HOW TO GET BROADBAND WITHOUT A LANDLINE
Why pay £17 a month for a phone line you never use?
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.
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.
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.
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