Hard-pressed consumers who want to cut their bills must look at TV, broadband and phone bundles, writes Niall Brady
Households have been urged to review their broad- band and telecoms deals after Sky, the satellite television provider, entered the market last week.
Sky is offering broadband and phone packages from €30 a month —a potential saving of €10 a month, or €120 a year. A Sky bundle that includes TV starts at €57 a month.
Its Unlimited broadband package for ¤40 a month is one of the few deals that does not ration usage for users who stream TV or films or download software updates. News Copora- tion, the owner of The Sunday Times, has a substantial share- holding in Sky.
Eoin Clarke of uSwitch.ie, a price comparison site, said Sky’s move would drive down costs by allowing households to bundle services from a single provider. “For too long they’ve had limited choice when it comes to broadband, home phone and digital TV,” he said. “Many have been forced to take products from two or three dif- ferent suppliers — ultimately costing them more.”
Up to now UPC, a cable company, had the market for TV, broadband and phone bundles to itself. Tom Skuse of Freeto- compare.ie, another comparison site, said: “It will be easier for consumers to make comparisons because Sky and UPC now offer essentially the same three services.”
Under an agreement that allows it to piggyback on BT Ireland's phone lines, Sky says it an reach 70% of homes. It will reach another 20% by using Eircom's phone network, although those customers must pay €10 a month more than households whose Sky broadband connection comes through BT.
Simon Moynihan of Bonkers.ie, another comparison site, said Sky was unlikely to appeal to customers of UPC, which offers faster download speeds and similar prices for broadband, phones and TV bundles.
“Sky won’t take customers from UPC but it’s got the best value for households in smaller towns and rural areas that UPC can’t reach,” he said. “For €40 a month, you get broadband that’s as fast as your phone line can carry with no cap on data usage. Sky’s prices are similar to those of other broadband providers but it gives you much more for your money.”
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Sky’s Unlimited package at €40 a month has speeds of up to 24Mb and no cap on data usage. It includes unlimited phone calls to Irish landlines at week- ends and after 7pm on week- days. “For ¤40 a month, other providers would give you about 8Mb and an allowance of 40GB of data a month, so Sky has blown them out of the water,” said Moynihan. “Don’t bother with Sky’s Lite package [€30 a month], though, because it has a data allowance of just 2GB a month. That might be enough for a holiday cottage but isn’t enough for much else.”
Unlimited data allowances are available from other providers but with slower down- load speeds or limited coverage. UTV Connect has 8Mb broadband, but with no phone package, for €35 a month for the first nine months and €42 a month for the remainder of an 18-month contract.
For wireless broadband, Imagines' WiMax packages cost €25 a month for 3Mb, €27.50 a month for 7Mb and €32.50 a month for for 10Mb, with a connection fee of €100. All packages include nulimited phone calls in Ireland and to Britain.
"They are advertised as half price offers for 12 months but Imagine will give you the same discount in year two if you ask", said Moynihan. "They're good deals if you are on a tight budget."
Digiweb has a generous 100GB data allowance on its Metro Express package which gives 30Mb broadband for €44.99 a month, with a discounted price of €29.95 sfor the first three months. A phone costs extra, however, and service is confined to areas with a Digiweb cable connection.
It can make sense to buy a broadband and home phone bundle - even if you do not need the phone. For example UPC charges €47 a month for €50Mb broabdand, but €44 a month if you add a phone with 100 minutes of calls a month.
"The bundle is cheaper but try to use your mobile insttead of the UPC phone," said Moynihan. "An allowance of 100 minutes is not very mych and you pay a lot extra for exceeding it."
UPC has the fastest broadband download speeds, wit han entry-level standard of 50Mb, but Sky claims to have an edge with no data cap on its €40 a month Unlimited package.
Niall Kitson, editor of TechCentral.ie, a technology news site, said "Data allowances are more important tahn speed for most homes, especially if they have multiple devices such as smartphones, laptops and tablets working off a single broadband connection. A lot of data usage goes unnoticed becuase it happens in the background, such as updating of apps, but it eatch up your data allowance. Unlimited allowances have become more attractive since the arrial of tablets, whch us a lot of data". The lack of a data cap should appeal to Sky customers who watch TV on mobile devices.
Speeds of up to 20Mb are sufficient for most tasks including online gaming and downloading films in high definition. "With faster speeds your're only future proofing for online applications that aren't available yet," said Kitson.
Sky advertises up to 24Mb broadband but customers may not get that, depending on where they live and their phone line.
Eircom which has 45% of the broabdand market, saidj: "Suggestions that Sky's broadband will be faster tahn Eircom's are incorrect. Sky may offer up to 24Mb but the speeds that customers' lines will support are exactly the same for Sky as for Eircom because the technology is the same."
Eircom's 24Mb broadband, though, costs €60 a month after introductory discounts expire - €20 more than the same deal from Sky.
Sites such as broadbandspeedtest.ie allow you to test the speed of your line.
Sky and UPC are the only providers of TV, broadband and phone bundles, although Eircom will join tghem this year when it introduces TV services.
Triple-play bundles are considerably cheaper than having several providers, such as Sky or UPC for TV and Eircom or Vodafone for broadband and phones.
An estimated 40% of homes have Sky TV and they will be a target market for the new triple play bundles. Sky is not giving discounts, though, to encourage them to bundle all three services. Its basic package of 39 TV channels, for example, costs €27 a month. If you add the €40 broadband and phone package you will pay €67 a month - with no reduction on the cost of your existing TV package. The only advantage is that all three will be invoiced on the same monthly bill.
UPC's basic bundle of 91 TV channels, 50Mb broadband and 100 minutes of broadband costs €69 - €2 more than Sky, UPC lacks some of its rival's TV services such as Sky Atlantic and the ability to watch live TV on mobile devices. UPC's on demand catalogue is also less comprehensive.