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First Utility broadband and fibre review 2018

By Emma Lunn
Wednesday, February 21st 2018

Would you trust an energy provider to deliver your broadband service? First Utility is among a growing number of energy companies cross-selling telecoms to its existing customers and new recruits.

First Utility made its name in the energy market but is something of an unknown quantity in the broadband space. It offers a decent budget deal – competitive prices and zero set-up costs – but you’ll need to sign-up for a minimum of 18 months. Here's what we think.

Speeds

First Utility has a pretty straightforward broadband offering. Its entry-level product, First Broadband, offers a 17Mbps ADSL connection. This kind of speed is ideal for daily browsing and social media, and a decent speed to stream music and the occasional TV show or film.

For households needing a faster connection, First Utility offers two fibre packages: SuperFirst Broadband at 38Mbps and UltraFirst Broadband at 76Mbps. Fibre connections are much faster than standard ADSL and more than capable of handling streaming and downloads from multiple users across a range of devices.

The choice of 17Mbps, 38Mbps and 76Mbps is pretty standard these days – these speeds are offered by the majority of broadband providers. The exceptions are Virgin Media, which offers up to 300Mbps in some areas, and BT, which offers up to 52Mbps rather than 38Mbps. If you're not sure as to which package you need, our guide to deciding what broadband speed you need has all the answers. All First Utility’s broadband deals are unlimited, unlike some other providers which have monthly caps.

Upload speeds

Broadband users don’t just need to download data from the internet, but upload stuff too. You’re uploading when you save photos to the cloud, post a YouTube video or send a tweet.

Upload speeds for First Broadband average 1Mpbs, but SuperFirst 38Mbps broadband offers upload speeds up to 9.5Mpbs and UltraFirst 76Mbps offers up to 19.5Mpbs.

These are pretty decent upload speeds that are on a par with Plusnet, Vodafone and NOW Broadband, and are actually quicker than BT and Virgin Media. However, it’s worth remembering that these speeds are only estimations and, when it comes to uploading a few photos, a second or two more won’t make a massive amount of difference.

Contract length

First Utility is keen to hook customers in. All three of its broadband deals are for a minimum of 18 months. There are no 12-month deals, no nine-month student contracts, and no 30-day rolling contracts. It’s 18 months or nothing.

Make sure you opt for paperless billing and payment by monthly direct debit when you sign up. Paper bills cost an extra £1 a month, and you’ll also pay an extra £1 each time if you pay by any method other than direct debit.

First Utility doesn’t hike the price you pay at the end of the contract like most other providers do. As a result, you can just let your broadband keep rolling on as long as you want to, safe in the knowledge you won't be paying any extra. However, it’s always a good idea to have a look at alternative deals when a fixed period comes to an end – you may find a cheaper deal.

Discounts

First Utility advertises its standard broadband prices, but if you are an existing First Utility energy customer, you will get a discount on your broadband depending on which package you buy and which energy tariff you are on. The monthly discount ranges from 50p (so £6 a year) on a 17Mbps connection to a much more worthwhile £5 a month (£60 a year) if you’re on UltraFirst broadband and have signed up to a long (30 months plus) energy tariff.

Bear in mind that if you get a discount due to being a First Utility energy customer, that will stop if you switch energy suppliers. Savvy energy subscribers will know that the only way to keep your gas and electricity bills down is to keep switching. This means that taking both broadband and energy from the same supplier may not always offer the best value.

No extras

First Utility is a strict no-frills provider. There’s the option to add a calls package, but that’s it. You’ll need to rely on Freeview TV or buy TV channels from a separate company such as Sky or Virgin if you want a greater range of channel choice.

Unlike some other providers, such as BT, there also aren’t any bundled security or storage products – you’ll need to buy these separately too.

Equipment and installation

One great thing about First Utility broadband is there are no set-up fees – it’s totally free to get going (unless you don’t have a phone line – that will cost you £60 to install which is fairly standard). Other providers often charge for a router, installation, or delivery – or all three.

On the subject of routers, First Utility provides a fairly basic router in the form of the Technicolor TG588v2. This is a single band router that will do the job but not much more. You’re under no obligation to use the router you’re provided with – you can use one from a previous provider or buy your own high-spec one.

Reliability

First Utility uses two types of infrastructure to provide broadband services: Openreach’s national infrastructure and TalkTalk’s LLU (local loop unbundling) platform.

This means First Utility doesn’t have a fully nationwide network and therefore may not be able to provide a service in certain areas. Those areas which do get a service will see a similar level of broadband reliability that they’d get from BT or TalkTalk services.

When you place an order, First Utility will run a check to see what products are available and provide you with an estimate of what speeds you will get. This speed estimate is the ‘line speed’ you can expect, assuming your line and router are working optimally. In reality, the speed you’ll actually see will be affected by factors such as how far your home is from the local cabinet, the quality of your internal wiring, and even the weather. Note that wi-fi speeds are always slower than wired connections.

First Utility doesn’t operate traffic management policies which means your broadband speed won’t slow down during peak hours.

Customer service

First Utility is something of a new kid on the block in the broadband market and, as such, is a bit of an unknown quantity.

However, that’s not the case in the energy sector where it has a chequered history. Back in 2014/15 it faced a backlash from disgruntled customers fed up with unresolved complaints and call waiting times. At the time First Utility blamed the problems on its own success; it grew customer numbers so quickly that it didn’t have the resources to cope with them.

So has it learnt its lesson? Hopefully. It’s certainly been more careful about its rate of expansion in the telecoms market, having first only offered broadband to its energy customers before expanding into the general market.

Conclusion

First Utility’s offering is nice and simple: no set-up costs, decent prices, unlimited downloads and no price hikes at the end of a contract. On the downside, there are no fancy extras, no TV option and the router you get is pretty basic.

First Utility energy customers qualify for a discount – but don’t let this influence you too much. In most cases you’d be better off getting the best energy deal possible than sticking with First Utility energy just to get money off your broadband.

First Utility’s lack of customer service may be a concern especially as you’ll be tied into an 18-month contract. But if you fancy taking your chances for a cheap broadband deal then it may be worth a shot.

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