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Sundaybusinesspost

Your Money: Getting the best tech deals for your family

A simple comparison of the market a couple of times a year could save you hundreds of euro on your bills writes Danielle Ryan

With hundreds of plans available for broadband, home phone and digital television, it can be a challenge for consumers to find the best value and the right provider, based on their individual needs. There's a number of things you should consider before entering into any contract.

A good place to start can be a price comparison site such as Bonkers.ie, which details the latest offers from the top providers and offer advice based on your needs and location.

In the current climate, with households looking for ways to cut costs wherever possible, providers are under pressure to come up with impressive offers to win your business. The result has been a price war, which has been hugely beneficial to the consumer.

With that in mind, a simple comparison of the market a couple of times a year could save you hundreds of euro on your bills.

Some things to consider:

Data: 'unlimited' vs truly unlimited

For many, choosing the right broadband plan can be confusing, particularly if you don't know how much data you're likely to use and you find providers are trying to sell you more than you need. If you're a light user and don't download or stream very often, a basic package will do - but for most families, it's usually best to go with a package that includes unlimited data rather than a capped amount per month.

"It's usually better to pay a few euro more per month than find yourself paying for extra data that's not part of your plan," said Simon Moynihan, communications director at Bonkers.ie.

Consumers should be aware however, that while some plans are touted as offering 'unlimited' data, it's not always that simple. Some 'unlimited' deals come with what's called a 'fair usage' policy - and while the average family probably won't have any problems with fair usage, if you want a truly unlimited broadband plan for peace of mind, make sure to double check before you purchase a package from any provider.

Speed: more is not always necessary

Providers will always try to talk up higher speeds, but it's not always necessarily the most important thing. Most broadband connections are now fast enough to meet the needs of the average Irish user. A connection of 2Mb is enough to carry out most basic functions from sharing images to streaming video on YouTube and using all the popular social media platforms.

But, if you or your family members are going to be downloading or gaming a lot, speed becomes more important. There are plenty of packages, ranging from 8Mb to 24Mb, and if speed is a main concern for you, fibre-optic broadband speeds range from 50Mb to 150Mb connections.

Contract length

For broadband, phone and digital TV, you're more than likely going to have to enter into a contract for at least 12 months. For broadband in particular, your provider usually won't inform you when your contract is coming to an end and it will just roll over into a new year.

Early termination fees

If you decide to leave your contract early, make sure you're aware of any cancellation fees that you'll face for doing so. The most recent research conducted on behalf of uSwitch, found that 63 per cent of users are in the dark about cancellation charges. This shouldn't be the case, because seven out of nine broadband providers do charge cancellation fees, some as high as €250. Less than one in ten surveyed knew the exact charge they would face for early cancellation.

For customers not serviced by commercial providers, it's worth checking out the National Broadband Scheme which offers subsidised broadband.

Bundling TV, broadband and home phone

The simplicity of receiving one bill for home entertainment at the end of the month instead of two or three is attractive to many consumers — but aside from that, bundling can save you a significant amount of money.

"Bundling is a great way to pay one price for everything and not have to worry about surprise charges," Moynihan said. Particularly for families with a few teenagers who are constantly watching TV, spending time online and on the phone, bundling is going to be your best option.

Here's a snapshot of some of the bundles on offer:

Sky TV, broadband and home phone

Standalone Sky TV packages begin at €27 per month for 52 channels. For €79 per month, the standalone Sky World pack includes 11 movie channels as well as six sports channels.

For broadband bundled with talk, Sky offers Broadband Lite for €30 per month and Broadband Unlimited at €40 per month with free time calls or any time calls included for €7.50 extra.

For Sky's triple-play services, a number of packages are available, including a current offering of Sky TV with unlimited broadband, plus talk freetime for €47 per month until 2014 and €67 per month thereafter.

Sky customers sign up for a 12-month contract but don't face cancellation fees for either broadband or talk services.

UPC TV, broadband and home phone

Standalone TV from UPC starts at €28.50 per month for on-demand TV which includes more than 50 channels and ranges up to €42 per month for more than 100 channels, 20 HD channels, personalised suggestions and the ability to record four shows at once. Broadband and phone bundles begin at €42 per month.

One of UPC's most popular offers, the Horizon Essential package, comes in at €50 for the first six months and includes over 80 channels, 19 HD channels, 100Mb broadband with unlimited download allowance, free off-peak calls to local and national numbers, plus 400 minutes of calls to selected international destinations.

This plan is €73 after the first six months. An advantage of this package is that all of your services come together in one box.

A cancellation fee of €200 does apply with UPC if a contract is terminated early, but customers are given the option to pay to the end of their 12 month subscription if this happens to be less than the cancellation fee at the time.

Eircom home phone and broadband

Eircom's standalone home phone prices start at €25 per month for unlimited weekend calls and €30 per month for unlimited off-peak calls plus 30 off-peak minutes to mobiles. Eircom eFibre broadband with 30GB usage is €35 per month, while eFibre unlimited is €40 per month.

According to Eircom, the best value is available in bundling. Efibre with 30GB usage and unlimited off-peak calls is €30 per month for six months and €45 thereafter, which amounts to free eFibre for six months.

An extra €5 will get you unlimited internet usage or anytime calls.

Eircom contract lengths vary depending on the service purchased. Eircom charges a fee for early cancellation, but if you're moving house, for example, and would like to take your contract with you, your service can be easily transferred.

Imagine broadband and home phone

Imagine do not offer standalone packages, but do offer combined broadband and home phone subscription packages. Imagine's latest WiMax offer includes a free phone line, up to 10Mb broadband, unlimited anytime local and national calls, calls to 30 international destinations including Britain for 3 cents per minute, for €19 per month, with an activation fee of €50.

This is a 12-month contract and a cancellation fee of €100 applies if the contract is terminated early.

Vodafone broadband and home phone

Vodafone offer a range of standalone talk and broadband packages ranging from €30 to €35. Bundled broadband and home phone plans begin at €40 per month for unlimited broadband and 100 minutes to mobiles and landlines, or international lines.

For €55, the Vodafone Home Max plan offers unlimited use of broadband, 200 minutes to mobiles and landlines, or international lines, unlimited local, national and British landlines, plus 30 mobile minutes to Australia, New Zealand, Britain and USA.

All Vodafone mobile customers receive a €3 monthly discount on their Vodafone at home plans. All Vodafone Red customers (excluding Red Essentials) can get a €10 discount on all plans (excluding Simply Talk and Simply Broadband).

All Vodafone contracts are 12 months minimum.

Alternatives to traditional home entertainment

Not everyone needs hundreds of channels to meet their entertainment needs. Services such as Netflix and Aertv are becoming increasingly popular in Ireland. If you find that you really only use the Irish channels plus a few movie channels and don't feel the need to pay for hundreds of others in one subscription, consider using a combination of services like Netflix and Aertv.

Netflix allows you to watch some of the most popular new TV shows and movies anywhere at any time for €6.99 per month, with a one-month free trial to begin.

Aertv is an online Irish TV provider, which has recently seen huge increases in traffic. Viewers can watch all the Irish channels for free on their PC, tablet or smartphone. Currently, 18 channels are free, including RTE One, RTE Two, TV3, and TG4.

Aertv Plus adds nine extra channels for €5.99 per month, while Aertv Premium is a subscription available to Magnet broadband customers who can access 34 channels including MTV, VH1 and Comedy Central for €2.99 per month.

Saorview, the national digital terrestrial TV service, is another good free TV option, and is now available to 98 per cent of the population.

Saorview is received via aerial and offers all Irish radio and TV channels for free.

As an alternative to line rental for a home phone, consider using a service like Skype or Google Talk. If you find you're not using your landline enough to justify paying the monthly fee and you spend most of your call time on a mobile, Skype could be useful any time you need to call international landlines or mobiles around the world at low rates.

This is an excerpt from a longer article which appeared in the Sunday Business Post on 22nd September 2013

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