How to cut your bills by getting it all together

With companies now packaging their broadband deals with TV and phone services, it pays to shop around. But finding the best deal can be tricky. James Daley navigates the market

If you haven’t changed your home phone or internet provider over the past few years, the chances are you can save yourself some money. Prices for broadband services have come down rapidly in recent months and, as competition in the market has intensified, the rewards to be found by bundling your home phone, broadband, television – and even mobile phone – into the same package, have increased, too.

The main catch, however, is that this is not a simple market to navigate. While O2, for example, might offer one of the best value broadband packages, you’ll need to be a customer of their mobile phone services to get the best rates. You’ll also need a BT phone line – but O2 doesn’t offer home phone services, so you’ll need to sort that part of your package out with another provider. In which case, you might be interested in

Virgin Media, which offers a phone line, broadband and a basic TV package for as little as £27 a month – but unfortunately, its cable packages are not available in all parts of the UK. And then there’s Sky – another provider which offers all three services – but you’ll need to be in a building where you can attach a satellite to an exterior wall or chimney.

The key to saving money is to start with your TV requirements – which are the least flexible – and then explore phone and broadband packages. Confused? Keep reading.

Television

Digital television has brought us dozens more free channels. All you need is a TV with a digital receiver – or a Freeview set-top box with an older television and you’ll have access to more than 40 channels. If you’re still only getting the main five channels, it’s worth investing in a set-top box as soon as possible, as analogue reception will be turned off over the next three years. To find out when the switchover is planned in your area, visit www.dig italuk.co.uk.

If Freeview’s 40-odd channels are enough – and you’re not interested in buying an additional TV package – you’ll have more choice when choosing your home phone and broadband provider. However, once you find out what providers such as Sky, Virgin Media, BT and Tiscali can offer you on your TV, you may have a change of heart.

While you might not feel you need any more channels – the advantage of signing up to a TV package is access to on-demand content. For example, Virgin Media offers a library of 500 on-demand films; you pay a few pounds each time you watch one – doing away with the need to visit the video shop. For another £7 a month, you can also have unlimited access to hundreds of on-demand television series – such as The Wire, The Sopranos and Life on Mars.

Virgin Media offers the best on-demand package – but you’ll need to switch your phone line to Virgin, too. And you’ll need to live in an area that’s cabled. To find out if you live in a cable area. Visit allyours. virginmedia.com and type your postcode.

Tiscali and BT also offer relatively good on-demand packages, but you’ll need to get your broadband and home phone with them. And if you’re after a fast internet

connection, you might be disappointed, as their maximum speed is only 8Mb – and tends to be much slower in some areas. In contrast, Virgin offers 10Mb, 20Mb and 50Mb packages. Sky also offers some on-demand services for customers who take its Sky+ or Sky+HD boxes – but these pieces of equipment will cost at least £99. There’s not as much choice as with Virgin, but you will get some content from across Sky’s channels – including films – included.

All the main subscription TV services offer personal video recorder (PVR) machines, which allow you to pause and rewind live TV, as well as record programmes. With Sky, you’ll pay £99 to buy the box, while Virgin will

charge you £5 a month to rent its V+ box, plus £99 for installation. Tiscali charges £50 for its box, while BT is offering its V-box for free.

If you have a good broadband connection, you can get free content online – such as programmes from the BBC iplayer, or 4OD. So if this and your Freeview is enough, you can probably do without an additional package. But if you want access to US series, the latest movies on-demand or sports channels (see box), you’ll need to look at buying a TV subscription as well.

Broadband

If you’ve decided to sign up with either Sky, Virgin, BT or Tiscali for their television services, it’ll probably be cheapest to get your broadband and home phone from them as well. Ultimately, the more services you take from the same provider, the better value you get. For example, Sky will charge you £16.50 a month to sign up

to its basic TV package. But it won’t charge you any more than £10 a month line rental if you also take its basic home phone and broadband package. Furthermore, at the moment, it’s offering free line rental, and a free upgrade to its 16Mb broadband package for three months.

With Virgin, you can get phone, TV and 10Mb broadband for £27 a month, while Tiscali can do the lot for just £20 (although the broadband is slower). BT works out most expensive, with its cheapest package coming in at just under £40 a month – although it’s just £24.90 a month for the first three months.

If you’re happy to stick with Freeview, then you can pick up some other great bargains on your broadband and home phone – especially if you happen to be a mobile phone customer with Orange or O2. However, you’ll need to have a BT phone line to sign up to these deals.

O2 offers up to 20Mb broadband for under £10 if you’re one of its mobile customers, or 8Mb broadband for just £7.34. BT line rental will cost you another £10.27 a month, but if you’re after a fast connection, this is one of the best deals. Orange offers a home phone and 8Mb broadband deal for just £15 – including line rental. Talk Talk offers up to 8Mb broadband and home phone – including line rental for £17 a month.

Before you get too carried away with chasing the fastest broadband speed, it’s worth checking out what the maximum speed is in your area. Although providers might boast that they can offer you 10 or 20Mb broadband, the speed you will actually receive depends on a number of factors, such as how far you live from the exchange, and how recently the infrastructure was upgraded in your area.

Most providers have a tool on their website, which will tell you what speeds are available in your area, or their customer support centre should also be able to let you know.

The fastest speeds available are from Virgin – which now offers up to 50Mb in some areas. Because it’s broadband comes down its own cable, it has greater control over the speeds it can offer to its customers.

Finally, Charles Ponsonby of Simplifydigital.co.uk, the communications comparison site, advises that broadband shoppers give the likes of Tesco, Post Office and Waitrose – and other such non-specialist providers – a wide berth. In a recent survey, Simplifydigital discovered that many of these packages represent particularly bad value for money.

It highlighted Tesco – which offered speeds of just 0.5mb for £13.67 a month, more than £5 a month more than O2’s reliable 8Mb package.

“People expect Tesco to deliver great value for money, but in the case of broadband it certainly does not, being nearly twice as expensive as popular services such as TalkTalk broadband,” said Ponsonby.

“Customers really should research the market very carefully before buying a broadband package, because big brands that you know and trust may not offer the best deal – and if you do make a bad decision you could be locked into a long term contract and waste hundreds of pounds per year.”

Phones

Almost all phone packages now include free evening and weekend national calls, but if you make a lot of calls to mobiles – or a lot of international calls – it may be worth doing some shopping around for the best deals. Talk Talk is offering free international calls to 36 destinations on its standard tariffs. However, you’ll have to pay up to 12p a minute if you want to call mobiles in the UK. Sky’s Talk Unlimited works out as one of the cheapest packages if you regularly call UK mobiles.

Another option to keep the cost of international calls down is to use the internet for your phone calls – services known as Voice over Internet Protocol (Voip). Skype offers free calls all around the world to other Skype users, while providers such as Vonage provide a cheap option if you’re looking for a second phone line at home.

Finally, if you’re thinking of changing mobile phone provider soon, remember that you’ll get great discounts on your broadband if you hook up with Orange or O2.

All action sports packages

If you want to watch live sports such as Premier League football matches, you’ll need to be prepared to pay a bit more for your TV package. Sky’s sports channels carry most of the matches as well as England’s Test cricket matches – but you don’t necessarily need to buy these directly from Sky.

Sky’s cheapest package including its sports channels is around £35.50 – and if you add in a phone line and basic broadband, itworks out at £45.50. Virgin offers a similar deal for just under £50 – but this package comes with a much bigger selection of nonsports channels. Tiscali also offers all three services – including the sports packages for £47.50.

If you only want to watch the occasional sports match, you could opt for a package that just includes Setanta’s sports channels. Setanta has the rights to 48 Premier League matches over the course of the season, and you can pick up a package that includes these for under £30 (including a phone line).

Meanwhile, BT includes Setanta’s channels in its most basic TV packages, which start at around £40, including phone and broadband.

Virgin offers a similar deal for just under £50 – but this package comes with a bigger selection of non-sports channels.

To find the best phone, broadband, TV bundles, visit www.simplifydigital.com

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