How to find a great broadband and phone deal
Most broadband providers will also want to supply you with your home phone too. In most cases your broadband connection enters your home through the phone line, so this makes sense. But how do you choose the deal that’s right for you?
- Work out what broadband speed you need
- Choose an inclusive call package
- Decide which extras you need if any
- Add the calling features you want
Work out what broadband speed you need
Working out what broadband speed you need for your household needn’t be that difficult. It’s not a science. You’re really only looking for one number, in actual fact: The most bandwidth (speed) used by your entire household at its busiest time of day. And the simplest way to do that is to generalise.
First, take the total number of internet users in your household and allocate them 10Mbps each. If any one person is a gamer who downloads a lot of games and updates from the internet, double the allowance for that person (20Mbps), and if anyone in the house has a 4K (UHD) TV, triple it instead (30Mbps). If they’re a gamer with a 4K TV, only count the higher amount since they won’t be downloading games and streaming at the same time.
So, for example, if you have a household with four internet users, one of whom is a gamer, you’ll need a connection of 50Mbps (10+10+10+20). You can absolutely make do with less if necessary – this calculation is designed to give you plenty of headroom.
Choose an inclusive call package
Thankfully, the way calling packages are offered on broadband and phone deals is pretty universal. Although the names and the minutiae of the small print may vary slightly between providers, they all largely offer the same four levels of call inclusivity. These are…
- Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) calls: This is exactly as it sounds and is the same across all providers where offered. You make a call and you pay for it at whatever the providers’ standard rates are
- Free weekend calls: Although the hours that constitute the ‘weekend’ can vary between providers, this means free calling during those times
- Free evening and weekend calls: Same as free weekend calls, but now with free calling in the evenings. Again, it should be noted that the exact hours – what constitutes the ‘evening’ can vary from one provider to another
- Free anytime calls: This means that no matter what time you make a call from your landline it will fall within the rules that apply to your ‘free’ calling rate
- BT broadband and phone: BT offers some of the most flexible and fully-featured phone packages, with additions like BT Call Protect (shielding you from nuisance calls) adding real value. However, BT broadband can be comparatively expensive if bought outside of sale time. BT TV and BT Sport often come free or at very little cost with BT broadband and phone
- Sky broadband and phone: Sky distinguishes itself no so much through its calling packages, but through the options it layers on in terms of Sky TV. If you’re not planning to ever get Sky TV there’s no reason to choose Sky specifically – but also no reason not to
- Virgin Media broadband and phone: Virgin Media offers the quickest broadband widely available in the UK, with its top packages more than five times faster than those available from any other provider. It also offers a great selection of call packages with free calls to Virgin Mobile numbers and the option to upgrade your calling package to include free calls to all UK mobiles
- TalkTalk broadband and phone: Of the big four providers TalkTalk tends to land more at the budget end, competing more with the budget providers than with the other three. There’s not a lot to say about TalkTalk – you can get basic TV with its broadband and phone offerings, though if it’s TV you’re after we’d recommend going for Virgin or Sky instead. No, the best thing you can sometimes say about TalkTalk is it’s sometimes the cheapest
You may have noted in our description of free anytime calls that we referred to rules applying to your free calling rate, rather than just saying all calls at any time are free. That’s because quite often you’ll find that your so-called ‘free’ calls may only apply to other UK landlines and 0870 numbers.
Virgin Media, for example, offers slightly pricier versions of its calling packages that extend your free calling to UK mobile and 0845 numbers. It’s worth your time to make sure that whichever package and provider you pick, the needs of your household are covered and that you’re not going to end up spending more on your calling package than you would if you just went with pay-as-you-go.
Add the calling features you want
So-called ‘call features’ can be thought of as additional services you can bolt onto your calling package. Examples of these would be nuisance call protection such as BT Call Protect, voicemail and so on.
Generally speaking, call features are added on at the checkout, though you can of course add them on at any time during your contract with most providers.
Decide which extras you need – if any
Yes, it’s confusing, we know, but don’t blame us, blame the providers. Generally speaking – though by no means in every instance – ‘calling features’ are categorised as additional services, whereas ‘extras’ are extensions of contract basics, such as anytime minutes, or free calls abroad bolted onto you free weekends plan.
Once again you can most times either add these on at the checkout when you sign up or at anytime during your contract.
Broadband without a phone line (broadband-only)
A lot of UK providers now claim to offer ‘broadband-only’ deals. That is, broadband with no phone line. The appeal is perhaps harder to distinguish now than it once was. Up until 2016, providers advertised ‘line rental’ as a separate charge, in many cases making up the lion’s share of what you’d pay monthly for your broadband. That was until the UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, stepped in and forbade the practice.
Line rental is still a part of the price you pay, it’s just not listed separately (not in the advertised price anyway). Broadband-only deals were once sought out as a way of trying to avoid line rental, with Virgin Media being the only company that would actually supply you broadband with no home phone. The trouble was, and indeed is, you don’t actually save money by doing it.
Broadband comes into your home via a phone line, so you can’t have one without the other. Where you see ‘broadband-only’ advertised, this usually just means that you still have to have a phone line, and that you still have to pay line rental, only it won’t enable you to make calls.
Home phone deals without broadband
The converse of the situation above – broadband with no phone line – is a much easier and simpler prospect. Of course you can have a phone line without broadband. Why you’d want to is another matter, and your own business. Worth bearing in mind that while all providers offer a phone line to go with your broadband not all of them offer phone lines on their own.
Short-contract broadband and phone deals
There are an increasing number of broadband providers who now offer short contract deals and all of them work similarly to one another, offering broadband and phone on a one-month (30-day) rolling contract that can be cancelled at any time. Examples of providers who offer this are NOW Broadband, SSE, Virgin Media, and Direct Save Telecom.
What you will tend to find with these sorts of contract, however, is that there tends to be a higher-than-normal set-up (upfront) cost. The reason is a simple economic one: if you stay with the provider for just one month, it has to have been worth it for the provider. So they offer a lot of flexibility, and for some that will be worth paying a little extra for.
Providers who offer broadband and phone
Every broadband provider in the UK offers a phone line to go with your broadband connection. So the question is not so much who offers broadband and phone – that would be everyone – but instead how they offer it.
When it comes to the biggest providers, each tries to distinguish itself in some way from the others in terms of its broadband and phone offering.
There are numerous other providers offering broadband and phone deals, but most of them fail to distinguish themselves in meaningful ways the way the big four do. The market is healthy right now, and when it comes to basic broadband and phone you're pretty safe in almost anyone's hands.
Frequently asked questions
Who’s the best broadband and phone provider?
Virgin Media, hands down. Bet you were expecting a more non-committal answer there, weren’t you? Thing is, Virgin Media’s broadband is simply so much better than anyone else’s (more reliable, up to five times faster), that it would have to commit heinous phone package crimes not to win here. But Virgin Media’s inclusive call packages are all very good too.
No one talks about line rental anymore – do I still have to pay it?
Yes. The only reason you don’t tend to run into the term a lot these days is that Ofcom forced providers to include it into their advertised monthly costs. It’s still in there, forming a large part of your monthly contract cost, it’s just less visible than it once was.
Can I keep my phone number?
Yes. When you sign up to a new provider, porting your number across is a normal part of the process. Your new provider will do everything for you – it’s simply not something you need to worry about.
How long does it take to install?
Switching your broadband and phone provider typically takes around two weeks. It can take longer in the case of unforeseen eventualities, such as Virgin Media not being able to easily run a cable to your home.
Will I have internet and phone right up until my new services are running?
Yes. Providers are careful about ensuring that you’re not left without services – that there is as little dead time as possible between your old services being switched off and your new services getting up and running. Most commonly, ‘downtime’ will never exceed an hour or two – the time it takes for an engineer to switch your services over.
Can I get a mobile deal with my broadband?
Yes. Most of the big providers – and some of the smaller ones – now offer mobile SIMs to go with their broadband and phone offerings, most notably BT, Sky, Virgin Media, EE, Vodafone and Plusnet. TalkTalk no longer offers mobile deals however.