisis, and as mentioned above most major providers have committed to work with those who have financial issues.

How to cancel broadband

If you're trying to contact your provider to cancel you may find it harder than normal to get in touch. Broadband providers are currently very busy and it could be difficult to get through to them on the telephone. Some providers have closed their call centres.

Our guide to cancelling broadband has general information about ending a contract. Or you can find information about how to cancel contracts with specific providers on our dedicated cancellation guide pages: 

If you cannot get hold of your provider on the phone you can write to them, email them, or contact them via social media. 

If you are switching broadband you may not need to contact the provider; when moving between Openreach network providers (which is almost all major networks including BT, TalkTalk, EE, Vodafone, Post Office, and Sky) your new provider will handle the process and you should not have to contact your old network.

If you are moving between different networks, for example from an Openreach provider like BT to Virgin Media, then you will need to arrange cancellation of the old service. If you find it difficult to get in touch to cancel you can, as a last resort, have both running at the same time as they use different lines, but you will have to pay for both while they are active.

Please note that Broadband Genie cannot cancel your broadband contract for you. If you are having problems contacting your ISP then get in touch with us and we'll try to help, but we are unable to directly assist with cancellations.

Claiming broadband reward vouchers and free gifts

Due to COVID-19 we are experiencing minor delays in the distribution of vouchers. We really appreciate your patience at this time and if you have any questions please contact [email protected].

Broadband for the elderly and vulnerable

Key points: 

  • New installations are available for vulnerable customers. 
  • Mobile broadband may be preferable to home broadband.
  • Use a smartphone or tablet if they do not already own a computer.

With the elderly and other vulnerable people confined to their homes, broadband is an ideal way for them to keep in touch with friends, family, and support services, while also providing valuable information and entertainment. 

If they do not already have broadband or a phone line they can still get it installed. As mentioned above, premises with an active phone line may not require an engineer visit.

However, it will take around two weeks to get fixed-line home broadband installed. If you need something sooner than that, use mobile broadband or a smartphone. It will be ready to go as soon as the equipment is received and does not require an engineer.

If they already own a computer or tablet with Wi-Fi, get a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot or 4G/5G home broadband service with a Wi-Fi router.

If they have a computer, but it does not support Wi-Fi, you can use a USB dongle, or a 4G/5G home broadband deal with a Wi-Fi router that supports wired network connections (check the specs, or ask the network to confirm).

If they do not currently own any devices, and don’t want to buy a computer, then a tablet or smartphone is the cheapest and most straightforward solution. If you opt for a tablet, you’ll either need to get a tablet with a SIM card or purchase a mobile broadband Wi-Fi hotspot to go with it.

Read more:

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