Internet usage surged by 40% during the lockdown this year, and working-from-home Brits became a whole lot more productive, according to a new survey.
The TalkTalk Lockdown Lessons Report looks at how we spent our time online during the lockdown. The survey gathered feedback in August from users and businesses, and analysed TalkTalk's own network usage patterns to discover the trends that emerged, and what changes it may lead to in the future.
The most unsurprising detail was that internet usage jumped by 40% during the lockdown period, compared to the same time a year ago. This is a large increase, even factoring in the usual year-on-year increase in data use.
The number hasn't dropped since restrictions eased, either, suggesting the change may be permanent. In fact, users ranked internet access as the second most important thing to have during a lockdown - behind only a garden or outdoor space.
So how were we spending all this extra time online?
For leisure use, video chat was the big winner. Some 44% spent time chatting with family and friends, and many of these would have been first time or reluctant users. More than a third said they were now a lot more confident using the technology.
Inevitably, video streaming services also proved popular, with an amazing 4.6 million households picking up a new subscription. 27% spent extra time on social networks, while 11% did more online gaming than usual.
It wasn't all fun and games. 58% of those who had started working from home felt they'd become more productive, and over half don't expect to ever return to the office full time. More than four in five identified a fast, reliable broadband connection as the most important thing to enable them to work away from the office.
Around a third of business leaders agreed that remote working had increased productivity among their teams. 40% said they'd made a contribution towards their employees' phone or broadband bills, and the same number had contributed up to £200 to improve their staff's home-working environment. A quarter invested in mental wellbeing apps.
And there's one more intriguing consequence of the lockdown: it has sparked a revolution in self-improvement.
Over half of all the people surveyed said that they'd learned new skills during the lockdown. 40% had looked up "how-to" videos, 19% had used learning apps, and an impressive 16% signed up to a full, online educational course. Languages, cooking, IT skills, gardening and yoga were the popular areas for learning.
Overall, a third developed a new skill, and the same number plan to continue learning into the future. Nearly a fifth of 18-24 years even felt their career prospects had improved. Younger people were also the driving force behind the trend for setting up an online side-hustle. One in ten said they'd pursued their own part-time business, like selling stuff or offering freelance services.
It remains to be seen what the digital legacy of lockdown will be. Many of the changes we've seen do seem to be an acceleration of trends that were already well underway. And if the results of this survey are anything to go by, changes in how we keep in touch with family, how we spend our leisure time, and how we work may well be here to stay.
Subscription TV services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are great for giving you a greater selection of stuff to watch. But what happens when you want to watch a specific movie or TV show?
With so many different services available, it can be hard to keep track of which films or shows are available on which one.
Some TV shows may be exclusive to a particular streaming service, or others - especially those made for broadcast TV in the States - might be available to rent on an episode by episode (or season by season) basis. Some will have both options on different providers.
The picture's even more complicated with films. Not only is there the same subscription/rental confusion, but the recent lockdown meant that a lot of new movies skipped the cinema release entirely.
The new Disney film Mulan is the biggest example. If you want to watch that you have to subscribe to the Disney+ service (or at least take out a free trial), then pay £19.99 on top. Or you can wait until December when it will become available as part of the standard Disney+ plan.
How to find what's showing, and where
Finding where the show or film you want is only part of the problem. When it's available through more than one service you'll often find that the prices vary considerably. Fortunately, there is a good solution.
The best way to keep track of all the streaming services, to find out which one is showing what, and how much you'll have to pay to watch, is through JustWatch.com.
JustWatch is part search engine, part comparison site for streaming services. It covers pretty much every major service available in the UK, including:
Amazon Prime Video and Amazon Video
Apple TV and Apple TV+
Sky Go and Sky Store
YouTube, and many others
All you need to do is search for a particular title, and it will show you where you can watch it. The results are split into streaming, buying and renting, and you can filter or sort them by price or resolution. So, if you want the cheapest 4K version of your favourite film, this is where you'll find it.
JustWatch has a stack of extra features, like a watchlist and a very useful recommendation engine to point you towards the kind of stuff you might like. It's completely free, and there are apps for your phone as well.
While JustWatch is our favourite among the TV search guides, and certainly the most well known of these services, it isn't the only one. Check out ReelGood and TMDB for two of the best JustWatch alternatives. It's worth giving them all a trial run to see which you prefer.
Where to buy or rent
Once you've tracked down the show or film you want to watch, you might have to decide which service to use to view it.
If it's exclusive to one subscription service, then your choice is made for you. If you aren't already a customer, make sure you make use of the free trials most services offer. And don't forget to cancel your subscriptions to any that aren't actively using - your monthly fees are going to rack up quickly if you sign up to every possible service.
If you're planning to buy, it's probably a good idea to stick to a single provider so you can keep your collection in one place. Amazon has good compatibility across devices and platforms, as do Apple and Google Play. Rakuten TV is convenient because it's built into many smart TVs - but not all. You don't want to lose all the films you've bought next time you upgrade your telly. Similarly, you can only access things like Sky Store and TalkTalk TV while you have a contract for those services.
For renting, it doesn't really matter where you shop, as long as you've got an easy way to watch it. You can choose whichever offers the best price.
What speed broadband do you need for streaming?
Streaming should be possible on almost any reasonable internet connection. You need a broadband speed of around 5Mb to stream in HD, or closer to 25Mb if you prefer to watch in 4K. A decent fibre deal will clear this comfortably, though remember that the actual speed available to you depends on how many people in your household are online at the same time. So, if two people wanted to watch their own 4K streams together, you'd need a 50Mb connection.
The drive to bring full fibre broadband to the whole country is continuing, with the service now available to over four million UK homes.
Data from the latest Ofcom Connected Nations report shows that more than 14% of homes across the country - some 4.2 million - now have the option to buy gigabit-capable broadband. That's an increase of 2% since the start of the year, and 4% from a year ago.
This growth, along with the continued expansion of Virgin Media's cable network, means that 57% of the country now has access to "ultrafast" broadband, which can deliver speeds of 300Mb or more.
The picture is not consistent across the four nations of the UK, however. While 59% of homes in England can get ultrafast broadband, the same level of service is only available to 34% in Wales. Around 95% of the UK can access superfast broadband, with speeds over 30Mb. This is unchanged over the last year.
The figures break down like this:
Access to full fibre broadband
Access to ultrafast broadband
While there have been big improvements in the availability of the fastest broadband services, there are still considerable areas where the broadband options are very poor. As it stands, 2% of UK homes don't have access to even 10Mb internet (and in some cases it will be a lot lower than that). This figure reaches 6% in Northern Ireland.
Unable to access 10Mb broadband
The good news is that these regions are likely to be eligible for the government's new universal service obligation (USO). Launched in March, this aims to ensure that everyone will be able to access internet with speeds of at least 10Mb.
This doesn't come in the form of an automatic upgrade. Instead, customers can make a request to BT to see if they're eligible. If they are, and the cost of upgrading the network comes to £3400 or less, then it will happen without them needing to pay anything. If the cost comes to over £3400, then the customer will have to pay the excess if they want the work to go ahead. It isn't a quick process, though. The work should be complete within 12 months, but could take as long as two years.
If you're in a remote area with poor broadband coverage, take a look at our rural broadband guide to see what your options are.
To see if full fibre or ultrafast broadband are available where you live, use our postcode checker to see what services you can upgrade to.
Fast, reliable broadband is a must-have for any student house. And given that it can take a couple of weeks to set up, it's one of the first things you'll want to get sorted when you move in for the new term.
If you haven't signed up for your own broadband package before, we'll tackle some of the questions you might have here.
It's all pretty straightforward, but as a student you won't have quite as many options as everyone else. Contract length is absolutely vital - you don't want to be saddled with a long term deal that you have to keep paying for during the summer holidays or beyond.
And with all the corona-driven uncertainty this year, flexibility is more important than ever. Let's take a look at some of the things you need to know.
What speed do you need?
Your usage is probably going to be pretty high, so the fibre deals in the 60-67Mb average speed range should be your starting point.
You might get away with one of the slower fibre packages if there's only two people in your house, but in most cases the extra speed will be worth more than the fiver or so difference in price.
Faster is always better, of course, and you might be lucky enough to be living in an area where you can get speeds over 100Mb - and sometimes quite a lot more. These might come from the normal fibre providers like BT or Sky, from Virgin Media, or in 5G areas through the likes of EE and Three. Just make sure you keep an eye on the contract length and any setup fees for these faster deals.
What length contract should you get?
Short contracts are key for student broadband, so don't even consider those that need an 18 or 24 month commitment.
12 months is the longest you should go for, but even then you'll end up with quite an overlap with the summer break where you're still paying for your internet while you're hitting the beaches in Spain. Don't rule these out entirely, though, as they might still work out cheaper than a shorter option.
BT offer a few nine month deals that align much better with your term time. Some broadband suppliers, including NOW Broadband and Virgin Media, also offer 30-day rolling contracts that you can cancel at any time. These are best for zero-commitment broadband, but they do often come with significant setup fees. Be sure to factor that in when you're comparing prices.
Do you need any extras?
If Netflix isn't enough and you want a bit of sports action or some more of the latest US shows, you can save some money by adding a pay TV plan to you broadband deal. You won't be able to do this through Sky, as they only offer TV on an 18 month contract, but you can get 30-day deals on NOW TV streaming with NOW Broadband.
For any overseas students in your house, consider adding a call plan with support for cheap international calls.
Who pays the bill?
Even though you'll be splitting the bill with all your housemates, one of you is going to have put their name on the contract. It will be their responsibility. This is one of the reasons why you don't want to sign up to anything longer than 12 months, tops. You don't want to be stuck paying your broadband bill long after your housemates have moved on.
It's a good idea to assign each one of your utilities to a different person in your household so you share the risk. To help manage bills you can also look into setting up a shared bank account across the household, or take a look at apps like Splitwise that make it easier to see who owes what.
Best broadband deals for students
So, what student broadband deal should you choose?
BT offer three plans specifically for students. They're nine month deals, with speeds ranging from 36Mb to 67Mb. You can add a Sports or Entertainment TV package, as well as call plans including cheap international calls to 236 countries.
For one month contracts, you've got two main choices:
NOW Broadband - speeds range from a sedate 11Mb (don't bother!) to a much more suitable 63Mb, with the option to add streaming TV plans as well. All of them come with a £65 upfront fee.
Virgin Media - speeds on the 30-day plans range from around 54Mb all the way up to over 500Mb. Many setup fees have been waived on the 1 month rolling contracts that are specifically for students, but bear in mind that installation takes longer if your house hasn't had Virgin before.
Your other options are for 12 month contracts. When you add in the setup fees and slightly higher prices for short deals, these year-long plans may still end up being competitive, even though you'll still be paying in July and August when you don't need it. Among your best options here are:
John Lewis Broadband - speeds go up to an average 66Mb, with no activation fee, and usually include an e-gift card as a bonus.
Plusnet - speeds up to 66Mb, with just a £10 activation fee. You also get the option to add BT Sport - with Premier League and Champions League football - after you've signed up.
And there's one last thing to consider - broadband over 4G or 5G. This won't be right for everyone: 4G speeds are better for one or two users rather than a large, heavy-use household, and though 5G is blazing fast it still has very patchy coverage. If you're in the right part of London, Three's 5G Home Unlimited plans look good, and include a 12 month option. Find more great mobile broadband deals here.
Ready to start shopping for student broadband? Use our postcode checker to compare the best broadband deals available in your area today.
For the third successive quarter, Vodafone have been named as the 'big eight' broadband provider that generates the most complaints.
The unwanted title comes from Ofcom's latest complaints report for the last quarter of 2019. They show what while the industry average improved from 14 to 12 complaints per hundred thousand customers, Vodafone's number rose slightly to 27. That's around a quarter more than the next worst 'big eight' performers, Plusnet and TalkTalk.
Once again, the standout suppliers were EE and Sky with just five customers having cause to moan. They, along with BT, were the only companies to achieve below average grievance levels. Virgin Media made the biggest improvement, with their level of disgruntled users dropping from 20 in the previous quarter, to 14.
The data covers the UK's eight largest broadband suppliers, which all have at least 1.5% market share. Here's how they rank:
The report covers October to December 2019. Its publication was delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak, and it also means that the data doesn't take into account the massive surge in broadband use during the lockdown. We'll have to wait and see what impact that had on customer satisfaction.
Speaking of which, Ofcom have also released their latest annual Customer Satisfaction survey. The report, for the whole of 2019, shows that an overall 85% of users are happy with the broadband service they get.
Of the 'big eight', Plusnet came out on top with an impressive 93% satisfaction rate. This is in spite of them performing pretty badly in a couple of areas. Over the year they had the second highest number of complaints, at 100 per hundred thousand customers. They also had the second longest call waiting time. Anyone phoning Plusnet for support would have to wait an average three minutes 48 for the call to be answered. By comparison, TalkTalk would answer in just 39 seconds.
This was a rare win for TalkTalk, who came out bottom of the satisfaction chart at just 78%. Only 44% of their users were happy with how complaints were handled, too.
The Customer Satisfaction report ranks the leading broadband providers across a range of categories. Here are the winners and losers:
Millions of extra homes in rural regions are set to be upgraded to full fibre broadband over the next three years.
Openreach have unveiled plans to extend their gigabit-capable broadband network to a further 3.2 million properties across 251 market towns and villages.
It forms part of a £12 billion investment they've already committed to upgrade the network for another 20 million homes by the middle of the decade.
BT-owned Openreach provide the broadband infrastructure for most of the major broadband suppliers. The areas they're targetting in the latest announcement are in the so-called 'final third' of the country, the regions most at risk of being left behind as the UK moves towards faster broadband.
Many of these places still only have spotty internet coverage. The extra expense of installing new technology in more remote areas, coupled with a smaller population using it, makes them less cost effective for providers. Around 2% of UK properties are unable to access services of 10Mb.
The new locations are across the whole of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, from Penryn in Cornwall up to Thurso in the Scottish Highlands. You can find out if your town is on the list here.
Work is expected to get under way in the next 12-18 months.
Industry regulator Ofcom have proposed changes to their own rules to help make Openreach's plan financially viable. They will allow BT to recover their investment costs from their customers (the networks) through a wider range of services, including the new fibre services and the older copper ones.
Upgrading UK broadband was a major policy for the Conservatives in the last General Election. They pledged £5 billion towards the works - again with a focus on the less competitive regions - and wanter to deliver nationwide gigabit broadband within five years. This is likely to include 5G as well as fibre. The public money will come in addition to Openreach's investment.
Around 12% of properties throughout the UK currently have access to full fibre broadband, and the country ranks outside the top 30 for broadband speeds worldwide. While the promised upgrade was long overdue, it's potentially even more urgent now given the likely rise in the number of people who will be permanently working from home.
Good news, then, for rural communities. But it's still some way off. In the meantime, if you're out in the country and struggling with poor internet access, take a look at our rural broadband guide to find out what are your best options.
On top of that, EE, Plusnet, Sky, BT and TalkTalk have also all agreed to make New Customer pricing available to their existing users when they upgrade. It guarantees them access to the most attractive deals.
The changes will result in price cuts worth £270 million each year for the UK's nearly nine million out-of-contract customers, slashing the half a billion pound excess they normally pay.
The measures are the latest part of the industry watchdog's ongoing plan to ensure that everyone gets the best deal on their broadband by avoiding the often hefty price rises that follow when a user's initial contract period ends.
The benefits of signing a new deal or switching providers are well known. Yet as many as 40% of all users are still on an out-of-contract deal, paying an average of £56 a year more than they should be.
Ofcom found that Virgin Media have the highest proportion of out-of-contract users, at a massive 61%. Sky and Plusnet are also above average, with 42% still on old deals.
But EE's out-of-contract customers pay the most, at an average of £7.90 extra each month - or nearly £95 per year.
Research shows that older and vulnerable users are the least likely to switch, so they've been a large focus of Ofcom's campaign. Only last week they called on the industry to treat vulnerable people - including those with disabilities, health or financial problems - more fairly, to identify them more quickly, and to increase staff training.
Ofcom say that around a million vulnerable customers should save as much as £70 each per year as a result of these new rules.
Don't pay more than you need to
Other Ofcom rules came into force in February that require your broadband supplier to contact you when your deal ends. They now need to tell you how much you'll be paying if you remain on the same deal, compared to what you could pay if you took on a new contract. But you still need to act on it.
Even if you're happy with your current supplier, you shouldn't simply remain on your old deal. Do that, and the price will go up. If you're willing to sign a new contract with them you'll be able to get a much better price. You might even get other perks, too, like a new router, a speed guarantee, extra data on your mobile plan, and so on.
If you're open minded about switching, use our postcode checker to see what broadband deals are available in your area. Prices rise by as much as 50% when your contract ends, so you should be able to find a far better price than what you would pay if you did nothing.
Broadband problems hit everyone from time to time. No matter how good your service, or how reliable your provider, you will occasionally find that you are unable to connect to the internet.
There can be countless reasons why it happens. Maybe it's a problem with your ISP, or your phone line. Or maybe it's your own hardware that's at fault.
So how do you identify the cause, so that you can fix it? Here's a checklist of things to work through when your broadband goes down.
1. Check the service status
First up, grab your phone and jump online to check if your broadband provider has a problem. If it's a major provider and a widespread problem it'll probably be in the news. But most providers also have a service status page on their website that flags up any ongoing issues (see, for example, BT, Plusnet, Sky, or Virgin Media). If you're a Twitter user it's also worth following the support page for your provider so that you catch any announcements, or can easily report problems.
2. Is it a hardware problem?
If that seems to be okay, then check whether the problem is with your own hardware. If your laptop or set-top box can't connect but your phone or tablet can, try rebooting the problematic device. Failing that, try removing the Wi-Fi connection from the device, then reconnecting from scratch. (Also, have you installed any software recently that could interfere with your connection, like security software?)
3. Reboot your router
When the problem isn't device specific, reboot your router. This will force the router to try and reconnect to the internet, and will hopefully fix any problems with the Wi-Fi signal as well. If you know how to log in to your router's dashboard - or it comes with a companion app - you can do the reset on your phone or laptop. But it might just be easier to press the little reset button on the back of the router instead. The process can take a couple of minutes, so be patient.
4. Check the router connection
Still no joy? Check whether you're still connected to the router itself. If the Wi-Fi icon on your computer or phone shows a connection then you're okay - although do make sure you're connected to the right network if you've got more than one in the nearby area. If the icon shows no connection then you're looking at a Wi-Fi problem. Try a wired connection between your router and laptop if you've got a suitable cable (you might need a USB adapter as well, since modern laptops don't tend to have ethernet ports). When the wired connection works and the wireless one doesn't it would indicate that your router is at fault. It was probably supplied by your ISP, so give them a call. They'll be able to do some tests and replace it if necessary.
5. Check the router and phone line
If the router's working but you still can't get online, it's worth quickly checking that it's all still set up properly. Make sure that it's plugged in to your phone socket properly, and that the micro-filters are in place. This is unlikely to be the cause unless you've been moving it around recently. Also, use a landline phone to see if your phone line is still working.
6. Contact your broadband provider
With all that done, and still no sign of a fault on the service page, it's time to give your provider a call. The fault can have many causes. It could be a problem with your own connection, and they may be able to fix it remotely or you might need a visit from an engineer. Or it might be a wider issue, like with your street cabinet. At this point, keep an eye on your provider's downtime policy - you should be eligible for a refund or compensation if the fault isn't fixed within two working days.
As we said, broadband problems will affect everyone from time to time. But if you have ongoing problems with your provider, then read up on your rights and how to complain.
A lot of broadband suppliers offer freebies to tempt you to sign up, and some of them are really worth having. They can range from cashback and bill credit, to shopping vouchers, and sometimes even tech gadgets. They change all the time, so if you're on the hunt for a new deal it's worth keeping an eye out for what's around.
But the important thing to remember is that you very often have to claim your reward separately. And you normally only get a short window in which to do so - miss it and you'll miss out!
We've got a full guide to broadband rewards and free gifts if you want to know more. Or if you just want to know how to claim your swag for many of the main providers, here's what you need to do.
How to claim Plusnet rewards
Plusnet regularly offer cashback, gift cards and reward cards to new customers. They'll send you an email within 10 days of your signing up with a link to claim your reward. You then need to claim it within two months, and should get it around 10 days later.
How to claim BT rewards
A lot of BT Broadband deals include a BT Reward Card as their special offer. This is preloaded with a cash sum that you can spend in most places that accept Mastercard payments. You can claim up to three months after your broadband is activated, and it should arrive within 30 days. Visit https://www.bt.com/manage/bt-reward-card/ to start your claim.
How to claim Sky Broadband rewards
Sky Broadband offer a range of sweeteners at various times, including a pre-paid Mastercard and high street vouchers. You get 90 days to claim your reward. If you're eligible, head over to sky.com/claim and log in with your Sky ID to start the process.
How to claim John Lewis Broadband rewards
Rewards from John Lewis Broadband include e-gift cards that can be spent at John Lewis or Waitrose. You don't need to claim this one - it should be sent via email within 60 days of the activation of your broadband service, so keep an eye on your inbox.
How to claim NOW Broadband rewards
NOW Broadband don't offer as many extra perks as other providers, but when they do have them they'll send the info on how to claim via email. You should get this within two weeks of your service being activated.
How to claim EE rewards
EE Broadband regularly offer cashback or Amazon gift cards as a reward for signing up. If you're eligible for one of the gift cards you'll be sent an email with instructions on how to claim it after your broadband goes live.
How to claim TalkTalk rewards
When TalkTalk offer rewards, they're normally either e-gift cards for specific stores or vouchers to be spent on the high street. Look out for an email with all the details, and you should receive your reward within 90 days of activation.
How to claim Virgin Media rewards
Virgin Media rewards can include bill credit, tech products or even wine, and you don't normally have to claim. The credit will be applied to your bill automatically, and any free gift will be sent out within 28 days of installation of your Virgin service.
To see what free gifts are available right now, take a look at the best broadband deals available today.
If there's one thing we recommend above everything else it's that you should never stay on your old broadband deal once your contract has ended.
Now a new study from Zen Broadband has shown that people over 55 are the most likely to do exactly that - and they're leaving themselves open to being hit with massive price hikes.
The survey shows that 83% of over-55s haven't switched broadband providers in the last year, and in some cases have never switched at all. This contrasts to the under-24s who are much happier to shop around for a better deal - over half have moved to a new provider in the last 12 months alone.
Data from industry watchdog Ofcom shows that some 25 thousand people come to the end of their broadband deal every day. Anyone who remains on that same deal will be hit by an immediate price rise of as much as 60% as the introductory price they were offered comes to an end. And that's followed by further annual - and sometimes even mid-year - increases.
If you don't take action when your contract ends you can easily wind up wasting hundreds of pounds a year. It's estimated that as many as nine million of us are paying too much.
Ofcom changed the rules earlier this year to try and address the problem. Your broadband provider now has to contact you when your contract is coming to an end to let you know how much the price is about to go up, and to show you what better deals they've got to offer. The changes came into force in February, so it's still too early to know what impact they've had.
So why aren't people switching? The Zen survey shows that apathy plays a part for around a third of people. But the biggest worry for non-switchers - 43% of the over 55 group - is that they'll end up with a worse service if they move to another provider.
If you share this concern, it's worth remembering that you don't actually have to change ISPs to get a cheaper deal. At the very least you should give your existing provider a call to negotiate a better price. Have a look at what other providers are offering first, so you know the going rate, and you'll find that they'll be more than happy to give you something better in return for you committing yourself to them for another year or two.
You can also check out our customer reviews to get an idea of the kind of service you'll receive from all the main broadband suppliers.
You'll get the best deals if you're willing to change broadband suppliers, and switching is a lot easier than you might think. In most cases (the main exception being if you're moving from or to Virgin Media) your new provider will handle the entire process for you. The survey revealed that nearly half of those asked found the process easier than expected, and a huge 89% believed they had benefited from making the switch.
Are you coming to the end of your contract soon? Why not use our postcode checker to find the best broadband deals available in your area today. In just a few minutes you could easily save yourself £150 or more this year.