Be broadband: a look back at the UK's quirkiest little ISP
In early 2013, Be broadband, the UK's quirkiest little ISP, was bought up by Sky.
It's fair to say that Be customers weren't happy: for years, a friendly, geeky atmosphere seemed to hang around the provider and its user base doubled as a fan club.
In this article, we take a look back at what made Be so different from other providers. Why did their users love them so much? And what are they going to do now?
Be broadband 101
Be was founded in 2004 and immediately took a new approach to the broadband market: as the UK's exchanges were unbundled the provider went in and installed new technology to speed up connections.
This ADSL2+ equipment, which made Be the first provider in the UK to offer 'up to 24Mb' speeds, still makes the Be network the fastest ADSL broadband provider, more precise figures here, today, as you'll see in the next section.
Installing all that equipment meant that Be broadband started very small which perhaps accounts for a business ethos that prizes excellent customer service and extras such as customer/company drinks and free broadband on customers' birthdays.
The other thing worth knowing about them, however, is that they were owned by someone very big: Telefonica.
Telefonica bought Be so that they could use their fast network for their O2 broadband brand but, contrary to popular belief, the two were not one and the same.
Although O2 benefits from Be's fast speeds, the larger provider didn't offer broadband without traffic management and the two companies are otherwise functionally separate.
See our in-depth review for a complete low down on the differences between O2 and Be broadband.
The details: speeds, calls and contracts
On a practical level, there were three areas that set Be apart from other ISPs.
They're the fastest ADSL provider and one of the most reliable and offer some of the UK's cheapest line rental options and some of the most innovative contracts. Here are the details.
Speeds and downloads
Be broadband offered three unlimited broadband packages:
- Value: 10Mb
- Unlimited: 16Mb
- Pro: 16Mb (1.9 Mb upload)
According to the last big piece of research from Ofcom, released in August 2012, the network actually delivered:
|Overall average (24 hours)||Peak (8-10pm weekdays)|
|16Mb*||9.1 to 10.9Mb||8.9 to 10.7Mb|
*Ofcom data not available for 10Mb deal.
That's not only the fastest ADSL broadband in the UK, it's the broadband with the least slow down during peak times: as you can see, it barely changes at all.
Note that the Ofcom research above lumped Be and O2 together and that was misleading for individual broadband users for three reasons.
1. Unmanaged traffic Be broadband was completely unlimited meaning that they didn't manage traffic - slowing one service to speed up another.
It's a difference Be users could particularly see when it came to downloads - most providers keep these in the slow lane to leave enough space for ordinary browsing - and you can read more about that in our traffic management guide.
2. Fair FUP Like most providers, Be broadband does have a fair use policy (FUP) which threatens to slow those who completely abuse the network. But they also have a famously relaxed attitude to usage and rarely throttle bandwidth hungry users.
Although there is a fair use policy in place, it's rarely used.
3. Low contention ratios To cap it all off, Be broadband had much lower contention ratios than other providers.
The contention ratio is a measurement of the amount of users on a line and the amount of bandwidth available: the lower the ratio the more bandwidth per person, so 1:1 means you'd have it all to yourself. This obviously improves speeds.
It's no longer the UK's fastest broadband (try 152Mb Virgin Media, 38Mb - 76Mb BT Infinity or in very select areas 1Gb Hyperoptic which is run by Be's founders) but Be's reputation for consistent, reliable service made it the most attractive of the non cable providers.
Be have been much slower than other providers to release fibre deals. They're set to start trials in late 2012 but the service won't be widely available until at least 2013.
Be home phone
While it took them a little while to launch, Be started offering home phone with their broadband in September 2010.
Like Be broadband, Be home phone came in three varieties:
- PAYG line rental: no inclusive calls at all
- Evenings and Weekends line rental: inclusive UK landline calls from 6am-6pm or
- Anytime line rental: all inclusive UK landline calls plus reduced rates to mobiles, 22 international destinations and mobile calls to the US and Canada
The PAYG line rental was a particularly good deal for those that only want a home phone to get broadband.
Overall, though, Be line rental was mid market, not as much as BT's but not the cheapest either.
Packages and contracts
The same principle applied to Be package prices overall: they came at the more expensive end of mid market and certainly weren't offering the UK's lowest prices on broadband (seen here).
Here's a super quick rundown of Be's main deals:
|Value||Up to 10Mb||No usage limit|
|Unlimited||Up to 16Mb||No usage limit|
|Pro (with static IP)||Up to 16Mb||No usage limit|
As we noted above, Be were a provider with a pretty unique proposition that made many willing to pay a little more for their connection every month.
Be had an excellent reputation for customer service and they keep contention ratios low by actually turning away customers in some instances, in contrast to the larger ISPs which create network problems by taking on too many people.
Taking a 12 month contract with Be broadband meant that setup and the Be wireless router came free.
The 3 month rolling contract, on the other hand, adds an extra £3 to the monthly price of a package.
Those taking the short contract option also had to pay a connection fee.
What now for Be customers?
Despite the high prices, online forums and spleen venting sites were consistently low on bad reviews for the Be Broadband service which spoke volumes for Be and the niche it had cut out for itself as not only the fastest ADSL broadband provider in the UK but one of the best all round providers in terms of quality of service and the levels of customer care offered.
It may not have been the cheapest broadband provider but it did suit the sort of internet user who thought that extras like that were worth paying for.
So now that Be broadband is no more, where are these customers going to go?
Migration to Sky
Sky bought Telefonica's broadband business, that's the Sky and Be brands, which means that Be broadband customers have automatically been moved over to Sky.
As we said above, many Be customers weren't too happy about that and, as we reported here, some hung on as long as possible without being migrated.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the resistance, however, Sky have done a good job of catering to Be subscribers moving over.
Sky Unlimited Pro - first announced in January - comes with a free static IP and dedicated support.
Be also made their deal less attractive towards the end, when it lost its unlimited usage label.
Alternatives to Be
Specialist ISPs like AAISP, Zen, Eclipse and Demon are the logical place for many Be customers to go next.
Their reputations for top service and extra features are widely known.