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Which is Really the Cheapest UK Phone and Unlimited Broadband ISP

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 (2:00 am) - Score 10,096

For example, at the time of writing Virgin Media’s entry-level 50Mbps broadband (£17.50) + phone service (£16.99) costs a total of £34.49 per month before any discounts (£31.17 if you take their pre-paid line rental). But you can have this package as a standalone option too, yet the price isn’t as simple as paying the £17.50 for broadband alone, nope, instead it costs £28.50 per month. So yes, you do save, but it’s rarely to the level that you may anticipate by simply extracting the cost of phone line rental.

In fact a lot of the true standalone broadband options cost upwards of £30 per month so, like it or not, there’s still a line or even a wireless signal that needs paying for somewhere. The real cost is always reflected in the total you pay in order to receive a service, regardless of whether the package claims to offer a phone solution or not. In short, the price of broadband provision should never be considered in isolation of other mandatory costs.

One small caveat to this is that not all ISPs force you to take their phone service, which means that broadband and phone services can often still be chopped and changed between different providers. This is one reason why the advertising watchdog cannot simply force providers to give a single price for both.

Summary of the UK’s Cheapest Broadband ISPs

As we said earlier, our selection of nationally available packages is based upon the perceived cheapest “unlimited” services – excluding first year discounts – and this is done so that we can compare similar packages on as close to a like-for-like cost basis as possible. The table below also assumes that customers are using the cheapest payment (e.g. Direct Debit) and billing methods. Each package also includes a free wireless router as standard.

Obviously the downside of this approach is that we miss out on some providers, with a few like the Phone Co-op, Post Office and Utility Warehouse etc. all coming very close to making the grade for our ‘standard broadband’ selections. Tesco’s Broadband and Phone has also been excluded because their customers have recently been sold to TalkTalk and this has created some uncertainty over their future. Likewise we aren’t looking at TV bundles, not least because it’s incredibly difficult to compare their values.

Other Points to Note for our Table(s)

1. The total cost fields always assume that a customer has opted for annual pre-paid line rental, which where available would normally be the cheapest option. In order to show the monthly cost equivalent we simply divided this by twelve months.

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 fully reflected below.

3. The voucher / bill credit values are applied separately in a second ‘Total Cost’ field to show their raw impact on price, which is done because the value of different voucher types can be hard to compare (e.g. if you don’t live near to a Sainsbury’s store then a related £50 voucher may have less appeal).

4. We selected the cheapest discounts by checking over a period of 2-3 months to find the best offers made for each ISP. But remember, discounts tend to repeat, so even if an offer is over by now then it’ll probably come back again later. Check the Total Year 2 Costs field to see pricing that excludes discounts (special offers usually only apply during the first year).

Now for the comparison and let’s start with the standard broadband providers..

Standard Broadband (Prices Correct at Feb 2015)

  Sky Broadband Fuel Broadband Direct Save Telecom TalkTalk
Top download speed 17Mbps 16Mbps 17Mbps 17Mbps
Top upload speed 1Mbps (Est.) 1Mbps (Est.) 1Mbps (Est.) 1Mbps (Est.)
Included UK Calls Weekend Evening, Weekend Evening, Weekend Standard Call Charges
Line Rental £16.40 £15.00 £16.75 £16.70
Pre-Paid Line Rental (Annual) £192.80 £180.00 £132.00 £180.36
Contract 12 Months 12 Months 24 Months 18 Months
Setup / Connection Fee £0.00 £20.00 £24.95 £0.00
Router Deliver Charge £6.95 £7.95 £8.95 £6.75
Monthly Cost (Broadband) £7.50 £4.00 £1.95 £3.50
Monthly Cost (Broadband + Pre-Paid Line Rental) £23.57 £19.00 £12.95 £18.53
Year 1 Total Cost + Discounts* £199.75 £187.95 £189.30 £187.11
Year 2 Total Cost (No Discounts) £282.80 £228.00 £155.40 £222.36
Total Cost – First 2 Years £482.55 £415.95 £344.70 £409.47
Total Cost – First 2 Years + Voucher Applied £382.55 £415.95 £344.70 £334.47
Other Discounts (Applied Above)
FREE Setup / Connection Yes Yes No Yes
Included Voucher / Credit £100.00 £0.00 £0.00 £75.00

Excluding the impact of vouchers, on the surface it’s fairly clear to see that Direct Save Telecom does appear to hold the cheapest crown for standard broadband and that’s largely thanks to their low monthly service charge and cheap pre-paid line rental. But this only applies if you stick with them for two years, which is enforced by the 24 month contract.

Meanwhile TalkTalk just managed to edge out their rivals to take the cheapest crown for the first year, which is due to their initial discounts. However if you consider TalkTalk’s £75 Lover2shop voucher then they also claim the crown for cheapest over the full two years.

But there is one discount that TalkTalk also offers, which we haven’t factored above because it’s too niche. The ISPs Speedy Payment Discount cuts the price by 10% per month, although it doesn’t apply to pre-paid line rental or other separate payments (mobile services etc.) and you have to action it manually before your billing date. Never the less this would reinforce their claim to the cheapest crown.

Summary of the Key Discounts Used Above (Feb 2015)

* Sky offers 12 months free service and a £100 Marks & Spencers voucher with free setup.
* Fuel Broadband offered 12 months free service with free setup.
* No major discounts with Direct Save Telecom, just generally low pricing and pre-paid line rental.
* TalkTalk offered 12 months free service, free setup and a £75 Love2shop voucher.

Note: In order to do the total year 1 costs we also include the router delivery fee, setup charges (unless free) and then subtracted the primary discounts (except vouchers). Also some ISPs, like Sky and Fuel, don’t do cheaper pre-paid line rental anymore.

Superfast Broadband (Prices Correct at Feb 2015)

  Virgin Media PlusNet Direct Save Telecom TalkTalk
Top download speed 50Mbps 38Mbps 38Mbps 38Mbps
Top upload speed 3Mbps 19.5Mbps 9.5Mbps 2Mbps
Included UK Calls Weekend Evening, Weekend Weekend Standard Call Charges
Line Rental £16.99 £15.95 £16.75 £16.70
Pre-Paid Line Rental (Annual) £164.00 £155.88 £132.00 £180.36
Contract Term 18 Months 18 Months 18 Months 18 Months
Setup / Connection Fee £49.95 £50.00 £24.95 £50.00
Router Deliver Charge £0.00 £5.99 £8.95 £6.75
Monthly Cost (Broadband) £17.50 £14.99 £14.75 £13.50
Monthly Cost (Broadband + Pre-Paid Line Rental) £31.17 £27.98 £25.75 £28.53
Year 1 Total Cost + Discounts* £269.00 £274.31 £298.65 £247.11
Year 2 Total Cost (No Discounts) £374.00 £335.76 £309.00 £342.36
Total Cost – First 2 Years £643.00 £610.07 £607.65 £589.47
Total Cost – First 2 Years + Voucher Applied £618.00 £560.07 £607.65 £514.47
Other Discounts (Applied Above)
FREE Setup / Connection Yes Yes No Yes
Included Voucher / Credit £25.00 £50.00 £0.00 £75.00

On the surface you’d expect that Direct Save Telecom might walk away with this one due to their cheap pre-paid line rental and monthly cost combination, yet the cheapest in the first year was actually TalkTalk thanks to their £5 per month “better than half-price” promotion.

But DST’s attractive standard prices make them the cheapest for the second year of service, although TalkTalk quickly regains the crown if you factor in their £75 Love2shop voucher as a direct cost reduction and PlusNet also best DST with their £50 cashback offer. Lest we not forget the potential impact of TalkTalk’s Speedy Payment Discount.

Summary of the Key Discounts Used Above (Feb 2015)

* TalkTalk’s “better than half price fibre” deal reduced the total cost from £13.50 to just £5 per month for the first 12 months and offered free setup, plus a £75 Love2shop voucher.
* Virgin Media reduced their broadband from £17.50 to £8.75 per month for the first 12 months and offered a free setup, plus £25 account credit.
* PlusNet reduced their fibre package from £14.99 to £3.75 per month for the first 6 months with free activation, plus £50 cashback.
* Direct Save Telecom offered the first 3 months of service for free.


Ultimately the difficulty with discerning which ISP is actually the cheapest depends upon how long you stay with them and what special offers you accepted at the point of sale. As we’ve explained above, vouchers and other discounts change like the wind and this means that the cheapest crown will often swap hands.

Obviously this makes it difficult for us to write an article that proclaims a single winner for each type of broadband because by the time you read this the deals will have changed again, possibly several times over. On the other hand we can say that Direct Save Telecom appears to have the lowest standard monthly charges, but TalkTalk and some of their other big rivals are often able to steal the crown back through various first year discounts.

On top of that there’s the question of value added extras, which is not something that can be easily quantified via a simple mathematical comparison. TalkTalk’s offerings might often deliver a cheaper package, at least in the first year, but then you don’t get free calls and in that sense even their pre-paid line rental seems overpriced. But then most people prefer to use their mobiles for calling, so would they care about TalkTalk’s charges for evening and weekend calls? Perhaps not.

Likewise if we could easily put a consumer cost value on BT’s FREE TV sport content then perhaps BT should have been included above, but equally not everybody likes Football and Rugby etc. The same goes for those WiFi hotspots offered by Sky, Virgin and BT, not to mention the differences between bundled routers (e.g. Sky and PlusNet have weak kit) or the impact of service speeds. The list goes on.

At this point it’s important to reflect that the proportion of people who actually migrate between ISPs in any given year is around 1 in 10 (Ofcom), which means that at the end of a contract a happy customer is more likely to continue with the service than move, thus the normal pricing beyond year one is where a lot of ISPs make their money and what may impact you the most over a longer term.

In the end this choice often comes down to individual circumstances and requirements, not to mention a bit of luck with timing your order to coincide with a good discount so as to extract the maximum value. In that sense you should pay attention to vouchers, monthly rental discounts and setup charges because these often have the biggest short-term impact.

However there’s no such thing as a free lunch and the less you pay, the less you get. An ISP that struggles to make a good profit may also suffer problems in other areas, such as with customer support and service quality due to lack of investment. In that sense choosing an ISP through a simple judgement of price alone may not be the wisest approach. The best ISPs are usually smaller and charge a lot more than the cheap as chips big boys.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
12 Responses
  1. Avatar adslmax says:

    none are cheap because its rip off Britain (shambles)

    1. Avatar DTMark says:

      What is your definition of “cheap”?

      VM – 50Mbps unlimited package, £28.50/month

      I’d say it’s being practically given away for nothing.

      How much do you think that ought to be?

    2. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Britain has some of the cheapest home broadband packages in the world, so I’d say it’s one area where we’re not being ripped off.

    3. Avatar Astroturfer says:

      Feel free to emigrate to somewhere the Internet access fits more closely with your view of how it should be priced.

    4. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Maybe move to another country, you are clearly not happy with Britain

  2. Avatar Kits says:

    When they do packages they are not always cheaper unless you make lots of calls. I moved phone to Aquiss £13 a month line rental, used to pay for free evening and weekend calls at the time £9 a month. Never realised how few calls were done over the landline until the move to Aquiss paying for each call the highest bill we had was for just under £4 some months less than a £1.

    It does all depend on what you need for your service but I would never sign up for a package to give free calls anytime again.

  3. Avatar Peter Glover says:

    You are lucky to have a choice, if you live in Hull you are stuck with Kingston Communications and slows adsl 2 speeds
    unless you are one of the lucky ones who can get the lightstream options BUT a lot cannot

    1. Avatar Bill Lewis says:

      Peter, you have a point there. Kingston do seem a lot more monopolistic even than BT .

      I remember once looking at fitting a Fixed wireless system in Hull area, only to receive an unpleasant threatening phone call shortly after advising us to “keep out”.



  4. Avatar Allan Sanders says:

    UK Internet and telephony needs a good shake up. In France the norm is €29.99 (£21.42)per month for unlimited ADSL service Nominal 25mb/s and unlimited land line calls to more than 200 destinations. Fibre is being systematically installed and will cost no more than copper. For this reason not looking forward to returning to rip off Britain. Perhaps I could persuade my current ISP to operate in the UK!!

  5. Avatar Bill Lewis says:

    There are cheaper solutions but it involves using service providers that do not rely on BT infrastructure or phone lines.

    Voip Line rental varies from free to ~£2 or so (if you keep your number) via the good providers per month. no min call charges/connection charges and all voip to voip calls free are some of the usual benefits.

    that leaves a lot of spare for the broadband fee.

    I wonder why .Gov doesn’t promote these services? ah yes.. BT


  6. Avatar Graham Durbin says:

    No one seems to mention the fact that SSE seem to have the cheapest Broadband Deals for ADSL & Fibre. ADSL Broadband Phone line £12 / mth Broadband free.. Fibre Phone line £12 / mth Broadband upto 38Mb £10 / mth uoto 76Mb extra £2 / mth. Contract for 2 yrs.. However the Offers will be closing in mid September 2015

    1. Avatar Julie says:

      Do SSE install a phone line? Is the broadband unlimited?

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