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How to switch your broadband supplier - A complete guide

Many users switch their broadband provider as their minimum contract term ends every year or 18 months either to take advantage of better offers, or to get access to a faster broadband service that has become available. The process (as of 20th June 2015) has changed with a simpler process to switch providers, adopting pretty much the same system as for shifting telephone lines between land line providers.

The new rules as imposed by Ofcom mean that there is less need to understand the behind the scenes facets of your broadband service, but it is still worthwhile understanding the major differences such as fully unbundled and partially unbundled, since this affects the options for splitting up bundles.

The golden rule now for switching broadband and phone packages is simple, contact your new broadband provider and place the order to switch and they should take over from there, the need to contact your old provider has been largely removed, but if you are in your contract you will be warned about the cost of leaving and given the option to cancel the migration if the moving cost would be too great. There are two ways that the switch should occur 'gaining provider led' and 'cease and provide', the new provider should advise which route will be used for your migration.

Remember to check the small print and discuss your options with the new provider, also ensure you keep a copy of any speed estimates given during the sign-up process.

Understanding what affects your migration

When migrating your broadband service, the process you need to use will depend on two key factors; who you currently pay for your broadband and telephone service, and who you will be paying for these services following the migration.

You may buy both of these from the same supplier (broadband and home phone bundles) or you may pay one company for your phone service (BT still being the most popular) and another company for your broadband service, even though both are delivered through your phone line.

Most broadband migrations will involve minimum disruption to your service, but if you are changing from one technology (e.g. cable broadband to ADSL2+) then there may still be a gap in service.

The various types of broadband and telephone services

Broadband Products

Shared Metallic Path Facility (SMPF)—your broadband service is delivered by a different operator from your telephone service, so both 'share' the same telephone line hence the common name of shared LLU (Local Loop Unbundling). You would pay one company for your telephone service, and another for broadband. Many providers insist that you take the telephone line rental service from them if you sign up to their broadband service, but sometimes as is the case with PlusNet you can opt to take just their broadband and pay someone else for the phone line rental.

BT Wholesale's 21CN/20CN(WBC/IPStream) is an SMPF broadband service, and switching between two providers was previously possible within a couple of days, but the new 10 day notification period means that the minimum time is now 10 working days.

Metallic Path Facility (MPF)—often called a 'fully unbundled' service provided by companies like TalkTalk and Sky. TalkTalk also wholesale their service so you may be buying from a third party. Both the telephone and broadband services are billed and managed by the same provider, the telephone line connects to their equipment in the telephone exchange. If you have been with Sky for a number of years, there is a small chance you are not part of their fully unbundled network, but the new migration process makes this largely irrelevant.

Cable broadband—provided by Virgin Media or Wight Cable on the Isle of Wight is a service delivered over separate infrastructure from the Openreach telephone network, so it's not possible to 'migrate' a broadband service as they are different technologies. You can keep your home phone number. Virgin Media is moving towards self-install for households that already are wired up for cable, so getting connected is faster. If you don't mind changing your phone number, just order the new service, and cancel the old one when everything has been set up (although check you are not held by a minimum contract term first).

Fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC)—also known as 'partial fibre broadband' and is now widely available (superfast 83.2% as of June 2015). This means that the copper line length is much shorter which in turn means you can get much faster broadband speeds. A small percentage, perhaps 1 to 2%, do not get faster speeds from FTTC but the speed estimate at sign-up should help to illustrate this for a specific phone line. The telephone service is not affected.

Fibre-to-the-home or premises (FTTH or FTTP)—also known as 'full fibre broadband' means the fibre-optic cable is run all the way to your home, but these are not very common (available to around 1% of UK homes (June 2015)). FTTH/P services do not require a telephone line, although your provider may require you to have a telephone service. The FTTP/FTTH services are exempted from the new Ofcom rules, but providers should do their best to ensure a smooth switching process.

Telephone

Wholesale Line Rental (WLR)—, this is where the rental for the telephone line is paid to a provider, who then buys the service from BT at the wholesale level. Examples of providers include: Fuel, Zen Internet, PlusNet. Some operators who use unbundling will use WLR if the exchange is not unbundled, or you are just ordering a telephone product from them e.g. Post Office.

Carrier Pre-Selection (CPS)—this is where you pay your telephone line rental directly to BT Retail (often called the 'blue bill') but you pay a separate company for any telephone calls or bundles. Most WLR providers do not support CPS and with the large number of bundled call allowances CPS is becoming less popular.

Fully unbundled telephone service (Full LLU)—in theory you should not have this as a standalone service as the fully unbundled nature means they are most likely providing broadband. A small number of people have found themselves on a full LLU service, due to signing up to a cheap phone service and not realising broadband was also supplied.

Cable telephone line—telephone services over cable networks are totally separate to those over the Openreach network (the division of BT which runs the telephone network), it should be possible to port telephone numbers between the two networks.

We have updated our migration matrix which shows the most common migration paths under the new rules. If you are moving because you are getting poor broadband speeds then you should discuss the problem with your existing provider first, as they may charge you for any remaining months on your contract unless you have gone through the full fault finding process.

Migration Matrix

F
R
O
M
TO
  SMPF BB Only
(includes BT Wholesale)
SMPF + WLR Phone MPF Full LLU WLR Phone Only Cable
SMPF BB Only
(includes BT Wholesale)
Gaining Provider Led N/A N/A N/A Cease & Provide
SMPF + WLR phone N/A Gaining Provider Led Gaining Provider Led Broadband Cease Cease & Provide
MPF Full LLU N/A Gaining Provider Led Gaining Provider Led Gaining Provider Led Cease & Provide
WLR Phone Only N/A Gaining Provider Led Gaining Provider Led Gaining Provider Led Cease & Provide
Cable N/A Cease & Provide Cease & Provide Cease & Provide N/A

Each Option Explained

Gaining Provider Led (GPL)

The provider you are moving to should handle the notification of your old provider on your behalf. If your telephone line is with a different provider to the broadband line and you are moving both to the same provider, make sure the new provider is aware they need to notify both providers.

The old provider once notified will send you a letter detailing any outstanding costs e.g. 30 day notice period or any price to pay off remaining months on your contract and what services are being moved. There should be a ten day period for you to notify the provider that the move is something you do not want to go ahead with, or that you never authorised the move. The system will presume you are happy to move if you do nothing.

The process is identical if you just have a telephone line, but ensure the new provider is aware if you want to keep your old number, so they can port it. The new provider should warn you if they are not likely to be able to port a number.

IMPORTANT The old provider is NOT allowed to make you a deal to stay with them or contact you to tempt you to stay. If you are trying to use the threat of leaving to get a better broadband/phone price you need to pro-actively chase the provider yourself before initiating the migration now.

The ten day notification period is designed to avoid slamming, providers will usually post a physical letter, but if they have explicit permission to do so they can email a notification. This question is often asked when originally signing up i.e. can they send the account notifications via email.

If your old broadband and phone are with two separate providers you should get two notification letters.

Any queries about the migration should be directed to the new provider.

The ten day notification means for small businesses where you could expedite a migration in a day or two, that this is no longer possible.

Cease & Provide

This route will usually only be used if you are switching between different physical networks, e.g. ADSL2+ to cable or FTTH/FTTP.

Your new provider will warn you if this is the switching method that they intend to use.

You will need to contact your old provider to cancel your contract.

As the new service is on a different network you can avoid downtime, by overlapping the two services, i.e. don't cancel the old service until the new one is up and running.

Make sure the new provider knows if you want to port a telephone number so that they can arrange this, the number port should notify the old provider you are leaving, but you should check with them particularly if you have a broadband and phone bundle as they may assign a new number and keep billing you.

Broadband or PSTN Cease

This should be a method of last resort, and would only be done if you intended to cancel the broadband on a telephone line, and have no intention of ordering broadband again on the telephone line. A cease fee is likely to be charged for cancelling the broadband component, this varies from provider to provider but may be up to £25. The cease fee means you are cancelling broadband to save money, shop around for a cheaper broadband deal first, particularly as some are free for 12 months.

Key Notes

No matter how you are migrating you have 14 calendar days from when you enter into the new contract with your new provider to exercise your right to cancel. If you have received goods such as a YouView PVR you will be expected to return this or pay a fee.

If switching providers because of slow speeds and moving from one ADSL2+ provider to another ADSL2+ one then invariably the telephone line will connect at the same speeds, but small differences in how they run their broadband service and hardware as well as how busy they are in the evening peak period might mean a difference in performance.

The new fibre products (FTTC/VDSL2) while offering much faster speeds for the majority is not guaranteed to be faster than ADSL or ADSL2+ so pay attention to any speed ranges provided when you signing up.

If already on an up to 38 Mbps fibre package, upgrading to an up to 76 Mbps package will usually only increase your actual broadband speeds if you already see speed test results of around 37 to 38 Mbps, since the same underlying technology is used.

While broadband switching goes without a hitch for the majority, if your broadband is critical ensure you have a back up plan in place, e.g. agreement to share neighbours Wi-Fi or a mobile dongle with sufficient data credit to tide you over.

If not sure what speeds others get in your area and want to see which providers others are using look at our broadband map which shows speed test results for the last three months, or use our availability checker to see the average speed around your postcode.

Further help

If you require any further help, please ask on our broadband forums.