The folks at Sky must be a bunch of wishful thinkers. You’d think they’d know by now that if you plan an outdoor event in Ireland, it’s probably goning to rain. And despite cranking up the amps to 11 and blaring U2's Beautiful Day at the heavens, it did rain for Sky's broadband launch party at Dublin's Grand Canal Square today.
It didn't dampen the mood too much though. They had the foresight to put up a marquee where Amanda Byram introduced Sky’s entry into the broadband market and Prodijig gave the lunchtime punters a bit of a dance show to lighten the mood.
Wishful thinking is probably not part of the Sky broadband launch plan though. You don’t become a £13 billion company without knowing what you are doing. And you don’t attract 700,000 television subscribers in Ireland without knowing your market. And if there’s one thing Sky knows, it’s their markets – they’ve become the number one triple-play provider in Britain – and now they’ve set their sights on us with broadband and triple-play for Ireland.
Sky also knows they’re probably not going to add too many more TV subscribers here. There’s only 2 million households in the country and they have a third of those as customers already. They also have UPC, Freesat and Saorview TV services to contend with.
But what Sky has shown that they are really good at in the UK, is selling extra services to existing customers. And my guess is that existing Sky TV customers is the main market they’ll be going after with their new broadband and phone products. And it looks like Sky may have finally come up with an answer to UPC’s dominance of the triple-play market.
So what about the new products?
Primarily, Sky is launching a broadband and home phone service today. Their headline product is a €40 per month, as-fast-as-it’ll-go, unlimited broadband deal with off peak calls. It’ll come in over existing phone lines, and there’s no cost for equipment or setup... although if you need a new phone line installed, it’ll cost €100 for a human in a truck to come out and wire you up.
The €40 per month space is saturated with plans and deals from DSL (phone line), Cable and Wireless broadband providers, so you have to ask if Sky's broadband is any better or any different than the rest of the offers out there?
And the simple answer is yes. For €40, Sky is offering up to 24Mb download speeds where most other DSL providers are offering 8Mb. Sky is also offering an unlimited data allowance where most others are limited. They also say they are not going to cap customers at 100GB, or even 500GB as some other providers do on their “unlimited” plans. And the monthly cost is not an introductory one. It’s a flat €40 unless you make off plan phone calls.
UPC has made sure we’ve heard a lot about “triple-play” over the last year or so. They are selling TV, 50Mb unlimited* broadband and home phone with 100 anytime minutes for €69 per month. In fairness, this is a very good deal.
Sky’s triple play package will offer TV, 24Mb unlimited broadband and home phone with off peak and weekend calls for €67 per month. This is also a very good deal and is obviously priced and packaged as a direct challenge to UPC.
So, if you’re a customer looking for all three services, and Sky and UPC are available in your area, which do you choose? Well, your decision between the two will probably come down to your choice of TV channels, add-ons and phone preferences rather than price. That’s because when discounts and equipments costs are taken into account, UPC is €24 cheaper in year 1. Then Sky is €24 cheaper in year 2. So there’s really nothing in it.
But the main decider could well be whether you can get a decent download speed from Sky or whether you want that extra oomph from UPC.
Doesn’t Sky have more than one broadband product?
Well, kind-of. Sky say they want to keep things simple, so they have just two broadband deals. Their entry level broadband package is €30 per month for 24Mb, but there’s a puny data allowance of just 2GB. This plan just doesn’t make any sense in a modern data intensive, online video world. Give a teenager an afternoon and she’ll happily munch through 2GB of data, have her tea, and come back for more. The only reason I can think of for this plan’s existence is as a marketing price point.
Is Sky faster?
Yes and no. If you’re on a plan with another DSL provider and your line is maxing out at around 7Mb, this is unlikely to improve by switching to Sky. Unfortunately, the condition of your phone line, the distance from your local exchange and the equipment in that exchange all determine your speed. Just because a product is “up to” 24Mb, doesn’t mean you’ll get it. However, if you are paying for 8Mb and your line can manage 16Mb, it could be worth changing.
Sky is looking UPC in the eye with these new products, but I don’t think they’ll take many broadband only customers away from them. They may attract some with the triple play products though.
Where Sky is likely to do well is in areas where UPC is not available. Their fixed line broadband is very well priced and it offers the maximum available speed with no data limit – which is hard to beat let alone match. Things like customer service and support are yet to be seen, but Sky say they are hiring hundreds of people to manage this.
There are a few non-standard DSL and wireless providers that also offer excellent value though, but most are limited in their availability. Smart has an excellent 24Mb unlimited broadband product for just €29.95 per month, but it’s available in only a few areas around the country. Then Imagine has a 10Mb unlimited wireless package for €32.50, but again, this is only available in some areas.
Sky's €40 deal is a wired home broadband plan with off peak calls. So we’ve put together a chart with their main competition below. We’ve tried to match product features as closely as we can – so we have only included wired providers. Oh, and we’re not looking at TV here just broadband and phone. And line rental costs (where applicable) are included in all of them.