TalkTalk or Plusnet for budget broadband
TALKTALK vs PLUSNET: TalkTalk say they're "for everyone", while Plusnet promise "to do you proud".
With pledges like that, it would be easy to mistake them for politicians rather than providers of cheap broadband.
But in the battle of the budget broadband providers, who comes out on top: TalkTalk or Plusnet? In this guide, we look at some of the factors that could well sway the vote.
Given the competition for customers, especially among the budget ISPs, providers will often throw in sweeteners to tempt us to join them. TalkTalk and Plusnet are no exception.
Here are the current offers from Plusnet:
Having recently completely rebranded and relaunched their whole line, TalkTalk now offer a range of contract lengths - and their best offers tend to be on the longer deals:
But what exactly are they tempting us to sign up for?
What TalkTalk and Plusnet sell
TalkTalk offer mobile phone services for existing customers, and TV through Youview, on top of their broadband and home phone; Plusnet launched their own Youview TV service in May 2015, but it's only available to existing fibre customers.
We look more deeply into what each offers in terms of TV in this article, but we'll compare them side by side below. As we're comparing like for like in this article we'll ignore TalkTalk's mobile service.
Basic broadband and calls
Let's start with the providers' most basic broadband and phone line packages. Both offer unlimited broadband of up to 17Mb.
|Package||Broadband||Contract term||Upfront price||Monthly price|
|Unlimited + Line Only||Up to 17Mb
for 12 mths,
|Fast Broadband||Up to 17Mb
for 12 mths,
Note that Plusnet's basic broadband generally comes with a minimum 12-month contract - but that for their faster fibre deals they normally require a minimum 18-month commitment and these, and their 24-month contracts, usually offer the best value for money.
The picture is pretty similar for Plusnet, their longer contracts give the most value. But should customers want it, they offer much more flexibility with a broader range of 12-month contracts, including some for their fibre deals. They even sell some plans with 30-day minimum contracts.
Neither ISP includes any calls with their line rental.
To get any inclusive UK calls with TalkTalk, there's just one option, and that's to pay another £5 a month for anytime calls to UK landlines and mobiles.
Before their relaunch, customers who signed up for one of TalkTalk's TV deals would get at least evening and weekend calls included - but no more. Even those taking TV Plus have to pay to add calls to their bundle.
There's more on the options TalkTalk offer for both their TV and phone bolt-ons in our full review of their broadband service.
Plusnet offer customers the chance to add evening and weekend calls to UK landlines and mobiles for £4 a month, or anytime calls for £8 a month.
But, unusually for an ISP these days, Plusnet also sell broadband without requiring customers to sign up to their home phone service.
There's a strong incentive to take the phone line though as most of the best introductory deals and offers come when taking both services.
There's more on taking Plusnet's phone service - or not - in our full review of their broadband, here.
People looking for faster connections or the ability to have multiple devices online at once, without their connection suffering, might want to consider fibre instead.
After a while in which there was a bit of a seesaw in favour of one then the other regarding general prices for fibre, we're now back to the situation where there's practically no difference in cost between the two.
Depending on the introductory offers, new customers will sometimes find that Plusnet edge it, but beyond that TalkTalk are slightly more competitive in the long term.
Here's how they break down:
While their standard fibre contracts, listed above, are 18 months long, both offer 12-month fibre contracts as well, albeit for a higher monthly price.
Cutting costs further
At the time of writing, neither Plusnet nor TalkTalk can lay claim to the "cheapest broadband" crown - and as a result of TalkTalk's move to all-in pricing, they're more reliant than ever on their offers to bring prices down, as they no longer offer upfront line rental.
They've previously come in for serious criticism over the shrinking discount on offer for those who did choose to pay a year in advance.
In spring 2014 it cost £142 a year, equivalent to £11.84 a month - making it one of the best value upfront options around. By December 2014, paying upfront cost £180.36, and for legacy customers looking to renew now, it costs £204.66 for 12 months (about £17 a month) or £289.93 for 18 months (just over £16 a month).
New customers don't have that option at all, and while the total monthly price is now cheaper than it was, it's not enough to give the kind of savings upfront payment offered.
This is one area where Plusnet win then, despite the price of their Line Rental Saver option having shot up in the past few years. Until 2014, Plusnet's upfront option was £155.88 a year, costing the equivalent of £12.99 a month and offering a 20% saving over the year.
In 2015 however, they increased the price to £185.88 - the equivalent of £15.49 a month - but at least it stayed at this price for a while now.
That said, not everyone can get Plusnet's cheapest prices. Plusnet employ geographical pricing and so the "from" prices quoted in all their standard deals refer to the prices for customers on Market B exchanges - covering about 90% of the country and correlating with the most competitive areas.
People served by Market A exchanges - roughly 10% of the country, and the less competitive, more rural areas - will find they have to pay £7.50 more a month for the same services.
Such people may want to consider looking at John Lewis, who resell Plusnet's services but don't use geographical pricing. For more on this see our full review of John Lewis here.
Both TalkTalk and Plusnet offer more than what's available on standard Freeview via the Youview service - the differences are subtle, but they boil down to more catch up and on demand content.
However, Youview tends to be the base platform for other paid for TV services, which differ depending on the provider.
There's one immediate difference between Plusnet and TalkTalk when it comes to TV: Plusnet's is only available to customers who have fibre broadband, and everyone who takes it will pay at least £5 a month.
TalkTalk offer their TV service to all their customers - and for those getting their basic "TV" deal, it costs no more per month than getting just broadband and phone.
However, that glosses over the other, more subtle, differences between the two. It's easiest to explain those by starting here:
|Package||Record and store programmes?||Premium channels||Upfront price||Additional cost per month|
|TV Plus||Up to 180 hours SD||6 Sky channels||£25||£5|
|Youview+||Up to 300 hours SD||20||£57.99||£5|
Everyone who gets Plusnet's Youview service pays £5 a month, but they also all get at least 20 premium channels (including BT Sport 1) as standard. Customers can get the rest of the BT Sport pack for as little as £5 a month, and add further children's content with the Kids TV pack or an additional nine premium channels with the Entertainment pack.
TalkTalk charge £5 a month for "TV Plus" with 6 Sky channels, such as Sky 1, Sky Living, Sky Arts and Sky Sports News HQ, included. Customers can also choose to add a further 30 channels to their subscription with an Entertainment channel boost for £12 extra a month.
Unlike Plusnet, TalkTalk does not offer any of the BT Sport channels as standard, customers who want to access any BT Sport content will have to pay £21.99 a month for the full channel pack.
Both offer Netflix, but TalkTalk win in terms of additional extras - here's a quick list of the add-ons each offers:
|Extras available||Additional costs|
|Entertainment Plus, Kids, BT Sport, HD Pack||From £3 to £5 each per month|
|Asian TV, Entertainment (30 premium channels), Kids,
Picturebox (on demand films and box sets),
Boxnation, Sky Sports, Sky Cinema
|From £5 to £42 each per month|
TalkTalk have their own on demand store, offering movies to rent or buy as a download.
Although Plusnet don't offer Sky Sports or Cinema as add on services the Youview set top box does include apps for Now TV and the Sky Store, so users can access more premium content, or rent or buy shows and movies on there.
Another important point to note is that TalkTalk TV does not offer any HD content other than the standard Freeview HD channels. Even if customers purchase the Sky Sports or BT Sports channel packs, which with other providers come with HD versions, customers won't get this option with TalkTalk.
Whereas Plusnet offer a £3 HD add-on, which offers HD versions of many of the premium channels that already come with Plusnet as well as some in the Entertainment pack. Anyone who has the BT Sport channel pack will also get access to those channels in HD too when purchasing the add-on.
In terms of simplicity and price, Plusnet win - but for those who want to be able to add lots of different services, or get Sky Sports, TalkTalk are the better option. Just be aware that the cost of all their add-ons can soon mount up.
How fast is the broadband?
Both advertise speeds of up to 17Mb, but it's frequently the case that users won't get anywhere near that figure.
When it comes to fibre, both providers resell BT's up to 38Mb and 76Mb services.
The last results were published in April 2017, and look like this:
|Advertised speed||Average speeds over 24 hours||Average speeds at peak time (8-10pm weekdays)|
|Up to 17Mb||8.6Mb to 10Mb||8.6Mb to 9.9Mb|
|Up to 17Mb||9.6Mb to 11.4Mb||9.5Mb to 11.3Mb|
|Up to 38Mb||30.8Mb to 32.8Mb||30.63Mb to 32.6Mb|
|Up to 38Mb||31Mb to 33.5Mb||30.1Mb to 32.7Mb|
|Up to 76Mb*||51.6Mb to 56.7Mb||51.2Mb to 56.3Mb|
|Up to 76Mb||54.6Mb to 57.7Mb||53.9Mb to 57Mb|
SOURCE: Ofcom, UK Home Broadband Performance, April 2017. Available here [pdf].
Although it's close across all three services Plusnet look to have the edge - and from our highly scientific, one-household test of both services, we'd be tempted to say that their edge isn't imagined.
We were fortunate to have access to a household in the process of switching from TalkTalk to Plusnet.
We ran speed tests in the final week of the TalkTalk service, and again just under a month later, when the Plusnet service had been given the chance to settle down.
Each ISP was tested three times a day - morning, afternoon and during peak time - and over the weekend as well as during the week.
We did indeed find that Plusnet offer a faster service - but the speeds vary considerably with no apparent pattern to the variation.
For example, we recorded the fastest speeds of the whole run one Monday evening at peak time. We tested the connection speed three times in a row to check - and this was the slowest download speed we got:
SOURCE: Choose, speed test results carried out April 2015, speed test by Ookla.com.
But during weekdays - never mind at weekends when we could expect there to be more traffic - speeds regularly dropped to around 13Mb, and sometimes lower.
TalkTalk, on the other hand, were generally slower - but speeds were fairly consistent, from 13Mb to 14Mb across the day, regardless of whether it was peak time or not.
There was a little more variation at the weekend, but the download speed only dropped below 10Mb once, on Sunday afternoon:
SOURCE: Choose, speed test results carried out April 2015, speed test by Ookla.com.
To show just how big the difference in variability was, here's a screenshot from Ookla.com, showing the results of all those speed tests:
Where the line starts to leap up and down, about a third of the way along, is where the Plusnet results begin.
No one likes it when things go wrong, and even if the service is flawless we all have to get in touch with our ISP from time to time.
Plusnet have had some problems in this area lately, especially when it comes to waiting times to actually get through to customer service. In fact, Ofcom's latest customer service report revealed that of all providers, Plusnet had the longest waiting times.
Yet despite this they seem to rate consistently highly when it comes to customer service in general. They've made it into our top five ISPs for customer service. Plus they usually rank in the top three or four for other surveys and reports, doing well against small "high quality" ISPs like Zen, and easily beating the big four.
TalkTalk, on the other hand, are still suffering somewhat from the impact of one of the worst years they've ever had.
After three data breaches in the space of less than 12 months, they saw more than 100,000 customers desert them within months - and many of those who didn't leave complained about how they were treated, or about the measures TalkTalk took to apologise.
It's sometime on now but they're still feeling the effects: in our overview of the UK broadband market, they're the only one of the Big Four ISPs to report a drop in customer numbers from the previous year.
Yet Ofcom's report shows some positive signs that TalkTalk are turning things around on the customer service front. They have the shortest wait time of all ISPs for contacting customer service, and out of the six big ISPs they came in third for the least complaints received per 100,000 customers (beating Plusnet nonetheless).
There's more on the best customer service among ISPs here.
In conclusion: TalkTalk or Plusnet?
TalkTalk used to have the edge when it came to headline prices and special offers - and from our tests, they offer a slightly more consistent service. However, we can't completely discount those data breaches just yet: TalkTalk have a lot to prove again.
For those in the most competitive areas, Plusnet's almost constant introductory offers, and the added flexibility regarding paying for the landline and calls now make them look much more competitive - and they have a more impressive customer service record to back them up.
And as we mentioned above, neither is actually the cheapest provider any more - so if price is the biggest factor, have a look at our cheap broadband comparison table - to see who's beating them right now.