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Top broadband tips for students

Anthony Hill
Written By:
Anthony Hill

For modern day students broadband is essential. It helps with studying, socialising, money management and staying in touch with loved ones.

Going without’s simply not an option when it comes to broadband, but, choosing the right deal can be tricky for the average uni-goer only just learning to handle their finances for the first time.

To help you get the best broadband deal, Anthony Hill, one of the experts from mobile, TV and internet comparison site broadbandchoices.co.uk, has these tips for students…

Timescale – As a student, you may go home as soon your studying’s finished for the year, or you might stay put for the summer. What you choose to do will affect your choice of broadband package.

If you’re planning on going home at the end of term, a nine-month student broadband deal from BT or Virgin Media – the only two major providers that offer them – will mean you avoid paying for broadband you won’t be there to use. However, if you intend to stay in your student house over the summer, opt for a package on a 12 or 18-month contract instead.

TOP TIP: If you’re living alone or with just one other person, consider a standard – also known as ADSL – broadband package on a 12-month contract, even if you do intend to go home for the summer, as this will is likely to work out cheaper than a fibre optic broadband package on a nine-month contract, and should be good enough for one or two people.

Speed – Students – like everyone else – face a postcode lottery when it comes to broadband speed, as while around three-quarters of homes and business in the UK now have access to superfast speeds, there are still areas that have yet to get fibre optic technology.

Download speeds has a massive impact on whether you have a positive or negative experience online, and it’s particularly important if you share a house. For example, the minimum speed you need to stream video is about 3Mb, but you’ll need well in excess of that if there are likely to be several people in your house streaming video at the same time.

If possible, plump for a fibre optic broadband package. Superfast speeds ensure everyone in the house can do what they want to do online without slowing one another down.

TOP TIP: Broadband speeds largely depend on the distance of your house from the local telephone exchange. Ask any provider you’re considering for an estimate of the speeds you can expect to receive before you get as far signing up. If they can’t give you what you need, try a different provider.

Consider mobile – If you’re already paying for the internet as part of a mobile phone plan, you might be able to manage without broadband at your student house. If you’re on 3G, you might find you don’t get the speeds you need for streaming TV shows and films, although for general browsing, emails and Facebook, it should do the job if you can get decent reception where you live.

For a speedier experience, you might want to upgrade to 4G. However, you should be wary of cheaper packages – particularly if you’re going to be doing data-hungry stuff like streaming stuff on the likes of Netflix and BBC iPlayer – as exceeding your usage limit will result in you having to pay extra. You can now get 4G from the four main networks in most towns and cities across the UK.

TOP TIP: If you’re tempted by 4G, but don’t know how much data you’re going to need, a good option is a Vodafone Red 4G plan. These come with what’s known as the Vodafone Data Test Drive, which allows you to rinse through as much data as you like for the first three months of your contract – you can then adjust your plan to match your usage.

Go monthly – If you’re looking after your finances yourself for the first time and unsure of your budget, it may be worth considering broadband on a ‘rolling’ monthly contract. This’ll allow you the flexibility to stop paying if you find money is tight and you need to cut back.

Plusnet, for example, offers a ‘no contract’ option, allowing you to cancel as and when you want, which means you can get all the benefits of home broadband without the burden of a long-term contract. It costs a little more each month, but you might feel the freedom’s worth it.

TOP TIP: Some broadband packages on a monthly contract have usage limits. You can avoid going over your data allowance and having to pay extra by supplementing your home broadband – use the internet on campus and use free Wi-Fi hotspots when you’re out and about.

Sharing is caring – If you’re sharing accommodation with two or more other students, your combined spending power will mean you can get better broadband and also afford to get a TV package including extras like Sky Sports.

You can save money by bundling both together, so use a comparison website accredited by Ofcom, the UK communications regulator, to get an accurate idea of what’s available in your area. BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media all offer TV as well as broadband.

TOP TIP: Sharing broadband can inevitably lead to arguments over who’s hogging all the bandwidth. Encourage your housemates to install a broadband download monitor on their laptops, tablets and smartphones so you can all keep track of your online activity and get alerts when you’re downloading excessively.

Be wary of ‘freebies’ – So-called ‘free’ extras have been used by providers for years to entice people to sign up to one their packages. However, it’s important to ignore these incentives and judge the freebie on whether you need it and whether you’ll use it. Compare that against other factors of the deal.

For example, all BT broadband packages come with free BT Sport online and on your phone included. This is a huge plus if your student house is sports-mad, but not if you’re not into don’t really follow sports you may be better off going for an alternative deal.

TOP TIP: If your parents have a TV package that includes access to an online TV service such as Sky Go or Virgin TV Anywhere, ask them if you can register your laptop, tablet or smartphone with it – then you can watch many of the TV channels your folks subscribe to from your uni accommodation without having to pay a penny!

Download with caution – Broadband packages and mobile phone plans don’t always have the most generous usage allowances. Be careful to avoid breaching your limit as excess data costs can seriously inflate your monthly bill, so keep an eye on what you’re using

TOP TIP: If you’re living in shared accommodation with more than one other person, go for an unlimited broadband package to avoid going over your usage limit becoming an issue.

Beware traffic management – Despite the huge number of unlimited broadband deals around now, there are still some conflicting definitions of what unlimited broadband really is. Some providers ‘traffic manage’ their unlimited broadband packages.

In some cases this is done to prioritise the different types of traffic on your connection to ensure things like watching TV online run smoothly, but in others it’s done to make sure intensive downloading by one customer doesn’t slow down the broadband of other customers in the area.

Traffic management is unlikely to affect most people, but it can be a stumbling block for student houses if many of the occupants use, say peer-to-peer (P2P) networks like BitTorrent to download and upload large files.

TOP TIP: If your provider uses traffic management to temporarily restrict the speed of the heaviest users, avoid too much downloading during the specific peak times that’ll be set out in the provider’s terms and conditions. If you want to be able to use P2P networks during peak times, opt for a ‘truly unlimited’ or ‘totally unlimited’ broadband package, as these aren’t traffic managed.

This is an updated version of an article that ran on YourMoney.com in August 2013.