Why do I need a landline to get home broadband?

static caravans on a campsite

Thursday, 5 September, 2019

Unless you live in a caravan, or an isolated cottage in the middle of nowhere, your home will almost certainly have a landline telephone connection installed.

And it’s just as well.

Signing up for a new broadband contract depends on having an active phone line. Without a landline for home broadband, your chosen ISP is almost certain to refuse your custom.

That’s bad news for crofters and mobile home owners up and down the land.

But why is it still necessary to have a landline for home broadband?

The old ways are still the best

In the mid-1990s, internet service providers began offering home computer users the chance to access a new-fangled phenomenon called the internet.

To do so, they had to plug their PC or Mac into an active phone socket, and then dial into a network. Data was streamed down the phone line before being piped to the device’s modem.

The rest is history. Except it’s not, because internet data still tends to be distributed along a phone line to a master socket in your home, then along cables to a computer.

The only thing that’s really changed is modems have been rendered obsolete by the emergence of broadband routers, which perform a similar job for multiple devices.

Even your home WiFi network relies on information pumped down a phone line.

The exception is Virgin Media, whose twin-core broadband cables technically eliminate any need for a phone line. You’ll still need one to access key services, however.

Can’t I use wireless internet?

As explained in the last paragraph, WiFi routers are dependent on landline connectivity.

The main alternative is to harness the mobile networks offered by firms like O2, Vodafone and Three.

These companies offer USB dongles for solitary devices, and compact MiFi hubs capable of distributing 4G or 5G data across a room to several wireless devices.

However, mobile data is unsuitable for an entire house’s broadband provision.

Signal strength fluctuates. Speeds vary widely, depending on how many other people are accessing the network. And mobile data tends to be extremely expensive.

The only cost-efficient way to consume large volumes of data for services like gaming, streaming and video calling is down a landline.

Do I need to take a landline contract from my ISP?

Not necessarily.

Virgin advertises a number of broadband-only contracts without a phone line being provided, while a new generation of broadband-specific firms like Hyperoptic do the same.

Conventional ISPs insist on an active Openreach landline for home broadband provision, though line maintenance and rental doesn’t legally have to be provided by them.

You’ll have a hard time convincing most firms to let you retain a separate landline operator, however.

Sky promise to take over an existing provider’s phone line “at no extra cost”, while other ISPs don’t even discuss the possibility of a customer retaining a landline from another company.

They tend to bundle landline provision into broadband contracts without separating out the cost of each element, making the two indivisible.

Even ‘broadband only’ deals describe contracts without calling packages, rather than without line rental.

ISPs will transfer your existing number across and make switching to their phone services fairly easy, but they’re unlikely to provide broadband down a different company’s phone line.

Plus, if you end up experiencing technical issues, the ISP and phone line provider could blame each other for the problem – absolving themselves of responsibility in the process…

So, if you’re dead set on broadband without a landline there are some options available.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!