/ Technology

When switching goes wrong – could you cope without the web?

How long could you survive without broadband at home? A week? A few days? Or would you be twiddling your thumbs within a few hours? If you knew switching would cut you off, would you still go ahead?

I know my house would grind to a halt without our regular fixes of catch-up TV, Facebook time-wasting and a range of other critical web-based tasks.

More seriously, many people rely on the internet at home for far more important everyday activities than I do. For example, those who live in isolated places and rely on the internet as a link to the outside world, or those who run a business or work from home.

The bother of breaks in broadband

It’s therefore rather worrying that a recent survey from ThinkBroadband.com has revealed that 20% of broadband users who have switched providers experienced a gap in service of more than a week.

Our own most recent broadband survey of 11,963 Which? Connect panel members showed that the situation is even worse, with nearly half (49%) of respondents being left over a week without a connection while switching their providers.

For all of us, it’s important that switching broadband provider is as quick and simple as possible. After all, risking extended periods without a connection is certainly going to put people off moving to a better deal. Earlier in the year, we asked you what had happened when you switched broadband, and there was a big variation in the timescales involved.

Happily a number of you had a swift experience like Rarrar:

‘I switched ISPs three times in the last few years – always been painless with internet down for no more than 30 minutes’

Countdown only had a brief spell offline:

‘At 7.30am on the appointed day I lost my phone service, but it was back on by 9am. The broadband service took a little longer but was operational by mid-afternoon.’

Some weren’t so lucky though, as commenter John D Limbert was eventually connected with one provider after ‘approx three weeks’, when their previous efforts to switch to another provider had failed as well.

Which? investigates

Here at Which? we’re currently conducting research to take a closer look into exactly what happens during the process of switching broadband provider. The time it takes will be just one of the truths we hope to uncover. We plan to share the results with Ofcom, who are currently reviewing how switching processes work in broadband and phone services.

Have you experienced delays when switching broadband provider, or did everything run smoothly? And if you did get disconnected, how did you manage without it?


One of the benefits of mobile broadband is that switching ISPs, service failures and dead routers do not pose a problem. One evening when there was a power failure in the district I just switched to mobile broadband and carried on using a laptop. It was either that, catch up on phone calls, or have an early night.


I suspect that the downtime while the mechanical, computer or electrical changes are made is probably relatively small in most cases.
However it is probably when the ISPs involved mess up the protocols or communications involved that the long delays occur.

I have never had problems even when moving from BTw to LLU; but I have always used one of the small ( more expensive) ISPs who provide a very good service.


From our experience it’s about a week.

If we are stuck though, I take my phone upstairs, connect to 3G and setup a wifi hotspot. Strangely this is actually quicker than the speed we get through the phone line so it’s not too much trouble.

In fact I may look into a way of providing the web to our house over the airwaves, the wired connection is almost unusable. Can’t use catchup tv


I was with my first ISP for two years and switched to the one I am with now over 14 years ago – no serious hiccups but life was simpler then I think. I have stayed with them for all that time because I have been worried about the problems encountered during switching – although the main reason has always been to avoid losing my e-mail address. It is good to hear that switching is not so much of a problem perhaps nowadays, although it remains unpredictable, We can cope without the internet when we go on holiday, but that involves a degree of forward planning, and some days we make very little use of it, nevertheless it has become a very useful tool on which we are increasingly reliant. Since the web has contributed to the withdrawal of services and facilities, including shopping, in rural areas we have become over-dependent on the internet and it is a real nuisance when it goes down whether that is due to a power outage [happens several times a year] or a BT or ISP failure. We could manage without broadband but we certainly need the web, although so many essential websites have been designed for high-speed broadband for their basic functionality that it would be pretty tiresome to have to rely on old-fashioned dial-up communication again. The web is no longer just about getting information like train times or weather reports and for browsing newspapers – many vital aspects of our daily lives are transacted via the internet, sometimes for the best of reasons like saving paper or greater effciency. I sometimes wonder if it has been a mistake to sign up to so many e-services and on-line arrangements for managing money, making payments, buying tickets, procuring services, notifying authorities, and so on. In just the few hours since we got up this morning we have done about twenty different things using the internet that are between 75% and 100% essential and for which no convenient or effective or economical alternative exists. In fact such activities make up a very high proportion of our on-line time because we do not do social networking, we send and receive few e-mails, and we abstain from time-filling web browsing generally. Digressing slightly, and cross-referncing another Which? Conversation topic, it seems that the internet is in the process of killing off the post office box service as well now that the charges are being raised to prohibitive levels, so another pertinent question would be “Can we survive much longer without the services and facilities that the web has indirectly disabled?”


I’ve used Cable and Wireless (now Virgin) for well over 20 years since it was first installed in London – only had one broadband glitch which lasted 3 hours – so wouldn’t switch – the service is first class.- the set top box broke four years ago – they arrived next morning to replace it. I use broadband about 4 hours daily.

If the broadband broke down for longer – it would not be a problem – I have over 3000 books to read and over 1000 dvds to while away the time. and over 10,000 hrs of audio old time radio to listen to on CD – not to mention 150 TV stations to watch – then there are the dogs to walk – clubs to visit .- and the garden to attend to – or I’d decorate a room or…… or……. I wouldn’t miss it until I needed to buy something from an online shop I use – say about a month or three. I could even go camping!

fatuous platitudes says:
27 April 2012

Moved house, kept same ISP (Eclipse) and was still without Broadband for over a week.
Problem was the line provider – BT, of course – who failed to set it up as requested in advance.
And I had to liaise between the Eclipse and BT when it all fell apart. Seems that BT won’t take instructions from the ISP directly as my contract for phone/broadband is with BT…
A week of Kakfaesque antics including BT setting up the line incorrectly, so I finally had broadband but no landline phone.
Complain? The air was blue.

larry says:
27 April 2012

no wait at all with virgin,due to them not receiving my letter,


I think the big problem is with the queuing system used by BT for the actual technicians who do the plug swapping needed. There seems to be no feedback mechanism that speeds this up, ie no advantage for BT to do it any quicker.

Steve smith says:
27 April 2012