Sunday, 19 February 2012

What's the Best Plusnet Broadband Deal?

Their broadband is Heaven 17-approved according to their latest ads but is Plusnet any good and which is the best Plusnet deal?

Plusnet's reputation, over the years, has been built on being broadband's best kept secret.

Despite the fact that the provider rarely advertised outside of London, customers came for the low prices and stayed for the common-sense traffic management and downloading policies.

Now Plusnet advertise nationwide: see all of Plusnet's broadband deals here or read on for the complete guide to how they're doing now that the secret's out.

The basics: broadband

Plusnet advertise broadband speeds of up to 20Mb and up to 40Mb with fibre.

The latest Ofcom report reveals that, on average, the network actually delivers the following:

Overall average Peak (8-10pm weekdays)

Plusnet are owned by BT and use much of the larger provider's infrastructure, occasionally supplemented with their own equipment. On average, the O2/Be network provides faster ADSL (non-fibre) speeds, Plusnet's are only standard.

A much more accurate estimated speed (ie: how the local exchange and area affects speed) is available as part of the sign-up process.

Users pay based both on these speeds and on monthly usage allowances as follows:

Value: 10GBExtra: 60GBValue Fibre: 40GBExtra Fibre: 120GB

See our broadband usage guide for more on what that actually means.

As an added bonus, however, Plusnet's service is completely unlimited between the hours of midnight and 8am. During this time, internet use won't count towards the monthly total which is good to fall back on.

Customers get a basic quality wireless router free (+ £4.99 for p&p) when they take a 12 month contract.

A no contract option is available but there are additional fees.

For more on this see 'set up fees' section below or click through to our guide to broadband contracts.

The basics: calls

Plusnet encourage customers to take their home phone service as well as broadband.

By choosing to get line rental elsewhere, new customers will have to pay a £25 set-up fee. Often, special introductory price offers are only available to those that take home phone too.

However, Plusnet line rental is £11.99 a month, cheaper than most of the major providers, if not some cheap phone line specialists.

There's a choice of two call plans: inclusive Evenings and Weekends, free with line rental, and inclusive Anytime, which is an extra £3.50 a month.

Both offer a basic voicemail package and free anytime calls to other Plusnet phone customers.

UK landline calls are charged at 4.5p per minute in the day and UK mobile calls cost 12.5p per minute in the day and 7.5p per minute in the evenings.

As well as inclusive UK landline calls with Anytime, customers get 25% off those expensive mobile calls and 300 inclusive minutes to 20 international destinations.

0845 and 0870 numbers count as UK landlines, which is a nice extra.

You can choose to add extra features - such as caller ID and a more advanced voicemail service - when you sign up, these features usually cost around £1.

The UK's cheapest broadband?

Plusnet often like to claim that they've got the UK's cheapest broadband.

That's sometimes true of Value (check our cheapest broadband table to see how it's shaping up right now) largely because of the 10GB download limit and reasonably-priced line rental detailed above.

Historically, Plusnet kept prices at that low level by only passing the biggest discounts on to those in market 3 exchanges, the most competitive areas and the cheapest to supply.

However, as of July this year, Plusnet's cheapest deals are available in both market 2 and 3 exchanges.

That means, in line with all other providers except BT, only those served by a market 1 telephone exchange (where only BT wholesale is available) will pay an inflated price, around double what the majority of customers pay.

For those paying that surplus, then, Plusnet may not be cheapest broadband around. For everyone else, though, there's a strong chance that they are.

Check availability by entering your postcode and/or phone number in our Plusnet product search.

Plusnet also provide fibre broadband through the BT infinity network and prices are similarly low.

In fact, Plusnet Value fibre is currently cheaper than BT Infinity, despite the fact that both are providing exactly the same service:

Provider + speedBroadband priceHome phone priceTotal pricePlusnet Value + E&W calls
up to 40MbBT Infinity + W calls
up to 40Mb

However, note that when it comes to big/unlimited downloads with the fibre service, Virgin Media just pip Plusnet with their up to 30Mb deal (remember in terms of average speeds there's not much difference):

Provider + speedBroadband priceHome phone priceTotal priceUnlimited BT Infinity
up to 40Mb

Set-up fees

Having said that, however, it's worth being aware that Plusnet's cheap ongoing prices are tempered with fairly high set-up fees.

As we mentioned above, connection is only completely free when customers take home phone as well as broadband and although line rental is cheaper than elsewhere - £11.99 to BT's £14.60 - that isn't a switch everyone wants to make.

Without Plusnet home phone there's a hefty £25 set up fee.

Plusnet's free connection also assumes that you take their deal on a 12 month contract.

The no contract costs another £25 in set-up fees and customers will either have to supply their own router or buy one from Plusnet - £20 for a wired router or £40 for wireless.

Contracts at least a year long are standard practice in the broadband world and Plusnet's opt-out does mean that you can leave at any time with 10 days notice and no penalties but, even so, other providers are offering no or short contract options for less.

Traffic management

Plusnet are unusual in that they take considerable effort to explain their traffic management system so it's worth mentioning here.

All traffic management aims to keep speeds up by prioritising the activities, such as browsing web pages, that you need to keep running fast as you go about your day-to-day online business and slowing others, like downloading files.

There's also a limiting system which restricts certain activities - such as P2P file sharing and streaming - at peak times.

All in all, these restrictions are likely to result in generally more consistent speeds. Those who do need downloads prioritised, for gaming or working from home through a VPN for example, can buy the Plusnet Pro add-on for an extra £5 a month on a rolling one-month basis.

Traffic is managed as follows:

Value: prioritises browsing and VoIPExtra: prioritises browsing, VoIP, gaming and downloadsPro (£5 extra on any deal): prioritises VoIP, gaming, VPN and FTP

In effect, higher priority traffic gets access to bandwidth before lower priority traffic.

Plusnet may not have the fastest broadband speeds around but by managing their network in a common-sense way they've managed to vastly improve their customers' actual user experience online.

Customer management

Finally, Plusnet's reputation for customer service beats that of most of the larger providers.

As noted above, calling customer service is free from a landline and there's a 0345 number if the problem is your landline, which is standard rate to landlines even from a mobile.

The UK call centre staff have a reputation for being friendly and helpful but staying off the phone altogether is often possible - they will text updates to mobile phones for example.

Non-urgent problems are resolved through an online ticket system.

However, as the provider has grown larger in the last year or so we've started, perhaps inevitably, to hear more complaints regarding the quality of the support on offer.

Zen and Be broadband have near-spotless customer service reputations.

The best Plusnet deal

All in all, Plusnet broadband deals have a number of unique features - from unlimited off-peak downloads, to some of the best customer service from a cheap provider - which have seen them slowly garner customers over the years and keep them.

However, the deals are quite tailored to either light, average or heavy users so the best Plusnet deal really does comes down to the type of user.

Better than the best deal, though, is the best deal cheaper so it's worth looking out for Plusnet's special offers, which are frequently changed.

For example, at the moment, Plusnet are offering those signing up via us half-price broadband for 9 months with Plusnet Value and home phone.

As they say in Yorkshire, it's right good.

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