SINEAD RYAN - CONSUMER CHAMPION
With all the technology available within the home, it's a wonder we ever leave it. If we're not using the phone, we're skyping, surfing the net or watching TV on our laptops. It's never been easier to do, or more complicated to work out how much it all costs.
This week we look at bundled home phone and broadband packages. There are over 100 products available from the main providers.
It might sound necessary to have unlimited high-speed broadband but if your daily usage amounts to email and keeping your Facebook page updated, there's little point in paying out the same amount as someone who's downloading movies or graphic-heavy content or who needs to send complex files around the world.
If you have teenage girls in the house, making lengthy phone calls to boyfriends is part and parcel of life. However, getting free off-peak calls lets her stay in love, but on your financial terms.
Do the kids download movies on to their laptops? Well, you don't want to run into a capped Gigabyte wall when you find out they've used up your monthly allowance. Unlimited broadband might stop the rows.
Ireland has the highest mobile phone ownership in Europe so do you really need a landline at home also? If you can do without, then you'll save on the monthly line rental fee and VAT -- payable even when you make no calls.
The different broadband services are DSL, cable and wireless. Your choice might be restricted by where you live, so this should be the first check you do. A quick rundown of the difference is:
DSL -- wired broadband -- is reliable and fast, but it requires a landline. Phone providers will often bundle this with free phone calls. Most DSL providers will also give you a wireless router from it so you can use laptops etc., within the house. This should be free, so ask.
Cable broadband gives high-speed internet access through your TV connection. It has good download speeds and your phone is connected to it also. UPC is the main provider (formerly Chorus and NTL). You pay for speed and download limits. You must have a cable TV connection.
Wireless broadband is great if you're in an area not covered by DSL and don't have cable TV. However, they need a "line of sight" to a mast to work but there are no messy wires or line rental. The router is not always free, so ask the service provider.
In our comparisons, we decided to be picky and to be honest, a bit cheap.
As our fictional customer is at work during the day, we've concentrated on deals offering 'off peak' phone calls and a good wired (DSL) broadband service. To cut costs, we've taken a 12-month contract (mandatory for most providers) and chosen to pay by direct debit (again, many expect this and will charge and extra €2 or €3 to non-DD customers). All contracts include the line rental for our home phone which we can't quite do without. The first thing you'll see is just how competitive the market is: most providers offer a similar price, and free off-peak national calls to landlines. Off peak is generally 7pm-7am.
If you already have cable TV, UPC offers great value in terms of this bundle. Unlimited broadband and free local and national calls will keep the teenagers happy. We liked the bonus 400 minutes to international landlines, so being able to call your granny in London for nothing is a nice touch.
We can't get excited about Eircom's offering - it's the most expensive in our survey and frankly, 10GB limit means you have to keep an eye on what you're downloading. Mobile calls are included but just 30 minutes, which is mean. And the price jacks up after the first six months.
We recommend www.Bonkers.ie for more comparisons which allows you select from basic choices of what you need.