Broadband without a Phone Line Buyers Guide
"Can I get broadband without a phone line?" is one of the most common questions we're asked. The answer is yes, but with many caveats. Here's the lowdown on what you need to know.
Why do most broadband deals need a phone line?
Most broadband providers offer services that run on the UK's copper wire phone network, and to use them you need an active phone line.
The majority of the UK's broadband providers use the Openreach network, which includes phone cables, street cabinets and telephone exchanges. Standard broadband runs on these phone cables, so it needs an active phone line. More surprisingly, most fibre broadband services also need one. In these 'fibre-to-the-cabinet' services the fibre cables only run as far as your nearest street cabinet — the connection to your home is completed via the copper phone wires.
Line rental typically adds around £13 to £19 to your bill each month, whether you want it or not.
Some Openreach-based broadband providers, including Plusnet, do offer broadband-only packages. These enable you to get your phone services from another provider, but you still can't forego the line rental altogether.
I don't want a phone line. What are my options?
It is possible to get broadband without a phone line in the UK, but your choices are severely limited.
Virgin Media's cable service is the most widely available alternative. Beyond that, there are a number of smaller or more niche providers, as well as the option of using a mobile broadband service.
Virgin Media without a phone line
Virgin Media is the largest provider able to supply broadband without requiring you to also pay for line rental.
Virgin is able to do this because the company owns its own cable network and has full control over what it chooses to sell you. Unfortunately, Virgin's network has far less coverage than Openreach, and is currently only available in around 65% of UK homes. Rural areas are largely excluded, and even in towns and cities where Virgin Media is available there tends to be areas and individual streets that aren't serviced.
Not all Virgin Media packages are free from line rental. The company also offers bundles that include broadband with phone and/or TV services if you want them.
Smaller and niche providers
Another option for getting broadband without a phone line is to look at smaller or niche providers. These services often come with significant restrictions to availability, affordability or capability.
Smaller providers — Fibre to the Building
There are a number of smaller, specialist providers that can supply you with a broadband without a phone line.
One such example is Hyperoptic, a company that is able to provide ultrafast broadband at speeds of up to 1Gb. It does this by offering fibre-to-the-premises broadband, which bypasses the street cabinets and copper wires (which is also a reason for the faster potential speeds). However, the more laborious installation process means that it is only available to apartment buildings, within the catchment area, and only if enough residents express an interest in the service.
A cost effective approach to suppling a fully fibre optic broadband services to streets of houses is to partner with home building companies to lay fibre optic cables and build connections into housing estates as they're constructed, at the same time as installing other utilities like water pipes and electric cabling. One such example is Independent Fibre Networks (IFNL), a company whose broadband infrastructure is resold by providers including Direct Save Telecom.
For pre-existing houses, the most common approach is to gauge demand for full fibre broadband from residents and then run fibre optic cabling down the streets with most demand, usually by digging a trench but occasionally making use of existing ducting. Once your home is 'passed' by fibre, you can often pay a relatively affordable (when compared to the cost of digging up long stretches of road) installation fee to have your home connected, although you may have to dig your own trench or pay an additional fee for the provider to do this for you. Gigaclear is an ultrafast broadband provider taking this approach.
Satellite broadband uses a dish rather than cables, and is mostly aimed at rural homes where the broadband infrastructure is lacking. The speed of satellite broadband services tends to be comparable to those of standard broadband packages, and slower than fibre. It can be expensive, requires expensive installation, and like mobile broadband comes with strict usage limits.
Fixed wireless broadband
Fixed wireless broadband (FWB) brings internet services to rural areas where standard broadband is not available. To get FWB, the provider must install a mast in the town or village — such as on the top of a church spire — so requires enough interest from residents for it to be viable. Connected homes also need a receiver installed with direct line of sight to the mast. Even homes in areas of good coverage may not be able to use the service. The speed of FWB can rival standard broadband, but is often much slower.
Mobile broadband works on the 4G mobile network. You connect to it via a portable wireless router or USB dongle with embedded SIM card. You can also get a SIM-only data package and insert the SIM card directly into your laptop or tablet.
If you're in an area with good indoors 4G coverage you can get speeds at least as fast as standard broadband, and potentially rivalling fibre broadband. There's a downside, though — it's a lot more expensive than a traditional broadband package. Most packages limit your monthly usage to between 2GB and 20GB of downloads per month, and you pay more for any excess use. If your requirements are very light, then mobile broadband could work for you. But it isn't a realistic alternative for most users.