broadband End User

how to choose a broadband provider

Just writing out aloud the process I’m going through of choosing a broadband provider. I currently have an 80/20 line from which I get 35/7 performance, most of the time. It’s an unlimited service. Bandwidth usage is approaching 300GB a month.

My current supplier is Timico a business ISP. As such I get great service from them but the monthly line rentals for broadband and phone are now approaching £80 inc VAT. If I were a business user then I’d probably pay that just to get peace of mind that when i had a problem I could easily contact someone to get it sorted.

Although I have no interest in TV I am interested in seeing what sports packages I can get so I took a look around at the consumer deals available.

I do have a couple or three concerns in looking around:

  1. I am worried about ending up with an offshore call centre – my only real options in this case are to choose Plusnet or Sky
  2. What wil lthe service levels be like – at least I have the phone answer statistics to work with here
  3. Currently I am with an ISP that isn’t governed by government decree to monitor my behaviour or filter the websites available to me. This will not be the case if I go to a consumer service

The other consideration in looking is the speed of the connection. FTTC never delivers its headline speeds but the Virgin Cable service does, near enough. However Virgin are notorious for having technical issues such as bufferbloat and they do have a very public traffic management policy whereby they throttle heavy users at busy times. I am a heavy user. Will I be choked in this net?

The Virgin threshold for throttling a service is based on upload usage. If I assume I’m interested in the fastest service then Virgin allow 2.25GB upload in an hour (3GB in 2 hours). My biggest daily upload usages to date have been 10GB in April and 8GB in July (which was when I changed my google photos backup policy). I’m probably just about ok on the upload usage threshold.

The other consideration is availability of IPv6 and AAISP would have been a natural choice for this. AAISP are also fanatical with their support which is one of the reasons they are used by many in the UK internet engineering community. However they don’t do TV and don’t have an unlimited data usage product. They aren’t big enough to be able to cope with a few users maxing out on an unlimited bundle.

I’ve ploughed through the various ISP websites trying to compare their different offerings. It isn’t straightforward as there are lots of variables. All the products in the table below except Virgin are based on BT’s VDSL service. I’ve quoted 80/20 but most of the ISPs probably use 76/18 or some similar marketing variant. We also have to remember that for my house we really mean 35/7 where 80/20 is the stated speed. I would get a better download with any of the three Virgin speed variants but only with the top end one would I get a better upload (although there isn’t much between the 6Megs upload of Virgin’s middle offering and my existing one).

I’ve only quote the regular pricing (some may have been rounded). It is possible to get a great deal in the first contracted year but I’m not planning on hopping ISPs just to get a good deal every time a contract expires. The ongoing cost is more important to me. Where I’ve been able to (remembered) I’ve stated the pricing with weekend calls thrown in.

Product speed (Mbps) regular price (with phone line rental) contract term (months)
Timico 80/20 £77.40 24
BT 80/20 with “free” BT sports £47.00 12
Sky 80/20 £46.40 12
Virgin 50/3  + weekend calls £34.50 18
Virgin 100/6 £39.49 18
Virgin 152/12 £46.99 18
Virgin 50/3 broadband only £28.50 12
Virgin 100/6 £33.50 12
Virgin 152/12 £41.00 12
TalkTalk 80/20 £36.70 12
Plusnet 80/20 £36.00 18
aaisp 80/20 (not unlimited – have assumed pricing for 300GB usage with £10 line rental no voice) £70.00 6

It may be seen that the FTTC camps are divided into three. There’s the very low cost providers, Plusnet and TalkTalk who come in at around £26 a month. Then there’s the big guys Virgin, BT and Sky who are very similarly priced at £46/£47 (albeit BT bung in sport). Finally there are the business ISPs who are perhaps around £20ish a month more expensive edging towards the £100 for a product that comes with better customer support.

Plusnet’s call waiting times are often up around 15 minutes although in their defence their call centre is in Yorkshire (thanows).

What else do I need to take into consideration. How about the cost of making phone calls?

peak time call charges (pence per minute) voipfone virgin sky BT
uk landline 1.2 10.6 9.5 9.58
uk mobile 12 19.35 12.7 12

I’ve added another variable with this table. Compare the Voipfone call charges with those of BT, Virgin and Sky. Makes the three of them look a real rip off doesn’t it? Voipfone are one of  the UK’s longest standing and most successful Internet Telephony Service Providers. You run their service over your broadband line aka Skype but cheaper. There is a scenario where I can go with Virgin’s broadband only  package. If I want to transfer and use my existing landline number Voipfone will charge me £2.40 a month including VAT. In the business I’ve spent £40 with them on call charges since October 2014.

I realise that each of these providers will probably sell me a bundle of minutes but the members of our house rarely use the landline. They all have mobile phones with their own bundles. We only really need our local Lincoln number for legacy purposes (mostly for calls from aged parents).

So there is a scenario where I could take the Virgin 152Mbps broadband only service at £41, add £2.40 for a Voipfone landline number and it still would only cost £43.40 a month plus calls a very low rate.

What might be the problems with using Voiphone? In theory their service would work just like our existing home phone line. We use DECT phones around the house and I have a SNOM DECT phone system with a couple of handsets going spare in the office. Obviously the service relies on our always having a broadband and there have from time to time been issues with different variants of Superhub blocking VoIP. They don’t do this deliberately – it’s just incompetence and I don’t think the problems are there right now.

I also use Voipfone using a CSIPSimple client on my android so the whole family could have an alternative means of calling over wifi when abroad (for example).

How about adding TV or more specifically sport?

sports packages
BT Sports on virgin big kahuna £66.00
BT & Sky sports (full package) big kahuna £93.99
BT free BT sport £47.00
with BT sport & Sky 1&2 £68.99
sky original bundle & sky sports – no bt sport £71.90

The numbers change quite dramatically. BT stays the same but adding Sky sports into the picture sport is very expensive. Remember the punter is the one paying for all the big money contracts that Sky have with the Premier League.

The BT offer with just BT sport is dramatically better than the others as long as you remember it isn’t as comprehensive a bundle as having Sky in the deal.

If I went with Virgin I’d effectively be paying and extra £22.60 a month just to get BT sport – remember I’m not really interested in the other TV stuff.  The full monty on Virgin is very expensive at £94.

Going with BT and taking both Sky and BT sports would cost me an extra £25.60 over my base Virgin broadband only deal and I’d not have all the Sky Sports.

You can’t get BT Sports on Sky.

This is the interesting set of facts I have to set before the family. I suspect I am not interested in paying  a lot of money for the sport and am likely to end up with the Virgin broadband only package plus Voipfone. This really pains me as Virgin have a one of the longest telephone answer times and their call centres are in India. Sigh…


Trefor Davies

By Trefor Davies

Liver of life, father of four, CTO of, writer, poet,

8 replies on “how to choose a broadband provider”

If only there was a website that “rated broadband” to make this easy!!! 😛

It looks as if you could move to a 40/10 package on your line, do Timico offer this to save you money?

I’ve recently read about an unhappy Timico(& Coms) customer on ThinkBroadband – so they might not be as good as you think. But I appreciate you’ll have contacts…

I’m in a rush so may have missed this – but BT Sport isn’t free from next month to BT customers.

Got to go…

Disagree. If your line length to the cab limits you to 35 / 7 you would get the same on a 40/10 product as an 80 / 20.

The advantage of Virginia I’d you can try it without changing your current arrangements – apart from the minimum contract term.

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