Many users switch their broadband provider each year either to take advantage of better offers, or get access to a more suitable service. The process can be quite daunting and complicated as there are a variety of possible routes depending on both which service you're currently on, and the one you're moving to.
This is further complicated by the fact that many broadband services are sold as part of bundles with telephone line rental or entertainment services. This guide will help you identify the technical process of switching your broadband and home phone service.
Ensuring you follow the right process will not only ensure you save money, but also avoid an extended period without Internet access.
In 2012, Ofcom started consulting on changing the migration process to make it easier for consumers, so changes are to be expected next year, but we hope this guide is useful in the mean time.
We would strongly advise you to discuss your plans with your new provider before taking any action.
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 (usually BT) 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 another (e.g. ADSL - or broadband through your telephone line), then the process is rather more complicated, particularly if you want to retain your phone number.
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. You would pay one company for your telephone service, and another for broadband. Some providers (e.g. BT Retail) insist that you take the telephone line rental service from them if you sign up to their broadband service, although you can have a BT Retail phone line, but pay someone else for your broadband.
BT Wholesale's 21CN/20CN (WBC/IPStream) is an SMPF broadband service, and switching between two providers using this service is very straightforward using a MAC code.
Metallic Path Facility (MPF)—often called a 'fully unbundled' service provided by companies like TalkTalk. Both the telephone and broadband services are billed and managed by the same provider, so your telephone line connects to their equipment in the telephone exchange. Since September 2011, Sky for example uses fully unbundled connections for new customers.
Cable broadband—provided primarily by Virgin Media 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, but this may complicate the process slightly in terms of how long your broadband may be out of action. 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). These are often advertised as 'fibre broadband' services as they are based on a core fibre network. Please note that Virgin Media provides ADSL-based broadband services (typically 'up to 8 meg') which are not 'cable broadband' services if you are not in a cable area.
Fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC)—also known as 'partial fibre broadband' uses your copper phone line from your home to a street cabinet, and then connects to a fibre-optic network. This means that the copper line length is much shorter which in turn means you can get much faster broadband speeds. 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. FTTH/P services do not require a telephone line, although your provider may require you to have a telephone service.
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: O2 Home Phone, Primus Saver, PlusNet HomePhone, 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.
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)
NOTE: If you are using a 'fully unbundled' service (e.g. many Sky and TalkTalk customers), then this section probably doesn't apply to you as you would need to migrate both broadband and phone services at the same time.
The good news is that switching your broadband provider is very easy if you don't have it tied to a telephone service. This is what you have to do:
Many providers require 30 days' notice for terminating or transferring, so if you migrate within 10 days of getting the MAC, you would have to pay for another 20 days' service. You can wait a week or two before giving the MAC to your new provider to reduce this overlap.
WARNING: A common mistake is to give the MAC to one provider and a couple of days later change your mind, cancel the migration, and give the MAC to another provider. Once the MAC has been used, it becomes invalid so you would need to start the process from the beginning.
It is also not wise to cancel a migration which is imminent (in the next 2 to 3 days) as this may not necessarily go through correctly as jobs are allocated to engineers in advance.
Changing telephone line rental provider should be a painless process and result in very little disruption. If you have a 'fully unbundled' service, you cannot move your telephone line rental to another provider without also changing your broadband. Additionally a provider may refuse to allow a move if you are inside your minimum contract period, or charge an early contract termination fee, so check before initiating any transfer of service.
Switching line rental provider uses the 'Notification of Transfer' process, with the move being initiated by the consumer and then led by the provider you are switching to. The new provider will request the switch from the wholesale provider, which will result in your current provider being informed of your intention to move. Your current provider will then write to you giving you ten days within which you can cancel the move. This notification period helps to ensure that your phone service does not get moved without your permission (a practice known as 'slamming').
When ordering the service from your new provider, ensure they are aware whether you want to transfer (or 'port') your existing telephone number.
Moving between BT Retail and other telephone line rental providers like O2, Orange, Post Office, Primus and others should use the above procedures.
Do not cancel any direct debit until the final bill has been paid. Most providers will inform you when they send you your final bill.
Switching both your broadband and telephone service at the same time can be more complex, but your new provider should be able to advise you on the appropriate process. This section will help you understand why they may ask you to do things in a certain way.
You can use the migration matrix below to understand the different processes in more detail.
From our experience, the most likely cause of problems are when you are switching from a fully unbundled provider to another provider which uses Wholesale Line Rental (WLR) for the telephone service.
(includes BT Wholesale)
|SMPF + WLR||MPF Full LLU||WLR||Cable|
(includes BT Wholesale)
|SMPF + WLR||N/A||NoT and MAC||MPF Migrate Order||Broadband Cease||Broadband and PSTN Cease, cable provide|
|MPF Full LLU||N/A||Simultaneous Provide||MPF Migrate Order||PSTN Provide||Full LLU cease, cable provide|
|WLR||N/A||Broadband Provide||MPF Migrate Order||NoT||PSTN Cease, cable provide|
|Cable||N/A||Cable cease, Number Port and broadband provide||Cable cease, Number Port and broadband provide||Cable cease, PSTN Provide||N/A|
Required when moving broadband between two shared LLU or BT Wholesale based providers. The process is driven by the consumer who must contact their old provider to request the Migration Authorisation Code, and then pass this onto their chosen provider when placing the broadband order.
Provides are meant to provide a MAC within five working days. If a provider uses a Fully unbundled service they cannot generate a MAC, also if the provider is using a MAC for an internal migration, e.g. changing wholesale provider, then receiving a MAC may be delayed.
The issuing of the MAC does not automatically start your notice period with your old provider, you should check your contract to see how they handle the notice period. Some consider issuing the MAC as start of the notice period, others choose another date, e.g. the date you last used the service.
Once a MAC has been submitted into a wholesale ordering system it cannot be reused, so ensure you only give it to a provider if you wish to take service from them.
Notification of Transfer, this is a simple gaining provider led process, where you contact your chosen new provider and order their service. They handle contacting your old provider, who should verify your wish to move by sending out a letter, this gives you a ten day period to cancel the move and avoids slamming.
Ensure once the move has happened that billing at the old service provider is closed properly.
The new provider will inform your old provider that you intend to move, and this will usually trigger the start of the any notice period. Before initiating any change be sure you are aware of any outstanding charges due from remaining contract and notice period.
Some providers may charge an activation fee for this move.
The telephone number from the old service should be ported across, but do check with the new provider they intend to do this.
The gap between the two providers for both telephone and broadband should only be a few hours.
Leaving a fully unbundled service such as Sky or TalkTalk, requires you to co-ordinate the provision of a new telephone line rental and broadband service.
The cost for the new telephone line rental service can be as high as £125, but many providers of line rental have offers running, or you can sign up for a longer term which reduces the cost considerably.
The method you are using is known as a Linked Order Process, and relies upon the new provider(s) placing a provision order for the telephone line rental and then giving you the customer a Linked Order Reference Number (LORN) which can then be passed to your chosen broadband provider. It is then used internally by Openreach to link the two orders together.
The use of a LORN overcomes the presence of tags, which result in a broadband order being rejected, and then a lengthy wait for the Openreach databases to update to reflect the true provider of the telephone line rental. This is why some people have a gap of a week or more when leaving companies like Sky and TalkTalk.
In some cases the actual move of the telephone service can happen early, and if this happens even when a LORN was assigned to the orders, Openreach should then provide the broadband service within 5 working days.
This is one of the more complex migrations, and should be carried out using a process known as the Parallel Orders Process. The following points outline the procedure, the provider you are moving to should be able to provide advice too.
If you are not changing the underlying telephone service, then this is a simple broadband order, which from the time of ordering to activation takes a week to two weeks.
If you are changing telephone rental provider at the same time, then the Notification of Transfer method will be used, where the old provider will be notified of your desire to switch services. The broadband order can progress during this notification period, though some providers still prefer to wait until the telephone is actively with them before commencing the broadband order.
If you leave a fully unbundled provider you can arrange for a new telephone service. Many guides indicate that you MUST return your telephone line to BT Retail, but any Wholesale Line Rental provider should be able to provide service.
Some WLR providers do not co-operate, particularly if their checks suggest that porting of a telephone number may be more complex. Porting a telephone number (as in keeping your phone number) should be fairly easy, but sometimes a provider may have to liaise with two companies to arrange this.
The cost of a PSTN provide varies greatly, from free up to £125, so it is worth shopping around to find the best deal.
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. For products that rely on a BT Wholesale service the cease fee is £24.74+VAT, but where an LLU based service is used as of 1st April 2012, Openreach is not charging any cease fee (previously £5.37+VAT).
Usually when a cease is requested you are provided with an expected date, but be aware that sometimes it can happen 24 to 48 hours early.
Services that are ceased, may still appear to have ADSL sync, but will not authenticate and provide internet access. This is commonly referred to as a stopped line.
Since cable broadband and telephone line rental are supplied over their own physical network, the usual migration paths do not apply.
If you do not want to keep your telephone number you are free to order a new broadband and telephone service from any provider that uses the Openreach telephone network.
If you want to keep your telephone number, you need to enquire before committing to a new service that they support Number Porting away from Virgin Media. Two types of number porting exist, the consumer should not need to be aware of them, but sometimes it can help understand why some providers refuse an order.
There is no need for communication between the original SMPF broadband provider and the cable broadband provider. You can have both services running at the same time to a property and if broadband is important it may be wise to not cancel the SMPF broadband until the cable service is up and running. This covers you for the eventuality that cable broadband cannot be provided to your property.
Once you want to cease the original broadband service, you need to contact your broadband provider and tell them this, making sure they inform you of all the various costs.
Effectively you are cancelling the telephone line based services, which for the broadband cease may incur a charge in addition to any notice period. The important area is to ensure that the cable provider is aware if you want to bring your old telephone number across to their cable network.
Identical to a PSTN provide that would happen if moving into a property, the only difference is that you need to inform your new telephone provider that you wish to port the telephone number, and you need to arrange the cease of the old cable telephone/broadband services.
If you require any further help, please ask on our broadband forums.