BT Infinity broadband review
TO infinity broadband and... well, that's it.
From the latest offers to the last word on speeds, this review covers everything there is to know about BT's superfast service.
The seven things we need to know
To keep things simple we've boiled Infinity down to seven things customers should really know to get the measure of the service.
To get a quick overview skip ahead to our conclusion.
1. There are frequent special offers
BT have previously been known for offering Sainsbury's gift cards of various values to new customers signing up to take Infinity online; they also occasionally offer prepaid Mastercards.
Note too that they tend to offer more rewarding deals for those signing up for Infinity than they do with their standard broadband packages.
These deals change frequently, however, so it's worth keeping an eye out and timing any possible moves to grab a good one. Click here to visit BT's site for the latest deals.
We endeavour to keep this article up to date, but offers are subject to change at short notice. Please check with the BT site for the most up to date information.
2. It's the best way to get BT TV
BT TV is only available to those with BT Broadband.
While everyone with BT TV can get BT Sport, lots of the other extras are reserved for those who have BT Infinity.
That includes the bulk of the premium channels like Comedy Central, Gold and National Geographic, the HD pack, the live Sky Cinema channels - and BT Sport Ultra HD.
With the exception of this last channel, signing up for BT TV doesn't have to cost that much - at the time of this update, BT TV Starter is being offered free for 12 months, the length of the initial contract.
Although TV Starter only provides users with the basic up to 80 channels and seven day catch-up, it's possible to add bolt-ons like the HD pack or Sky Cinema - the new name for Sky Movies - for a month at a time.
The kids' TV, music, premium channel, and HD packs range from £4 to £6 per month, so it's possible to get a feel for the paid for content without having to commit for a whole year.
There's more on BT TV in our full review here.
3. It's available more widely than ever
By the end of spring 2016, more than five years after Infinity's launch, the fibre service had been made available to around 90% of the UK, with the promise that 95% of premises will be reached by the end of 2017.
Furthermore, now a large part of the basic work is done, BT are starting to improve on what Infinity can offer; in April 2016 they announced that all new Infinity 1 connections would offer up to 52Mb rather than up to 38Mb, and that existing customers would be upgraded in due course.
There's more on what effect this will have below.
Even so, there are still areas that can't yet receive any kind of Infinity, and others that can only get a limited range of deals, so it's worth checking with a postcode search:
Enter your phone number and / or postcode above to check availability in your area.
For those in Infinity-ready areas, the deals break down like this:
For more information on the various package options, including bundling calls and TV deals, and the extras available, see our main BT review here.
With BT Infinity there are just two options in terms of data usage: 25GB and unlimited.
Not so long ago we were praising BT's decision to reinstate a usage limit of 40GB for their capped Infinity customers, up from the rather stingy 20GB limit, brought in back in December 2013.
But when they announced they were boosting the speed of Infinity 1, they also brought the allowance back down, this time to 25GB a month - enough for watching about eight hours of standard quality video online a month, or less than five hours of HD video.
Anyone who goes over the limit will be charged for the extra data in units of 1GB, at a cost of £1.50 per unit.
This is an improvement on the old system, where BT would charge people £5.60 for every 5GB unit they went over their limit by: someone who went over by just under 1GB would still have been charged £5.60, for example.
But it's still worth having a good idea of how much data we're likely to use - we've a guide here.
Anyone who thinks they'll go over the 25GB limit more than once every now and again may find it cheaper to go with the unlimited package.
At least it's no longer the case that users with a capped deal are subject to traffic management.
BT relaxed their traffic management policies for their unlimited customers in February 2013, but it's only been since late 2015 / early 2016 that they've extended this to their capped broadband deals as well.
BT say they're "very proud" that everyone who takes their broadband can now download what they what, from wherever they want - and they won't be slowed down for doing so.
It's a bold claim from such a large provider, and one we're keeping an eye on.
See our guide to fair use here for more on BT's fair use policy and traffic management.
4. You need a phone line
Another point worth noting from the table above is that BT Infinity subscribers need to have a working BT phone line and pay BT for their line rental.
We've included the cost of line rental with BT Infinity in the tables above - on its own it's £18.99 a month, which is at the very top end of what UK ISPs charge. It's possible to bring that down by about 10% by paying for a year's line rental upfront, at a one-off cost of £205.08.
When BT announced their 2016 round of price rises, they were keen to point out that they'd be adding weekend calls to every broadband and phone package they sold; previously they'd often sold their capped data deals without any kind of inclusive call.
But while those getting unlimited Infinity have the choice between adding evening calls to that allowance for £3.50 a month, or getting anytime calls for £8.50, those getting the 25GB version of Infinity can only upgrade to the anytime bundle.
5. The BT Smart Hub is a cut above
It's also worth noting all the Infinity deals now come with the BT Smart Hub, replacing the Home Hub 5.
Like the much earlier Home Hub 4, described in the video below, the router has been designed to cut out signal interference that can slow down wireless connections in the home.
Each Hub has made improvements on the last: the Home Hub 4 could switch devices to a 5GHz 802.11n band when necessary; Hub 5 brought in support for the faster 802.11ac protocol on the 5GHz band; the Smart Hub supports "next generation AC" standards on 5GHz, and the fastest available wireless protocols on the slower 2.4GHz band.
The simultaneous dual band signal means the router is able to provide two separate network connections - one for newer, faster, devices, and one for older equipment, or devices out of range of the 5GHz signal.
In brief, this means devices that can connect at the fastest speeds aren't affected by older devices, mobile phones or other equipment around the home like remote controlled toys or microwaves.
The hub also boasts seven internal antennae - two more then the Home Hub 5, for more, stronger, connections - four Gigabit Ethernet ports, and a faster processor.
Each new Hub has slightly improved on the power saving ability of the last, helping to reduce consumption when the network isn't being used, without disconnecting the broadband - something which can cause havoc with smart equipment in the exchange, reducing speeds on what it detects to be an "unstable" line.
All in all, the BT Smart Hub offers far more than most other ISPs' routers.
6. It really is superfast
BT and Virgin Media are the only major UK infrastructure providers to offer FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) broadband throughout the country.
Both are using more or less the same technology: fibre to a cabinet, one of those green boxes on the street, and then copper cable from the cabinet to the home.
However, a slight difference in delivery - explained further here - means that BT have previously advertised speeds of "up to" 38Mb or 76Mb - slower than Virgin's up to 50Mb, 100Mb or 200Mb broadband deals, as they're now advertised.
The cynical would suggest that BT's decision to upgrade Infinity 1 to offer connections of up to 52Mb is so they can boast that their fibre is not only faster than that offered by the likes of Sky and TalkTalk, but also Virgin Media.
Even so, the technology used by the two providers means that there's still likely to be a difference in the actual performance - and the speed difference has been very real - even when we bring Infinity 2 into the equation.
The most recent Ofcom research into speeds, released in March 2016, found the following averages:
|Advertised speed||Ofcom average speed
(over 24 hours)
|Up to 200Mb||168.0Mb - 179.9Mb|
|Up to 100Mb||93.3Mb - 98.2Mb|
|Up to 76Mb||57.4Mb - 61.1Mb|
|Up to 50Mb||49.4Mb - 51.6Mb|
|Up to 38Mb||34.3Mb - 35.5Mb|
Aside from the obvious speed differences between BT and Virgin Media, these figures demonstrate that fibre broadband connections are far less likely to see speeds drop over long distances or suffer problems with interference.
With the exception of Virgin's 200Mb broadband, and their 152Mb broadband before it, both providers come much closer to delivering on the speeds they advertise - the infamous "up to" - than they do on ADSL lines.
But as the results for BT's 76Mb fibre show, the reliance on copper for the final stretch does still have an impact.
Virgin have the edge - for now - but both really do deliver.
That said, BT Infinity beats Virgin on speeds when it comes to uploads.
With their up to 76Mb deal, BT promise up to 19Mb upload speeds while Virgin Media deliver upload speeds of less than 10% of download speeds (their 152Mb and 200Mb deals have top upload speeds of just 12Mb).
In the same set of Ofcom tests we mention above, these were the upload speeds on offer, and the averages achieved over a 24 hour period:
|Advertised Speed||Ofcom Average Speed|
|up to 76Mb
|up to 152Mb / 200Mb
|up to 38Mb
|up to 100Mb
|up to 50Mb
SOURCE: Ofcom, March 2016.
A very small number of households may also have one of BT's two ultrafast packages, offering up to 160Mb or 300Mb.
Based on BT's fibre to the home technology (FTTH, also known as FTTP - to the premises), the cost of installation and taking the service meant that after a short period on sale in a very limited number of locations, it's not been available to order for the past year.
Instead we're more likely to see BT pushing Fibre "To A Bit Further Than The Cabinet" in the form of G.fast, which they're planning to start rolling out from 2017 and have almost nationwide by 2025.
For a fuller comparison of broadband speeds see our fastest broadband guide here.
7. BT can sometimes be the cheapest provider
The BT Openreach fibre service is available from other providers, which means customers can get almost the same thing for a different price, elsewhere.
Putting to one side the introduction of that pesky 52Mb service, which makes a fair comparison that little bit more complicated, the competition between the providers means that there are always plenty of offers and discounts to be found.
Taking those into account, every now and then it'd turn out that BT were offering some of the best value deals - sometimes beating some of the "budget" providers.
Here's a quick breakdown of the main contenders selling BT Infinity in its various forms:
Packages offering BT fibre "up to 38Mb" speeds:
Packages offering BT fibre "up to 52Mb" speeds:
Packages offering BT fibre "up to 76Mb" speeds:
The wholesale product behind these packages is the same, and even the underlying physical engineering support is carried out by BT Openreach.
Because of this, every ISP who resells BT fibre now has the option to resell the 52Mb service as well; at the time of this update only BT-owned Plusnet have taken that opportunity, and only for customers who already had the up to 38Mb service before August 2016.
Give it a few months and we may see it becoming available on a wider basis, which will allow for simpler comparison.
In the meantime, the other difference between the ISPs reselling BT fibre, whatever the speed, is that each have their own customer service, technical support (before calling in Openreach, that is), traffic management and usage policies, and different add-on features and benefits.
In other words, it was never quite as simple as comparing by price alone, as the ISPs listed above don't necessarily offer an identical service.
For that reason, we've written a separate guide to the differences between the providers reselling BT fibre here.
So: is BT Infinity any good?
BT infinity broadband is superfast - and it really is superfast - from the big daddy of broadband.
That means 24/7 telephone support, and optional extras like TV, online storage, and free public wi-fi.
The deals compare fairly well with Virgin Media and with ISPs who offer a resold Infinity service. And while other providers, including Plusnet (reviewed here) offer seemingly similar deals at lower prices than BT, they tend to come without quite so many perks.
Race to Infinity sounds about right.