It’s not easy to compare prices between the different unlimited superfast broadband ISPs, not least due to the huge variety of special offers, features, vouchers and discounts that pervade the market and change on an often weekly basis. In this article we examine how tricky it is to find the “cheapest“.
Before we even get started there’s an obvious caveat, which is the question of how you gauge the “value” to a subscriber of various service aspects, such as differences in download speed or the availability of value-added extras like access to public WiFi hotspots, TV content or free UK calls etc. The outcome of that question will be different for everybody, not least since service performance can change depending upon your location.
On top of that we’ve chosen to centralise and simplify our comparison around those services that are available to most of the United Kingdom and which also offer an unlimited usage allowance. The cost of line rental and setup charges, where required, has also been factored. Take note that this article is a shorter update to last year’s examination of the same issues (here).
The table below generally assumes that customers are using the cheapest payment methods (Direct Debit, Online Billing etc.) and that the package also includes a free wireless router as standard. On top of that there are a few other points that you need to be mindful about.
Key Points to Note
1. We only used standard line rental prices for our totals. Some ISPs also offer pre-paid annual discounts that save around £20-£50 per year off the price, but these aren’t well promoted and many consumers are unaware of them. As such we do display the pre-paid prices, but the impact is shown as an optional service feature / discount (first year saving).
2. There may be extra charges if you also need a new line installed (these can range from around £25 to £125), which aren’t reflected below as we’ve chosen to assume that most people will migrate via an already active line (i.e. we only include the general broadband setup / activation fee).
3. Mercifully none of the ISPs were running any voucher or bill credit offers on the packages we listed, so we haven’t had to factor those. This is good because vouchers are hard to compare and often change weekly (e.g. a £50 Sainsbury’s voucher is of little use if you don’t live anywhere near the store).
4. We identified the cheapest discounts for each ISP from the Jan – Feb 2016 period (remember that discount offers change all the time) and special offers usually only impact the first year cost.
As for the comparison, we’ve decided to choose a cross section of the four biggest and four smaller providers, all of which should be recognised as some of the cheapest options in the market. Indeed we picked these by first looking at their standard prices outside of any special offers, although the impact of discounts are shown in our tables and these are then explained underneath.
The following data is based on the publicly available information provided by each ISPs website. We attempted to uncover all of the relevant charges, but do let us know if we’ve missed anything. Some might also ask why BTInfinity isn’t present and that’s because they had higher standard prices than those we selected (i.e. the monthly prices that hit after the contract term has ended).
Superfast Broadband Big ISPs (Best Offers from Jan-Feb 2016)
|Sky Broadband||Virgin Media||Plusnet||TalkTalk|
|Top download speed||38Mbps||50Mbps||38Mbps||38Mbps|
|Top upload speed||9.5Mbps||3Mbps||1.9Mbps||1.9Mbps|
|Included UK Calls||PAYG Calls||Weekend||PAYG Calls||PAYG Calls|
|Monthly Line Rental||£17.40||£17.99||£16.99||£17.70|
|Pre Paid Line Rental (Optional)||NONE||£15.33||£15.49||£15.93|
|Contract Term||12 Months||18 Months||18 Months||18 Months|
|Setup / Connection Fee||£35.00||£0.00||£0.00||£50.00|
|Router Delivery Charge||£6.95||£0.00||£6.99||£6.75|
|Monthly Cost (Broadband)||£20.00||£19.00||£14.99||£17.50|
|Monthly Cost (Broadband + Line Rental)||£37.40||£36.99||£31.98||£35.20|
|Year 1 Total Cost (No Discounts)||£490.75||£443.88||£390.75||£479.15|
|Year 1 Total Cost + Discounts *||£370.75||£287.76||£300.81||£269.15|
|Pre-Paid Line Rental Saving (Optional)||-£0||-£31.92||-£18||-£21.24|
Primary Discounts Applied Above:
* TalkTalk offered 12 months free service (£17.50 per month thereafter).
* PlusNet offered 6 months free service (£14.99 per month thereafter).
* Virgin offered broadband and calls at £5.99 a month for 12 months (£19 thereafter).
* Sky offered half-price service (£10 per month) for 12 months (£20 thereafter).
Superfast Broadband Smaller ISPs (Best Offers from Jan-Feb 2016)
|Direct Save Telecom||Origin Broadband||EE||Phone Co-op|
|Top download speed||38Mbps||38Mbps||38Mbps||38Mbps|
|Top upload speed||9.5Mbps||1.9Mbps||9.5Mbps||1.9Mbps|
|Included UK Calls||Weekend||PAYG Calls||Weekend||Weekend|
|Monthly Line Rental||£17.75||£16.40||£17.50||£15.50|
|Pre Paid Line Rental (Optional)||£13.50||£12.99||£15.75||£12.50|
|Contract Term||18 Months||18 Months||18 Months||18 Months|
|Setup / Connection Fee||£24.95||£0.00||£25.00||£30.00|
|Router Delivery Charge||£8.95||£9.99||£0.00||£6.00|
|Monthly Cost (Broadband)||£14.75||£14.99||£19.95||£18.00|
|Monthly Cost (Broadband + Line Rental)||£32.50||£31.39||£37.45||£33.50|
|Year 1 Total Cost (No Discounts)||£423.90||£386.67||£474.40||£438.00|
|Year 1 Total Cost + Discounts *||£379.65||£296.73||£354.40||£384.00|
|Pre-Paid Line Rental Saving (Optional)||-£51||-£40.92||-£21||-£36|
Primary Discounts Applied Above:
* Direct Save Telecom offered the first 3 months for free (£14.75 thereafter).
* Origin Broadband offered the first 6 months of for free (£14.99 thereafter).
* EE offered a discounted price of £9.95 for the first 18 months (£19.95 thereafter).
* Phone Co-op offered the first 6 months at £9 per month (£18 thereafter).
The first thing we should point out is that EE was the only one in our sample to have a discount period that lasted longer than 12 months, which we estimate would have given them a total saving of -£60 off the second year of service had we also factored a total for Year 2.
Otherwise it’s no surprise that TalkTalk came out the cheapest in Year 1 because nobody could match their “12 months free” discount at the time, although Virgin Media’s £5.99 per month offer did come close. TalkTalk have been reeling from a string of security fails and as such they’re keen to attract customers by pricing down to the bone. At the time of writing both offers have just ended, but they will probably return again in the near future (TalkTalk regularly recycler their best discounts).
However the situation changes when we consider the potential Year 2 costs (your contract will usually end during the second year and often so too will any discounts), which we can normally get from looking at the ‘Monthly Cost (Broadband + Line Rental)‘ field. On that front the cheapest providers are actually Plusnet and Origin Broadband, which benefit from lower standard pricing.
On the other hand neither Plusnet nor Origin give you any free UK call periods, but some of the others do offer free Weekend calls. Elsewhere Virgin Media and Sky Broadband can both bundle in free access to their public WiFi hotspots and Virgin also offers an online storage service, although the latter isn’t all that special because there are plenty of free alternatives to be found.
We also noticed that some of the cheapest ISPs, like Origin, Plusnet and TalkTalk, all tended to offer lower upload speeds and many consumers may consider that to be quite an important aspect of their service.
In the end it’s important to highlight how the crown of being “cheapest” can in reality change hands quite frequently, depending upon what special offers are available and what service options are most attractive to you. But if you expect to stay with an ISP once your contract is up then pay close attention to the standard pricing as that is more relevant over the longer term.
Finally, we also noticed that some ISPs were still failing to make prominent mention of their broadband activation / setup fees. For example, TalkTalk hid theirs in the small print at the bottom of their page and Sky Broadband was similarly cheeky. We consider this to be a primary and often unavoidable charge for switchers, thus it must be displayed with greater prominence.
In closing we’d also reiterate our age old advice, which is that it can be very unwise to choose an ISP based purely on price because this often involves a sacrifice in other areas, such as service or support quality.