Broadband, TV and phone explained
By Dan Howdle | Friday, February 1st 2019
In this guide
- What is broadband, TV and phone?
- Broadband, TV and phone providers
- Why get broadband and TV together?
- What to look out for
- Types of broadband, TV and phone
- Frequently asked questions
Getting broadband and TV together? Smart. Bundled broadband and TV packages – typically also including a home phone line – are considerably cheaper than buying your services separately. Plus, fewer bills means fewer hassles.
Having said that, choosing either broadband or TV on its own can be difficult enough. Provider, number of channels, set-top box, broadband speed, contract length and more. Having a bundle is twice as easy once you have it, but choosing one can be twice as hard.
Luckily we're here to take you through the key things you should know before making that choice. Let's start with the basics.
What is a broadband, TV and phone bundle?
A broadband, TV and phone bundle is a single package containing a broadband deal, a subscription TV service (Sky TV, for example), and usually a phone line. There are also one or two packages out there where a phone line isn't mandatory. If you really don't want a phone line, Virgin Media is the place to look.
Which providers offer broadband, TV and phone?
It's a narrower field than you might expect. Where the list of UK broadband providers goes on and on, those who offer TV form a far shorter list. Six providers, in fact, with only three or (arguably) four of them offering much beyond Freeview. Should make choosing easier, though, right? Right.
- Virgin Media – Provides the fastest, most reliable broadband in the land. Its fastest packages are 5-6 times faster than its closest competitor. It delivers both its TV and broadband through a single discreet cable, so it's a good choice if you don't want, or can't have, a satellite dish on the side of your home. Its TV service offers almost everything Sky's does (Sky Atlantic being the notable exception). The Virgin V6 set-top TV box is also arguably the best in the business
- Sky – Offers the same broadband speeds that are typical across all other UK providers (except Virgin Media, see above). Sky TV, though? Well that's second to none. More channels, certainly, and also the only place where you can watch the jewel in Sky's crown: Sky Atlantic. The only downside is you still need a satellite dish on the side of your home to get it
- BT – With broadband on a par with most other UK providers, BT won't offer you anywhere near the sheer number of channels available on Sky or Virgin. But, if you don't absolutely have to have all the channels in the world it can be a good choice nonetheless. BT TV offers different boxes with different capabilities depending on how much you want to pay. Its top-end package – TV Max – provides a 4K-capable box with a dedicated 4K sports channel. On top of the (mostly) Freeview fare, BT TV also offers some notable premium channels such as AMC
- TalkTalk – Again, broadband is comparable to most other UK providers. You won't be able to get TalkTalk TV on its own – it's only provided to TalkTalk broadband customers. It's a pretty no-frills affair, consisting of mostly Freeview channels, but you can add on a variety of 'TV Boosts', including Sky Sports, Sky Cinema BT Sport and kids' channel bundles
- EE – Again similar broadband to other UK providers in terms of speeds offered, and you won't get EE TV unless you subscribe to its broadband service. It's pretty bare-bones, offering just 70 Freeview channels, and you won't be able to add on Sky Sports, Sky Cinema or BT Sport. It does come with a pretty terrific set-top box, though, onto which you can record up to 600 hours of standard definition content
- Plusnet – Plusnet commonly wins awards for its customer service, but its broadband is much like anyone else's. You won't get Plusnet TV unless you're a Plusnet broadband customer. It's a pretty basic affair offering mostly Freeview channels. If you opt for the Youview+ box, rather than the basic YouView box, you'll be able to record and play back programmes, and you can install Netflix and other apps onto it to expand your choice of what to watch
Why get broadband and TV together as a bundle?
If you're here, you've probably already decided to get your broadband and TV services together as a bundle. Regardless, let's take a quick look at the upsides and downsides.
- It's cheaper – You will never find an instance where the services are cheaper sold separately. Buying both together makes good financial sense. You will save money
- Fewer bills to worry about – You will of course get one bill for your broadband, TV and phone together. Separate services and that could be up to three different bills to worry about. Simplicity makes life better
- Fewer pitfalls – Buying together means it's unlikely you're going to buy a TV package with broadband that's too slow to work with catch-up or on-demand programming. Buying as a bundle means everything just works
- Harder to switch – With broadband and TV from the same provider, switching one of those services could be trickier, while switching both is more complicated than just a switching one
- You can't have the best of both worlds – Virgin Media has the best broadband, Sky has the best TV. If you have to have the best of everything, you can't bundle. However, you should consider that bundles from either of these providers are brilliant and you'll likely not miss whatever is lacking
What to look for in a broadband and TV deal
When scanning through the comparison tables on this page, here's what you should look out for when choosing a broadband and TV bundle.
- Broadband speed – What speed do you need? You should allow 10Mbps per household member who uses the internet. Double that for each household member who is a gamer and/or streams TV and movies in 4K resolution
- Number of channels – Quantity is not quality, so bear that in mind. Having said that, high channel counts generally denote a large quantity of premium channels, where lower channel counts indicate that what you will get is mostly Freeview
- Contract length – How long are you prepared to be tied in for? Most broadband and TV bundles require at least 12 months, so be sure you're happy with staying with that provider for that length of time at least. Leaving early will cost you early exit fees. If you're unfamiliar with a typical contract, check out our guide
- Price (first year cost) – How much do you want to spend? Getting value for money is much easier if you have a budget in mind. Use the tools on this page to search within your budget
What are the different types I can get?
Perhaps annoyingly, both TV and broadband packages come in different types, depending on the technology they're using to deliver your services. We'll keep it as simple as we can.
Different types of TV package
TV packages are delivered into your home in a variety of different ways. They are...
- Satellite TV – This is where you will need a satellite dish on the side of your house, and is only supplied by Sky. The technology is actually on its way out, with Sky soon offering all of its TV services via the internet
- Cable TV – Where your TV signal arrives via a TV cable in the ground. Only Virgin Media offers cable TV, with the advantage that you won't need an arguably quite ugly satellite dish on your home
- Internet TV – Services like Virgin TV, Sky TV and BT TV deliver their content via various technologies, but use their internet connection to deliver the on-demand stuff such as movies and catch-up TV. In the near future, Sky intends to offer its entire service via internet TV, with no need for a satellite dish. We're still waiting for that, though
- Streaming TV – Describes services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer, iTunes and a host of other web-based services that deliver content to your smart TV, streaming box/stick, games console or mobile device on demand
Different types of broadband package
Not all broadband was created equal. Here's a quick guide to the different types of broadband available in the UK right now.
- Standard broadband (also called ADSL) – This typically averages around 10-11Mbps and is suitable for small households who don't use the internet very much. It's fine for streaming movies and TV, even in high definition, but while it's doing that you won't be able to do much else online
- Fibre broadband – Comes in speeds typically ranging from 33-66Mbps. It'll cover the needs of almost all households. Fibre broadband is offered by all providers bar Virgin Media (we'll talk about that next)
- Cable broadband – Technically, this is still fibre broadband, but because it uses the existing cable TV network it can provide speeds much, much faster than you can get through your phone line. Virgin Media own all of the UK's cable TV infrastructure and as a result is the only provider to offer it. Cable broadband offers speeds from 54Mbps up to a frankly insane 362Mbps
- FTTH broadband – It's unlikely you'll be able to get this as it's available to less than 2% of UK properties. It uses fibre, but unlike mainstream packages which use fibre only as far as the green cabinet, FTTH runs fibre cable all the way to your home. With no copper cabling anywhere on its journey it can go much, much faster than regular fibre broadband. Up to 1Gbps (1,000Mbps), in fact. FTTH is hard to get hold of and only offered to consumers by smaller providers such as Hyperoptic
Frequently asked questions
Is it easy to switch broadband and TV provider?
Yes, the switching process is easy. Check your current contract has finished, choose a new deal, sign up, wait for installation. Switching both broadband and TV is arguably 'stickier' than switching just your broadband, though. What we mean by that is TV packages come with set-top boxes onto which you may have many hours of programming recorded. You will probably have to give that back, recorded programmes and all.
If you have a dish on your house or a cable coming in through your wall, you're going to need to decide what to do with that. The engineers will take care of it, but the installed equipment does, as we say, mean you're going to need to make more decisions and potentially be at home for more time as the work is carried out.
Which TV packages have Sky Sports?
You can bolt Sky Sports onto TV packages from Sky (naturally), Virgin Media, BT and TalkTalk. Technically you can also watch it on EE TV, but not in the same way. The EE TV box will allow you to download the NOW TV app onto it, through which you can subscribe to Sky Sports. This is an unnecessarily expensive way to do it compared to simply adding it onto your package with one of the aforementioned providers.
You could also just subscribe to NOW TV if you like. You can either get a NOW TV box, or download the NOW TV app to any of a large collection of devices including games consoles and streaming boxes/sticks. This is quite an expensive way to do it, however.
Which TV packages have Sky Cinema?
You can add Sky Cinema to your Sky TV package, of course. But it's also available as a bolt onto packages from Virgin Media, BT and TalkTalk. As with Sky Sports, above, you can also add it to EE TV via the NOW TV app, or simply get NOW TV on its own.
Which TV packages have Sky Atlantic?
Sky packages. That's it. No other TV provider provides access to Sky Atlantic. You can watch it on Sky's streaming service, NOW TV, which won't require a full Sky subscription, but instead offers Sky content, including Sky Atlantic, on a one-month rolling contract basis – similar to Netflix. Something worth noting, though, for those who care about such things, the quality of NOW TV, at 720p is not full high-definition as you'd get from subscribing to Sky proper. This isn't really a problem if your TV is under 50 inches, but those with very large displays should take this into consideration. On the big-big screen the picture looks, frankly, sub-par.
Which TV packages have BT Sport?
You can add on BT Sport to any TV package from BT, Sky, Virgin Media, TalkTalk and Plusnet for varying amounts of money. If you're interested in BT Sport's ultra-high-definition (UHD) channel BT Sport 4K you can only watch it (in 4K) on either BT's 'Max' TV package, or on Virgin TV.
Can I get fibre broadband where I live?
Almost anyone can get fibre broadband these days – it's available to more than 95% of UK homes. If you want to check what's available where you live you can use our broadband postcode checker.
Are there upfront costs for broadband and TV bundles?
Depends on the provider and on when you are looking for a deal, as some will have promotional periods where there are no upfront costs, but charge them the rest of the time. You can filter out providers who are charging up-front costs using the tools on this comparison page. Worth noting, mind you, that some of the best broadband and TV packages do have up-front costs in some form, so you will be filtering those out.
Can I buy TV and broadband separately?
Yes, but it's not wise. You'll always pay more for equivalent services sold separately than you will in a bundle. Virgin Media and Sky will both sell you broadband or TV on their own. BT, TalkTalk, Plusnet and EE won't sell you a TV package unless you subscribe to their broadband, but will sell you broadband on its own.