By Emma Woollacott | Thursday, January 10th 2019
BT and Sky are two of the biggest UK players in the UK broadband markets. However, the focus of their services is rather different. BT focuses on its high broadband speeds and wide geographical coverage; Sky, meanwhile, is best-known for its TV service, although BT is competing fiercely on that front too.
Both offer a range of bundles catering for everybody from the occasional internet user up to the most committed gamer; from the ordinary TV viewer to the obsessive sports fan.
So how do you decide which is best for you? Making a decision between the two means picking your priorities and weighing up the merits of their various services – we give you the low-down on how they stack up.
Well, there's no surprise here: Sky – as you'd expect from one of the world's biggest media companies – wins the channel battle hands down. The company recently changed the way it offers its TV packages, scrapping things like the Family, Box Sets and Variety bundles.
Now, instead, we have Sky Entertainment as the basic TV package, with 350 channels of entertainment, comedy, Sky exclusives and music. These include Sky Atlantic – vital for Game of Thrones fans – along with Sky One, Sky Living, MTV, Discovery, National Geographic, Sky News, Comedy Central and many more. More than 40 of these channels feature HD, with five times the standard definition.
Meanwhile, Sky Sports now has ten channels, covering football, cricket, golf and Formula 1 racing, as well as a dedicated channel for the Premier League. Sky Sports Action and Arena channels bring you international Rugby Union, Rugby League, boxing, darts, NFL, tennis and more; and a Main Event channel is dedicated to the biggest live events from across the company's other sports channels.
And there are various other packages you can add on for as little as a fiver a month, such as Kids or Sky Box Sets.
BT's offerings, by comparison, might look a little thin. There are various options that can be combined with its broadband packages, but they don't add up to anywhere near the comprehensiveness of Sky TV.
BT's Classic package gives you 80 channels, while Entertainment ups that to 99. With the Max package, you get up to 143 channels, including Discovery, Nickelodeon, Disney Junior and MTV. And there are four sports channels - BT Sport 1 and 2, BT Sport Europe, and ESPN - with coverage of the Premier League as well as plenty of other major sporting events, from the Ashes to the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
All the packages allow you to shop at the BT TV store, where you can rent or buy movies and boxsets. And if you sign up for a BT Superfast Fibre broadband package, you'll be able to add Sky Cinema and Sky Sports too. BT offers up to 21 HD channels, while Sky has more than 50.
In terms of sheer quantity of decent content, it has to be Sky: the company has an unrivalled range and quality of channels. However, before signing on the dotted line you should consider whether you really do want them all, or whether you'll just end up wasting your life channel-hopping.
BT offers a range of four broadband speeds, starting with its basic Broadband package with speeds averaging 10Mbps. Next up is its Superfast Fibre Essential, which comes with an average speed of 36Mbps. Its Superfast Fibre 1 (previously BT Infinity 1) offers an average speed of 50Mbps, and Superfast Fibre 2 (previously Infinity 2) offers an average of 67Mbps.
The recent introduction of new rules by the Advertising Standards Authority means that broadband providers must now advertise their average actual speeds, accessible by 50% of their customers. This brings them closer in line with Ofcom's latest survey of actual broadband speeds.
In the report, BT's basic service clocked in at between 9.1Mbps and 10.8Mbps, the up to 50Mbps package hit between 47.7Mbps and 48.6Mbps, and the up to 67Mbps package averaged speeds of between 57.9Mbps and 60.7Mbps. This is good news for the consumer as it means the speeds you now see advertised are likely to be close to the speeds you will get.
Sky's new average speeds are now 11Mbps for its broadband service, 36Mbps for fibre and 63Mbps for Fibre Max (previously advertised as up to 76Mbps). These figures are backed up by the Ofcom report. As with BT, if you sign up to Sky from now on, these are likely to be the speeds you will receive.
BT's average speeds for fibre are better than those of Sky, although when it comes to it, a few megabits per second either way is unlikely to make much difference to your everyday experience.
BT's basic landline package is free apart from line rental, and gives you unlimited calls to UK landlines at the weekend. For a few quid more, you can extend these unlimited calls to include evenings too, and a bit more still makes them available any time. Unlimited anytime calls also includes 1,000 free minutes to BT Mobile.
With all three packages, you can add on international call options for an extra cost, as well as caller display, call waiting and BT Answer 1571.
If you buy Sky Broadband or Fibre, you’ll get Sky Pay-as-you-Talk as standard. Most people, though, will go for one of the company's three phone packages. Sky Talk Evenings and Weekends Extra includes line rental and allows free calls to UK landlines and mobiles, including 0845 and 0870 numbers, in the evenings and at weekends. Caller display and automatic withhold are thrown in free, with Sky 1571 voicemail costing an extra couple of quid a month.
Pay a few quid more, and Sky Talk Anytime allows these free calls any time; and a little extra will get you international calls to 50 destinations thrown in.
The options available from BT and Sky are really pretty similar; and once you take line rental into account, each Sky package costs around the same as the BT equivalent. There's certainly not enough in it for the two companies' phone packages to swing your overall decision either way.
BT claims its Smart Hub gives the most powerful wi-fi in the UK, and that it has the best coverage in different rooms around the house. It has seven antennas and dual wi-fi bands to minimise the risk of a poor or dropped connection.
It automatically goes into power save mode when not in use, and constantly monitors your internet connection: if it spots a problem, it will quietly restart and make a fresh connection.
The Sky Q Hub is Sky's fastest ever router, and the company says it's the most reliable too. Like the BT router, it has dual-band technology, and the company's Smart Signal Technology optimises your wi-fi to get the best connection possible.
It has two Ethernet ports, and you can connect a whacking 64 devices at the same time. This router, too, drops into low power mode automatically when not in use. And Sky Broadband and Fibre turn Sky Q boxes into hotspots, improving speed and coverage around the home.
There's not a lot in it overall, but BT probably wins, thanks to its powerful and reliable signal. It was rated a Best Buy by consumer watchdog Which? last year, and it's easy enough to see why.
BT has three set-top boxes, and which one you get depends on the TV package you sign up for. Pick the most basic, and you'll get the YouView box, which allows you to pause and rewind live TV and access catch up services like BBC iPlayer, the ITV Hub and All 4.
If you plump for the Entertainment TV package, you'll get the YouView+ set-top box. This shares the features of the more basic model, but adds the ability to record and store 300 hours of TV. At the top end, with the Max TV package, you'll be sent a YouView Ultra HD box. This doubles the amount of storage to 600 hours, and lets you watch in super-crisp 4K Ultra HD with an HD TV.
Sky, meanwhile, offers the Sky Q box as standard with all its TV packages, allowing you to store up to 500 hours of TV and record three shows while watching a fourth. For rather more money, you can upgrade to a 2TB version that lets you record six shows while watching a seventh and store 1,000 hours of TV, and which also includes the ability to watch in 4K HD. With Sky Q Multiscreen and the Sky Q app, you can download recordings to your tablet or mobile to watch programmes any time you like, anywhere; BT's TV app does basically the same thing.
BT has more basic options for those that don't have any desire for 4K HD - and for those that do, it includes it in the package deal, rather than asking you to pay more. BT wins.
BT Mobile's Family SIM scheme allows you to add up to five SIMs, each with its own data. The first SIM has a 12-month contract, but the rest have flexible 30-day terms. You'll get a single bill each month, and there's even a 30-day money-back guarantee if you're not happy with the service. There's a huge range of plans available, and you'll get a fiver a month off your bill if you already have BT broadband.
Sky Mobile, meanwhile, makes much of its flexibility. Customers can roll all their unused data over for up to three years, and can swap their phone for a new one after 12 or 24 months. You can fiddle around with your data, text and minutes to change your plan every month if you want to, and Sky TV customers can talk and text for free.
BT Mobile's Family SIM scheme is great for busy households, especially those with children where you want to keep an eye on what they're up to. Otherwise, Sky probably has the edge thanks to its highly flexible plans.
If you live in a listed building or a conservation area, then you may have little choice in terms of which provider to go for: Sky TV requires a satellite dish (for the time being at least) and these are often seen by councils as an unacceptable eyesore.
Assuming you don't have this problem, though, there are other factors to consider - in particular, the two companies' levels of customer satisfaction. According to Ofcom's latest report, BT had 25 complaints about its broadband services per 100,000 customers, making it the third most complained about provider; Sky, meanwhile, was the least complained about, with only seven.
Sky was also the best performer in terms of landlines, with fewer than half BT's number of complaints, and also beat BT hands down in terms of mobile. And when it comes to pay TV, the difference is even starker, with BT the most-complained about service and Sky the least; BT had seven times as many complaints per 100,000 subscribers as Sky.
The winner has to be Sky. That's mostly because of its TV services, which beat the competition hands down. Sky has more than twice as many channels as BT, with twice as many in HD, and is home to some of the most must-see content to grace the airwaves.
In many areas, there's little to choose between one service and the other. The two companies' broadband speeds are much the same (although BT has the edge here), as are their landline phone packages.
But the number of customer complaints are about as different as they could be, and here again Sky proves itself the winner. Overall, it's Sky that takes the crown.