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Sky Fibre Max gets new stronger speed guarantee

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Campaigners have been trying to make providers deliver products where you only pay for the speed that people receive but the distinct danger with this path is that the final outcome would be pay per GigaByte of traffic downloaded and uploaded. In the mean time Sky appears to be taking the move towards average speeds in advertising seriously and is preparing its Sky Fibre Max by offering customers who have below average speeds to drop to a different product.

Sky is not the first big name to try and segment customers onto a less well known and little advertised product, BT Consumer has done this for some years where those with a sub 15 Mbps VDSL2 estimate are stopped from buying BT Infinity 1 and pushed towards a ‘Faster Broadband’ product, which unfortunately is also more expensive for reasons unknown. The big difference with what Sky is doing is that the secondary product offer is actually less expensive so makes more sense, the new up to 52 Mbps download (up to 9.5 Mbps upload) service is said to be £2.50 per month less expensive according to ISPreview.

For existing Sky Fibre Max customers if you have had the service for more than 30 days and your connection speed or as some call it sync speed is consistently below 55 Mbps they will let you move to the either Sky Fibre Unlimited Plus (55/10) or Sky Fibre Unlimited (38/10). Be aware that the 55 Mbps that Sky is talking about in its Sky Fibre Max Speed Guarantee is the connection speed reported by the Sky Q Hub, a 55 Mbps connection speed will give a maximum TCP/IP throughput of 52 Mbps usually so should speed test in the 51 to 52 Mbps region. For those making the decision remember that you may also lose some upload speed so if you upload lots of data e.g. cloud backup then you may want to stay on the top tier.

For those who contact Sky within the first 30 days of the service going live things are a bit different as you will get any set-up fees credited to your account and a pro-rata refund for the price difference between Max and the product you switch to. The other option in the first 30 days is to cancel the contract with no early terminations charges – whether this means a cease or they will give you time to complete a migration to another provider is unclear.

This guarantee is in some senses nothing more than what the Ofcom Broadband Speeds Code of Practice calls for signatories to do, where Sky is upping the game is the introduction of this mid tier option.

There is one area of the Sky guarantee we disagree with and want to draw attention to, and that is what happens to your VDSL2 connection in the first ten days of its life.

Please note: In the first 10 days after your Fibre services have been activated, we test your phone line so that we can provide you with the best performance.

This means during the first 10 days, you might notice some variations in speed – this is completely normal. Please keep your Hub turned on at all times as this helps us get the most information about your line’s performance, so we can select the best settings for your connection.

Sky on a 10 stabilisation period

Providers who use the GEA-FTTC services have no ability to test the line for performance and tweak your line during this mythical ten day period, the reality is that when the service is ordered one of three Dynamic Line Management (DLM) profiles are selected and these set the core parameters that the Openreach DLM system will operate within. Openreach VDSL2 lines generally start at the best speeds the modem and DSLAM negotiate once the service is live and only if the error rates trigger the DLM does the speed flucuate and usually in the downward direction. If the DLM is triggered the biggest changes are usually in the first day or two, but the DLM system remains active for the life time of the service, i.e. there is no magic date when your connection speed will stop varying. Sky is far from being the only operator spinning the 10 day myth, as BT Wholesale say similar too. The DLM system does eventually relent is line conditions improve, so the advice is if ordering VDSL2 to ensure your wiring is at its best before the first day you start with the service.

As has been pointed out previously the speed guarantees are nothing to do with what speeds you get for downloads from various places on the Internet, so be under no illusion that “Sky Fibre Max with our minimum download Speed Guarantee of 55Mb” will always give you download speeds of faster than 55 Mbps they just guarantee the connection speed between the Sky Q hub and the DSLAM in the Openreach street cabinet.

It will be interesting to see what happens to the Sky average speed for its Fibre Max service, which has only just dropped from 60 Mbps to 57 Mbps will it climb when Ofcom does its once a year analysis in November.

We have included the summary for the Sky FTTC speed test results from July 2017 below, and as yet there is no evidence of group of customers on an up to 52 Mbps product, but clearly this is something we will be keeping an eye on in the next few months.

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Sky slashes £5 off fibre services and adds £100 reward

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Sky is the latest broadband provider to embark on a summer sale and we think that these latest offers are running until the end of 24th August, but will keep a close eye open to see if the offers do get extended.

The key tease is £5 per month off the VDSL2/FTTC services for their 18 month term and a £100 prepaid MasterCard that you can claim as a reward for signing up as a new customer, new ADSL2+ customers also get the £100 reward. This sale does not appear to apply if you join Sky and take a satellite TV service at the same time.

  • Sky Broadband Unlimited (ADSL2+) £20 per month for 12 months with £19.95 one off set-up fee. £100 prepaid MasterCard. Standard price is £28.99 per month.
  • Sky Fibre (FTTC with 25GB usage limit) £23.99 per month for 18 months with £59.95 one off set-up fee, £100 prepaid MasterCard. Standard price is £28.99 per month. Up to 38 Mbps download speeds with up to 9.5 Mbps upload speeds.
  • Sky Fibre Unlimited (FTTC) £33.99 per month for 18 months with £59.95 one off set-up fee, £100 prepaid MasterCard. Standard price is £38.99 per month. Up to 38 Mbps downloads speeds with up to 9.5 Mbps upload speeds.
  • Sky Fibre Max (FTTC) £38.99 per month for 18 months with £59.95 one off set-up fee, £100 prepaid MasterCard. Includes dual-band Wifi Sky Q hub. Standard price is £43.99 per month. Up to 76 Mbps downloads speeds with up to 19 Mbps upload speeds.

The £59.95 set-up fees on the fibre products negate most of the £100 reward, which means once you’ve claimed the reward you have just a £2.25 per month saving due to the reward over the 18 month term, so some of the other providers offers still look better value for money.

Sky is rare in including average speeds in its product pages and for the ADSL2+ product this has just changed from 9 Mbps to 11 Mbps and for Sky Fibre Pro it has decreased from 60 Mbps to 57 Mbps and some digging indicates the figures match the latest Ofcom speed analysis that was based on testing in November 2016 and is a mean average for the products, previous Ofcom reports did show the Sky ADSL2+ with an average down in the 9 Mbps region. A 2 Mbps jump for ADSL2+ services is a fairly big jump and for providers that sell ADSL services we could understand the change with the continuing ADSL2+ roll-outs, but Sky LLU has always been ADSL2+ and the number of Sky Connect customers has been small for a long time. Another option is that the change reflects a change in the demographics of SamKnows boxes being sampled or a change in the modelling used to create the UK wide average.

We publish our speed test round-ups every month and Sky does not have anywhere near a similar ADSL2+ average, no matter when you use a median or mean measure. The big difference is that our testing is a full end to end test, so includes everyone who is using Wi-Fi, and if we eliminate the obvious tablets and mobiles the mean average across all products Sky sells increases from 14.5 Mbps to 15.6 Mbps and this still leaves all the laptops suggesting a further increase is feasible. We would expect ADSL2+ speeds to be less affected by Wi-Fi issues but given how easy congestion can impact 802.11n devices like the Sky Hub (Sky Q should be better as dual band) it is possible that many people are suffering poor speeds compared to what their connection can deliver.

Interestingly if we compare our speeds of the top 20% they seem to align with the Ofcom data. Another difference in the Ofcom results is that the act of sending out the testing boxes with instructions may spur more people to sort out their in home wiring, or reflects that core of people we also see who test their broadband everyday and have squeezed every gram of performance from their connection.

Once average speeds appear in advertising variations between providers as they jockey to be top of the pile will be interesting. We believe average speeds in advertising is a done deal the only questions are whether it is a mean figure (what providers most likely want) or a median (what policians want) and whether a range has to be added too.

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Minor skirmish sees TalkTalk reducing fibre prices

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Upload speeds from TalkTalk FTTC customers in Q2 2017

The premium and setup fees that the fibre to the cabinet (FTTC/VDSL2) services usually command is clearly putting some people off upgrading hence the large numbers still using ADSL2+ and this has lead to some politicians using the take-up figures to incorrectly claim coverage is poor. So is this wave of lower priced fibre offers part of an industry response to lobbying by MPs or is it just good old price competition and trying to command the ‘lowest priced tagline’?

TalkTalk has reduced the price of its fibre packages with offers running until 14th September and the price cuts are carried over to the TV bundles too.

  • Faster Fibre Broadband £25 per month and free setup. 18 month fixed price contract. Up to 38 Mbps download and up to 9.5 Mbps (*) upload speeds.
  • Fibre Large Broadband £30 per month and free setup. 18 month fixed price contract, Up to 76 Mbps download and up to 19 Mbps upload speeds.
  • TV with Faster Fibre Broadband £25 per month, £25 TV box fee and an 18 month contract. TV box allows you to pause live TV.
  • TV Plus with Faster Fibre Broadband £30 per month, £25 TV box fee and an 18 month contract. TV box is a full PVR allowing you to record shows.

TalkTalk is unusual in offering fixed price contracts and by also allowing existing customers to sign-up for the new deals if they agree to a contract extension it avoids the complaints about new customers getting the best deals.

So it looks like TalkTalk may be the UK’s lowest fixed price fibre broadband as they claim, but this is debateable once you factor in the various rewards that others offer, of course a reward gift that sits unused is not worth much so it is for the individual to judge which offer suits them best and consider things like do they upload a lot, e.g. the entry level Plusnet product is capped at 1.9 Mbps upload.

Update (*) 10:45am: After reviewing the last months speed test results its evident that TalkTalk has upgraded its up to 38 Mbps customers from the 1.9 Mbps (40/2 variant) to the up to 9.5 Mbps (40/10) variant. The upgrades were part way done in June but it was not possible to be sure, but based on the change during July it looks like the regrades are complete, the upload speed profile for FTTC users with TalkTalk during July and Q2 2017 are included below for people to judge the change for themselves.

Upload speeds from TalkTalk FTTC customers in July 2017

Upload speeds from TalkTalk FTTC customers in July 2017 with almost no-one showing up to 1.9 Mbps upload speeds anymore due to upgrades to the up to 9.5 Mbps variant

Upload speeds from TalkTalk FTTC customers in Q2 2017

Upload speeds from TalkTalk FTTC customers in Q2 2017 with lots of customers clearly still on the up to 1.9 Mbps variant

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TalkTalk scam victims move closer to class-action lawsuit

Close up of the TalkTalk logo as seen on its website




Around 21,000 TalkTalk customers had their personal data breached.
Photograph: Alamy

Lawyers acting for around 50 people defrauded by scammers after a major data breach at TalkTalk in 2014 are discussing their next move, which victims hope could herald the start of legal action against the broadband firm.

Last week the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) announced it was fining TalkTalk £100,000 for failing to look after its customers’ data. The ICO said TalkTalk had breached data protection laws by allowing unjustifiably wide-ranging access to its systems by external companies, including Wipro, an Indian IT services firm it employed to deal with complaints and coverage problems. Staff there had access to large quantities of TalkTalk customers’ data including names, addresses, phone numbers and account details.

The ICO report referred to 21,000 TalkTalk customers who’d had their data breached. Fraudsters started to ring TalkTalk customers at home, quoting their account numbers, and were able to convince them that they were calling from the broadband firm. Customers, who were used to talking to Indian staff at the telecoms firm, were told there were internet problems that required a fix. The fraudsters conned the customers into giving them access to their bank accounts to make a £250 payment. Instead, they had their accounts cleaned out.

Graeme Smith lost £2,800 to scammers




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Graeme Smith lost £2,800 to scammers Photograph: Gary Calton for the Guardian

In 2015, Guardian Money featured the case of Graeme Smith who lived near Chester-le-Street in County Durham. He lost £2,800 to fraudsters who had obtained his account details. Since then several others have come forward, some of whom have lost larger sums.

TalkTalk has consistently denied responsibility for the frauds, arguing that these customers were duped in the same way as many others are by frauds that plague UK consumers.

Lawyers acting for the victims had been waiting for the ICO to rule on the data breach before starting legal proceedings. Sean Humber, a solicitor at information law specialist Leigh Day, who is bringing the group action, said his firm would be speaking to barristers shortly “before we make a decision regarding the action”.

“We welcome the ICO’s recognition of TalkTalk’s failure to protect its customers’ information, leaving them at huge risk of being targeted by fraudsters,” Humber said. “Customers of all companies, particularly those that hold large amounts of data online, should be able to trust that their personal and private information is safe.

“The ICO recognised that this data breach was of a kind likely to result in customers being scammed. Those affected may have claims for compensation under the Data Protection Act, and for a breach of their confidence, by arguing that the losses suffered were caused by TalkTalk’s failure to keep their personal information secure.”

TalkTalk said: “We notified the ICO in 2014 of our suspicions that a small number of employees at one of our third-party suppliers were abusing their access to non-financial customer data. We informed our customers at the time and launched a thorough investigation, which has led to us to withdraw all customer service operations from India. We continue to take our customers’ data and privacy incredibly seriously, and while there is no evidence that any of the data was passed on to third parties, we apologise to those affected.”

TalkTalk customers who have been scammed can contact Leigh Day on 020 7650 1200, or by emailing [email protected] or [email protected]

iOS 11 Has A Feature That Deactivates Touch ID

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iOS 11 Has A Feature That Deactivates Touch ID

iOS 11 Has A Feature That Deactivates Touch ID

It appears that Apple is incorporating a new feature on iOS 11 that will instantly deactivate Touch ID. The purpose of this feature is actually to provide a means for automating emergency services calls. Basically, the feature works by allowing iOS mobile users to tap the power button quickly five times in order to be able to quickly dial 911. To be perfectly clear, this does not automatically let a user dial emergency services by default. What it does instead is display the option to and temporarily turn off Touch ID until one provides a passcode. 

What happened in previous iOS versions was that temporarily deactivating Touch ID meant having to restart the iPhone device, wait for a number of days before the handset automatically asks for the passcode, try another finger repeatedly in order to force the device to lock out, or just deactivate Touch ID by heading to the setting section. 

It goes without saying that Apple’s new feature allows users to take full advantage of a far more discreet method of locking out an iPhone, especially if they find themselves in a scenario wherein they are worried that somebody else might force them to unlock the device.

Using a fingerprint reader to unlock mobile devices has become much talked about subject for law enforcement requests. Cops in Michigan have even gone as far as 3D printing the fingerprint of a victim of a murder in order to unlock a handset. With border patrol searches on mobile devices grabbing headlines lately, this new feature on iOS 11 should at least help prevent Touch ID from being used until a passcode is inputted.

There has been talk that Apple is considering incorporating a face unlocking feature on its next generation of iPhone devices, which means that the new “cop button” feature on iOS 11 is as relevant as ever. In situations where a user might not need to be physically forced to unlock a device, a feature that lets people instantly deactivate Touch ID or a face unlocking feature could become even more handy. 

In recent times, law enforcement agencies have drawn flak from the legal system and mobile companies when it comes to gaining access to people’s handsets. A clear example was the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s attempt to convince Apple to unlock an iPhone unit used by a suspect in the San Bernardino attacks. And more recently, those entering the United States have had to deal with border patrol searches on their mobile devices.

Google’s Mobile Search Results Now Have 6-Second Video Previews

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Google’s Mobile Search Results Now Have 6-Second Video Previews

Google’s Mobile Search Results Now Have 6-Second Video Previews

Google has recently revealed that it has rolled out a new big update to its mobile search results pages. Whenever a particular video is included in the query results, the search giant will now also display a six second preview clip so that the user can decide better to check out the video or leave it alone.

The good news is that Google has made sure to have the update work on most of all video content found on the Internet, including of course, its own YouTube. As explained by Emily Moxley, the director of product management for this project at Google, to TechCrunch, any video posted on the Internet is actually qualified for inclusion in the six second video preview. But not all previews will show simply because Google’s servers will still take some time to actually generate the said previews.

It goes without saying that videos from the Internet are as popular a source of information (and of course,  entertainment) as ever before, but they are not exactly as easy to preview — sure, thumbnails do give some idea, but they may not be as good a representative of the complete content as video creators hope they are, despite the fact that some content providers have since mastered the art of choosing the right thumbnail to attract the most number of viewers. 

This is why a six second preview is so much better than just a mere thumbnail. Still, a preview is not that easy to figure out, too. Which part of the video exactly do you feature in those six seconds in order to give the best idea of what the video is really all about? For Google, it has chosen to acquire the assistance of machine learning. Basically what happens is that the search giant’s algorithm examines the whole video and chooses the best six second segment to serve as the search result preview. 

By the way, it is worth mentioning that the six second previews do not feature any ads. Moreover, they will only play when the user is connected to a Wi-Fi network. Also, users are free to deactivate video previews on mobile networks, too, or even disable the whole thing altogether by going to settings for both the Google app and Google Chrome for Android. Lastly, the six second previews for video search results are only made available on mobile for now, both via the Google app and in Google Chrome.

Openreach to run special offer on full fibre 330/50 product

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Full fibre may be the future of broadband but after some 15 years of price competition both retailers and consumers are well used to special offers and the latest 330 Mbps download with 50 Mbps upload connection speed GEA-FTTP variant from Openreach is now exception.

Openreach has published on its public price portal a special offer that is set to run for 12 months starting in October 2017 from £38 per month to £25.39 per month for the data only product, the version where you retain and still pay line rental for a copper line will be on offer for £17 per month and the fibre voice access (i.e. phone calls over the fibre segment) will be £25.64 per month.

Before people get too excited remember that this price drop is JUST for 12 months and is at the wholesale level, so the retail prices are going to be significantly higher once providers have added the cost of items like a GEA cablelink and backhauling the data from the handover node to their core network. It seems highly likely that the price offer is a move to encourage providers who do not already sell the GEA-FTTP range to sign-up and the 12 month price promotion may neatly offset a lot of the initial overheads of getting a 10 Gbps cablelink that connects the Openreach fibre cabinet with the providers own backhaul cabinets in the handover exchange. 1 Gbps cablelink products do exist but if looking to sell the faster GEA-FTTP variants on any scale then the large 10 Gbps link is the sensible option.

Since it is likely to be mentioned in the comments we are aware of some possible changes on the fibre on demand option in terms of construction costs that is available to those with access to FTTC, we have asked for official details, since in the past the FoD service has been the one where rumour and simple confusion are rife.

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Openreach expands G.fast roll-out to 500,000 premises

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The Openreach G.fast roll-out which is eventually intended to cover some ten million premises may now start to be more readily available as the news of the footprint growing to 500,000 premises has been released by Operneach. Hopefully this will encourage more retailers to make it available on an invite basis or fingers crossed a proper retail product.

The roll-out was at a notional 100,000 premises last week and the latest announcement apparently brings that to 500,000 premises, and explains the wave of pod sightings around the UK (not all sightings were G.fast pods some were street cabinet extensions – the airvents on G.fast pods is the key distinguishing factor). The half a million is set to increase to one million by the end of the year too, suggesting a lot of staff attaching the pods and connecting power and fibre from the nearby VDSL2 cabinet.

G.fast for is being sold at two main speed points currently, up to 160 Mbps and up to 330 Mbps (with a 50 Mbps upload on the 330 Mbps service) and as its DSL based the speeds do drop off over distance and Openreach will not sell the service on a line estimated to get under 100 Mbps. On our guide to How Broadband Works there is a G.fast section that includes an idea of the distance versus speed battle, the G.fast table was added in anticipation of the roll-out speeding up.

The 26 new locations around the UK that are set to get the ultrafast service are:

  • Armley
  • Bath Kingsmead
  • Bishops Stortford
  • Brierley Hill
  • Brighton Hove
  • Chorlton
  • Eltham
  • Glasgow Bridgeton
  • Glasgow Douglas
  • Great Barr
  • Hammersmith
  • Hemel Hempstead
  • High Wycombe
  • Hunslet
  • Kidbrooke
  • Liverpool Central
  • Lofthouse Gate
  • Manchester East
  • Mansfield
  • Northern, Birmingham
  • Parsons Green
  • Portsmouth North End
  • Pudsey
  • Rochdale
  • Wandsworth
  • Whitchurch, South Glamorgan

We have started the generation of a new map layer so that people can easily see where we know that G.fast is live and while our count of 38,500 premises with access at over 100 Mbps is well below the 100,000 figure of the PR material this is thought to be down to the fact that we have concentrated more on tracking the VDSL2 and FTTP roll-outs. Clearly if the roll-out has expanded to 500,000 premises actually able to order we should start to spot those cabinets as people start upgrading to the faster service.

While current G.fast roll-out is giving those who already have the best VDSL2 speeds the choice of a faster speed and will anger those who still have bad speeds, but as this roll-out is not funded with any public money Openreach is free to do as it wishes with the framework Ofcom runs. The political pressure is shifting from a focus on superfast to ultrafast especially and therefore it makes sense to get an idea of how popular faster options are amongst those who already have the fastest superfast broadband speeds and if the financials stackup there is nothing to stop Openreach rolling out FTTP to areas where G.fast cannot currently provider ultrafast speeds and with a target of two million FTTP premises from Openreach by 2020 it it possible.

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Should Galaxy Note 4 Owners Be Worried About The CPSC Recalling Note 4 Batteries?

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Should Galaxy Note 4 Owners Be Worried About The CPSC Recalling Note 4  Batteries?

Should Galaxy Note 4 Owners Be Worried About The CPSC Recalling Note 4  Batteries?

The answer is no for now. Yes, it is true that batteries of Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 are being recalled as of the moment, but there is not going to be another Galaxy Note 7 disaster this time. First of all, it is not the South Korean phone maker’s fault this time. This is because this recent recall pertains to Galaxy Note 4 batteries that were supplied by FedEx Supply Chain. 

 

As indicated in the official recall page found on the website of the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), these batteries were found to have the potential to overheat, possibly causing fires and even burn related injuries or damage. So far, a total of 10,200 batteries are being recalled right now, and while that number is not low, it is not as high as the number of Galaxy Note 4 units currently released in the market.

 

Apparently, these batteries were being used in replacement handset units given via AT&T’s insurance program. It bears noting that these batteries were distributed solely through that program. For users who did not receive a replacement unit through AT&T’s insurance program between December of last year and April of this year, they can relax. 

 

So what exactly is the problem with these batteries? Well, first and foremost, all of them are counterfeit. It is not clear yet how FedEx Supply Chain got these counterfeit batteries in the first place. Thankfully, there have been no reported incidents of injuries or damage so far. And to FedEx Supply Chain’s credit, it did acted fast enough in urging customers who received those batteries to stop using them immediately, including the Galaxy Note 4 devices themselves, even though there are no indications of overheating whatsoever. 

 

Moreover, according to FedEx Supply Chain, it will be shipping a new replacement battery unit for every affected Galaxy Note 4 owner, as well as a return box, free of charge. It is a good thing that the Galaxy Note 4 was the last of Samsung’s Note models to have removable batteries, which means that users will not have to wait for their replacement battery from FedEx Supply Chain to be delivered before they can continue using their phablet. They can just remove the FedEx battery, and replace it with another Galaxy Note 4 battery while waiting for FedEx’s replacement to arrive. For more information about the recall, affected users can also contact FedEx Supply Chain through 800 338 0163.

EE Home Broadband sale ending soon

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EE has been selling its home broadband packages at the same price for some time so a sale that lasts a few days is unusual from the provider. The pricing is available for those ordering online before the end of Monday 21st August 2017, note the sale prices will only show up once you’ve entered your location information.

  • Standard Unlimited Broadband ADSL2+ £18.50 per month on an 18 month contract then £28.50 per month, plus £7 setup fee
  • Fibre Unlimited Broadband FTTC/VDSL2  £26 per month for 18 months, then £34.40 per month and £32 setup fee, up to 38 Mbps download and up to 9.5 Mbps upload.
  • Fibre Plus Broadband FTTC/VDSL2 £32.50 per month for 18 months, then £40.50 and £32 setup free, up to 76 Mbps download and up to 19 Mbps upload.

Pricing may vary based on your location.

The sale actually started on Monday, but at first we did not run the sale as it did not appear to be active, but we eventually found out that all the links still showed the standard pricing and it was not until you entered your postcode/telephone number that the sale pricing would show up. Hint to all broadband providers if running a sale make the pricing obvious or at least give an obvious tease such as ‘enter details to reveal your offer’.

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