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Broadband & TV Bundles
It’s not a new gaming console or a football strategy: triple play is the bundling of three telecom service—broadband, TV, and landline—in one bill from one provider. Throw in a fourth service—mobile phones—and you’ve got quadruple, or quad, play.
You can definitely see the allure of these mega bundles: no endless searching and comparison of tariffs for three or four different services, no bills from three or four providers, no juggling of the terms and expiry dates of three or four separate contracts. There’s one contract, one monthly fee, one provider, one search and you’re sorted, for a year or even two. The potential savings are often tempting as well, with providers offering entry level triple play bundles for as cheap as £20 per month.
However, what you gain in convenience with bundles you often sacrifice in flexibility and choice. Customers can often get suckered into buying a bundle without assessing whether each component of the package actually meets their needs. The more services you bundle into one contract, the more likely that you’ll be dissatisfied with one. But bundles, which often require the longterm commitment of a 12-, 18- or 24-month contract, are particularly inflexible: you can’t drop one portion of the bundle because you don’t use it or find the service inadequate—or even excessive for your needs.
You don’t want to find yourself taking out a separate broadband contract because you don’t like the ones bundled with the TV service you do use. And you don’t want to be paying for lightning fast Virgin Media cable if you don’t need it. Sometimes separating out the services and finding separate tariffs that fit exactly can be cheaper than bundling three or four services that just sort of, kind of suit you.
Ultimately, a bundle could save you time and money, but only if you do your homework. That’s what we’re here to help you do: to examine the perks and potential pitfalls of bundles, from savings to broadband speeds to set-top boxes and TV menus. We’ll also assess the deals offered by the main telecom bundle providers in the UK: BT, EE, NOW TV, Sky, TalkTalk, and Virgin Media.
Broadband and TV Bundles
Broadband and landline calling are natural companions. They run over the same wiring—copper telephone wires, even used part of the way by most fibre optic connections—and you’ll struggle to find a broadband package that doesn’t come with line rental and calling, whether or not you plug an actual phone into the jack.
But for more than a decade UK broadband provider have been offering premium television services too, via set-top boxes packed with up to hundreds of premium channels and equipped with the ability to pause and record and store TV, as well as on-demand content, online catch-up, and integrated access to streaming services such as iPlayer, Netflix, and Amazon Prime via your television set.
Providers are also increasingly targeting TV packages at customers niches, offering packages of channels and services specifically for sports fans, film buffs, and kids, ensuring you’re getting the channels you actually want, and not paying through the nose for those you never watch.
BT offers three broadband and TV bundles. Each comes with BT’s lower tier of unlimited fibre optic broadband, which boasts average download speeds of 36 Mbps, and with every Freeview channel (70 TV channels and 15 HD channels), and a YouView+ box that allows you to record and store up to 300 hours of TV. All are purchased via 18-month contracts and may include upfront fees, ranging from £59.99 for activation to £9.99 for the delivery of your BT kit: the Smart Hub router and the YouView+ set-top box.
BT’s Classic bundle allows you to opt in for access to AMC, creator and broadcaster of prestige dramas Mad Men and Breaking Bad. The Entertainment bundle gives you up to 20 additional premium channels, including Animal Planet, Comedy Central, Discovery, E!, History, MTV, National Geographic Channel, Syfy, and TLC. The HD extra bolt-on gives Entertainment bundle subscribers access to high definition versions of these channels, including Comedy Central HD, MTV HD, and Nat Geo Wild HD.
The priciest bundle, Max HD, gives customers access to up to 62 premium channels, including those in HD, including 10 specifically for kids, like Cartoon Network, Disney Junior, and Nickelodeon. BT often throws access to BT Sport in as a freebie on these packages.
BT allows customers to subscribe to Netflix via their BT bill and then access the Netflix player via the YouView + set-top box and any computer, smartphone, and tablet. Additionally, if you have an Amazon Prime account, you’ll be able to access the Prime Video Player via your BT set-top box, along the subscriptions and bills will remain separate. Your Youview+ box will also give you access to BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, and All 4, with a television license, of course.
The bottom line: BT is the UK’s largest internet provider and its superfast fibre services are the most widely available. Its TV offerings may not yet rival Sky and Virgin’s but if you’re mostly looking for good internet and a reasonable TV package on the side, BT’s bundles might be for you.
Mobile network EE has gotten in on the broadband game recently and now they’re venturing into TV, with the EE TV box, which you can add to your broadband subscription for as little as £8 a month. It’s a service that only exists as an add-on for EE broadband subscribers, not as a stand alone.
EE TV comes with 70 free channels, including 11 in HD, and the ability to record and store 600 hours of TV or 300 hours of HD TV, including on eight channels simultaneously, in case, of course, all eight of your favourite shows are ever playing simultaneously. You get integrated access to free catch up services and streaming apps like BBC iPlayer and Demand 5 and with NOW TV passes, starting at £2.99 a month, access to Sky Sport, Sky Cinema, and Sky TV content including Sky Atlantic and Sky Kids, and reality TV on-demand service hayu.
The bottom line: EE may not be the first name you think of when you think of TV, but if you’re an existing EE broadband customer and/or an existing EE mobile phone customer, you might want to consider adding their TV services to your bill.
No longer just a streaming service, NOW TV now offers affordable broadband connections and a set-top box that pauses and rewinds live TV, making it a fully-fledged broadband and TV provider, with affordable, no contract bundles. It’s the perfect service for picking only the content you want, for only as long as you want it. Package a NOW TV pass with its 30-day, rolling broadband deals, and that’s your entertainment sorted—until you decide you want to sample another pass next month. It’s a no commitment way to experiment with a broadband and TV bundle. Take advantage of their free 14-day trials of their various TV passes to sample channels and shows and it’s easy to build an internet and entertainment bundle that exactly suits you.
NOW TV is also owned by Sky and its passes come packed with mouth-watering Sky channels and content, such as TV hothouse Sky Atlantic. A NOW TV pass can be a great way of accessing Sky channels without a Sky TV subscription or even the commitment of a contract. Only want Sky Atlantic while your favourite HBO show is on the air? Spring for a few months of NOW TV’s Entertainment pass. You can even access Sky Sports on a daily or weekly basis, meaning you can catch the big match without paying for a month of extra content you won’t watch.
NOW TV offers five entertainment passes that can be purchased on a month to month basis, starting from just £3.99 a month.
- Entertainment: comes with 11 channels that aren’t on Freeview: Sky 1, Sky Witness, Sky Atlantic, Gold, Comedy Central, Sky Arts, Fox, MTV, Nat Geo Wild, Discovery Channel and SyFy. Purchased on a rolling, month-to-month basis
- Cinema: Movies via 11 Sky Cinema channels (Select, Greats, Sci-fi & Horror, Family, Premiere, Drama, Hits, Thriller, Action, Comedy, and Disney) and on demand. Purchased on a rolling, month-to-month basis.
- Kids: 6 channels not on Freeview: Boomerang, Cartoon Network, Cartoonito, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., and Nicktoons. Episodes from these channels on demand and box sets from Milkshake!, CBBC, and CBeebies. Purchased on a rolling, month-to-month basis.
- Sports: 10 Sky Sports channels (Main Event, Premiere League, Football, Cricket, Golf, F1, Action, Arena, News, and Mix). Purchased on a month-to-month basis or for week or even a day, if you’re just keen to catch one big match.
- hayu: a streaming service that delivers episodes from US reality TV hits, including Keeping up the Kardashians and the Real Housewives franchises
A NOW TV box, powered by Roku technology, allows you to access all this content on your television set and pause and rewind live TV for up to 30 minutes. Unfortunately, you can’t record and store live TV, which is the one area where the NOW TV set-top box doesn’t compete with others on the market. You’ll also have to purchase it separately rather than getting it thrown into the bundle for free on a contract.
NOW TV’s “Brilliant Broadband” offers an ADSL connection with an average speed of 11 Mbps. Their two fibre connections are branded “Fab Fibre” and “Super Fibre” and offer average download speeds of 36 Mbps and 63 Mbps, respectively. You’ll want to opt for a fibre connection if you’re getting a NOW TV pass, so you have enough bandwidth to comfortably stream all the content you want and not disrupt other users in your household trying to use the internet.
The bottom line: NOW TV packages offer slimmer TV pickings but could be a good complement to Freeview channels or a way to expand TV offerings for someone who doesn’t have or want a television set with a TV licence and Freeview channels and just wants access to Westworld, films, or Sky Sports on their laptop.
Sky has three main broadband and TV bundles: Broadband + Entertainment, with Sky’s standard ADSL broadband, with average download speeds of 11 Mbps; Fibre Unlimited + Entertainment, with Sky’s lower tier of fibre optic (FTTC) broadband, with average download speeds of 36 Mbps; and Fibre Max + Entertainment, with Sky’s higher tier of fibre, delivering average download speeds of 63 Mbps.
All bundles come with landline calling via SkyTalk, with line rental included in the quoted price, and of course, access to Sky’s unbeatable TV offerings: 300 premium channels, including Sky Atlantic, the British home of Game of Thrones, and 60 Catch Up TV channels. You also get Sky Go, giving you access to live and on demand shows on a compatible laptop, smartphone, or tablet. The packages comes with two different set-top boxes: the 1 TB Sky Q box, which stores up to 500 hours of TV and allows you to record three shows while watching a fourth and the 2 TB Sky Q box, which stores 1,000 hours of TV and allows you to simultaneously record six shows while watching a seventh.
Your Sky Q box comes equipped with streaming apps, including those for the standard Freeview channels, and subscription extras, including Netflix, which can be added to your Sky bill.
Meanwhile, licensing deals with HBO have given Sky some of the buzziest U.S. television shows, including Game of Thrones and Westworld.
The bottom line: You can’t beat Sky’s TV offerings and, as the nation’s second largest broadband provider, their internet isn’t anything to sniff at either.
Budget broadband provider TalkTalk also offers TV services for broadband customers, which can be bundled with its very competitively priced 11 Mbps standard broadband or 35 Mbps fibre broadband. The standard TalkTalk TV box only comes with the ability to pause and rewind live TV for up to 30 minutes but shell out an extra £1 a month and you get the TV Plus Box, with the additional ability to record and store 185 hours of live TV.
TalkTalk comes standard with 80 channels, including 15 in HD, and also offers a range of boosts, giving you more channels in specific niches, which can be added and dropped monthly. £7 a month extra gets you TV Select, with channels, ranging from Comedy Central to History, Gold to Crime + Investigation, to suit any TV taste. Get Sky Cinema for an extra £16 a month (that’s 11 channels of films, more than 1000 movies on demand, and a new premiere every day), Sky Sports for £34 a month, or both for £42 a month. With the ability to add and drop channels every month, you can constantly be seeking out new entertainment ground, without the commitment of a long contract.
You can also subscribe to Netflix via TalkTalk, with the Netflix app accessible via your TV Box and with fully integrated billing.
While you can bundle TalkTalk’s TV offerings with their standard, ADSL broadband for savings, it may not provide the speeds you need to comfortably use streaming services on your TV, particularly if other members of your household are using the internet connection at the same time. You should opt for a bundle with fibre instead.
The bottom line: TalkTalk has made a name for itself recently as a provider of budget bundles for penny-pinching consumers who still want decent broadband and a TV selection. But while their TalkTalk’s basic packages are cheap, if you add too many bonuses, you could be looking at a steep bill. Its set-top box also lags a little behind competitors, particularly if you get the basic model which can’t record live TV.
Virgin bundles its speedy cable broadband with a range of TV channels and set-top boxes in four bundles, all of which are bought on 12-month contracts or 30-day rolling contracts (for a higher monthly price) and can be garnished with bolt-ons.
All bundles come with Virgin’s V6 set-top box, which pauses, rewinds, and records live TV, including six channels simultaneously (while watching a seventh show you recorded earlier) and has a full 1 TB of storage, allowing you to keep 500 hours of shows in SD or 100 in HD.
The entry-level Player TV bundle comes with Virgin’s Vivid 50 broadband, boasting average download speeds of 54 Mbps, and technically 158 channels, but excluding HD duplicates and time-shifted (+1) versions of the same channels, only 70. Still, it’s enough broadband bandwidth (Virgin says it will comfortably accommodate four devices) and channels to entertain most households. Oh, and free weekend landline calls, if you’re still using that rusty old thing.
The Mix bundle upgrades you to Virgin’s Vivid 100 cable broadband, with average speeds of 108 Mbps, and “over 150 channels” (252 with HD and time-shifted duplicates), including Fox, MTV, Sky One, and Sky Living. Virgin’s “Talk Weekends” is also included.
The next tier bundle, Full House, keeps the 108 Mbps cable broadband but upgrades you to 230 channels (354 with duplicates), including the top Sky channels in HD and BT Sport in 4K Ultra HD. And because you still have that landline, “Talk Weekends” gives you free weekend calls on it.
If you really want to push out the boat with your Virgin bundle, you can go for the VIP bundle, although it will put you back nearly £100 a month. It comes with Vivid 350 broadband; with average download speeds of 362 Mpbs, it’s the UK’s fastest widely-available domestic broadband. You get 260 channels (a whopping 393 with duplicates), including all the Sky Sports and Sky Cinema channels in HD, and BT Sport in 4K Ultra HD, so you see every pixel of every shot of every Premiere League game. You also get two of the V6 set-top box: his and hers recording devices, each recording six shows simultaneously and showing a seventh previously recorded show. It’ll certainly resolve some marital disputes. And you get Virgin’s Talk More Anytime plan.
You can access Netflix through the V6 box with a Netflix subscription, which, as of June 2018, cab be paid through your Virgin Bill.
Somewhat hilariously, Virgin sometimes run promotions offering bottles of wine from Virgin Wines as a signing bonus with its TV and broadband bundles. If you’re not a wine-drinker, you can opt for £100 credit on your bill.
It’s important to note that Virgin Media’s cable broadband is only available to half of UK premises. Use a postcode checker to see if yours is one of them. It’s also somewhat trickier to switch to Virgin from an Openreach provider, and will generally require you give notice to your previous broadband provider and may involve a visit from an engineer.
The bottom line: Virgin offers the fastest widely available domestic broadband and its TV offerings are expansive, especially if you’re looking for access to all Premiere League games with BT Sport and Sky Sports.
TV Options from ISPs
|No. of channels||Set-top box||Hours of recorded TV stored||Channels recorded simultaneously||Extra integrated subscription streaming services||Speed of bundled broadband||Extras||No. of TV subscribers|
|BT||up to 62, on Max HD bundle||YouView +||300 hours||2 channels, or 1 channel while watching another||Netflix (same bill), Amazon Prime (with separate subscription)||36 Mbps||BT Sport, with promotions||1.74 million|
|EE||70, 11 in HD||EE TV||600 hours or 300 hours HD||8 channels||NOW TV passes to hayu, Sky Sport, Sky Cinema, and Sky TV||10 Mbps, 36 Mbps, 67 Mbps; EE recommends it’s purchased with fibre||n/a||unknown|
|NOW TV||channels purchased through TV passes: 11 with Entertainment Pass, 11 with Cinema Pass, 6 with Kids Pass||NOW TV box (bought separately)||none||none||passes to hayu||11 Mbps, 36 Mbps, 63 Mbps||n/a||unknown|
|Sky||up to 300||Sky Q box||1 TB Sky Q box: 500 hours, 2 TB Sky Q box: 1000 hours||1 TB Sky Q box: 3 channels while you’re watching a 4th; 2 TB Sky Q box: 6 channels while you’re recording a 7th||Netflix (same bill)||11 Mbps, 36 Mbps, 63 Mbps||Sky Go, giving you access to live and on demand content on a compatible computer, smartphone, or tablet||8.83 million|
|TalkTalk||more than 80, including 15 in HD||TalkTalk TV Box or TalkTalk TV Box Plus||185 hours (TalkTalk TV Box Plus, only; no record and storage on TalkTalk TV Box)||2 channels||Netflix (same bill), Sky Sports, Sky Cinema||11 Mbps, 35 Mbps||rent or buy latest films from £4||1.30 million in 2016|
|Virgin Media||158 (Player bundle), 252 (Mix bundle), 354 (Full House bundle), 393 (VIP bundle) (all with HD and time shifted duplicates)||V6 box||500 hours in SD or 100 hours in HD||6 channels while you’re watching a 7th show recorded previously||Netflix with all bundles (same bill), hayu with Full House and VIP bundles||54 Mbps, 108 Mbps, or 362 Mbps||sometmes on promotion, bottles of wine from Virgin Wines||4 million|
How to Choose a Bundle
When choosing between broadband and TV bundles, start with the service you have most passionate feelings and preferences about. For most people this will be TV. There will be little difference between internet experiences on fibre optic broadband connections of roughly the same speed from different internet service providers, at least not that ordinary browsers will notice. The UK’s fibre optic networks also perform roughly the same on other metrics besides Mbps speed, such as latency, jitter, and packet loss; most internet users will notice little difference between the quality of connection delivered by all the triple-play providers. However, budget providers like TalkTalk sometimes underperform larger providers like BT and Sky on latency and jitter so extremely keen gamers might want to stick with the bigger ISPs.
In contrast, TV packages between the providers vary widely, both in the number and types of channels. It can be helpful to work backwards when choosing a bundle: identifying a show or service you can’t live without and finding a TV package that offers it. A diehard Game of Thrones fan will need a package with Sky Atlantic so they can keep up with the water cooler chat about Starks and Targaryens. And keen football fans will want a deal that allows them to access BT Sport or Sky Sports. If you’re trying to placate multiple family members with wildly different TV tastes, you’ll want to opt for a bundle with a set-top box that can record multiple channels at once, or even plump for Virgin’s lavish VIP bundle, which gives you two set-top boxes.
Landline calling, which is generally packaged with broadband anyway, may be the overlooked by most customers selecting a bundle. But if you need a specific service, such as international calling to keep in touch with family overseas, you’ll need to pay close attention to the calling deals and rates included in each bundle.
You may also be limited by what broadband technologies and speeds are available in your area. Virgin cable broadband is only available to half of UK addresses, for instance. You can use a postcode checker to see if yours is one of them.
The Perks of Bundles
- Bundling three (or more) services generally works out cheaper than sourcing each of them separately.
- You only have to deal with one provider: that means one monthly bill and one customer support line.
- Premium TV services run over the internet. Bundle your broadband with your TV subscription and you’re generally ensuring the two will work well in tandem. The exception may be the few TV bundles available with ADSL broadband (those from EE, NOW TV, Sky, and TalkTalk), which may be cheaper than the same bundles with fibre but may not provide the speeds you need to comfortable stream all the TV content you want, especially if other members of your household want to use the internet at the same time.
- Bundling will give you one contract with one expiry date for all services, meaning it’s easier to keep track of when your contract is up and you need to renew it or switch to another service.
The Pitfalls of Bundles
- Bundles from most providers, with the exception of NOW TV (which offers 30-day rolling deals on broadband which can be garnished with 30-day TV passes) and Virgin (which offers 30-day, rolling contracts), come on long contracts, generally 12, 18, or even 24-months. This means you’ll have little flexibility once you sign on. If you decide you don’t like or need a particular service, you’ll still be stuck paying for it for months—or risk losing the services you do like and facing stiff penalties for early termination.
- Some broadband packages are bundled with slower fibre optic packages. For instance, BT’s broadband and TV bundles only come with 36 Mbps, their slower tier of fibre. That should be enough for most households but perhaps not for home of avid gamers, TV watchers and video streamers, who may want higher-end fibre connections.
- You’ll generally have to make compromises, either on broadband speed or technology or your TV channels because the services that exactly match your needs aren’t in the same bundles. You could end up paying for more internet speed than you really need or more TV channels than you want. For some customers, sourcing services from different providers could end up cheaper than purchasing a bundle. You’ll have to do the maths.
Quad Play Bundles: 3 (Broadband, Landline, TV) + 1 (Mobile Phone)
For a few years in the middle of the decade, telecoms companies were venturing into quad play bundles, offering broadband, TV, landline and mobile phone services in one package on one bill.
No provider is currently offering branded four-part bundles: branded bundles are limited to broadband, landline phone, and TV. But being a customer of those services a the provider may gives you access to discounts on mobile phone services. For example, if you subscribe to an EE broadband and TV bundle, you’ll earn a 5GB data boost to your EE pay monthly phone plan, worth £12.99 every month.
With more and more ISPs moving into the mobile game or conversely mobile phone companies like EE offering broadband, you may be able to fashion your own quad play bundles from companies you didn’t even know offered the full range of services.