This is the age of consumer choice – we are more aware of our rights than ever before and we, quite rightly, demand the best products and services at the best price. Most of us know that shopping around is the key to consumer success but even this can be a minefield – particularly with telecoms services.
Most people acquire their broadband, home phone and TV subscriptions over time, not all at once. That means that many of you will be paying over the odds and could save big bucks by bundling. Also, if you haven’t already switched over to digital TV you’ll need to get going so that you’re in time for the switchover in 2012.
The fact that there are around 15,000 packages to wade through, full to the brim with technological jargon, doesn’t help, but there are ways to make saving money a smooth and simple process. Bundling seems to be the new craze, but is it really worthwhile?
In short, the answer is yes, but again there are exceptions.
Bundling is simply combining various digital services with one company. Sky, Virgin Media, Tiscali and BT all offer triple play packages – TV, broadband and home phone bundles.
Most telecoms providers offer a range of services so you often can get your home phone, broadband and TV cable or satellite subscription all from the same provider. Mobile phone providers are also getting in on the act and many are moving into the broadband and home phone markets.
Whilst more choice is never a bad thing, it can be confusing and make it tricky to wade through the options, which can run into the hundreds of thousands. By far the easiest thing to do, therefore, is to use a digital comparison site to help you out – and we’ve got one right here on MoneyMagpie, courtesy of our friends at Broadband Choices.
Firstly, Broadband Choices has a freephone number you can call – 0800 232 1279. Someone at the end of the phone is on hand to answer all your questions and help you know which combination will be best for you.
Like all the other online comparison services, it makes its profit through earning commission from the companies whose products it sells.
What can I expect?
Sky’s cheapest bundle is £32.95 per month including line rental. This offers tons of TV channels and free evening and weekend calls. The broadband is slower at up to 2Mb and has a usage limit of only 2Gb.
Virgin Media’s cheapest triple way bundle costs £33 per month including line rental, and comes with as many as 65 channels, up to 10Mb fibre-optic broadband with unlimited usage and unlimited weekends calls to UK landlines and Virgin mobiles. Plus, installation is free.
BT’s cheapest triple play bundle costs £31 a month including line rental. This bundle offers unlimited UK weekend calls, up to 20Mb speeds with a 40Gb usage limit and BT Vision with Freeview. There is a £60 one-off charge for your Vision+ box.
Remember there are many other bundling options so it’s still important to shop around (and use a comparison site) to see what else is on offer.
Why is bundling good?
The main benefit to bundling is price. Broadband Choices say that you can save as much as £210 a year* if you switch to a bundle deal.
Digital bundle deals are also straightforward to set up and it’s convenient to have one combined bill for all of your digital services: Having all the charges on one single bill will mean that everything is taken in one lump sum – making budgeting for the charge far easier.
Also, if something goes wrong and you’re overcharged or there’s a technical problem with one of the services, you only have one provider to deal with who can help with all your enquiries.
Step 1: Check your usage
This will have the biggest impact on what you end up paying. Think about the TV channels you like to watch regularly, or would be willing to pay extra for. Remember to factor in your home phone – do you use your mobile mainly? Do you make calls to friends and family overseas, or do you work from home and need free minutes during the day?
Step 2: Compare bundles – first you’ll need your postcode
The availability of digital services and the price of broadband can vary widely depending on your location, so with any comparison service you need to enter your address to find compatible bundles.
So click here and you’ll see a screen like this one. Simply enter your postcode selecting any combination of the three services (home phone, broadband and TV) you want to bundle. You can, of course, select one of the services to compare standalone products. Then press the ‘Search’ button.
Their search tool will check thousands of packages against your postcode to find the best deal available at your home.
Step3: Match your needs with the best deal
Once you’ve got the list you can look at all the different elements of the package so you know xactly what you’re getting.
What’s great is that Broadband Choices list the first year cost of all the packages – so they include line rental and any set-up and installation charges. It’s always nice to know that there aren’t any other hidden costs so you can make a true comparison of the packages.
Step 4: Barter with your current provider
Give your current provider a call and try negotiating with them using the quote you’ve got online. There’s a good chance that they are willing to give you a better deal if you explain you’re considering a package from a rival provider. Haggle on the phone to them – politely but firmly – and see what you can get, you have nothing to lose so give it a go!
Step 5: Make the switch!
If you’re switching broadband provider you’ll need a MAC (Migration Authorisation Code) – then follow the instructions from your new provider carefully or you may end up having no service in place for a period.
When is a bundle not right for me?
If you’re not going to use all of the services, a three-way bundle is unlikely to be a good option for you. If you don’t need a home phone service look for broadband and TV bundles only – there may be a fab deal with home phone included but if you don’t need it, don’t pay for it!
Bundling is one of the easiest and most effective options but complications lie in deciding who to sign up with. Remember cheap isn’t always best. Some of the best deals have the longest contract lengths – you may decide saving a few quid each month isn’t worth having to stick with the same provider for 36 months. Deals may well get cheaper in the near future and if you are tied down for too long you’ll find yourself paying too much after a while.
Finally, don’t forget to check out what impartial sources have to say about the various providers. Broadband Choices got over 8,000 people to rate their broadband provider in their survey this year.
As with other comparison sites, Broadband Choices does not have every single tariff from every single internet service provider, TV and home phone provider in Britain available for comparison, so there’s no guarantee that you’ll be comparing all the tariffs suited to you. However, they do have the vast majority and trawling through every single tariff is no easy feat.
Before you make a switch, check your current contracts.
If you’re still tied-in to a contract with your current broadband provider you won’t be able to switch without incurring a big fee. If you’re already with certain providers, such as Sky or Virgin TV, or Orange and O2 you’ll be eligible for broadband deals that may be cheaper than the standalone deals on offer online.
Beware of initial promotional pricing.
Some companies offer amazing monthly prices, but only for three months and then prices rocket. Always check the contract length too, some can be as long as 36 months.
Take broadband speeds with a pinch of salt.
Advertised download speeds for broadband are misleading to say the least so be wary of paying extra for high speeds that you can’t access. In July 2009 Ofcom’s research revealed that the average broadband speed in the UK in April 2009 was 4.1Mbit/s – whilst the average ‘up to’ headline speed was 7.1 Mbit/s.
Check out this table showing the average speeds received by the sample (including margin of error) for each ISP.
|ISP and package||Average speed|
|AOL (‘up to’ 8Mbit/s)||3.3 to 3.9Mbit/s|
|BT (‘up to’ 8Mbit/s)||3.8 to 4.2Mbit/s|
|O2 (‘up to’ 8Mbit/s)*||4.1 to 5.1Mbit/s|
|Orange (‘up to’ 8Mbit/s)||3.8 to 4.5Mbit/s|
|Plusnet (‘up to’ 8Mbit/s)*||3.8 to 4.9Mbit/s|
|Sky (‘up to’ 8Mbit/s)||4.0 to 4.7Mbit/s|
|Talk Talk (‘up to’ 8Mbit/s)||3.8 to 4.6Mbit/s|
|Tiscali (‘up to’ 8Mbit/s)||3.2 to 3.7Mbit/s|
|Virgin Media(‘up to’ 10Mbit/s)||8.1 to 8.7Mbit/s|
Source: SamKnows measurement data for all panel members with ‘up to’ 8Mbit/s or ‘up to’ 10Mbit/s connections in April 2009
*Saving based on switching from separate services to a comparable bundle. Separate services assumes standard ongoing annual costs. Example: BT Unlimited Weekend Plan £11.54 per month; AOL Wireless Broadband £14.99 per month; and Sky TV 1 x Entertainment Pack £18 per month. Ongoing yearly cost £534.36. Bundled services assumes first year cost. Example: Virgin Media Broadband: L + Phone: M + TV: M+. £18 per month; Free for the 1st 2 months, free installation (up to £35; online purchase only). Must take a Virgin phone line at £11.99 per month. Total first year cost £323.88. Total 12 month saving £210.48. Information correct at 18 August 2010. Terms and conditions apply – see provider websites for full details. Virgin Media services available in Virgin Media cabled streets only.
* Saving based on switching from separate broadband, phone and digital TV subscription services to a comparable bundle. Separate services assumes standard ongoing annual costs; bundle assumes first year cost. Information correct at 18 August 2010. Terms and conditions apply. The services used in this calculation may not be available in your area