What are Wi-Fi broadband deals?
When people talk about Wi-Fi, what they usually mean is broadband. The two are different, but often related. Wi-Fi is a way to wirelessly connect your devices to a broadband router; broadband is the service that actually brings internet access into your home.
If you’re looking for a Wi-Fi broadband deal what you probably want is a home broadband service with Wi-Fi connectivity for all your devices.
In this guide we’ll explain what Wi-Fi means, and tell you everything you need to know when buying a Wi-Fi deal.
What is Wi-Fi?
Wi-Fi is a wireless networking technology which allows you to connect devices to a network via radio waves. Using Wi-Fi you can easily get broadband access all over your home without cables. It’s relatively easy to set-up, use, and maintain, and most broadband providers give you all the equipment for free.
Wi-Fi does not stand for ‘wireless fidelity’, or anything else. The term is a registered brand name created by the Wi-Fi Alliance, the organisation which manages the various standards used for Wi-Fi technology. You may also see it styled as WiFi, Wifi, or wifi.
- What is 802.11?
When you start looking into Wi-Fi deals one of the tech terms you'll encounter are the Wi-Fi "802.11" standards. While we don't need to delve too deeply into the technical details, it's helpful to know that these give a rough idea of the speed and frequency used by your Wi-Fi router.
In order of speed from slowest to fastest, the 802.11 standards are:
802.11ac and ax are the most recent versions, and offer the fastest speeds. Any relatively new router should support at least 802.11n.
Recently there's been a push to replace these numbers with a friendlier version number, though this is most commonly used for the latest 802.11ax standard, which is known as Wi-Fi 6.
For more information about this topic visit our guide to Wi-Fi.
Advantages and disadvantages of Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi is an extremely convenient technology that’s cheap and easy to use, but it’s not all positive and there are some downsides to consider when using Wi-Fi.
Networking without wires: The key advantage of Wi-Fi is that it is wireless! Before Wi-Fi building a network meant running network cables, now you simply need a Wi-Fi router.
Easy to set-up: It’s usually very simple to set-up a Wi-Fi network for home use. Often there is little for you to do beyond plugging in a Wi-Fi router and maybe changing a few settings.
Easy to use: Connecting to a Wi-Fi network is simple, and for many homes a single Wi-Fi router will provide wireless access to every room, and perhaps even outdoors too.
Widely supported: Wi-Fi is supported by just about everything. From smartphones and laptops to smart home gadgets, if there’s a device that needs internet access it can almost certainly connect to Wi-Fi.
Can be fast: The latest Wi-Fi standards can be very fast, which means you can quickly transfer files between devices and get the best speed from your broadband connection.
Range can easily be extended: While Wi-Fi signal range is limited, it’s simple to add extra range with a cheap signal booster.
Signal is sensitive to interference: Wi-Fi signals can be impeded by obstacles such as walls, and are subject to interference from other devices and appliances, such as microwaves and cordless telephones.
Signal has a limited range: Wi-Fi signals have a fairly short range. Even with small UK homes you may find that there are spots where it’s weak and speed and reliability suffer will as a result.
Security can be an issue: If your Wi-Fi isn’t password protected then anyone nearby can connect. But even then there are security flaws which can mean your network is vulnerable to those with the right knowledge and tools.
May be slower than a wired network: Take the advertised Wi-Fi speeds with a big pinch of salt, as it’s much slower in practice. And to get the best speeds you’ll need up to date hardware and a strong signal, as older standards are much slower
What is a Wi-Fi router?
In order to get Wi-Fi in your home for your broadband connection, you’ll need a Wi-Fi router. A router is what hosts the network and provides a Wi-Fi signal (and, in most cases, also contains a modem for your broadband connection).
When you sign up for a new Wi-Fi deal it will almost always include a free Wi-Fi router, so you don’t need to spend any money, though you can buy your own Wi-Fi router if the free ISP-supplied hardware doesn’t fit your needs.
Want to learn more? Our dedicated guide to Wi-Fi routers explains everything you need to know.
Which provider has the best broadband Wi-Fi router?
The freebies supplied by broadband providers don’t tend to be cutting edge, so if you’re interested in the very latest technology, fastest connectivity and advanced network features you may need to purchase your own router. But in many cases the free router will be enough and there should be no need to spend any more money.
But not every router is the same, and some providers offer better hardware. The following are some of the top routers available from ISPs:
BT Smart Hub
The latest BT router offers fast 802.11ac and four gigabit ethernet ports.
EE Smart Hub
With the EE Smart Hub you benefit from fast 802.11ac and dual-band support for 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks.
Plusnet Hub One
The Plusnet Hub One is a signficant upgrade over the Hub Zero, with fast 802.11ac Wi-Fi and integrated fibre optic modem.
Sky Q Hub
The Sky Q Wi-Fi broadband router has a unique feature: it can turn any Sky Q TV boxes in your home into Wi-Fi access points which boost the signal.
The Vodafone broadband router supports dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi and uses Beamforming technology to improve reception.
Do I need a Wi-Fi deal?
Wi-Fi is essential. Many devices only support Wi-Fi, and there's no simpler way to share internet and network access, so unless you’ve only got a single computer plugged into the router with a network cable you’re going to want Wi-Fi for all the gadgets we have in our homes nowadays.
Wi-Fi is particularly useful for…
Smartphones and tablets
Wi-Fi is the easiest (and perhaps only) way to connect a smartphone or tablet to your home broadband.
Unless your router is right next to your gaming PC or console so you can easily run a network cable, Wi-Fi is the simplest way to connect gaming devices. It’s a must for portable devices like the Nintendo Switch.
Smart home devices
Many smart home gadgets will require Wi-Fi in order to function. And even if a wired network connection is supported, it is unlikely to be the most convenient option.
Shared and family homes
Wi-Fi is hands down the easiest way to share internet access around your home. If you’ve got a busy household full of portable devices, smart TVs and smart home gadgets then Wi-Fi lets you connect everything to the network without running cables.
How to set-up Wi-Fi
Setting up a Wi-Fi connection is generally very easy, and can be done in just a few steps.
- Get a Wi-Fi deal. You’ll need to choose a broadband deal for internet access, and with very few exceptions this will include a free Wi-Fi router.
- Wait for your broadband to be installed and activated.
- On the day of activation, plug in your Wi-Fi router. You’ll be given specific instructions by your ISP, but generally all you’ll have to do is plug it into the power, and connect it to the internet wall socket.
- Change the network name and password. Your router will come configured for Wi-Fi out of the box, with a pre-set network name (called an SSID - Service Set Identifier) and password. You can use these default settings, but we recommend changing them. A unique name can help your network stand out if there are lots of Wi-Fi networks in the area (helpful when adding a new device), and changing the password to something other than a random mix of characters makes it easier to connect - just make sure it’s secure and unique.
- Connect to the Wi-Fi by simply opening the Wi-Fi settings on your device, locating your network name, and entering the password when prompted. In most cases your devices will remember these details so you’ll only have to do this once.
Frequently Asked Questions about Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi deals
- What’s the difference between wireless broadband and Wi-Fi?
Wireless broadband is a broadband service where internet connectivity is delivered by wireless transmissions instead of using a phone, cable or fibre optic line. Wi-Fi is a wireless networking technology, separate from the broadband service.
- Do I need the fastest Wi-Fi?
You don’t necessarily need the very fastest Wi-Fi available, but if you’re getting a new Wi-Fi router it’s worth making sure it supports at least 802.11ac Wi-Fi, which is a more recent standard and supported by a wide range of devices. We’d recommend you check that your router supports at least 802.11n, which is a slightly older technology. If not, it’s worth looking into an upgrade.
- Is Wi-Fi dangerous?
There are no known health risks caused by the use of Wi-Fi. It is a low power signal and the frequencies are the same as those used by many other devices including baby monitors and mobile phones.
- Do I need unlimited Wi-Fi?
It is best to get an unlimited Wi-Fi deal. The good news is unlimited broadband is cheap and widely available, so you don’t need to compromise.
- Can I get a Wi-Fi only deal?
You can get broadband access via public Wi-Fi hotspots, with the biggest provider being BT Wi-Fi. But this is only really good for specific situations (such as when you need short term access) and you’ll find a regular home broadband deal is probably faster, cheaper and more generally useful.
- I already have Wi-Fi, can I get a new router for free?
If you sign up for a new broadband deal you’ll usually get a free router included with the package.
If you want to keep your existing ISP but upgrade your router, speak to your provider. They may send you one for free if it’s very old, or you might have to sign up for a new contract (which means committing for another 12, 18 or 24 months). You can also get a free replacement if your router is broken, but you’ll need to speak to tech support and run through some diagnostic steps first.