The best broadband for students: how to cater for mixed budgets and shared bandwidth

Broadband for students 1

It might seem strange that we have a dedicated section here on relating to broadband for students.

With a limited number of ISPs in the UK market, and a universal requirement for data to be distributed through a wireless router, do student requirements differ from anyone else?

The simple answer is yes, they do.

Broadband for students has become a hotly contested market segment in recent years.

(We’re referring here to households comprised entirely of students, rather than a household where one or two people happen to be studying.)

Before explaining how to find the right broadband for students, let’s begin by considering why a household of undergraduates has different data requirements to a nuclear family:

There are also potential issues regarding billing (who manages payments in a shared household) and account management (renewals, negotiations, serving notice, etc).

All things considered, it’s easy to understand why choosing broadband for students is very different to a single person or parent setting up domestic connectivity.

A familiar feeling

Student broadband involves different considerations, but the fundamentals of any home broadband contract remain unchanged.

A nominated household member will enter into a contract with an ISP, who will supply a wireless router and begin distributing data from a specified date, over a fixed period of time.

The same connection and hardware is used as with any other domestic broadband service, and there are no ISPs dedicated to offering broadband for students.

One or two ISPs provide student broadband contracts (requiring proof of studies), but most student-friendly deals could also be signed up to by professionals or families.

You might also see deals being advertised with student-focused incentives, or discounts on unrelated services like cinema passes or travel insurance.

Contract length

This is often a key factor in choosing student broadband, since the academic year only lasts around nine months.

There’s no point entering into a two-year broadband contract if everyone in your household is starting their honours year, and will only be on campus for around 35 weeks.

Even a one-year contract may be unnecessarily long. It’s often more cost-effective to sign up for a rolling one-month deal, with no exit fees – and no need to pay over the summer months.

On the other hand, if you’re planning to stay in a property for a couple of years, a two-year fixed-term contract avoids the higher up-front fees and monthly costs of a rolling contract

It’s worth doing some calculations to determine if a nine-month rolling contract might be cheaper than a one-year contract that could include a discount or sweeteners.

It may even save you money ending a rolling contract before Christmas and then reactivating it in mid-January, rather than paying bills while everyone’s back home with family.

On this page you’ll find deals on one-month rolling broadband contracts from the likes of Virgin Media, Direct Save Telecom and NOW Broadband.

However, these tend to be carried across relatively slow connections, which is another key factor in choosing the right broadband for students…

How would varying line speeds cope?

Having established that students require different things from online connectivity than a retired couple or working professional might, let’s consider how line speeds would perform:

The next consideration when choosing broadband for students involves whether to pick an unlimited data contract.

Although this is more costly than fixed-quantity data contracts, we’d always recommend it, given the amount of time students spend online.

The per-gigabyte cost of purchasing extra data quickly becomes punitive, while it’s impossible to track which housemate used what amount of data.

An unlimited contract avoids any unfair usage arguments – the digital equivalent of who drank all the milk despite it being clearly labelled and on the top shelf of the fridge…

Are bundles worth considering?

Broadband for students bundle image

Students tend to be voracious consumers of digital media, so a broadband bundle might represent a cost-effective solution.

We’d recommend against broadband-and-mobile contracts, since smartphone use could vary widely even though everyone would have to pay the same.

However, combined broadband and TV deals might be a sensible cost-saving option, especially in a household of sports or movie fans.

One thing which is rarely worth including in broadband bundles is a landline. In today’s smartphone age, there’s little chance of a student hogging the house phone all evening.

Signing up to a broadband-only deal could represent a useful saving, which is always beneficial given students are rarely flush with cash.

However, you will need an active telephone line to subscribe to Openreach-based services from firms like Plusnet, Sky and TalkTalk.

Advice on account management

It’s worth planning the supervision and financial management of any broadband contract at the outset.

Will one student accept responsibility for signing up? Whose bank account will payments be made from? How will other housemates reimburse that person each month?

The person chosen to handle the account should be (a) good with money, (b) able to pass a credit check, and (c) willing to stand housemates their share in the event of a dispute.

Since student life is sometimes volatile, it’s worth drawing up a basic agreement about what will happen if someone moves out mid-term for any reason, or if their new partner moves in.

The account manager will also be charged with negotiating a new or revised contract at the end of any introductory period, or closing the account once everyone moves out.