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How to help your parents get online: buying and installing broadband

How to help your parents get online: buying and installing broadbandMatt Powell, editor for the UK broadband comparison website BroadbandGenie.co.uk, talks us through how to get our parents online with the installation of broadband.

The internet is now such an integral part of everyday life it’s hard to imagine how anyone could get by without it, but a report from the Office of National Statistics last year revealed that around 4 million UK homes do not yet have access.

While there are numerous reasons for this, knowledge can be major barrier. If you were born in the last few decades you may have had internet access from a young age and never think twice about it, but to previous generations, the internet can be a mystery. It also doesn’t help that much of what we hear in the news centres around viruses, hacking, scams and other criminal activity.

Sometimes those caught in the digital divide just need a little advice and a nudge in the right direction to get them online, so if you’ve got parents who are hesitant here’s a guide to getting them started on buying and installing an internet connection.

Before you buy: what equipment do you need?

There’s a chance that if you’re helping someone setup a net connection for the first time they don’t already own a computer, or at least they have one that’s very old, so a new purchase may be necessary.

Luckily this doesn’t have to be expensive. Web browsing, email and basic tasks like word processing aren’t demanding so even inexpensive computers provide sufficient grunt.

But while a laptop or desktop computer is the most powerful and flexible solution a tablet may also be worth considering. If it’s primarily for browsing the web and the likes of online shopping and banking a modern iPad or Android tablet is up to the task. Windows tablets are also available, and may be preferable if your parent is familiar with a desktop environment and already comfortable using Windows applications.

Other than a laptop, desktop or tablet you and your parent shouldn’t require any other devices to connect to the internet – the router (to access the internet connection) any other essential equipment will be supplied by the Internet Service Provider (ISP), often for free.

Choosing a broadband provider

In the UK we’re lucky enough to enjoy a wide selection of broadband providers, but the downside of all that choice is newcomers may be overwhelmed and end up just going with a name they recognise even if the package isn’t the most suitable. Here, then, are the key things to look for as you compare broadband.

ADSL, fibre or cable?

To begin with, run a postcode check on your parent’s address to find out what services are available. There are three common types of broadband: Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (better known as ADSL), fibre optic and cable, with varying coverage throughout the country.

ADSL is the cheapest, and slowest, service but perfectly usable for most tasks including streaming video.

Fibre optic is slightly more expensive but much faster, while Virgin Media cable offers the best performance but can be expensive.

It’s likely that for most first time internet users ADSL will be all they need. However if your parent wants to stream high definition video, download large files or video they’ll probably benefit more from the extra speed of fibre and cable as they can make a big difference to the connection.

Contracts and phone lines

Home broadband contracts generally range in length from a month up to 24 months. While the idea of a short contract may be appealing, keep in mind that it will be more expensive overall and almost any broadband service will still require a phone line (the one major exception being a Virgin Media broadband-only option) which is only available on a 12 month contract at minimum. Unless there is a specific reason for needing a shorter contract your parent will probably be best served by a longer deal.

Data limits

Everything you do online, whether it be web browsing, downloading or uploading photos, involves the transfer of data. Some of the cheapest broadband deals have a limited monthly allowance where you have a set amount of data that can be used and exceeding this incurs an extra charge.

Light users can get by happily on one of these as web browsing and email use very little, but if your parents are planning on watching streaming video (from services such as Netflix or iPlayer), making lots of Skype calls or downloading large files, consider an unlimited service instead as these are very data-intensive activities. Unlimited broadband is now very widespread and often inexpensive, and it eliminates the worry of extra charges in the bill.

Broadband bundles

Several providers now offer broadband, phone and TV bundles (sometimes called a ‘triple play’ package). These can be great value if your parents were planning on getting a TV service anyway, or if they already have a cable or satellite TV subscription. Even if TV isn’t of interest it is sometimes worthwhile to get phone and broadband from the same company. You can compare triple play packages here.

Broadband installation

ADSL

Assuming the property has a functioning phone line the ISP can usually enable the service remotely and an engineer should not be required. The router will be posted ahead of time and can be connected once the provider advises the line is active.

Fibre

An engineer is often called for a fibre installation as they may need to do some work on the phone socket and connect the router as it's a slightly different set up to ADSL, requiring an additional piece of equipment. The work will be done when the line is active so it should work right away. Self-installs may be available if requested but this might be more stress than it’s worth for you and your parent – especially if you’re crawling under a desk with dusty cables.

Cable

This always requires an engineer visit to setup the service, which is helpful if you don’t want to get involved in the process at all.

Engineers

Once a broadband package has been selected and purchased it can take anything from 10 days to a few weeks to get the service up and running. In some situations an engineer may be required, but the provider will say if this is necessary and advise if there’s any associated cost.

If an engineer is responsible for installing your parent’s internet then someone will have to be at home to let them in. Either your parent’s ISP or BT Openreach will arrange the appointment, but do note that the flexibility of the booking will vary between providers. It's a good idea to confirm the appointment a week or two before it’s due to ensure you aren’t both waiting for a no-show!

Self-install

If you’re setting up your parent’s internet yourself then all that may be left to do is setup the router. This is a compact box with activity lights on the front and several connectors on the rear, which is plugged into the telephone (or cable internet) socket in order to provide your parent with access to the internet. Many modern routers support both Wi-Fi (wireless) networking and wired connections, giving some flexibility about how it is setup in your parent’s home.

The router doesn’t necessarily need to be installed near to your parent’s computer – so long as their computer supports Wi-Fi (now standard on all laptops and tablets) the router can be placed anywhere. However the router will need to be near a power socket as well as a phone or cable socket in order to function.

If you’d rather keep your parent’s router and computer in one place you can use a wired link to enable them to communicate to each other rather than relying on Wi-Fi. You’ll need a network cable (sometimes called an Ethernet or LAN) going from a matching socket (or 'port') on the back of the router into the same size slot on the computer.

Network cables look like chunky phone lines with a thick connector on each end, and all laptop and desktop systems will have at least one network port which accepts this standard connection.

No configuration should be required for a properly functioning Windows or Apple Mac computer as the system will detect the presence of the network cable automatically. There is usually a network cable supplied with the router, but if you do need to purchase one for your parent they’re available online for just a few pounds.

Problem protection

All routers should come with a set of instructions covering the basics of setting up a wired or wireless connection. There may also be a CD included with some software to assist with the configuration and management of the router.

You may not need to use this if you’re a bit of a tech whizz but configuration software can help to take you and your parent through the installation process step-by-step. It usually includes troubleshooting and diagnostic assistance if you do run into problems.

Finally, if your parents are getting ADSL broadband you must ensure the phone lines have microfilters. A microfilter is a little dongle which plugs into a phone socket and provides separate connections for the phone line and broadband router.

Without a microfilter the broadband may not work correctly when the phone is used or there may be noise on the line. A microfilter must be installed on every socket where there is a phone connected. One or two should be included with the router, more can be purchased from the ISP or electrical and computer supply retailers.

BroadbandGenie.co.uk is a broadband comparison site where you can find help guides and the latest broadband and mobile broadband deals at the touch of a button.

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