Is TalkTalk broadband any good?
From innovative online security to new ventures, and missteps with its customer service record, broadband supplier TalkTalk is anything but 'just another provider'.
This quirky company, like other providers, has its good and bad points, but is it set to continue to be one of the UK’s leading broadband providers, or is TalkTalk looking to move into new markets?
About TalkTalk broadband
TalkTalk (www.talktalk.co.uk), far from being one of the new kids on the digital block, has actually been around for the best part of a decade. Originally starting life as a subsidiary of The Carphone Warehouse, it was the takeover of Tiscali in 2009 that introduced it as a big player in the broadband market.
No longer part of the Carphone Warehouse, it’s up there with Sky, Virgin and BT as one of the UK’s ‘Big Four’ broadband providers.
But is it any good? TalkTalk’s an interesting little company. It doesn’t have the advertising chops of Virgin (there’s only one Richard Branson to go around, after all), Sky has close to market saturation, and telecom giant BT is still the default ‘go-to’ provider for many, purely out of habit.
So has it just been a case of takeovers and mergers that has put TalkTalk in the broadband premier league, or is there more to this company than meets the eye? We’ve taken a look at all that’s good, bad and ugly to help you decide.
Pros and cons
Whilst there are a wealth of consumer reviews available online, they tend to be based on a single bad experience, such as a temporary loss of connection. Such reviews may not always reflect the customer’s overall experience of a particular provider.
So it’s important to consider a balanced and impartial opinion, alongside customers’ first-hand reports of their experiences. That’s why we’ve also included readers’ comments here.
Before we get down to specifics, let’s first summarise what we think are the top 3 pros and cons of TalkTalk broadband:
- Good value – some of the best priced deals available
- Value line rental - save over £58.80 a year
- Now offers digital television including YouView
- Patchy coverage, particularly in rural areas
- Poor customer service
- Ambiguous ‘Fair Usage’ policy
Use our handy package comparison tool to compare the latest TalkTalk broadband prices and features.
Cheap as chips
TalkTalk undoubtedly offers some of the most attractively priced broadband services available and is particularly competitive when compared to providers such as BT. The entry level package – SimplyBroadband – costs just £2.50 per month (plus £126 line rental) for unlimited data and download speeds up to 16Mbps on a 12 month contract.
Good value line rental too
Line rental is an often overlooked ‘extra’ to the cost of being connected and TalkTalk’s ‘Value Line Rental’ service definitely makes them one of the cheapest line rental providers. Customers can save £58.80 on the annual cost of line rental by paying a single upfront fee, cutting overall costs and helping keep those monthly bills down.
However, bear in mind that the upfront fee is £126 for the full 12 months, so taking advantage of the deal does require a sizeable initial outlay.
TalkTalk realised early on that whilst Tiscali’s service was dependable, it was also slow and vulnerable to online attacks, leaving many customers concerned about fraud.
Thinking outside the router-box, it developed HomeSafe™, a pro-active response to these concerns that provides an extra level of security. It’s actually built into the network itself but still allows users to tailor protection to suit their own needs.
Parents can dictate what type of online content their children see without worrying that their tech-savvy kids can get around the restrictions, and the chances of online ‘phishing’ attacks are also minimised. For just a few pounds extra each month, it’s worth considering.
An additional feature on offer is SuperSafe Boost, which allows customers to upgrade their HomeSafe™ option to cover up to three PCs at the same address, as well as extra, up-to-the-minute anti-virus protection software.
It seems that TalkTalk has some serious business nous too, and a rapid uptake of new products put it on a strong financial footing. Much of this was down to customers signing up for its new TV packages, rather than the broadband aspect of the business.
With a hefty stake in the much-lauded YouView service, the company is demonstrating a firm commitment to its TV portfolio, although there is some speculation it may take its eye off the broadband ball.
We might be a little harsh putting coverage under ‘bad’, but although TalkTalk’s network is extensive, there are large patches of the UK where it is stretched a little thin.
London, the south east and the Midlands are TalkTalk’s strongest areas, and in these locations some users get the advantage of fibre optic connectivity and, consequently, faster speeds of up to 76Mbps.
But head north west (apart from the Manchester/Liverpool cluster), over to the north east or back down to Wales and the West Country and there are far fewer nodes. As of November 2012, there’s also very little indication of plans for future superfast rollouts in more rural areas.
Direct debit billing
Billing has improved, and is now done via e-billing. However, you can only pay via monthly direct debit, and it pays to double check that the accounts department have your exact details to avoid any problems with both your connection and your telephone access if you go for the home package.
Contract catches that could catch you out
Value broadband contracts usually last for 12 months, but we‘ve been told that TalkTalk contact customers mid-way through the year to offer upgrades, changes to contracts and sometimes even cheaper rates. Be warned – sign on the dotted line and it could mean that your contract is basically ‘reset’ back to 12 months again, potentially tying you into its services.
If you do want to leave and go to another provider mid-contract, it could cost you up to £15.50 for every month you have left on your contract (as well as the cost of line rental). This is applicable for customers who are on the Plus contract for TV, broadband and phone services which has a longer 18 month contract.
These early-termination fees aren’t unique to TalkTalk though, and other providers can charge you considerably more.
Customer service – TalkTalk’s Achilles’ heel
Customer service has always been TalkTalk’s Achilles’ heel, and in June 2012 it topped a table for receiving the most customer complaints for broadband, generating 0.56 complaints per 1,000 customers during the first three-month period of 2012.
However, that’s significantly better than in previous years, when TalkTalk’s reputation was shredded by record levels of complaints, reports of poor customer service, a hefty fine and a rather embarrassing telling off from Ofcom in 2011, after the company billed over 60,000 customers incorrectly.
TalkTalk is getting better, but there’s still a way to go. We also think that the hold music it plays while you’re waiting for a customer service operator is rather annoying, too!
The infamous ‘Fair Usage’ policy
The whole ‘fair usage’ issue has been a bone of contention for both customers and providers across the board, particularly as changes in online habits sends usage levels through the roof. The waters have been further muddied by the use of the term ‘unlimited’ in many broadband contracts.
Downloading a film can take up much more of your ‘fair usage’ quota than you realise, and heavy use of a service like Netflix or LoveFilm could potentially flag you up as a greedy user as far as the provider is concerned.
The wording of TalkTalk’s fair usage policy statement is a little vague, mentioning ‘peer-to-peer sharing’ and seemingly blaming a few greedy users for spoiling it for the rest of us. It doesn’t clearly state exactly what constitutes unfair usage, and just what the penalties of any transgression of their fair usage policy would be.
Customers are using their download allowances for far more data-rich activities such as gaming, and many of them are getting caught out by the ‘unlimited download’ versus ‘fair usage’ conundrum. Clearly the ‘fair usage’ issue really needs to be tackled by a higher power such as Ofcom.
Crunching the numbers
TalkTalk is taking an interesting tack when it comes to cutting the cost of provision to customers, by operating an LLU network.
LLU or ‘Local Loop Unbundling’ basically means that TalkTalk installs its own equipment into a BT exchange. This results in them being able to provide lower cost broadband, whilst still taking advantage of newly installed fibre optic networks. Fundamentally, this ‘piggybacking’ off BT has allowed TalkTalk to provide speeds of up to 38Mbps and up to 76Mbps depending upon the package chosen – but only for those who can access the fibre optic network.
LLU or ‘Local Loop Unbundling’ basically means that TalkTalk installs its own equipment into a BT exchange. This results in it being able to provide lower cost broadband, whilst still taking advantage of newly installed fibre optic networks. Fundamentally, this ‘piggybacking’ off BT has allowed TalkTalk to provide speeds of up to 38Mbps and up to 76Mbps depending upon the package chosen – but only for those who can access the fibre optic network.
Its standard SimplyBroadband package provides ‘unlimited’ (see previous notes about fair usage) broadband with speeds up to 16Mbps.
As with other providers, factors such as distance from the exchange, network congestion (particularly during peak times) and TalkTalk’s own ‘traffic management’ system could impact on those speeds.
Now that you have a more detailed breakdown of the good, the bad and the ugly for TalkTalk broadband, you should be able to make a more informed decision.
We feel that, despite a few hiccups along the way, TalkTalk’s broadband packages are a good choice for anyone looking for budget deals. Free of many of the unnecessary bells and whistles that other broadband providers add on, the TalkTalk SimplyBroadband package represents good, solid broadband provision with an excellent level of security for very little extra cost.
There are still issues to sort out regarding the company’s customer service record, but that is improving year on year and TalkTalk seem to be learning lessons from their past mistakes.
One interesting aside for home workers and business users – TalkTalk has a dedicated ‘homeworker’ package for around a tenner a month, and is currently working with over 180,000 small and medium sized businesses across the UK. So if you’re one of the increasing number of people now working from home, TalkTalk may well be worth considering.
If you think we’ve missed anything in our analysis then please let us know in the comments section below, or email us and we’ll do everything we can to help. You might also find it useful to read our TalkTalk buyers guide.
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