Making sure you get the best package on broadband, TV and phones can be well worth it, writes Mark Channing.
Dubliner Tony Burtenshaw, 46, believes his family saves a bundle with a bundle. They used to pay €80 a month fora package of broadband, television and landline services from UPC Ireland, now known as Virgin Media. Now they have added mobile phones to the mix, becoming one of Virgin's first quad-play customers.
The upgrade brought their bill to €110 a month- an extra C30 - for which Burtenshaw and his wife, Marita, each get 250 minutes of calls, 250 texts and 1GB of data.
Burtenshaw likes the convenience of the quad-play bundle, which Virgin opened to all of its Irish customers last week. “It keeps it simple,” he said. “I am paying less and I have one less bill to worry about, and one less login to remember.”
Burtenshaw previously paid €40 a month on a plan that included the cost of a phone. Virgin's Sim-only deal suited himbecausehewasoutofcon tract, and was happy with his existing handset. “I don't see the point of chasing shiny new phones all the time. My current handset does everything I need it to do,” he said.
Convincing existing customers such as Burtenshaw to add mobile to their existing broadband, TV and landline bundles will be a key pillar of Virgin's strategy to secure a bigger slice of Ireland's fast-growing communications market.
Virgin aims to get a toe hold in the quad-play market which up to now has had a single provider - Eir, the new incarnation of Eircom. One in four households subscribes to triple- or quad-play deals, according to telecommunications regulator ComReg., more than double the level of two years ago.
Pros and Cons
Tying yourself to a single provider can save money but limits your freedom to switch.
Simon Moynihan of price comparison site Bonkers.ie said: “The benefit of a bundle is the single bill. If you want all of the services in a bundle, having a single point of contact and a single bill is useful because it cuts down on admin."
Experts warn that, the more services you buy from a single supplier, the less likely you are to switch. Changing one element in a bundle may lock you into a new contract, tying you to the provider for another 18-24 months, even for the services you have not changed.
Virgin launched two mobile plans last week, which existing customers can add onto their bundles. One gives unlimited calls, texts and data for €25 a month, with no charge for the first three months; the other gives 250 minutes of calls, 250 texts and 1GB of data for €15 a month.
The plans are offered on 30-day rolling contracts and are “Sim-only", so you need a network-unlocked handset to use the service.
Virgin has bucked the trend of keeping the best deals for new customers: they pay €5 more a month than existing customers, with no free period.
Existing customers who add mobile to their packages will lock themselves into a new 12-month contract for all components of their plans. They can subsequently drop the mobile service, though, without having to restart the contract.
Eir offers a range of quad play deals Sim-only and 24-month plans where you get a subsidised handset. Its entry-level includes a Sim-only mobile plan with 100 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB of data a month bundled with home phone, TV and broadband.
Existing customers get the entry level plan free for the first six months. As with Virgin, Eir customers can drop the Sim-only mobile without restarting their contracts.
In terms of price, Eir has the edge.
Its Power Small quad-play bundle, which includes the entry-level mobile plan, costs €82 per month com pared with €95 a month for new customers at Virgin, according to a comparison by Bonkers.
Price should not be the only consideration, however.
Virgin gives more mobile minutes and texts, although its 3G network is slower than Eir's 4G alternative. When it comes to broadband, the situation is reversed.
At 240MB/s Virgin's fibre broadband is faster than Eir, which has standard speed of 100MB/s. However experts say this won't make a difference for most consumers.
Another factor to consider is that Eir requires an 18-month contract compared with 12 months for Virgin.
The choice of TV channels also differs along with other extra features such as On Demand services.
Is stand-alone mobile cheaper?
Despite the convenience of bundling, it's cheaper to buy your mobile phone service separately.
Bart Lehane, founder of KillBiller, a smartphone app that helps pick the best plan based on usage, said: “The quad-play mobile add-ons are competitive, but you can do better by buying a separate mobile plan."
Lehane's pick of mobile plans is a pre-pay offering from Tesco Mobile. It gives unlimited calls to all mobiles and landlines for a €15 top-up. The deal allows you to keep the €15 credit to spend on add-ons so you can buy unlimited texts or 5GB of data for €10 each.
Triple Play Deals
For triple play - broadband, TV and landline Eir has the lowest standard tariff. Eir's Play Small package, which costs €25 a month for the first four months and €77 a month there after on an 18-month contract.
This compares with Sky's Original Bundle & Fibre Unlimited & Talk Freetime. It costs €60 a month for the first six months and €79 a month there after on a 12-month contract for unlimited 100MB's fibre broadband, off-peak calls to Irish landlines, more than 50 TV channels, 300 box sets and On Demand TV.
Virgin's Anytime World plan costs €70 a month, with 240MB's broadband, on a 12-month contract.
Ditching bundled TV altogether and consuming content online is another hot trend, as shown by the rise of online streaming services such as Netflix. A basic subscription to Netflix costs €7.99 a month with the first month free. This leaves you just needing a fast broadband connection to view content online.
So-called “cord cutters", who only watch TV online, would need at least a 50MB/s broad band connection. Pure Telecom currently have the best value deal. Both cost €36 a month for unlimited 100MB's fibre broadband on an 18-month contract.
Next generation broadband
Eir and Virgin are expanding their networks, with the next generation broadband services delivering speeds of up to 1000MB/s.
Siro, a joint venture between Vodafone and ESB, plans to bring faster broad band to 50 towns. It is currently live in Dundalk, Carrigaline and Sligo with Letterkenny, Tralee and Cavan to follow by December.
Eir launched 1,000MB's fibre broadband last month. Currently available to 23,000 homes and businesses, it costs €87a month in a bundle. Experts, however, have questioned the need for households to have such fast broadband. “It will be a bit like having a Ferrari,” said Moynihan. “You know it can reach 220mph but you are never going to need to use it."