Whether you’re living in Belfast or in rural Northern Ireland, it can be difficult to find a good broadband provider.
In this buyer’s guide, we’ve reviewed the 5 best broadband deals in Northern Ireland as of 2020.
We’ve also outlined some things you’ll need to know when buying broadband in Northern Ireland.
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Best Broadband Deals In Northern Ireland
Let’s begin our reviews.
In this section, we’ve reviewed the 5 best broadband deals you can get in Northern Ireland in 2020.
1. BT Fibre 1
BT has great coverage in Northern Ireland, and some of the fastest speeds in the country – at least in major cities.
Their “Fibre 1” broadband deal currently offers 36Mbps, and is available in most of Northern Ireland. However, you can get a heap of even faster fibre options in more urban areas – they even offer a blazing-fast 900Mbps option for those in central Belfast.
In terms of value for money, BT generally comes in the middle of the pack, depending on the plan that you go for. BT aren’t the cheapest provider, but they do have great customer service, and their broadband and TV deals are top-notch. BT Fibre 1 is a great value for money broadband plan.
Overall, BT is the biggest home broadband provider in the UK for good reason. They offer great speeds, and have excellent coverage.
However, be aware of the 24-month contract that you have to lock into with BT. It’s a decent commitment to make, and BT will hike the price when it ends automatically.
Overall value rating
In comparison to BT, Virgin Media doesn’t have as much coverage in Northern Ireland. However, they have recently expanded their network, which is part of the reason why Virgin broadband is definitely worth considering.
The other reason is that if you’re after ultra-fast fibre broadband in Northern Ireland, Virgin Media is generally your best option. While Openreach providers such as BT offer some really nice speeds in certain areas, coverage for this ultra-fast fibre isn’t great.
However, the downside to Virgin is it can be quite expensive. If you’re after cheap broadband in Northern Ireland, there are definitely better options to consider.
There are other things to like about Virgin Media though. Their fibre broadband deals require no phone line rental, unlike any other broadband provider in Northern Ireland. And their plans only require an 18-month contract length, with no setup fee at the time of writing, which is nice.
If you like the sound of Virgin Media but don’t quite need 100Mbps of download speed, they also have a more reasonable 50Mbps plan that’s a bit cheaper. Ultimately though, Virgin Media are the best broadband provider in Northern Ireland for those looking for fast fibre optic internet, instead of cheap broadband deals.
Overall value rating
The two other options we’ve looked at so far aren’t particularly budget-friendly. By comparison, Plusnet offers some pretty cheap broadband deals in Northern Ireland.
Their “Unlimited Fibre” deal strikes a nice balance – it offers 36Mbps for a pretty decent price. There is also a faster “Unlimited Fibre Extra” which offers 66Mbps if you need more speed. Both are available in most areas in Northern Ireland.
One of the other good things about Plusnet is their contract length flexibility. They offer 12-month contracts, or you can lock in for 18 months to save some money. Plusnet even allow you to pay month-to-month with no contract, if you’re not going to be in Northern Ireland for very long.
If you want simple, cheap broadband, Plusnet is a good pick. However, their speeds aren’t the best – you most likely won’t be able to get anything more than 66Mbps in Northern Ireland.
Overall value rating
In many places in Northern Ireland, and especially rural areas, fixed-line home broadband simply isn’t going to cut it.
If you don’t have decent fibre optic broadband available in your area, we recommend checking out mobile broadband options such as the Huawei 4G dongle.
This device works with the O2 mobile network to deliver wireless broadband anywhere you need it. Simply plug into your laptop to get online. The dongle can also create a Wi-Fi network, to help you get online simultaneously on other devices.
As you can see from the O2 network coverage map, they have decent availability in rural Northern Ireland:
The great thing about this particular deal is O2 allow you to define how many months you’d like to lock in for, and how much data you need each month. You can basically build a deal that works for you.
However, do note that unlike a normal fibre broadband plan, you’ll have limited data with this deal. And you may end up paying more per month when compared to a regular broadband plan.
Overall value rating
TalkTalk are another great-value provider that have plenty of cheap broadband deals available in most of Northern Ireland.
Their offerings are very similar to Plusnet, since they’re both budget providers on the Openreach network. “Faster Fibre” is TalkTalk’s 33Mbps option, but there is also a 67Mbps deal available.
Currently, TalkTalk are cheaper than Plusnet. Although they don’t have the same level of contract length flexibility, TalkTalk often have better deals available.
The other reason to look at TalkTalk Faster Fibre is the phone deals that TalkTalk have available. If you need landline minutes, there are packages that can be added and removed each month as you need them, which is great.
However, do note though that as a cheaper provider, TalkTalk’s customer service isn’t the best in the UK. You might have to spend a bit of time on the phone before getting connected.
Overall value rating
Northern Ireland Broadband Buyer’s Guide
Now we’ll discuss what you need to know when shopping for home broadband in Northern Ireland.
What broadband providers service Northern Ireland?
In general, most internet service providers (ISPs) that service England also service Northern Ireland. The exception to this is specialist providers, such as Hyperoptic, that focus on ultra-fast fibre in British metro areas.
Most providers use the same network infrastructure, known as “Openreach”. Like in the rest of the UK, Openreach is the primary broadband network, owned and maintained by BT.
Openreach providers available in Northern Ireland include BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Plusnet, EE, and John Lewis.
However, you may find that if your Openreach speeds are poor, you can use the alternative – which is Virgin Media. Virgin uses separate infrastructure – because it’s not on Openreach, you might be able to get faster speeds with Virgin Media.
And finally, there are a number of small, independent broadband providers that service very specific rural areas. To find these options, look at your local council website, or do a Google search for rural broadband schemes in your town or county.
Internet speed: explained
If there’s one part of our buyer’s guide you’re going to read, it should probably be this one.
Having the right internet speed is extremely important. If you go too low, you’ll struggle with laggy Zoom calls, Netflix constantly buffering, and ping spikes when gaming. However, if you go too high, you’ll be wasting a serious amount of money each year.
Broadband speed is measured in “megabits per second” or Mbps. Your download speed and upload speed can both be measured, but the download speed is generally more important for most households. The more Mbps, the faster your internet speed will be, and the more you’ll pay.
The average download speed is 43Mbps in Northern Ireland and 49Mbps in the UK, according to Ofcom.
For most families with 1-2 children, a download speed of 40-50Mbps should be plenty. You can use our speed needs calculator to see how much speed you actually need.
I’m in Belfast – what speeds can I get?
Fortunately, if you live in Belfast, you can generally get quite fast home broadband speed.
In most postcodes, you’ll have the choice of buying from Virgin Media, who normally deliver up to 500 megabits per second (Mbps). Or, you can go for an Openreach provider – BT currently offer their 900Mbps “Full Fibre 900” plan in central Belfast.
However, you might not need these superfast speeds. If this is the case, there are plenty of broadband deals to choose from for Belfast residents – you can buy much more moderate 30Mbps, 45Mbps or 60Mbps plans from most Openreach providers.
I’m in another major town/city – what speeds can I get?
If you live in another major city or town such as Derry, Lisburn, or Newtownabbey, your broadband deal options should be very similar to what you can get in Belfast. The only differences are:
- You might not be able to get ultra-fast Openreach fibre broadband from a supplier such as BT – 900Mbps+ plans are unlikely to be available unless in an urban centre.
- Virgin Media may not be available, unless in an urban centre. If #1 is also true, then you’ll have to settle for Openreach regular fibre, meaning speeds of around 60-100Mbps.
In essence, you should be able to get 60Mbps at an absolute minimum if you live in a major city or town in Northern Ireland. However, there can be a lot of variation, which is why it’s worth using the Ofcom broadband speed checker to see how much bandwidth you can get at your address.
I’m in rural Northern Ireland – what speeds can I get?
For those in more rural areas in Northern Ireland, you may not be able to get fast, stable home broadband very easily.
A lot of progress has been made in recent years – as of 2018, 89% of Northern Ireland could access speeds of at least 30Mbps. However, coverage is not as good when compared to the rest of the UK.
Because there can be a lot of variation in speeds available in different areas in Northern Ireland, it’s best to check with the Ofcom broadband availability checker to see what speed you can get. Simply put in your postcode and the site will show the speed available at your address.
You can also put your postcode into a provider’s website to get a more specific idea of the speed they will offer. BT have the best coverage in most areas, so it’s a good idea to use their website to see what speeds you can get.
What do I do if I can’t get a decent broadband plan?
If you’re in a rural area, or for some other reason you can’t get decent home broadband, you have two options.
- Use a mobile broadband dongle to access the internet. This works just like your phone’s internet connection – you get a SIM card which plugs into a USB stick or “MiFi” device, which then creates a WiFi network, generally using a 3G or 4G connection. Just ensure that the provider you’re looking at has a network with good coverage in your area, because this will make or break your internet speed. Use the company’s network coverage map to get a good idea of how consistent their coverage will be.
- Look for a provider of satellite broadband deals. There are a number of companies in Northern Ireland that offer this service. However, it can be expensive.
For those in rural Northern Ireland, a dongle is normally your best bet. However, satellite is also an option if you don’t have good mobile coverage in your area at the moment.
What is the rural broadband voucher scheme?
The UK government currently offers a subsidy or “voucher” of up to £1500 per home and £3500 per business installing high-speed broadband. This voucher is also available for Northern Ireland residents.
However, the issue with this scheme is it only applies if installing broadband as a part of a group scheme to build a better fibre network. This makes sense, because £1500 isn’t going to get anywhere near the cost of installing fibre, and it would be uneconomical to build a network for just a single house.
Therefore, to use this scheme you’ll have to work with the community and local council to set up a group of parties interested in fibre broadband, if one does not exist already.
Who offers the fastest fibre broadband in Northern Ireland?
As we discussed a little earlier, there are very few independent providers with their own infrastructure, which limits the number of ultra-fast fibre broadband providers in Northern Ireland.
To find the fastest fibre, follow these rules:
- If you’re in an urban centre such as Belfast, first look at BT or another Openreach provider for their ultra-fast service – around 900Mbps.
- If this isn’t available or you’re not in an urban centre, look and see if Virgin Media is available in your area.
- If Virgin Media isn’t available, look again at Openreach providers such as BT. In this case, you’ll probably be limited to speeds of 60-100Mbps.
- If you can’t get super-fast Openreach, meaning your only options are 30Mbps or less, then look at mobile broadband/dongle providers for the fastest speeds.
Note: it might be tempting to put your postcode into one of those “broadband deal availability” checkers. However, we have found that these sites often give inaccurate results – you often see deals that simply aren’t available where you live. Only when you go to a provider’s site will you see that the deal isn’t available in your area in Northern Ireland.
To get a better idea, look at Ofcom’s broadband coverage checker to see what speeds you can actually access.
This is the end of our buyer’s guide.
Remember, to get the best value for money broadband deal, it’s really important to see exactly how much speed you need before buying. Otherwise, you’ll end up paying too much for fast fibre broadband, or find yourself locked into a broadband plan with speeds too slow for what you need.
This is why we built our speed needs calculator. Simply type in some details about your household and your internet usage, and it’ll show you just how much bandwidth your family needs.
About the author
Tom is the founder of Broadband Savvy. When he’s not writing about broadband, you’ll find him walking his dog (Rex) or playing agar.io.