HOW TO GET BROAD­BAND WITH­OUT A LAND­LINE

Why pay £17 a month for a phone line you never use?

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You want broad­band, but you don’t need a phone line. Sound familiar? For­tu­nately, there are ways to get your in­ter­net fix with­out pay­ing BT’s monthly fee. This fea­ture ex­plains how you can have broad­band with­out a phone line.

Al­ter­na­tives to tra­di­tional ADSL prom­ise broad­band con­nec­tions with­out also de­mand­ing that you sign up for a phone line you may well never use. Shop care­fully, though, as while such con­nec­tions are of­ten faster, they aren’t al­ways as cheap as you might ex­pect.

Land­lines are so last cen­tury. If you’re any­thing like us, you’ll make most of your calls on your mo­bile phone, and other than that you’ll use email, What­sApp, Han­gouts and in­stant mes­sag­ing to keep in touch with friends and fam­ily. Video call­ing is easy and – even bet­ter – it no longer re­quires thou­sands of pounds worth of kit to make it hap­pen, so you can talk to dis­tant rel­a­tives us­ing noth­ing more than your voice and a cheap smart­phone or tablet.

So why do we still pay £17 a month for a land­line that few of us use and even fewer ac­tu­ally need? Doesn’t it feel like a waste of money to be pay­ing for it on top of your monthly broad­band sub­scrip­tion? Isn’t it a con that you can’t get on­line with most of the head­line broad­band providers with­out be­ing forced to pay for a hardly used voice line on top?

So why do we still pay £17 a month for a land­line that few of us use and even fewer ac­tu­ally need?

You can stop pay­ing for your land­line right away – so long as you’re happy to change your broad­band provider. If you’re not tied into an on­go­ing con­tract that im­poses penal­ties for duck­ing out early, you should look again at the al­ter­na­tives to tra­di­tional ADSL. We’re talk­ing satel­lite, fi­bre to the house, ca­ble and the ever ex­pand­ing 4G wire­less net­work.

As we’ll show here, it’s easy to get on­line with­out sign­ing up to ADSL. How­ever, be­fore jump­ing straight in, think care­fully about your needs – and about the over­all costs too. Some peo­ple may well be bet­ter off with an ADSL broad­band deal that in­cludes a monthly line rental charge.

Satel­lite broad­band

Ten years ago, satel­lite broad­band would have been your only op­tion if you lived far away from a ma­jor conur­ba­tion, but as ac­cess by tra­di­tional means has got faster and more com­pre­hen­sive it’s now just one of sev­eral choices for most of us.

The tech­nol­ogy be­hind it isn’t par­tic­u­larly new, with Eu­tel­sat launch­ing its broad­band-en­abled e-BIRD satel­lite in 2003. Built by Boe­ing and launched on the back of an Ariane rocket, e-BIRD was de­signed to fly for a decade, but it’s still go­ing strong and pro­vides satel­lite broad­band to Turkey, Green­land, and a whole swathe of Europe in be­tween, Bri­tain in­cluded.

Eu­tel­sat cham­pi­ons satel­lite broad­band as one of the clean­est means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. The satel­lites them­selves work off so­lar power, there’s no need to build ex­pen­sive and pol­lut­ing in­fra­struc­ture on the ground – ex­changes, ca­bles and the like – and the launch pro­ce­dure, po­ten­tially the most dam­ag­ing part of the whole process, cre­ates about the same amount of car­bon pol­lu­tion as a sin­gle jumbo jet flight from one side of the US to the other.

Eu­tel­sat sells its ser­vices un­der the Tooway brand through a range of dis­trib­u­tors. To sign up, you’ll need to nav­i­gate a fairly Byzan­tine pric­ing struc­ture that takes both us­age and speed into ac­count. At the bud­get end, Avon­line Broad­band’s en­try-level ser­vice gets you 2GB of data, with down­loads max­ing out at 5Mb/s and up­loads at 1Mb/s. It’s a 24-month con­tract, with the first three months charged at £9.99 and the re­main­der at £19.95 a month. Nei­ther the speeds nor the cap com­pare favourably with a lot of regular ADSL.

Eu­tel­sat cham­pi­ons satel­lite broad­band as one of the clean­est means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion

Avon­line’s most popular pack­age is a 25GB bun­dle with un­capped overnight down­loads, which would make it worth­while sit­ting up to grab your iPlayer pro­grammes out­side of peak. Or you can opt for un­capped email and brows­ing round the clock for £74.95 a month, with a 100GB cap on other data, such as streamed me­dia.

Mul­ti­ply those prices by 24 months to find out what it’ll cost you over a stan­dard con­tract and you’re look­ing at £448 at the lower end, ris­ing to £1,798 for the gold stan­dard. You’ll need to add on ei­ther £5 a month to rent the nec­es­sary hard­ware (or £275 to buy it out­right), £100 for in­stal­la­tion (or £10 a month for 12 months if you want to pay it off over the first year) and £49.95 if you want to cut your com­mit­ment from 24 months to 12. All in all, it works out rather ex­pen­sive when com­pared to ADSL and a land­line com­bined.

For ex­am­ple, ig­nor­ing any in­tro­duc­tory deals, Plus­net’s un­lim­ited broad­band and calls pack­age, with down­load speeds of up to 17Mb/s and free week­end calls, costs £9.99 a month plus £15.95 line rental for a 12-month term. That’s £311 over your first

year, plus in­stal­la­tion at £49.99, giv­ing a grand to­tal of £361 with­out the need to pay on­go­ing costs for equip­ment rental. Up­grad­ing to Plus­net’s 18-month fi­bre con­tract with speeds touch­ing 40Mb/s at best ups the an­nual cost to £371.28 (£14.99 a month for the broad­band and £15.95 monthly line rental) and com­mits you to 18 months of ser­vice. Again, there’s an in­stal­la­tion fee of £49.99 to con­sider, but that still pegs the over­all cost at £421 for the first year, and £371 for each sub­se­quent year.

That’s bad news for satel­lite broad­band. While it might save you the cost of a land­line you’ll never use, un­less you live in one of the in­creas­ingly rare spots where re­li­able broad­band still isn’t an op­tion, satel­lite is strug­gling to com­pete in the speed ver­sus value equa­tion.

Ca­ble

You could be for­given for think­ing that the UK has just one ca­ble provider – Vir­gin Me­dia – but in fact we have two. WightFi­bre re­mains the only stand­alone ca­ble-co in Bri­tain, and the only ca­ble op­tion for sub­scribers on the Isle of Wight.

It of­fers speeds of 30 to 152Mb/s for be­tween £22.50 and £37.50 a month with­out line rental (£270 to £450 a year, plus an ad­di­tional in­stal­la­tion fee of £30 for the cheaper of those), although right now it’s

Satel­lite broad­band is still strug­gling to com­pete in the speed-ver­sus-value equa­tion

of­fer­ing broad­band for free for the first 12 months if you pay £15.30 a month for a land­line. That re­duces the cost to a flat £183.60 for up to 152Mb/s.

If you’re not on the Isle of Wight, none of th­ese deals ap­plies, so you’ll have to look to Vir­gin Me­dia in­stead. Its regular ADSL ser­vice is avail­able na­tion­wide, but we’re in­ter­ested in the ca­ble ser­vice, which doesn’t yet boast na­tional cov­er­age and isn’t ever likely to do so. If you’ve spot­ted ser­vice plates in the street bear­ing the acro­nym CATV, there’s a good chance you’re living in a ca­bled area, but en­ter your post­code at store.vir­gin­media.com to be sure. If you’re not yet cov­ered, you can click 'Ca­ble My Street' to add sup­port for a roll-out in your di­rec­tion.

Vir­gin Me­dia’s ‘slow­est’ con­nec­tions start at 50Mb/s (£28.50 a month, £342 an­nu­ally) and top out at a WightFi­bre-match­ing 152Mb/s (£41 a month, £492 an­nu­ally). None of them re­quires a land­line and there’s no fee for the in­stal­la­tion of hard­ware, ei­ther. How­ever, sign­ing up for a land­line does re­duce the cost of the broad­band.

For ex­am­ple, 152Mb/s broad­band with­out a land­line costs £41 a month and ties you in for 12 months for a to­tal cost of £492. Add a land­line and

the con­tract extends to 18 months, but the cost of your broad­band drops to £24.50 for the first 12 months and £30 there­after. You need to add on £16.99 a month for the land­line rental, but there’s still no fee for in­stal­la­tion, so the over­all cost is £779.92. The sav­ing you’d make over the same pe­riod by not tak­ing the land­line is there­fore a lit­tle less than £40.

How does that com­pare to BT’s su­per­fast In­fin­ity ser­vice? As­sum­ing that you have cov­er­age (you can check at tinyurl.com/c3ntbwq to see whether su­per­fast In­fin­ity is avail­able in your area), its Un­lim­ited BT In­fin­ity 2 + Week­end Calls op­tion in­clud­ing free BT Sport and 50GB of cloud stor­age costs £25 a month for the broad­band, plus £16.99 monthly line rental, for a to­tal year one cost of £503.88. Add the one-off £6.95 charge for de­liv­er­ing a HomeHub and the to­tal’s around £10 more than Vir­gin Me­dia is charg­ing for a faster pipe with­out the bun­dled phone line.

4G

Cel­lu­lar con­nec­tions are by far the most flex­i­ble op­tion, as you can take them with you wher­ever you go. Just be wary of the fact that, as Bri­tain’s 4G roll-out re­mains in­com­plete, per­for­mance will vary from place to place and you may well find your­self step­ping back to slower 3G.

Vir­gin Me­dia's ca­ble packages don't de­mand you pay for a land­line, but do­ing so will re­duce the cost of the broad­band

Rel­ish is a ded­i­cated 4G broad­band provider serv­ing cen­tral Lon­don and Lon­don Dock­lands. It claims that no-one else has as much 4G spec­trum as it does, nor as much ca­pac­ity. So if you live or work in its area, it’s a tempt­ing propo­si­tion, not least on ac­count of its com­pet­i­tive prices.

There’s no setup fee, just one speed – up to 50Mb/s – and one price, which is £20 a month whether you sign up for one month or 12. The only in­duce­ment to ty­ing your­self into an an­nual con­tract is the up­front cost of the 4G router, which is £50 on monthly pay as you go, but waived on the 12-month pack­age. Pay up­front, then, and your first year of cov­er­age is £240, all in, with no re­stric­tions on how much data you use.

EE’s 4GEE ser­vice works be­yond this limited swathe of the cap­i­tal, of­fer­ing 3G and 4G cov­er­age na­tion­wide (sub­ject to net­work prop­a­ga­tion). There are three hard­ware op­tions: Buz­zard 2, which plugs into a car socket for broad­band on the move, and Osprey or Kite, which are more tra­di­tional pock­et­sized wire­less 4G routers.

Con­tracts on each of th­ese op­tions run for one month or two years, with the up­front costs be­ing lower on the longer-term deals.

There are also two lev­els of ser­vice: 4GEE for light users and 4GEE Ex­tra for heavy users.

Opt for the smart Ap­ple TV-like Osprey router on the en­try-level 4GEE ser­vice and it’s £10 a month for 1GB of data, £15 a month for 3GB and an up­front cost of £19.99 on the 1GB, two-year deal. The router is free if you sign up to £15 a month for two years, but if you sign up for just a month you’ll be look­ing at a £39.99 bill for the router be­fore you’ve even got on­line, whichever pack­age you choose.

None of th­ese prices is ex­tor­tion­ate when you con­sider the con­ve­nience of be­ing able to cre­ate a Wi-Fi hotspot wher­ever and when­ever you need (you can connect up to 10 de­vices to Osprey si­mul­ta­ne­ously), with a two-year com­mit­ment to the 3GB bun­dle tip­ping the scales at just £360 – or £180 a year. Be­ware, though, that with a few catchup down­loads, some mu­sic stream­ing and a bit of YouTube ac­tion, you’ll quickly eat through your monthly al­lowance.

You might ac­cord­ingly want to look at 4GEE Ex­tra in­stead, which of­fers bun­dles of 15GB, 25GB and 50GB for £20, £30 and £50 a month re­spec­tively, each on 24-month con­tracts. Th­ese come closer

Be­ware of quickly eat­ing few your monthly data al­lowance when re­ly­ing on 4G

to match­ing en­try-level ADSL con­nec­tions, but the con­ve­nience of be­ing able to hook up wher­ever you find your­self comes at a price. That £50 deal for the top-end data pack means you’ll end up pay­ing £1,200 over the course of the con­tract, which is more than most ADSL plus land­line com­bos.

Fi­bre to the build­ing

Per­haps the most ex­cit­ing of all the cur­rent op­tions is fi­bre to the build­ing. We’re not talk­ing about BT In­fin­ity or Vir­gin Me­dia here, but a ded­i­cated fi­bre line run­ning di­rectly to your router.

Hyperoptic of­fers syn­chro­nous con­nec­tions of 1Gb/s flat-out. That means there’s no dif­fer­ence in the speed of up­loads and down­loads as there is with ADSL, and you shouldn’t see any degra­da­tion in the speed of the ser­vice as you move away from the con­nec­tion point ei­ther.

Prices start at £29 a month for the first six months, and £60 a month there­after, but you can step down to 100Mb/s for £17 a month for the first six months (£35 a month there­after), or 20Mb/s for £10 a month for the first six months (£22 a month there­after). In each case, there’s a £40 con­nec­tion fee to add on top, but the £200 in­stal­la­tion fee is waived.

At the top end of the scale, then, you’re look­ing at a year one cost of £574; that’s roughly what you’d

Per­haps the most ex­cit­ing of all the cur­rent op­tions is fi­bre to the build­ing

be pay­ing for the 152Mb/s deal avail­able from Vir­gin Me­dia and slightly more than BT’s fi­bre-based In­fin­ity ser­vice, while en­joy­ing far higher speeds. The midrange pack­age, which in speed terms sits be­tween what BT and Vir­gin Me­dia of­fer, costs a to­tal of £352 in the first year and £310 a year there­after, which is ex­cel­lent value for money.

But there is a catch. Be­cause it’s build­ing its own fi­bre net­work, Hyperoptic is con­cen­trat­ing on mul­ti­d­welling build­ings and, as it ex­plains on its web­site, if your build­ing is within its catch­ment area, and enough res­i­dents show sup­port by reg­is­ter­ing for it on­line, then the com­pany can connect you to its ‘fu­ture-proof full-fi­bre net­work’.

Its ser­vice is cur­rently in­stalled in 100,000 homes spread across 1,000 build­ings, and if yours is among them you’ll al­ready know. If it’s not, and you live in a block of flats, your best bet is to en­ter your post­code at hyperoptic.com, fill in the form to reg­is­ter your in­ter­est in the ser­vice and get your neigh­bours to do the same. If you live in a ter­race, semi or de­tached house, though, don’t get your hopes up just yet.

Are land­lines a nec­es­sary evil?

So it’s not as clear-cut as you might think. Yes, a lot of us are pay­ing for land­lines we don’t use, and that hurts, but the al­ter­na­tives aren’t al­ways bet­ter value.

Fi­bre to the home is the fastest op­tion since it’s 21st cen­tury tech­nol­ogy all the way from the ex­change to your router, rather than fi­bre to the cabi­net in your street, and lim­it­ing cop­per from there to your house. Ca­ble has bet­ter cov­er­age, and again it’s faster than ADSL at present, but it’s not been rolled out na­tion­wide.

And then there’s 4G, which can’t be beaten for con­ve­nience. But you may find the data caps re­stric­tive and the cov­er­age vari­able.

Which brings us back to tra­di­tional ADSL. For many of us it’s the only prac­ti­cal op­tion, which means we’re stuck with the land­line charge. By split­ting it out from the head­line cost of their broad­band deals, though, Bri­tain’s ISPs aren’t ex­actly help­ing them­selves. Yes, it’s great to be able to advertise a £5.99 broad­band pack­age – un­til you hit the cus­tomer with an ex­tra £16.70 a month that they’d rather not pay. If there is no op­tion but to cough up for the ser­vice, then the ad­ver­tised cost in this case should be £22.69, not sub-£6.

It doesn’t make the charge any eas­ier to swallow, but you can at least con­sole your­self with the thought that your land­line fee is pay­ing to main­tain the line from your house to the near­est box on the street, which the fee for a tra­di­tional ADSL con­tract al­most cer­tainly isn’t. In that re­spect you can think of it as a dig­i­tal stand­ing charge, like the one you pay to hook up your home to the Na­tional Grid, the gas lines and the wa­ter sup­ply – or, in­deed, the road tax you pay to drive your car.

It’s an in­vest­ment in the na­tional in­fra­struc­ture, and as such it prob­a­bly ought to be re­named. Per­haps then pay­ing the fee will feel less like you're be­ing fleeced.

For many of us tra­di­tional ADSL is the only prac­ti­cal op­tion

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