Northern Ireland

Reference Library – Northern Ireland

How to save money on broadband and mobile phones

How much do we spend?

As our 24/7 reliance on technology has increased, so have the costs. According to the communications regulator, Ofcom, the average household spend on home phones, broadband and mobiles now stands at ?85.25 per month. According to Broadbandchoices.co.uk, customers switching broadband suppliers could save up to ?336 a year by getting the best deal, while Citizens Advice suggests mobile phone firms are selling customers contracts that cost on average 130% more than they need to.

Three simple must-dos

1 Try asking your current provider for a better deal If you don’t want the hassle of switching mobile phone or broadband providers, simply ask for a better deal. To succeed, you’ll need to be out of your minimum contract and preferably armed with information about cheaper deals from rival providers. Your aim should be to either get your existing package for a better price, or to get a better tariff for the same money. If your provider doesn’t budge, threaten to leave. More often than not you’ll be transferred to its cancellations – aka retentions – department. Here, staff have the power to offer better, unpublicised deals.

2 Don’t languish on old contracts Mobile phone and broadband contracts both tend to be for 12, 18 or 24 months. When you reach the end of your contract, obviously it may well pay to shop around for a better deal.

Broadbandchoices.co.uk has a service that reminds you when your contract is up. Providers typically reserve their best deals for new customers – so shopping around will allow you to access the better prices and perks on offer, says Vix Leyton from the site.

3 Don’t overpay It may sound obvious, but don’t pay for more than you actually use on any contract. Billmonitor has a tool that analyses your mobile phone usage and matches you to a better new contract. Light users might even find that a contract is not for them and they’d be better off on pay-as-you-go. The same goes for broadband deals, especially if you bundle in a TV service too. Do you really need 200-plus TV channels? Probably not.

Five easy ways to save

1 Question the need for speed Fibre optic broadband offers faster speeds than old-style ADSL but consider whether you really need a super-speedy connection. Virgin Media offers fibre optic up to 200MB – but you’ll only really need this if the whole household piles onto broadband at the same time, downloading films and gaming online. A 17MB connection will be adequate for most people – and cheaper.

To speed up a sluggish connection, upgrade your router and connect your desktop to the router via an ethernet cable rather than wifi.

2 Use your mobile for all calls Most mobile phone contracts include hundreds of minutes of calls, or unlimited calls, to other UK mobiles and landlines. Using your mobile for all your calls can negate the need to pay for calls on your landline.

3 Split handset and tariff According to HandsetExpert.com, customers are wasting an average of ?92 a year on smartphone contracts when they’d be better off buying a handset outright and pairing it with a sim-only tariff. If your phone’s working fine, try and resist the urge to upgrade it every time a new model comes out. There are some pretty cheap sim-only deals available – TPO has a rolling one-month contact offering 1GB data, 500 minutes and unlimited texts for ?3.99 a month.

4 Bundle vs unbundle Sky, BT, Virgin Media and TalkTalk all offer bundles where you pay a monthly price for a phone line, broadband and a selection of TV channels (sometimes you can add a mobile too). But although it might be convenient, it might not be your cheapest option. MoneySavingExpert compares bundle prices with “unbundled” deals where you take different services from multiple providers. It also takes into account sign-up bonuses from providers to give a total cost for the first year of the contract. For instance, pairing a Sky, EE or Plusnet line rental and broadband deal with a Now TV pass is cheaper than any triple-play bundle on the market.

5 Use a cashback website If you decide to switch either mobile or broadband suppliers, it’s worth doing so via a cashback site. Topcashback and Quidco pay a reward when you click through from them to buy goods or financial products.

In general, the more pricey the contract, the more cashback you’ll get. To give you an idea, Topcashback is offering up to ?175 if you take out a BT quad-play bundle of broadband, calls, BT TV, and a sim-only mobile deal. But even just taking out a ?12 a month sim-only deal with Three can net you ?60 cashback – almost halving the cost for the year.

Advanced money-saving tip

Recommend a friend Virgin Media will knock ?50 off your bill if you’re a cable customer and refer a friend who signs up – they get ?50 off their bill too. You can make up to 25 referrals in any 30-day period. Sky’s deal is similar. Plusnet’s scheme gives customers a monthly discount for every person who joins following their recommendation. It varies on the product, but is normally 50p or 75p off their bill for each month the friend stays on as a customer.

Scotland’s Broadband: Scottish Minister Responds to UK Government Criticism

In a Parliamentary Q&A session held last Thursday1 (14 September), Digital Minister Matt Hancock blamed the Scottish Government2 for Scotland’s alleged lack of accessibility to super-fast broadband. His comments came in response to a query raised by Alistair Carmichael, Liberal Democrat MP to Orkney and Shetland, concerning poor broadband speeds in his constituency. Hancock said: “The Scottish Government have been the slowest of all of the different organisations around the country to contract the broadband that we so desperately need. That is why Scotland is behind. We are offering technical support, but they are behind every English county and behind both the Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Government, and they need to get a move on.” Connectivity Minister to the Scottish Government, Fergus Ewing, issued a response to the accusations, claiming that they were “inaccurate,” and “wildly without any basis in fact.”

“The Digital Scotland Super-fast Broadband3 (DSSB) is, and always has been, due to complete its initial phase by the end of 2017, with extended build through Gainshare to be delivered during 2018,” he said. “It would quite simply have been inconceivable for us to have launched subsequent broadband procurements before the DSSB coverage footprint was nearing completion. This is a position that has been discussed and agreed with BDUK4 (Broadband Delivery UK) officials. “Alongside our partners, we have invested over ?400 million in Scotland’s Digital Super-fast Broadband programme, resulting in over 780,000 premises having access to fibre broadband and despite the unique geographical challenges Scotland contends with, the vast majority of those premises are capable of receiving super-fast speeds.” He added: “Ofcom’s5 Connected Nations Report 20166 highlighted that super-fast broadband coverage in Scotland had seen the largest increase across any of the UK nations in the previous 12 months. Indeed, without the investment in the DSSB programme, access across the country would only be at 66%, access in the Highlands would only be at 21%, and Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles would have no access to fibre broadband at all.

“The Scottish Government has chosen to act, and our commitment to deliver 100% super-fast broadband access by the end of 2021 is a unique commitment across the UK.

We are firmly of the view that our ambitious plan is the right one for Scotland’s economy and we will continue to urge the UK Government to match our ambition.”

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References

  1. ^ Parliamentary Q&A session held last Thursday (www.theyworkforyou.com)
  2. ^ Scottish Government (www.gov.scot)
  3. ^ Digital Scotland Super-fast Broadband (www.scotlandsuperfast.com)
  4. ^ BDUK (www.gov.uk)
  5. ^ Ofcom’s (www.ofcom.org.uk)
  6. ^ Connected Nations Report 2016 (www.ofcom.org.uk)

Can I give up my landline and use 4G broadband?

‘I am wondering about signing up for Three’s 40GB HomeFi. It has to cover our home internet needs – two computers, two mobile phones … Would this be feasible?’ Photograph: Maskot/Getty Images/Maskot

When we went travelling, we gave up our Virgin contract for an internet and TV package. We have been using Three’s “Feel at home” for mobile phone internet access on data roaming quite successfully. Now, going home, I am wondering about signing up for Three’s 40GB HomeFi. It has to cover our home internet needs – two computers, two mobile phones – in central Edinburgh. I’m not bothered about internet TV because we can get a new DVD player/Freeview HD recorder. Would this be feasible? Paul123

The general answer is no. Today, most people are better off paying for a wired internet connection.

The specific answer is: it depends.

Millions of people have replaced wired with mobile broadband for a variety of reasons. These include the (low) quality of the wired broadband available, their online needs, and their personal situation – like you, they might be travelling, either for business or pleasure. Consider a family with two teenagers who watch lots of movies on Netflix, stream music on Spotify and play online games. They will probably use well over 100GB a month, and would benefit from having the fastest unlimited broadband they can get. By contrast, singletons who only use broadband for email and social networking can probably manage with a 4G service, though it may not save them any money.

Of course, the final decision will depend on what’s available. Type your post code or phone number into the UK Broadband Availability Checker4 at Sam Knows to find out which companies offer broadband services in your area. Click the Wireless button for wireless services such as Blaze, Lothian Broadband and Urban Wimax. There are dozens of these FWA (Fixed Wireless Access) systems in the UK, using wireless systems such as Wimax5, which are not 3G/4G networks. Check reviews at ISP Review6 and similar websites before you sign up. Sam doesn’t know about 3G/4G services, but you can check those with Ofcom’s free broadband and mobile checker app7 for Android and Apple’s iOS.

If you live in central Edinburgh, you should have plenty of options. Virgin does not appear to offer cable in the city centre, but Virgin, BT and CityFibre (sold to business users by Commsworld8) all have fibre networks.

Cellular broadband

The 3G networks launched in the UK in 20039 were too slow to replace wired broadband. However, in 2012, we got the first 4G networks10, offering speeds of 8-12Mbps, and current versions generally offer 18-24Mbps. In theory these are fast enough. The main drawbacks are the availability of 4G services, the variability of download speeds, and the high prices. Cellular networks are expensive to build and run, and being designed originally for voice calls, they have limited bandwidth.

This is reflected in the high prices they now charge for data, and the even higher prices they charge once you go over your data cap. If you sign up for Three’s HomeFi11, you get 40GB for ?24 per month, which is a fairly reasonable ?1.67 per gigabyte. However, once you have used your allowance, you have to buy an add-on12. These appear to cost either ?10 for 1GB, or ?15 for 3GB. Cellular networks also prioritise voice calls, which means they may limit “tethering” (using a mobile phone to connect a PC to the internet) or block it altogether.

Either way, “contention” – too many users competing for a limited resource – is more of a problem with cellular than with landline networks. One operator, Giffgaff, explains why it uses Traffic Flow13 to maintain services. It says that “as few as 1% of members were using around 30% of the total network resource. This unfair distribution causes an inconsistent experience for the majority of members”. In fact, “there are examples of members using double the average monthly network resource within a single day, during peak hours.” As a result, it now limits people who use its Always On service to 6GB of data at full speed, after which it caps the speed at 384kbps between 8am and midnight.

Contention problems are more likely in big cities, but your 4G performance may be perfectly acceptable in the evenings when fewer people are making phone calls. You may be able to find test results for your local area at Broadbandspeedchecker.co.uk14 or uSwitch15 etc, though most of the tests are of wired not wireless broadband.

According to Netflix16, a standard definition movies consume about 0.7GB per hour, high-definition movies about 3GB per hour, and Ultra HD movies 7GB per hour. You won’t want to do much of that if you are paying Three ?1.67 per gigabyte, let alone ?5 or ?10 per gigabyte. Photograph: Ryan Anson/AFP/Getty Images

5G cometh

The next generation of mobile broadband is already being tested in the UK17, and 5G FWA18 broadband should be a viable substitute for landlines, depending on how it is priced. It might be available in 2020. Arqiva has negotiated the rights to install small cells on tens of thousands of lampposts in a dozen London boroughs, and a few cities including Manchester, Southampton and Colchester.

Also, Ofcom is about to auction 190MHz of spectrum for 5G19 in the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands. These are similar to the 2.4GHz and 5GHz used for wifi. It’s not clear how much speed 5G will actually deliver, but more than 100Mbps should be practicable, given that 1Gbps is theoretically possible. However, like fibre and cable broadband, I expect 5G FWA will mainly be available in town centres and rich suburbs.

DIY options

Three’s HomeFi system includes a Huawei B310 router, which costs ?59.99 but is free if you sign a 12-month contract. Alternatively, you could buy your own 4G router and shop around for cheap sim-only data deals. Huawei E5577C (?69.99)?232.3724). Note that performance will depend on how close you are to the 4G mast, and whether there are any walls or buildings in the way.

If you choose a router that can take two or more antennaeinternal26 or external LTE aerial27, you should be able to get a faster connection. Unfortunately, you may also have to learn about SMA, CRC9, TS9 and TS7 connectors.

Catch-up TV

Your suggested Panasonic DMR-EX97EB DVD/Freeview recorder looks like a good choice, though you might consider opting for Blu-ray instead of DVD. One advantage is that you can use the EPG (electronic programme guide) to record whole series rather than individual programmes. The disadvantage is that you can’t watch catch-up TV without an internet connection. If you have an unlimited connection, you can happily use services such as BBC iPlayer, and if your broadband isn’t fast enough to watch them live, you can download them to watch later.

According to Netflix28, a standard definition movies consume about 0.7GB per hour, high-definition movies about 3GB per hour, and Ultra HD movies 7GB per hour. You won’t want to do much of that if you are paying Three ?1.67 per gigabyte, let alone ?5 or ?10 per gigabyte. However, if your broadband consumption is light, you may find you have spare bandwidth that you can use up at the end of each month.

No landline?

Standard broadband services are usually delivered over a landline, which can cost roughly ?15 to ?20 per month. The wholesale price of these connections, supervised by Ofcom, pays BT’s Openreach division to operate and maintain the network. If you have an alternative connection, such as Virgin cable or 4G broadband, then you might save money by not having a landline.

However, bear in mind that BT has a standard reconnection charge of ?13029.

Also, the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) changed the rules last October30, so now broadband prices include both broadband and line rental, and sometimes evening and weekend calls as well. As a result, you can get unlimited broadband and line rental for less than the cost of HomeFi, with prices starting at less than ?20 per month. This makes 4G services much less attractive.

Have you got a question?

Email it to [email protected]

References

  1. ^ Feel at home (www.three.co.uk)
  2. ^ HomeFi (www.three.co.uk)
  3. ^ DVD player/Freeview HD recorder (m.johnlewis.com)
  4. ^ UK Broadband Availability Checker (availability.samknows.com)
  5. ^ Wimax (en.wikipedia.org)
  6. ^ ISP Review (www.ispreview.co.uk)
  7. ^ Ofcom’s free broadband and mobile checker app (www.ofcom.org.uk)
  8. ^ Commsworld (www.commsworld.com)
  9. ^ launched in the UK in 2003 (news.bbc.co.uk)
  10. ^ the first 4G networks (www.theguardian.com)
  11. ^ Three’s HomeFi (www.three.co.uk)
  12. ^ buy an add-on (www.three.co.uk)
  13. ^ Traffic Flow (community.giffgaff.com)
  14. ^ Broadbandspeedchecker.co.uk (www.broadbandspeedchecker.co.uk)
  15. ^ uSwitch (www.uswitch.com)
  16. ^ Netflix (help.netflix.com)
  17. ^ already being tested in the UK (www.zdnet.com)
  18. ^ 5G FWA (www.arqiva.com)
  19. ^ 190MHz of spectrum for 5G (www.ofcom.org.uk)
  20. ^ TP-Link’s M7350 (uk.tp-link.com)
  21. ^ Scan (www.scan.co.uk)
  22. Huawei E5577C (?69.99) (www.amazon.co.uk)
  23. ^ Asus 4G-AC55U (www.asus.com)
  24. ?232.37 (www.amazon.co.uk)
  25. antennae (www.amazon.co.uk)
  26. internal (www.amazon.co.uk)
  27. ^ external LTE aerial (www.solwise.co.uk)
  28. ^ Netflix (help.netflix.com)
  29. ^ standard reconnection charge of ?130 (bt.custhelp.com)
  30. ^ the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) changed the rules last October (www.asa.org.uk)