/ 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

What a nightmare we had switching from sky broadband to BT. We cancelled out sky account and they gave us a date for the service end. We researched our rural exchange using samknows and found that the only ISP with equipment in our exchange was BT. The pre order BT speed checker reported 4mb download speed. This was an improvement on Sky Wholesale so I proceeded to place the order. Post order the speed checker report had gone down to 3 mb download.
I had provided the order detailed of service start only to be told by BT of 1 week delay when I would have no service. I was Disappointed to say the least, having provided over a months notice of my service closedown from sky.

The day before my order fulfillment date I was informed that my broadband would not be possible and the order was closed. So now I had to solace a new order with bt and wait another month for the order to be completed. The BT call centres are clearly in India and staffed by people who’s accents are so strong that its almost impossible to understand what they are saying.

I now have my proud band after 6 weeks without and am unfortunately still only receiving 1 to 2 MB download at best, usually much worse.

Steve smith says:
27 April 2012

Apologies for the spelling on this. My iPad was having a predictive bypass….

fatuous platitudes says:
27 April 2012

I quite like “proud band”

Clodagh says:
27 April 2012

I am put off switching because :- a) I can’t function without my broadband/email for more than 4 to 5 hours MAX. b) Equally important, having to notify everyone of the change of email address – bad enough having to spend hours checking that everyone is in address book but in addition all those sites where you use your email as user name are almost impossible to list, without missing many out.

Hi Clodagh, I think you better get an email address with gmail, hotmail, yahoo or some other generic email so that you’re not reliant on your ISP’s.

fatuous platitudes says:
27 April 2012

Even better than the generic email (Hotmail, Gmail, etc.) that get can hacked & spammed, you can buy a domain very, very cheaply (£2 a year maybe) and use that as a permanent and futureproof email address.
Most domain hosts offer an easy and non-technical explanation of how to set up email on a domain: it’s usually ‘use a particular website address’ that they give you, or ‘use a particular setting’ with Outlook or Thunderbird. Most give “Wizards” to set it up.
I’ve had a personal domain and personal email for almost 10 years now and can change broadband provider, ISP, etc., whenever I want.

Glyn says:
27 April 2012

Have used Waitrose Broadband since 2006 with included Bull Guard Security – cheaper options out there but has worked without fault if somewhat slow. I suspect changing ISP would be fraught with problems and no door to beat on to get service! I think Waitrose current provider is Plusnet, much cheaper direct but they appear to require their subscribers to abandon BT landline for own (another potential problem) as I think does the new, cheaper, John Lewis Broadband.

Glyn – you can change to Plus Net and keep your phone with BT without any problem. If you have a Waitrose e mail address, I understand you can keep that as well, and they are much cheaper. Why not ring them – in my experience they are very helpful and not in India or South Africa ! It’s a free number – 0800 432 0200. And I don’t work for them – just a satisfied customer !

tomh says:
29 March 2013

Just been in touch with Waitrose – yes you can keep your waitrose.com address IF you pay them £1.60 a month…

David Ward says:
20 November 2012

Given switch-over date of 25th October, for switch from Tesco broadband and phone to Plusnet.
Plusnet could not find line, no explanations forthcoming from either company, but suspect Tesco disconnected line before switch-over. No telephone line until 23rd Januay 2013 when first available engineer appointment.
No answer yet to formal complaints.
3 months without a line and no apparent redress!!

If BT were required by law to have the same technician do both sides of a changeover at the same time, and not leave the job until he is certain it is working, there would be no problem. If there is any way CA could lobby for this legislative change then this should resolve this.

At present this (and all BT Outreach repairs) appear to be done on a queued ticket basis, and there is no direct contact between the technicians and the public. The technicians work from scripts, probably written by people overseas, and possibly even translated into English first. It may well be that the instruction to “disconnect service A” is issued and the instruction “connect service B” is not even issued until another ticket is issued stating that the first has been carried out.

That makes no sense if BT has no involvement with providing the service, old or new.

As far as I understand it, BT Outreach actually disconnects and connects wires at the exchange to enable a change of service provider.

Thanks for that, John. I stand corrected.

I am “mid-switch” going from Sky land line and BT broadband to PlusNet (both).
I ordered the PlusNet services on 4/1/13 and was told that the new broadband would be activated on 15/1/13, and the new land line about a week later. All I had to do was to supply a MAC code from BT in order to enjoy a “seamless” transfer. MAC code duly got from BT and supplied by me to PlusNet. End of my involvement apparently.
My bizarre experience began at 4.30pm on 8/1/13 when my broadband stopped working completely.
Cue several phone calls….
1) BT man # 1 – (after 15 mins of questions) “No idea of the problem, our technical team will call you back”
2) BT man # 2 – (10 mins later) “Your broadband connection has been de-activated in line with your request (?) and you will have to take this up with your new supplier.”
3) PlusNet man Adam – “Your new broadband service is not due to be activated until 15/1/13, if BT have chosen to deactivate your existing broadband service early there is nothing we can do about it. Take it up with them.”
4) BT man # 3 – “PlusNet have taken over your exchange line, they will have to release it back to us in order for us to reactivate your broadband service – here is a telephone number to call them direct regarding this”
5) Telephone number is discontinued. Called BT again
6) BT woman – “By requesting a MAC code from us you have effectively asked for your broadband account to be terminated. This normally takes 5-6 working days from the request, in this case it was a lot quicker. We cannot reactivate your account because PlusNet have taken over the line, even if they release the line back to us it will still take 5 working days to process your order”

It was now 8pm. My understanding at this point was that, due to me asking for a MAC code, I had effectively requested a premature termination of services and I would not be getting a broadband connection until 15/1/13. Although very frustrated I had little choice other than to lump it.

8.30pm on 8/1/13 – I noticed the broadband light on the BT router was now glowing steady blue again. Hey presto! I have a broadband connection again.

Whilst it is lovely to be online again (and don’t we miss it when it’s not there!!! I live in a rural area and rely pretty heavily on the internet) I am utterly confused as to what has happened. I don’t know which of the above conversation scenarios to believe. I don’t think any one of the BT contacts was lying to me – they were as mis-informed as I was. According to “whats my ISP” website, my broadband is still being provided by BT despite their protestations that my line had been taken over and it would take days to process a new order.

I think this has turned into a very long and boring comment and I am so sorry about that. I was trying to be concise and share my experience and (possibly) have a little rant all at the same time.


This shows how absolutely useless these so telephone called “help” lines are. A mobile telephone USB “dongle” could in theory be used as a broadband (and land line) backup, except for the fact that, despite usage having been paid for in advance, they are cut off if inactive for a set period of time. So you can’t keep one in the cupboard for days when there is a problem. It beats me why the mobile telecommunication companies are allowed to do this without being taken to court for theft. I know it is in the usage agreement, but surely a usage agreement has to have terms which themselves are not illegal.

If people could use these devices as back up, email help services would resolve these problems, as the emails could be passed around companies until someone who is knowledgeable and truthful answers them.

Incidentally, people do tell lies on the telephone more than with any other medium. Various laws against recording telephone calls may have something to do with it. See


I use a 3 MiFi (WiFi dongle) and pay about £60 for a new sim card that lasts 12 months. It would be a bit more expensive if bought directly from 3. It is not cut off even if it is not used and I have used mine when my ISP has been out of action.

I don’t believe that it is illegal to record calls as long as the other party is aware that the call is being recorded. I used to have a BT-branded answering machine that would record calls – the caller heard a periodic bleep as a reminder.

Rob Burrows says:
30 August 2015

The law in the UK is that for non business use only one party needs to consent to recording a phone call. I record mine. Loads of bother transferring from EE to SSE broadband. All blamed by SSE on Open Reach
I.e. BT. I would not have transferred if I had known.

Pam says:
12 June 2015

My nightmare began 6th May 2015, when our road was being tarmaced..they cut the Virgin wires.The same morning I had given Virgin 30days notice because of a price increase.All was well save it took Virgin until the 18th May to reconnect us.Sky were to install the phone and broadband on the 5th June all notification were sent to us fromSky, with daily notes “4 days away from reconnection you will be enjoying all the benefits of Sky Talk and Broadband” Ah little did we know, On the 5th June an engineer arrived on time and he was up the telegraph pole no bother , then he dissapeared ..”.we have three line available however I cannot find the box underground to complete the job……okay bye..We asked what are we supposed up to do.Stay with Virgin for Broadband and Phone , but be quick as the order has already gone in, and I’m not going to be paid for this job. That weekend 24 phone ensued between Sky and Virgin by myself .An engineer called on the Monday from BT “hello I believe you have a fault ….well actually the only fault is we don’t have a phone line I explained, I’ve just found that underground box it’s 50yds away no problem, yes well we gave Sky the heave ho as per instructions from your man, but kept the television package.Well I’ll cancel the order shall I . It is now 12 June and I have rang Sky and Virgin a further 20 times each phone call demonstrates a total ineptitude , I have been lied to , told the service will be back on within 24 hours, IT hasn’t come back on. but they sent me a bill for the new service, the one I don’t have I have spoken to Louise, Clare Sean, Connor, Angus, Tommy, ect and I still have no landline …….

This is the 5th day without broadband after being told switch over day was 7th january. I am switching from bt to sky. I have found the bt customer service disgusting. I took out a 12 month contract with them only to be told by them it was an 18 month contract. I have been disputing this for months. I was told i wasnt allowed to talk to a uk call centre by the indian call centre i had no choice but to ring and who were extremely unhelpful. I have been rang back by them saying they cant find the phone call where we were told it was a twelve month contract or indeed find any contract at all so i could cancel service after 12 months. Then i recieved an e mail saying they wanted to charge me over £100 pounds for cancelling. I have been assured over the phone that this charge wont happen but then i recieve a letter stating the charge again. After ringing them yet again and told they won’t charge me, they will not send a letter or email confirming this charge will not be taken. What a nightmare bt is, but who do you complain to, obviously someone needs to look into the bad service they provide. Oh and i’ve written this on my mobile phone as i have no broadband still.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Prince Kwadwo Owusu says:
27 January 2016

Been with BT for a year on a deal. Just switched to Plusnet a few weeks ago because of a teasing offer for new customers. I got date for switch. On the morning of the day received a text that phone line has been suxcefully switched. I lost broadband since then till after 12hours received another text that broadband switch has been successful. Connected router and bingo back to normal.
In between these hours house was hooked on to two mobile phone tethering for desktop,TV,ect..
Didnt missed a lot though. Very happy customer for such a smooth transition and also knowing I will be saving tens of pounds for a year.

clive says:
4 February 2016

I’ve been with a small but expensive ISP for years with never a loss of service. Recently tempted to swap to Plusnet because of the tempting offer. Very simple to swap and I received a text to say swap complete on 26th Jan 2016. Excellent…… or rather not. I have been left with no broadband since. Now over a week. Plusnet investigated and advised there was a fault with my landline but can’t explain how it was working with my previous ISP before the switch. They have been very slow to react with a resolution but I am now told an engineer will visit today to investigate. Oh and as for coping without internet….. working from home is made pretty difficult and my daughter is doing mock exams, so no not coped very well really….