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Best broadband deals for 2012

PC Advisor Home Broadband Survey 2012

Best broadband deals: O2

Reliability satisfaction: 93.8%
Peformance (download speeds) satisfaction: 87.3%
Tech support satisfaction: 96.9%
Customer satisfaction: 96.8%
Overall satisfaction: 94.6%
Would recommend: 86.5%

Last year, O2 was the overall winner of our Home Broadband Survey and walked away with our Best ISP Award. This year, the broadband service provider has slipped down the ranks a little, but O2 still gives a very good account of itself.

A healthy 5.6 percent of our survey respondents are O2 broadband customers. O2 has a great offer that sees its mobile customers shave £5 off their monthly broadband bill – a very popular incentive, that’s taken up by just over half of its customers. As a result, our survey results show that 60 percent of O2 customers are paying between £10 and £20 per month for their broadband, and getting up to 8Mbps or up to 20Mbps connections in return. Monthly limits of 20GB or 40GB are imposed, although off-peak downloads are excluded.

Both Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity are extensively used by O2 customers, which makes sense given the aforementioned mobile and broadband contract many take out. The O2 dongle for 3G access on a laptop is also popular, with 15.6 percent of customers using one.

O2

Broadband speeds don’t come up to scratch, though, warn a quarter of O2 customers. Some 12 percent specifically marked down the ISP for this factor. Connection reliability is better, and an impressive 93.8 percent were satisfied in this department.

Overall, O2 gets another great report from its customers, although the ‘would recommend to a friend’ figure has dipped to 86.5 percent.

A demanding bunch, O2 customers would potentially jump ship if they could get an even better deal that’s also uncapped. However, they may find themselves missing the superlative customer support that current customers report: O2 got one of the best write-ups for this aspect of all the ISPs reviewed here.

Best broadband deals: Orange

Orange

Reliability satisfaction: 84.2%
Peformance (download speeds) satisfaction: 68%
Tech support satisfaction: 77%
Customer satisfaction: 77.9%
Overall satisfaction: 68%
Would recommend: 64%

The story for Orange and O2 is in essence the same: customers who also take out or have an existing mobile phone contract can get discounted fixed-line broadband by bundling the two services.

Like O2, Orange offers loyalty incentives in the form of free cinema tickets, meal vouchers and so on. The mobile tie-in is less popular here, though, with just over a quarter (27.1 percent) saying they bundle their broadband with a mobile contract. Landline phone bundling is more common at 30.7 percent, while VoIP also gets a look-in at 8.9 percent.

Price-wise, the sweet spot for Orange broadband customers is £15, with most other customers paying up to £30 a month.

Most Orange broadband customers share their connection with only one other laptop or PC. Even so, 38 percent said they don’t believe they’re getting the connection speed they pay for; most are on an up to 8Mbps connection with unlimited off-peak use.

Only 68 percent of Orange customers state that they are content with the connection speeds they enjoy, while poor customer service and technical support continue to be an issue. These customers have yet to do much about their concerns: 21.8 percent have doggedly stuck with an ISP that clearly could do better for at least three years, while 45.2 percent remain loyal to it after more than five years.

Orange may not offer fibre-optic broadband, but most of its customers are engaged in online tasks that aren’t especially bandwidth-intensive. Email, shopping and general web surfing are fairly standard browsing activities; YouTube, Spotify and iPlayer take a back seat, with well under half of its customers saying they use such services. In contrast, online phone calls are cited by 24 percent of Orange customers as one of their important uses of the web.

Best broadband deals: Plusnet – BEST BUDGET BROADBAND

Plusnet

Best budget broadband

Reliability satisfaction: 94.9%
Peformance (download speeds) satisfaction: 85.4%
Tech support satisfaction: 97.4%
Customer satisfaction: 98.3%
Overall satisfaction: 97.3%
Would recommend: 91.1%

Plusnet trades on its good-value, no-nonsense broadband service. Average subscription costs are between £10 and £25 a month among the 5.3 percent of survey respondents who depend on Plusnet for broadband access. For 40 percent of Plusnet users, broadband and a landline phone are provided as a bundle with a single bill, but 60 percent told us they take only their broadband service from the ISP.

The most common connection speed is the up to 8Mbps service, with a further 18 percent on the up to 20Mbps tariff. Plusnet offers fibre-optic broadband too, but too few respondents reported that they are using this service for us to meaningfully analyse their experiences.

Around 30 percent of Plusnet customers told us they aren’t getting the speeds they were expecting. Nonetheless, most felt they were getting a good service and connection for the amount they pay. This was borne out with an incredible overall satisfaction rate of 97.3 percent, and download satisfaction of 85 percent.

Download caps are popular, with most customers appreciating the option to download as much as they like during off-peak hours from midnight until 8am. Whereas other ISPs offer similar deals, Plusnet allows customers to decide on a fairly limited cap of 10GB and schedule heavy downloads during the night.

In fact, it’s hats off to Plusnet for keeping its customers happy on most levels. Transparency of information relating to poorer-than-expected connection speeds, diligence over resolving customer issues, and the use of UK-based call centres all get a huge thumbs-up.

Of the many compliments from its customers, this summarised things best: “The customer support I receive is absolutely top-notch. If I have a problem, which is actually very rare, I get a very prompt and helpful response. Plusnet’s technical support is one of the main reasons I have stayed with it for seven years.”

As with most ISPs here, the internet accounts for an increasing portion of Plusnet customers’ leisure hours. Just under 57 percent said they spent at least 15 hours of their free time online each week.

Popular activities include online shopping, surfing, downloading and email, but gaming, social networking and BBC iPlayer and other streaming services were less common than with other ISPs. Plusnet has its own dedicated gaming broadband service that offers access to low-latency servers with high ping rates.

Best broadband deals: Sky Broadband

Sky Broadband

Reliability satisfaction: 90.9%
Peformance (download speeds) satisfaction: 75%
Tech support satisfaction: 90.9%
Customer satisfaction: 90.4%
Overall satisfaction: 90.8%
Would recommend: 77.6%

Sky offers satellite broadband, pay-TV, phonelines and video-on-demand and streaming services. Monthly payments to Sky are therefore high: 54 percent of its mainly PC-owning broadband customers pay more than £40 a month to the company. For this, connection speeds of between 15 and 20Mbps are the most prevalent, while email, web surfing, online shopping and some social networking are the favoured online activities. Unfortunately, nearly half of our survey respondents told us they are getting nothing like the web speeds the service promises. This was borne out by the Speedtest.net results customers provided, with some lowly figures.

On the other hand, 85 percent said they can surf to their heart’s content as their service allows them unlimited broadband. It’s customers also report slightly more than average leisure use (42.4 percent above 20 hours per week).

As one of the youngest ISPs in our survey, Sky has a cross-section of customers who have been subscribers from anything from a few months to three or four years. Peer recommendation levels are almost on a par with more established players, and almost as many current customers said they wouldn’t change their provider as said they’d prefer not to be tied in to a lengthy contract.

With expensive TV services and hundreds of channels to choose from, it’s perhaps no surprise to find less leisure time spent online and only a couple of PCs in a Sky Broadband household. And while web speeds have disappointed a quarter of customers, good connection reliability and technical support suggest Sky’s doing a good job.

Best broadband deals: TalkTalk

TalkTalk

Reliability satisfaction: 84.6%
Peformance (download speeds) satisfaction: 74.7%
Tech support satisfaction: 78.6%
Customer satisfaction: 74.3%
Overall satisfaction: 89.7%
Would recommend: 65.8%

TalkTalk customers like to bundle their home phoneline and broadband subscription and pay between £20 and £30 a month for the two. Most have been with the ISP for between two and five years.

Satisfaction figures for this ISP aren’t stellar, with many customers stating they’d rather choose an ISP that doesn’t tie them into a contract. Better value and connection speed were also cited as areas in which TalkTalk could improve its service. Nonetheless, 35.6 percent stated that a bundled broadband deal that gave them a ‘free’ laptop or phone would be worth moving for – the very tie-in deals that many customers appear to be ruing.

Connection drop-outs and lengthy spells waiting for issues to be fixed were mentioned many times in our comments and complaints section, but customers gave TalkTalk a good account. Connection reliability of 84.6 isn’t great, but 89.7 percent professed that they were generally happy with their broadband provision.

TalkTalk users are extensive users of the web, spending at least 20 leisure hours online in 34 percent of cases, with just under 20 percent approaching that level. Usage patterns follow the typical email, web surfing and shopping model of most ADSL providers. Most TalkTalk customers are on an up to 8Mbps or slower service with a 40GB monthly download limit and use a Windows PC to get online.

Best broadband deals: Virgin Media ADSL

Virgin Media ADSL

Reliability satisfaction: 90.6%
Peformance (download speeds) satisfaction: 82.2%
Tech support satisfaction: 83.6%
Customer satisfaction: 81.4%
Overall satisfaction: 92.3%
Would recommend: 71.2%

A little over a quarter of Virgin ADSL customers have a £20-per-month broadband connection, while the remaining two thirds pay £26 a month. There’s an almost equal split between those taking the broadband-only service and those with a landline bundle. Unlike Virgin’s cable customers, ADSL users get the choice. However, they can’t get the high connection speeds of their cable counterparts: up to 8Mbps or up to 12Mbps are standard here. Unlimited broadband in the form of the XL package is the most commonly chosen, although a sizable chunk prefer the 40GB per month deal.

Unlike most ISPs, Virgin doesn’t offer a headline speed for its ADSL broadband packages and then let you down gently when it comes to the results of the line and availability checker: you enter your locale details and get an estimate in return. Even so, a worrying 28 percent of customers in our survey said Virgin Media ADSL isn’t providing the speeds anticipated. Virgin Media customers are more vocal about this than customers of most of the ISPs here: they gave only an 82.2 percent satisfaction rating for connection speed, while a modest 71.2 percent said they would recommend their ISP.

Many users said the tariff was expensive – in comparison with the cable version of Virgin’s broadband offering, it certainly looks that way. Customer service also got many mentions, and not in a good way.

The 20 percent of our survey respondents subscribed to Virgin Media’s ADSL service have a Mac at home (often in addition to a PC), and most customers are avid users of Wi-Fi, 3G and tablets.

NEXT PAGE: Virgin Media Cable, and our Best ISP >>

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