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How to choose the right internet service provider and what options are out there

Choosing the right internet service provider can be tricky, but there are options out there, writes Adrian Weckler


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Broadband can be one of the trickiest and most frustrating services to shop for or switch away from. We look at some of the different options and pick out possible packages.

1. Switch to... phone-line broadband?

This is still the most commonly available type of broadband to Irish households, even though fibre and cable, between them, are catching up fast.

Unless you’re one of the 544,000 rural homes designated as being in the ‘intervention area’ for the National Broadband Plan, your phone line should support at least 30Mbs, which is good enough to do all the basics (although if you have a large home, you’ll need separate devices to spread the signal effectively).

All phone lines are owned by Eir. About a dozen operators sell broadband over them. Other than Eir itself, the biggest ones are Vodafone and Sky. Others include Digiweb and Magnet.

Typical cost: €40 per month from Sky for the first 12 months, €55 per month after that (plus €50 connection fee).

Speed: ‘Average’ 75Mbs.

Good for: Those who can’t get fibre or cable and whose line supports more than 30Mbs.

2. Switch to... fibre broadband?

The newest and fastest broadband technology, there are now about 700,000 Irish homes that can avail of this. Eir and Siro are the main two networks, with mostly the same operators (including Vodafone, Sky, Digiweb and Magnet) selling packages to you on these networks.

Typical cost: €40 per month from Vodafone for first 12 months, €60 per month after that (plus €50 installation charge).

Speed: 500Mbs.

Good for: Heavy users or anyone who’s lucky enough to be in a fibre-connected area.


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3. Switch to... fixed wireless broadband?

An alternative for rural homes that can’t wait one to five years for the National Broadband Plan to deliver proper fibre broadband is fixed wireless. This is different to mobile broadband as it entails an aerial, antenna or reception box on top of, or on the side of, your home. That connects to a local mast.

You can get reasonably decent speeds of up to 150Mbs if you’re well positioned, although many packages only offer between 15Mbs and 50Mbs, which is now a basic speed for modern family broadband requirements.

Typical cost: €60 per month (plus €150 set-up charge) from Imagine.ie.

Speed: ‘Up to’ 150Mbs.

Good for: Those with no other choice.

4. Switch to... cable broadband?

There is one cable network and one operator that sells it — Virgin Media. It’s easily the fastest broadband available in Irish cities, as there’s almost no fibre built in metropolitan areas yet.

Typical cost: €57 per month from Virgin for first six months, €71 per month after that (plus €30 activation fee).

Speed: 500Mbs.

Good for: City residents or those who typically have no cheaper fibre alternative.

5. Switch to... 5G broadband?

2020 was the first year that you could purchase 5G mobile broadband. As a home broadband option, 5G has advantages and disadvantages.

The advantage is that it’s by far the fastest type of mobile internet connection you can get, with speeds of up to 800Mbs if you’re close to a mast.

The disadvantage is it’s only available in a minority of areas in the country as the operators are still at an early build-out stage.

Even though all three main mobile operators (Vodafone, Three and Eir) are building out 5G networks in Ireland, only Three actually sells a dedicated 5G broadband package.

The terms are unusually restrictive, though — €45 per month for a minimum of two years, with an additional €150 up front for a 5G broadband box in your home.

There is a workaround to this. According to Three, you can put one of its 5G ‘All You Can Eat’ data sim cards into your own 5G router (which you can buy from around €150). The cost of that is only €34 per month, with no minimum contract.

So you could save yourself a considerable amount of money and keep things more flexible this way. On the other hand, you may not get as good a broadband experience — the two-year package includes a possible visit from engineers to help maximise your signal. That could be a big differentiator.

Typical cost: €45 per month for 24 months plus €150 up-front box cost.

Speed: 50Mbs to 250Mbs.

Good for: Those in 5G coverage areas with no fibre, cable or decent land-line alternatives.

6. Switch to... 4G broadband?

Even if 5G isn’t an option there are still some reasonable 4G broadband options that give a good basic broadband in areas where the telephone line or roof-antenna wireless internet is just too weak. All three main operators offer this and will generally support it with equipment that maximises your ability to get the signal available in your area.

Before opting for this, however, it’s vital to check whether you have a decent signal. You need to do this for all three operators; it’s normal for an area to have a good 4G signal (over 30Mbs) for one operator’s network and dreadful (under 10Mbs) for another.

An easy way to check is to ask family or friends on a different network to you to run a quick, free speed test using either the ‘Fast’ app or the ‘Ookla Speedtest’ app on your phone.

And do bear in mind that it’s normal for the signal to be twice as good outside your house as inside it, especially if you have thick or recently insulated walls.

This is why some of the mobile broadband services will give you an option of an outside booster box that captures the decent signal outside and relays it inside.

(Making sure that this turns into a good wifi signal throughout your house is another matter entirely — see my ‘Ask Adrian’ columns on Independent.ie for further advice on how to do this.)

Typical cost: €30 per month from Eir for 12-month contract.

Speed: Up to 100Mbs.

Good for: Those in areas with a decent 4G signal and no better 5G, land-line, fibre or cable option.

How to switch… TV & Broadband service

Step 1 Identify the new service you want and call up the new broadband or TV company (you’ll need your account number and address).

Step 2 If it’s a system based on the same technology platform –
for example, your landline or a fibre line – it should
be a quick, easy process. This applies when moving from Eir to Vodafone or
Sky or Digiweb and vice versa.

Step 3 It can take anywhere from a day to a couple of weeks for the old account to close out and the new account to become active. This might be just a billing systems switch or it may require some physical installation, such as in the case of moving to a fixed-wireless broadband provider. You’ll be given a date and a time, possibly a relatively open-ended one.

Step 4 To find the best deals, use an accredited comparison and switching service like Bonkers.ie or Switcher.ie.