Hear the words 'Post Office', and you probably think of stamps, bills and post that you think of, rather than high-speed communications. But while the Post Office may not be the most obvious broadband provider out there, it has the advantage of an established reputation.
Until recently, the Post Office was rather half-hearted about its broadband offerings and only provided a very basic service. However, in recent years, it has brought in two faster fibre packages and now competes with other mainstream providers. So why choose Post Office broadband?
The Post Office's basic Unlimited Broadband package offers average download speeds of 11Mbps – sufficient for small households who are not constantly online. A film would take around seven minutes to download, while 200 photos would need one minute 40 seconds at that speed.
If you're regularly downloading large files, streaming movies or gaming, then you'll want a bit more speed, especially if there are several devices on the go at the same time. The Post Office's Unlimited Fibre Broadband package offers average speeds of 35Mbps, halving the length of time it takes to download a movie or photos.
Meanwhile, with the top of the range Unlimited Fibre Broadband Plus package, you get an average of 63Mbps. With this speed, you'll be able to download a movie in just 90 seconds or a couple of hundred photos in 21 seconds.
With all Post Office broadband services, you can choose from a contract length of 12, 18 or 24 months.
It’s important to remember that the speeds advertised are an average - the ASA now demands that providers can only advertise the average obtainable by at least 50% of their customers. So in theory you have a good chance of getting these speeds. You will be given an estimate of the true speed you can expect from the Post Office before you actually sign up.
However, the company warns that your actual speed could vary and your connection could drop for the first ten days or so of service. As with most networks, this happens as tests are run and the system tries to optimise itself. The section below on reliability has more information on the Post Office’s actual speeds.
For most people, upload speed is rather less important than download, but if you're sending large files on a regular basis then it might matter to you. The Post Office's upload speeds are pretty average at up to 9.5Mbps with the Unlimited Fibre Broadband package and up to 19Mbps with Unlimited Fibre Broadband Plus, meaning that sending large files such as photos or video shouldn't be a problem.
One thing you'll need to watch out for is the company's fair use policy. You might think that 'unlimited usage' means just that - but according to the Post Office policy, which applies to all three of its broadband packages, it doesn't. If you go over a limit of 100MB in any month, it says, you risk having your connection slowed for the rest of the month. It's unclear how often this happens in practice, though, with the Post Office implying that it's only really interested in people who may be streaming movies illegally; and it says it will warn you if you're getting close to your limit.
if you take out a contract for Post Office broadband, you'll get a landline too. The company's current deal includes free weekend calls to UK landlines - 01, 02, 03, 0845 and 0870 numbers. However, you can also add on various call packages, including evening and weekend calls, anytime calls, International Saver and two Mobile Saver options for a few quid extra each month. You'll also have to pay extra for Voicemail Plus, auto redial, call divert, incoming call alert, select to reject and text messaging from your landline.
When you sign up, you'll be sent a router, a welcome pack, your broadband account details and a date for your broadband to go live. If you're switching from another provider, this has to be a minimum of ten days thanks to Ofcom, which wants to make sure customers have a chance to change their minds.
On the changeover date, says the Post Office, you simply plug in the router and follow the instructions in the quick-start guide. However, according to Ofcom, the Post Office often drags its heels a little more than it actually has to: as many as 48% of installations in rural areas take more than two weeks.
The basic router that comes with the Unlimited Broadband package conforms to the 802.11 b/g/n 2.4 GHz standard and comes with dual wireless N antennas.
With the other packages, you'll get the company's Fibre Wifi router, with a signal that's three times faster. You're promised 802.11ac 5GHz with a 1.3Gbps data rate and 802.11n 2.4GHz with 300Mbps; it has Wireless Protected Setup (WPS) and WEP data encryption and allows up to four service set identifiers (SSIDs).
Since 2013, Post Office services have been delivered over the TalkTalk network - and TalkTalk came last in a Which? customer survey last year, with a satisfaction score of only 38%. The Post Office itself, though, did rather better at 48%, the same as EE and only a little lower than Sky and Virgin.
Recent Ofcom data highlights the TalkTalk network as the most complained about in the UK, with most gripes related to faults, service and provision issues. Only 83% of customers were happy with the overall service and the reliability of the service, compared with industry averages of 87% and 86% respectively. Meanwhile, only 71% of customers were happy with the speeds they were getting, with the industry average much higher at 83%.
The Post Office has a rocky past when it comes to customer service. When it first moved to the TalkTalk network, it switched its customer service to Capita – and things didn't go well. In October 2015, after Capita failed to meet a number of service level agreements, the Post Office terminated the contract and moved to a company called HGS, which operates customer and technical support call centres from Scotland.
During 2016, according to Ofcom, the Post Office had 89 complaints per 100,000 subscribers, making it the most-complained about broadband service, along with Plusnet. For comparison, the best performer, Virgin Media, had a score of just 36 complaints per 100,000 subscribers.
Meanwhile, when customers do try and contact the Post Office about their broadband, they have an average minute and a half wait – better than the three-minute average. Nearly one in ten hang up before they've managed to speak to anyone, again close to the industry average.
The Post Office's broadband deals are reasonably low cost, with its basic package currently under twenty quid a month; the 35Mbps and 63Mbps packages have similarly average prices. However, unlike most providers, the Post Office charges an upfront set-up cost.
And it has to be said that the Post Office's services aren't particularly good, partly because it uses the TalkTalk network, which isn't really the best.
Customers clearly aren't particularly happy with the service overall. All in all, unless you find a super-cheap offer, we reckon you could probably do better for your money elsewhere.
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