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What are 'alternative network providers'?

illustration of houses with a wifi signal over the top and a mast
What are 'alternative network providers' or 'altnets'?

As broadband customers feel the squeeze to get maximum speeds at the best price, the market is becoming much more competitive. New broadband providers known as ‘altnets’ are popping up to challenge the big names and deliver ultrafast fibre broadband deals to UK homes.

These alternative network providers are smaller in scale and less well-known, so can they be trusted?

This is often a common concern, and we’re here to help!

In this guide, we’ll first explain what an altnet is before taking you through some example providers. We’ll finish off with some pros and cons to expect from their broadband services and take a look at what switching to an altnet involves.

Altnets: the key points

  • Altnet is a nickname for alternative network providers offering fibre broadband packages.
  • Although smaller in scale, altnets compete with the UK and England’s big brand internet service providers.
  • Altnets offer their own full fibre connections and don’t rely on the Openreach network.
  • Access to altnets tends to be limited to local rather than nationwide service coverage.

What is an alternative network provider?

We’ve already learned that an altnet is an alternative, but an alternative to what? Well, it’s really referring to being a different choice to ‘the big 4’ broadband providers we know best.

This includes BT (EE + Plusnet), Sky, Virgin Media and TalkTalk first and foremost, with Vodafone chasing the pack. These are the mainstream UK ISPs in 2024.

BT, Plusnet, Sky and TalkTalk are also all part of the Openreach network, the largest landline network infrastructure installed across the country.

Altnets rival these providers to bring superfast broadband in certain locations. They might have less familiar names and a more localised service, but they can be important for bringing coverage to remote rural areas. But you’re just as likely to find altnets popping up in built up towns and cities, too!

  • 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.

What are the top altnets?

Broadband Genie deals checker

Add your address into our deals checker, and you might see packages available from altnets including:

BeFibre

BeFibre offers three full fibre packages ranging across 150, 500 and 900Mb broadband speeds (‘Be150’, ‘Be500’ and ‘Be900’). Contract lengths are either 12 or 24-months and that includes unlimited access and free installation with a bundled Linksys router. BeFibre offers symmetrical upload and download speeds, which really stands it out from some of the bigger names.

brsk

With prices starting from just over £20 a month for its entry-level 'BetterNet100' package, brsk's deals come with a fixed price promise. This means there's no mid-contract price rises. At the time of writing, there was also no set-up fee to pay.

A BetterTV add-on is available for an additional price. This gives you a 4K TV box, plus access to a mobile app so you can view on the move. Call bundles and a fixed IP address are also options.

Hyperoptic

One of the better known altnets, Hyperoptic provides full fibre optic deals ranging from 50Mb download speeds to a ‘Hyperfast’ connection with average speeds of 900Mb. Contracts are available on 12, 24 or rolling monthly durations with phone bundles also possible.

Community Fibre

Community Fibre claims to be London’s ‘fastest full fibre network’ thanks to its quick 3Gb broadband package. You’ll need a wired Ethernet connection to hit those rates, though. If you use a Wi-Fi router, those speeds will be maxed at 800Mb. Community Fibre’s prices and setup fees are very competitive.

See also: 'Broadband deals in London'

Gigaclear

Gigaclear’s main four full fibre packages range from 200Mb to 830Mb with symmetrical upload and download rates, on minimum 18-month contracts.

Quickline

There are both full fibre and 5G Home Broadband deals available with Quickline, available on either a rolling monthly or 24-month contract. Its entry-level 'Full Fibre Connect' deal costs £29 per month, and would be suitable for up to 10 devices being online at once.

See also: 'A quick guide to 5G Home Broadband'

Trooli

Trooli offers either a 150Mb, 500Mb or 900Mb full fibre home package. Unlike many larger providers, Trooli has made a pledge never to raise a price mid-contract.

To see how this compares to other providers, check out our guide to price increases in 2024.

YouFibre

YouFibre's broadband packages go up to an incredible 6.8Gb average download speed. It also offers a very cheap 150Mb full fibre deal at under £20. Rolling monthly contracts are available.

Are smaller providers reliable?

In short, the answer is yes! While smaller providers are lesser known, this doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t deliver a good service. For example, in Broadband Genie's 2024 Broadband Awards, the likes of Hyperoptic and Gigaclear ranked higher than some of the big names for Customer Care.

All are subject to Ofcom regulations, and many also give 30 and 60-day satisfaction guarantees for added peace of mind. If download speeds or reliability fails to meet expected levels, then customers can walk away with their money back.

Broadband Genie has dedicated reviews for the likes of Hyperoptic and Gigaclear, while Trustpilot is a helpful measure for how well providers are going down with their customers.

Any best broadband or telecoms awards for altnets are a good place to see which are performing well. You can also check social media. See if there are any issues regularly being raised by customers. And, more importantly, how well customer services are replying.

Advantages and dis-advantages of signing up to an alternative network

The pros and cons of signing up to an altnet provider
Pros Cons
  • Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) broadband networks use 100% fibre-optic cables free of phone lines and line rental. It offers faster speeds over ADSL and Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) services.
  • Altnets are more likely to offer 0% mid-contract price rises.
  • More personal customer service standards
  • New full fibre networks can be slow to roll out, making altnet coverage limited to certain areas.
  • Full fibre connections require properties to have special cabling to be installed, often at cost, by engineers.

Switching to an altnet

There are a few things to think about before making a switch to an altnet provider.

Customers must notify an old provider themselves because it isn’t a switch within the same network. Things aren’t as simple as switching between two providers who are both on the Openreach network.

This normally lets the new provider do all the admin for you, but won’t apply here until the delayed ‘One Touch Switch’ legislation comes in force. Providers usually ask for 30 days notice when switching.

Switching credits is also worth noting here for mid-contract customers. Sometimes altnets offer schemes to pay your early termination fees and switch early. Hyperoptic’s ‘Switch Now’ incentive is a good example.

See also: ‘How to get a credit for switching your broadband early’.

Expert Summary

Altnets are nothing to be wary of! They offer a great alternative to the bigger names in broadband.

Availability can be an issue, though. Before getting your heart set on an altnet, use our deals checker to see who serves your immediate area.

By rolling out new 100% full fibre networks, they can be independent of Openreach and offer superfast speeds on competitive deals. Lower monthly prices are also often joined by the promise of no mid-contract rises and money-back guarantees for poor service.

We think an altnet is definitely worth considering when you're ready to switch broadband providers.

Meet the author:

Contributor

After editing 80+ issues of Future Publishing's Web Designer magazine, Mark turned freelance in 2012. Since then he has contributed technology and consumer copy for clients including GetApp, Stackify, Totaljobs and FXhome.


Broadband specialist subject: Tips for broadband users

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