It's time for a good, old-fashioned showdown. In the blue corner is BT, the market leader and probably the best-known brand in telecoms. In the purple corner we have TalkTalk, all grown up and with some notable, adolescent mistakes behind it.
They are two of the biggest broadband providers in the UK. But with great power comes great responsibility and both these brands often find themselves in the news for the wrong reasons. Yet they both offer pretty good speeds and respectable packages. Here’s how the two broadband behemoths measure up against each other.
Now that the Advertising Standards Agency have introduced a ruling insisting that broadband providers only advertise speeds that are available to a minimum of 50 percent of their customers, some slight differences have appeared. BT offers four speeds: 10Mbps, 36Mbps, 50Mbps and 67Mbps. In contrast, TalkTalk offers 11Mbps, 36Mbps and 63Mbps.
It's worth noting, though, that BT and TalkTalk’s broadband customers reported lower-than-average levels of satisfaction with their online speed at 80% and 71% respectively in the latest rating from 2016.
BT probably just tips it on the speed battle as its mid-range package offers 50Mbps rather than TalkTalk’s 36Mbps, so if you can get that speed in your area you're off to a good start.
BT’s broadband proposition spans five packages. Its standard broadband offers 10Mbps and unlimited usage. Its entry-level Superfast Fibre Essential comes with 36Mbps. Its Superfast Fibre 1 (previously BT Infinity 1) comes with 50Mbps and Superfast Fibre 2 (previously BT Infinity 2) comes with 67Mbps. At the top is the premium Superfast Fibre Plus, which also comes with 67Mbps download speeds along with some special BT Plus benefits including double data for those on a BT Mobile Plus plan.
All the deals come with BT line rental and unlimited UK weekend calls to 01, 02, 03, 0845 and 0870 numbers, excluding the Channel Islands, as well as access to more than five million wi-fi hotspots. Your only contract choice is 18 months on all the deals, though.
TalkTalk has a smaller choice but you can select your contract lengths. You can pick three packages: TalkTalk's standard Unlimited Broadband, as described, has no usage restrictions and offers speeds of 11Mbps on average. You can also get 36Mbps with TalkTalk Unlimited Fibre Broadband, or 63Mbps with its Faster Fibre package.
There is an extra deal if you happen to live in York. TalkTalk offers residents up to 1000Mbps speeds with its Ultra Fibre Optic service, which it is planning to expand across the UK.
Unlike BT, TalkTalk customers can choose from 12, 18 or 24-month deals. All prices include line rental. You also get unlimited calls with TalkTalk but only to other users on its landlines for up to 180 minutes each month.
TalkTalk gets a special mention for providing flexibility on packages. BT is pretty restrictive as you are locked in for a minimum of 18 months. However, TalkTalk lets itself down with a pretty lousy standard calls package to its own landlines, while BT’s is broader.
Both providers struggle for decent customer service. BT is among the most-complained-about broadband providers. As of 2016, it had 127 complaints per 100,000 broadband subscribers, which is above the industry average of 75. If you want to call them, you face an average call waiting time of just under 4 minutes, which is above the industry average of 2 minutes and 51 seconds.
The majority of customers are satisfied with the service, at 84 per cent. This may sound pretty good, but it is actually below the industry average of 86 per cent. Just over half – 56 per cent – are satisfied with how complaints were handled.
TalkTalk doesn’t fare much better. It has the worst record for complaints handling. As of 2016, just 51 per cent were happy in this area. Its overall satisfaction levels are similar to BT at 83 per cent, while you can expect to wait on the line for 47 seconds, on average.
It has had 98 complaints per 100,000 subscribers and has been fined twice in the past for failing to protect customer data. If you do need to get in touch, TalkTalk offers live chat online or you can phone between 8am and 10pm on 0800 211 8144. There is also an option to write to them. BT’s customer service phone line runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and it also offers live chat online.
It is a tough contest between these two as both have a lot of work to get their customer service up to scratch. BT may just get the win on this for having its customer service available around the clock.
BT’s standard broadband customers get its Home Hub. This offers a standard 5GHz and 2.4GHz channels plus four ethernet ports and a USB point. However, it goes one better for fibre broadband customers, giving them a Smart Hub. The BT Smart Hub constantly monitors your internet connection. If it spots a problem, it will quietly reboot and make a fresh connection.
It has seven antennas to find the best frequencies for the top speeds and is also future proofed, so will be able to reach higher speeds than the current 76Mbps limit should BT ever offer faster deals. Similar to the Home Hub, you will also get four ethernet ports and a USB point.
TalkTalk doesn’t distinguish between customers when it comes to its router. Regardless of the speed or package you choose, all TalkTalk customers get its nifty new Wifi Hub router. It is dual band, has seven antennas, four gigabit-ready Ethernet ports and will comfortaby support up to 50 devices at once.
TalkTalk wins on this one with the introduction of its new WiFi Hub router. It is powerful, future-ready and is given to all customers regardless of whether they subscribe to standard or fibre broadband, unlike BT, which gives its inferior router to its standard broadband customers.
All BT broadband deals come with BT Virus Protect. This covers two devices comes as, except Superfast Fibre 2, which covers 15 devices. You also get parent controls and BT Cloud, which gives you 200GB free storage with Broadband and Superfast Fibre, or 1TB for those on Superfast Fibre 2.
It is worth keeping an eye on BT offers as they will often throw in attractive incentives such as access to BT Sport on its app or provide cashback on deals.
TalkTalk’s deals come with its SuperSafe Boost anti-virus protection for one device (although you can pay an extra £2 per month to cover up to eight), along with free HomeSafe parental controls for every connected device. Also included is access to TalkTalk TV Store with on-demand movies and TV content as well Netflix and BT Sport (if you have a subscription).
You can’t beat extra storage and BT offers that in spades, as well as the attraction of BT Sport if you can find a decent offer.
The winner is BT – just. BT and TalkTalk are pretty much neck-and-neck when it comes to speed and service, although the latter is nothing much to write home about for either. BT just about wins out due to its extras. Customers can get extra storage, a router ready for faster speeds of the future so hopefully no upgrade costs, plus if you time it right you could get a good package that throws in cashback or BT Sport on its app.