Can I get broadband and mobile in the same bundle?
A growing number of broadband suppliers are branching out into the mobile market. Virgin Media, BT, Sky, Plusnet, EE and Vodafone are among the big names that will sell you mobile deals.
You can often sign up to these mobile deals separately, if you wanted to. But you can net some big savings by taking broadband and mobile as part of a single bundle. These bundles are available to new customers, and you can usually add a mobile plan to your existing broadband package. You'll be able to keep your old number, too. Just request your PAC code from your old network when you call to tell them you're leaving.
A handful of the biggest names package their deals into what we call "quad-play" offers. They sell all the four main services - broadband, landline, mobile and TV - in a single bundle. It's a lot easier - and cheaper - to get everything from the same company, but might not be for you if you value flexibility. But we'll get to the pros and cons later.
What kind of deals are available?
So, you're interested in combining your broadband and mobile into a single package. This should enable you to bag some great benefits.
By buying the two together you should always look to get a cheaper price than if you bought them separately from different providers. But that's not all. You might also be able to snag a better mobile deal, offering a bigger data allowance than you'd normally get at the same price.
Specific deals change regularly, but the kinds of things you can expect from the main providers are:
What are the benefits of broadband and mobile bundles?
There are some pretty compelling reasons for taking a broadband and mobile bundle.
- It's convenient. The main reason to get your broadband and mobile from the same supplier - and possibly with TV and landline as well - is convenience. We've all got so many services that we need to keep track of. Lumping a few of them together, where you can forget about them for year or more, makes life so much easier. That said, some providers - like Vodafone - have different length contracts for mobile and broadband even under the same deal. You still need to keep track of when they end, so you can seek out better alternatives or cheap upgrades.
- You can save money. It's simple - the more services you sign up to, the cheaper you're likely to get them. When you buy your broadband and mobile together, there's a good chance you'll pay less than if you got them separately.
- You can add the whole family. If you've got kids with their own smartphones, you can add them to your deal. It makes things a whole lot easier to manage and renew.
What are the downsides?
Broadband and mobile bundles are very attractive but they might not be right for everyone. Here are a few downsides you need to know about.
- It's less flexible. Getting everything from the same provider could mean you miss out on great deals from other companies. This might be especially true if you like to pick up, say, Black Friday deals on new smartphones.
- You'll probably have to buy your own phone. The mobile part of a mobile and broadband bundle is usually a SIM-only deal. This means you get a SIM card with a call, text and data allowance, and have to provide your own phone. This won't be a problem for many, but if you like to pick up a new iPhone every year or two you might be better off with the freedom to shop for the best deal across all the networks.
- You get fewer choices. Not every provider offers these bundles, so your choices are more limited. You might not be able to get a mobile deal through your preferred broadband provider. Want to add TV as well? Your choices are even smaller.
- You might still be tied into an existing mobile deal. Remember, you can only take advantage of any low cost bundles if you aren't stuck on your old mobile deal. If you're partway through a 12 or 18 month contract you'd have to pay a penalty to leave. Depending on how long you've got left it's likely to more than cancel out any savings you can make.
Do broadband providers run their own mobile networks?
Only a few broadband providers have their own mobile networks. The rest are "virtual networks", where they lease infrastructure off the industry's big names at wholesale prices.
The UK has four mobile networks, run by EE, Vodafone, O2 and Three. No matter which provider you choose, you'll always be using one of these networks.
You can get your mobile plan from these networks, and in the case of EE and Vodafone you can get it as part of a bundle with your broadband. You're also going straight to the source with BT, too, since they own EE.
Every other mobile provider is what is know as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO). They buy infrastructure and spectrum from one of these four networks and resell it under their own brand. Some of the UK's biggest mobile brands, including Sky Mobile, Tesco Mobile and Virgin Media, are MVNOs.
Why does this matter? For the most part, it doesn't. But if you want to check that your chosen provider has good coverage where you live or work, you need to know which network it runs on.
Are virtual networks as good as the real thing?
There's a lot to love about virtual networks. The experience is often the same as that from one of the main networks, and often a lot cheaper.
Technically, the service an MVNO provides is exactly the same as that of its parent network. Virgin Mobile, for instance, works on the EE network. As a Virgin customer you'll get the same coverage and the same speed as EE customers get, it's just that your contract, customer service and so on come from Virgin.
In fact, even though the service is the same, you'll often actually get it cheaper because MVNOs have lower overheads. They don't have to maintain the network infrastructure, and most don't even have high street stores like traditional networks do.
On top of that, MVNOs tend to have a high customer satisfaction rating. A 2018 Which? report had six MVNOs at the top of its list of best rated networks.
No negatives at all?
If this sounds to good to be true, it actually isn't. Virtual networks are a great choice. But there are a few downsides you need to know about.
The service from a virtual network is, by definition, reliant on a third party. This might affect how much they can help when there's a problem. For instance, when O2's mobile data service went down for a day in December 2018, it took millions of Sky Mobile, giffgaff, Lycamobile and Tesco Mobile customers with it. All of these providers use the O2 network.
Bandwidth shaping or fair policies may be in place. Congestion can become noticeable on some smaller networks during very busy periods, where there isn't enough available bandwidth. And other MVNOs use bandwidth shaping, or have fair use policies, to limit how much you can download even on "all you can eat" plans. giffgaff, for instance, allows you to download up to 9GB of data at 4G speeds, but then drops you down to the much slower 3G speeds for the rest of the month. These are extreme examples, though. For "normal" use under "normal" conditions you won't notice any difference.
Finally, virtual networks may not be around forever. TalkTalk, for example, used to be a quad play provider with its own virtual network, but now only offers mobile deals through O2.
Which networks do the mobile providers use?
EE, Vodafone, O2 and Three all run their own mobile networks. They provide their own services to the public and also lease their infrastructure to the UK's growing number of MVNOs.
Here's what networks some of the main virtual mobile providers run on.
- BT - EE (owned by BT)
- Virgin Mobile - EE
- Plusnet - EE
- Sky - O2
- giffgaff - O2
- Tesco - O2
- Asda - EE
- Lycamobile - O2
- iD Mobile - Three
- Lebara Mobile - Vodafone