A 'bundle' of joy - or a deal that's set to unravel?
Your TV, phone and broadband link all from one provider ... but convenience has a cost
Sunday 19 March 2006
Left hanging by landline home-phone deals? Bamboozled by broadband? Teased by digital TV?
Picking your way through today's thicket of telecoms deals can be a tortuous process - with changing prices, improved offers and bonus add-ons nearly every week.
To try to make life less confusing for consumers, a number of companies are beginning to "bundle" deals - wrapping two, three and, soon to come, four different services together for a single monthly fee.
With Homechoice, for example, you pay from £17.99 a month (£14.99 in the first two months) for a basic deal giving you free landline calls after 6pm and all weekend (5p a minute at other times); a fast broadband speed of 2MB, for a capped amount of music and video downloads; and 35 TV channels.
You will need an existing BT landline connection, which is an extra £11 a month, and will receive two bills - one from Homechoice and one from BT for line rental. Currently available only in London and parts of Stevenage, Hertfordshire, and with around 35,000 subscribers, the package is being rolled out nationally later this year.
Bundling deals will be more familiar to cable customers, who were first offered them two years ago.
For instance, Telewest offers "3 for £30", a basic monthly deal with up to 2MB broadband, a starter TV pack with 40 channels and free landline calls at weekends. More than a third of all its customers have signed up, it says. However, after a year, the monthly cost rises to £33.99.
For heavy-duty users, Telewest offers a "supreme bundle" at £68 a month. This provides superspeed broadband (up to 4MB), over 100 channels and free landline calls at any time.
(No bundling deals include the 0845 and 0870 information and help numbers, or 090 premium calls.)
"Triple play", as it's called in the industry, is becoming popular at the expense of the bundling of two services - usually internet and landline deals where you get a small discount, £2 or so, for signing up for a second service.
While the usual "triple" mix is internet, landline and digital TV, some providers also bundle mobiles with the landline and broadband service, says Chris Williams of the price-comparison service Uswitch.com. "BT's new Fusion product lets users benefit from landline rates when they are using their mobile at home," he explains. "Other providers to do so include Toucan and TalkTalk [which also use a BT landline to offer services]."
As yet, no provider offers "quad play": mobile, landline, broadband and digital TV all on one bill. But this looks set to change later this year, with BT launching a TV-via-broadband service that will give customers programmes on demand.
And if the takeover of Virgin Mobile by NTL goes ahead, it is anticipated that NTL too will offer quad play.
But convenience may come at a price. Critics warn that bundled deals are just money-spinners for suppliers. They're "expensive and inflexible", warns Martin Lewis, founder of the financial website money- savingexpert.com. "Companies that are cheap on broadband are not cheap for phone calls - and the cheapest phone providers usually cost 70 per cent less than the rates offered by broadband firms.
"The variable cost of these [bundles] - normally the landline phone - is usually the expensive one and that's how suppliers make their money."
For example, if an existing AOL internet customer decides to sign up to the firm's Talk Evening and Weekends landline deal, all their calls will automatically be routed by AOL.
While calls to UK landlines will be free after 6pm and throughout the weekend, they will cost 3p perminute at all other times. For calls to mobiles, the cost is at least 5p in off-peak hours and 13p or more weekdays.
Cheaper landline deals are readily available. For instance, the "prefix" company Call1899 - where you dial the set digits before your chosen number - charges 3p for a call of any length to a UK landline.
So a 30-minute conversation on AOL during the day would cost 90p, but only 3p on Call1899. And calls to mobiles on Call1899 cost just 3p a minute.
Customers should also question whether they will really make proper use of the bundle - maximising the amount of broadband downloads, say, or making enough telephone calls.
Many people could end up paying for a bundle that they are not going to use fully, stresses Mr Williams at Uswitch.com. "Consumers need to consider their circumstances carefully before deciding."
Watch out for other downsides too. If your company suffers a technical glitch, it is possible you could be left without any of your "triple play" services.
Additionally, broadband is normally offered as a 12-month contract, and so bundled packages also tend to be 12-month deals (although a few, like Virgin, offer a monthly contract). This can cause difficulties if you change your mind about one aspect of the bundle and want to leave.
By contrast, if you take the products separately, you are free to change your telephone package or supplier whenever you like. Of course, with separate elements, you will still have to pay any early-release penalty - usually the cost of each monthly fee remaining on your contract.
Bargain Hunter: Now's your chance to watch the best movies free of charge at home
How much lower will mortgage rates go?
The FTSE 100 is inching closer to its record high but can it maintain these levels?
MPs call for Equitable Life policyholders to be paid £2.8bn owed by government
Simon Read: Frozen in time - the expat British pensioners who deserve a better deal
- 1 Liam Gallagher brands Kanye West 'utter s**t' during BRIT Awards performance
- 2 Isis burns thousands of books and rare manuscripts from Mosul's libraries
- 3 People who sleep more than eight hours are more likely to have a stroke, research shows
- 5 New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Oscars 2015: Birdman beats Boyhood as Eddie Redmayne and Patricia Arquette win big - as it happened
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
Aqsa Mahmood branded a 'disgrace' by her parents after claims she recruited three UK girls flying to Middle East
Russia's roadmap for annexing eastern Ukraine 'leaked from Vladimir Putin's office'
iJobs Money & Business
£17000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity to join this new...
£18000 - £21000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...
£36000 - £44000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Encouraging more businesses to ...
Day In a Page
High Crest House covers an impressive 9384sq ft, with almost three acres of grounds including a tennis court and summer house enclosed by electric gates
A six-bedroom farmhouse with separate accommodation in converted stables. Situated in the village of Church Aston, within walking distance to the market town
A two-bedroom flat with under-heated walnut floors and bespoke built-in storage. The Tube and Clapham Common are a short stroll away
A refurbished seven-bedroom townhouse with staff quarters, cinema room, superb gym, steam room and plunge pool
A minimnalist four-bedroom home designed to the highest spec, featuring glass walls and a kitchen space lit by a glass roof
Hibernate during winter and make your living during the summer at this busy guesthouse with panoramic sea views, in the village of Lynton
A four-bedroom penthouse next to the Tate with direct views of St Paul's from two floors of luxurious living space
A four-bedroom detached home surrounded by spacious gardens and woodland, close to New Pudsey
An 18th-century, three-bedroom home near Langstone Harbour built from ships beams with vaulted ceilings and wood burning stoves
A five-bedroom semi-detached home with a mix of period and modern features in a popular and convenient location
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A deceptively spacious, beautifully presented Georgian home with 3000sq ft of living space and five reception rooms
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
A three-bedroom, 15th-century cottage with original features in the picturesque village of Sissinghurst
A six-bedroom terraced house with large south-facing roof terrace, cinema room and wine cellar
A new seven-bedroom home built in Queen Anne-style with swimming pool and parkland views in Mortimer
A listed, four-bedroom farmhouse in the rural hamlet of Rushall with detached barn, four acres of gardens and paddocks
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley