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Examining the Changing Cost of UK Phone Line Rental and its Future

Wednesday, Dec 30th, 2015 (1:04 am) - Score 7,113

In fairness ISPs do have a lot of factors to consider, such as the need to meet new government / regulatory requirements (e.g. adding a network-level filtering service) and to cater for the ever rising data usage demands of their customers or to recover lost revenues in other areas etc. Not to mention the age old desire for more profit and, in BT’s and Sky’s case, their huge spend on TV.

At this point we’d normally try to contrast retail line rental movements with that of historic home broadband prices, but this is very difficult to achieve due to the ever changing dynamic of special offers, service features and other discounts, which makes it hard to establish a firm value baseline for most of the major providers.

It’s also worth considering that during 2015 we’ve seen most of the big broadband ISPs put their broadband prices up, with some such as TalkTalk making a bigger change than most (here). Never the less it seems clear that line rental has become the general sinkhole for many of the cost increases among major ISPs, but that might not last forever.

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The Future of Line Rental 

As technology moves forward and consumer demands change then it’s becoming increasingly clear that the need for a traditional phone line is fading, which is something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the wider industry.

The new generation of pure fibre optic (FTTH/P) providers and Virgin Media’s existing cable network already allow customers to take a true standalone broadband connection without a phone service. However, as explained earlier, you still have to pay for the physical line entering your home and thus the cost savings aren’t as simple as directly subtracting the phone line charge.

Price Differences (August 2015 Data)

Virgin Media’s 50Mbps Standalone Broadband = £28.50 Per Month
Virgin Media’s 50Mbps Broadband [£17.50] + Phone [£16.99] = £34.49 Per Month
Price Difference: £5.99

Hyperoptic 100Mbps Standalone Broadband = £35 Per Month *
Hyperoptic 100Mbps Broadband [£22] + Phone [£16] = £38 Per Month
Price Difference: £3

* Additional connection fees sometimes also apply to standalone offers (e.g. Hyperoptic charged £40 and this effectively wiped out the price difference for year one).

The examples above demonstrate that the practical cost difference between a standalone service and a bundle with phone is not that huge. As such those who complain about the cost of line rental should consider that even without a phone service the price they pay would not be radically cheaper, although it might be simpler and easier to promote.

But it’s not just pure fibre optic and cable ISPs that are planning to offer standalone solutions. BTOpenreach are currently preparing to trial a new Single Order GEA service (details here and here). The SoGEA solution is effectively a naked Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) product, which would give you superfast broadband over BT’s traditional copper lines but without the phone / voice service. However it’s unlikely to deliver a huge cost saving due to the aforementioned reasons.

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In the meantime some smaller providers on BT’s network, such as AAISP (Andrews & Arnold), are already attempting to offer something close to a “Naked DSL” (standalone) broadband service by giving customers the ability to take a copper pair line with no calls / voice service alongside. Admittedly you still have to pay for the line rental, but at £10 inc. VAT per month it’s very close to the base wholesale charge. Check out our Phone Line Rental Comparison list to see some other cheap options.

On top of that even BT themselves have called upon Ofcom to relax their existing regulation (here), which still requires the operator to install a “traditional” (PSTN) phone service upon request. The march towards Internet based voice (VoIP etc.) calling means that the market needs to adapt and BT envisages that traditional phone services may need to be phased out by 2025.

None of this is to say that in the future you won’t still be able to order a phone service, but the line that enters your property may preference towards Internet / data access as the primary service and phone may become an optional add-on, delivered via IP / VoIP.

Such a regulatory shift would also open the door for consumers to buy truly standalone broadband packages, if they so wish. Mind you that kind of move would also mean that the perceived price of broadband may rise significantly because the cost of underlying line rental may be moved into a single charge.

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Alternatively line rental may continue to exist as a separate / primary charge, albeit with consumers now choosing whether they want to add either a phone and or broadband service on top. This would perhaps be similar to the AAISP style product mentioned above, albeit more mainstream.

In the grander scheme of things phone line rental is just a small cost next to other utility services like Electricity, Gas and Water, but it’s one we all notice and yet it’s also one that many people feel as if they don’t need. As our article shows, the cost of underlying line rental will still impact prices going forward, but how you order and pay for the services it carries may change.

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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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