Be claim to offer fast speeds and truly unlimited downloads. But are those features worth their higher prices? Read more »
Be broadband are the UK's quirkiest little ISP: a friendly, geeky atmosphere seems to hang around the provider and its user base doubles as a fan club.
So before we get into the nitty gritty of prices, speeds and calls let's take a quick look at why that is. What makes Be so different?
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're 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 are not one and the same.
Although O2 benefits from Be's fast speeds, the larger provider doesn'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 difference between O2 and Be broadband.
On a practical level, there are 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.
Be broadband offers three unlimited broadband packages:
According to the last big piece of research from Ofcom, released in August 2012, the network actually delivers:
|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's misleading for individual broadband users for three reasons.
1. Unmanaged traffic Be broadband is completely unlimited meaning that they don't manage traffic - slowing one service to speed up another.
It's a difference you can particularly see when it comes 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 have 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 100Mb Virgin Media, 38Mb - 76Mb BT Infinity or in very select areas of London 1Gb Hyperoptic which is run by Be's founders) but Be's reputation for consistent, reliable service makes 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.
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 comes in three varieties:
The PAYG line rental is a particularly good deal for those that only want a home phone to get broadband.
Overall, though, Be line rental is mid market: it's not as much as BT's but cheaper is available elsewhere (with network-mate O2, for example).
The same principle applies to Be package prices overall: they come at the more expensive end of mid market and certainly aren't offering the UK's lowest prices on broadband (seen here).
Here's a super quick run down of Be's main deals:
|Value||Up to 10Mb||Unlimited||£17||Visit Be »|
|Unlimited||Up to 16Mb||Unlimited||£22||Visit Be »|
|Pro||Up to 16Mb||Unlimited||£27||Visit Be »|
See our Be deals table above to check availability and see more options.
There's a strong argument that unlimited O2 deals, All Rounder and The Works, are offering an essentially pretty similar service for a cheaper monthly cost.
In addition, broadband without traffic management is available elsewhere for less. For example, from Sky (reviewed here).
However, as we note above, Be are a provider with a pretty unique proposition that makes many willing to pay a little more for their connection every month.
Be, for example, have 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.
Taking a 12-month contract with Be broadband means that setup and the Be wireless router comes 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 must also pay a connection fee.
In either case, Be are entitled to ask customers to return hardware and are very likely to do so in the case of the three month contract or when 12 month contract customers leave within the minimum contract period.
Failure to return hardware at the end of the contract incurs a charge so a proof of postage slip is a good idea.
Despite the high prices, online forums and spleen venting sites are consistently low on bad reviews for the Be Broadband service which speaks volumes for Be and the niche it has 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.
This is exemplified in the provider's partnership with IT support company Geeks-on-Wheels, Be customers get 15% off their services.
It may not be the cheapest broadband provider but it does suit the sort of internet user who thinks that extras like that are worth paying for.
One thing's for sure, they don't look like they're likely to lose their good reputation for customer service anytime soon.
This article was last updated 3 September 2012, it was first published 15 November 2011.
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