Is Plusnet broadband any good?
PLUSNET sell themselves as customer service superheroes with super low prices.
Do those claims stack up? We've taken an in-depth look at the BT owned provider to find out.
Click through or read on for more on:
- Prices: Plusnet are among the cheapest compared to the other budget ISPs, how Plusnet home phone stacks up, and how their fibre compares.
- Youview TV: now available to fibre customers; is it as good value as the rest of their services?
- Customer service: what subscribers can expect day to day and when things go wrong.
- And broadband: how Plusnet fibre and ADSL speeds compare, how usage limits and contracts affect customers and much more.
The UK's cheapest broadband?
Plusnet gained and proudly wore the "UK's cheapest broadband" crown on the strength of their old Essentials package, which had a 10GB download limit.
But with most providers moving towards unlimited data, Plusnet withdrew Essentials in June 2014.
In a bid to keep the crown, however, they occasionally run a variation of their basic Unlimited deal, which offers the same up to 17Mb broadband, but at much reduced cost or even free for at least part of the initial contract.
Instead of the more usual 12 month contract, however, would-be customers will often be tied in for a minimum of 18 months - more normally associated with fibre broadband contracts.
When that kind of offer isn't running, here are the main Plusnet deals:
Note the cost of the line rental.
Plusnet are usually about a year behind the other big ISPs in terms of price: look at what BT were charging this time last year, and that'll be roughly what Plusnet customers will be paying now. All the same, there are cheaper options.
We look more closely at Plusnet's home phone service below.
Having said that, unlike other ISPs Plusnet do allow customers to take their broadband without having to take their phone service.
Note the difference in price when the phone line is removed from the equation:
|Package||Broadband||Contract terms||Upfront price||Monthly price|
|Unlimited||Up to 17Mb
|Unlimited Fibre||Up to 38Mb
|Unlimited Fibre Extra||Up to 76Mb
In this case, the 17Mb broadband is only ever offered on a 12-month contract, with the 18-month commitment being reserved for fibre customers.
But we still haven't answered the question: are Plusnet still among the cheapest in the UK?
Well, here's how they compare to their biggest standard broadband rivals:
They might not always be the cheapest, but Plusnet are still very low cost.
Plusnet home phone (if you want it)
As shown above, Plusnet's cheapest prices come when customers take their line rental and home phone service. Without Plusnet home phone, factor in an increase of £3.50 a month and a £25 setup fee for standard broadband, and a £50 setup fee and an extra £2.50 a month on the cost for fibre.
That's enough to potentially undo any savings gained by opting for a provider with a better introductory offer or cheaper line rental. But even if that weren't incentive enough, Plusnet's home phone service is generally good value.
There are a couple of call plans available.
It used to be the case that anyone who took a Plusnet phone line would automatically get weekend calls, but like TalkTalk and Sky, Plusnet have removed the inclusive call element of their basic phone package.
Even fibre customers have to pay more to get any kind of inclusive calls.
At the time of this update, Plusnet have not long retired their old UK call packages and replacing them with two new versions that include calls to mobiles.
The new Evening and Weekend calls bundle, which covers calls to UK landlines, 0845 and 0870 numbers, and mobiles, costs £4 a month; the Anytime version will cost £8 extra a month.
There are limits to the amount of mobile calls customers will be able to make, however: calls are only free for the first 60 minutes, and there's a fair use restriction of 1,000 minutes a month on the Evening and Weekend plan, and 2,000 minutes on the Anytime plan.
For those who need or want international calls, there's a third option: Anytime International includes 300 international minutes - but no inclusive calls to UK mobiles - for £7.50 a month. There is the option to add 100 minutes of anytime calls to mobiles for another £3 a month.
|Call plan||You get||Price per month|
|Evenings & Weekends
(7pm to 7am Mon-Fri, all Sat & Sun)
|Calls to UK landlines
0845 and 0870 numbers
1,000 minutes to UK mobiles
|Anytime||Calls to UK landlines
0845 and 0870 numbers
2,000 minutes to UK mobiles
|Anytime International||Calls to UK landlines
0845 and 0870 numbers
300 minutes to landlines in 35 international destinations + mobiles in US and Canada
|Mobile bolt on||100 anytime minutes to UK mobiles||£3.00|
For more details on how total costs change with Evening + Weekend, Anytime or International call plans - or Plusnet's 30 day contracts - search Plusnet's deals here.
Calls outside inclusive time are now charged at the same rates as they are by BT: the call connection fee is 19p, and calls to UK landlines and mobiles cost 12.54p per minute.
Note that 0845 and 0870 numbers count as UK landlines within inclusive periods; otherwise they're treated like other 08 numbers, and like calls to 09 and 118 numbers, will incur an access charge of 9.58p per minute.
All packages also offer free basic voicemail, and free anytime calls to Plusnet support and other Plusnet phone customers.
Extra features - like caller ID and a more advanced voicemail service - cost from 99p to £4, although most are around £2.50.
|Voicemail Plus||Caller Display||Anonymous call reject||Reminder Call, Call waiting, Call divert, Ringback|
Worth noting is that Plusnet allow customers to bundle Caller Display and the options that cost £2.50. Taking two will cost £3.00 extra a month, and each extra service will add £1.50 to the total bundle price, up to £7.50 for all five.
Plusnet announce their annual price rises in the summer, with the new charges coming into effect in September. This puts them ahead of the bulk of ISPs, and can make them look a little less competitive for a short while.
But as they're a little cheaper than the Big Four to begin with, they usually regain their edge within a few months - as happened in 2014 when a rash of rivals announced their price rises just in time for Christmas.
It used to be the case that canny customers could benefit even further from Plusnet's upfront line rental deal which brings down the equivalent monthly cost of line rental. Up until September 2015 it cost £155.88 a year, equivalent to £12.99 a month.
Now, however, it costs £185.88 a year, or £15.49 a month - less than TalkTalk's upfront line rental, but only by £6 over the year.
Plusnet are among the cheapest available when it comes to fibre services, and it's often a fight between TalkTalk and Plusnet as to which of them is cheaper.
Even so, Virgin Media (who we look at in more detail here) aren't that much more expensive, while BT's up to 52Mb fibre costs more than Virgin's up to 50Mb deal.
Finally, note that, historically, Plusnet kept prices low by only passing the biggest discounts on to those in the most competitive areas, which are the cheapest to supply. The UK's exchanges were split into three categories, known as Markets 1, 2, and 3, in order of increasing competition.
Until July 2012, Plusnet reserved their cheapest prices for those in Market 3 areas, but after this they extended their reach to those in the then Market 2 exchanges.
A couple of years back, Markets 2 and 3 were reclassified as Market B, and Market 1 became Market A - and as competition has increased, some Market A exchanges have been reclassified as Market B.
The result of all those changes now means that Plusnet's best deals are broadly available to just as many customers as those from other providers - including many who until recently were still missing out on lower prices.
In June 2015 customers whose exchanges had been reclassified as more competitive began to receive refunds to cover the difference in what they had been paying, and the more competitive price.
People who really are served by the least competitive exchanges - in the most rural areas, for example - might want to consider John Lewis (see our full review here), who resell Plusnet but don't apply geographical pricing.
Yes, Plusnet are still one of the cheapest ISPs out there - but they're no longer always the cheapest.
So what else have they got to offer?
Youview TV on Plusnet
Trials had been running for some years, but in May 2015, Plusnet finally unveiled their Youview TV service.
Only available to their fibre customers, it comes with a minimum 18 month contract - but prices start at just £5 a month, regardless of whether customers opt for the basic Youview box or the Youview+ box.
The basic box is small and neat, and allows users to pause or rewind live TV for up to 30 minutes.
Youview+ is a larger box - to accommodate the 500GB hard drive that can store about 125 hours of HD content, or 300 hours of SD TV.
Both boxes are free to subscribers, although the better box comes with a £50 activation fee.
Whichever box subscribers pick, they get more than 70 Freeview TV and radio channels - and 20 "premium" entertainment channels as standard:
|Alibi*||Animal Planet*||British Eurosport 1*||British Eurosport 2*|
|BT Sport 1*||Comedy Central*||Crime and Investigation*||Discovery Channel*|
|Discovery: Investigation||E!||History Channel*||Lifetime*|
|MTV*||National Geographic*||Nat Geo Wild*||Sony|
*channels available in HD for £3 a month; see below.
Note the inclusion of BT Sport 1 - otherwise known as BT Sport Lite - in that list. Users can upgrade to the full BT Sport pack, including BT Sport Europe, for an extra £5 a month.
Customers can choose to add a couple of other channel bundles to their package, for £3 a month each. In terms of extra channels, there are two to choose from:
|Entertainment Plus||Comedy Central Extra, MTV Music, Movies 24, H2, TCM, Eden, Good Food|
|Kids||Disney Channel, Disney Jnr, Disney XD
Nickelodeon, Nick Junior, Nick Toons
Boomerang, Cartoon Network, Cartoonito
Or there's the HD pack, which offers HD versions of the starred channels in the Entertainment pack above. Anyone who has the full BT Sport pack will also get all those channels in HD as well.
As with other Youview providers, the channels' own catch-up services are included - that's BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, All 4, and My 5, as well as Milkshake!, UKTV (for Dave, Really and Yesterday), Quest, and where applicable, STV Player and S4C.
While it took BT and TalkTalk a while to be able to offer Netflix, it's been available from the start on Plusnet's boxes. Existing subscribers can simply log in; those thinking about it can sign up through their TVs.
On top of all that Plusnet also offer access to Now TV and the Sky Store, with prices depending on what services users want to use.
Customer service superheroes
Plusnet's reputation for customer service has, for a long time, beaten that of most of the larger providers.
They've made it their focus by providing:
- a free customer service line from a Plusnet landline, and a 0345 number if the problem is the landline, which is charged at standard rate even from a mobile - and therefore comes under most people's inclusive minutes;
- an online ticket system for tracking and resolving non urgent problems, which means multiple call centre staff can easily collaborate and co-ordinate; and
- text updates.
The provider's own polls obviously show high levels of customer satisfaction, but independent surveys also rate them highly, especially compared to the other big providers - and they rank in our top five for customer service.
However, as they've grown larger we've, perhaps inevitably, heard more complaints regarding the quality of the support on offer.
In early 2014, we reported that Plusnet customers had been experiencing long waiting times to get through to customer services. Plusnet told us that's been resolved by opening a second call centre.
Then in autumn 2015, they came in for criticism for the way they handled a serious service outage.
They do work hard to put things right, and their reputation for service is still pretty good, but "heroes" might be pushing it these days.
Although Plusnet prices and their broadband - see below - make them a good provider in many ways, there are better providers out there for service.
The nitty gritty: broadband
Finally, let's get into the details: broadband speeds, usage limits and contracts.
Plusnet's standard deals are now advertised as up to 17Mb. According to figures released by Ofcom in March 2016, the ISP's actual averages are:
|24-hour average||Peak (8-10pm weekdays)|
|Up to 17Mb||9.3Mb to 10.8Mb||9.2Mb to 10.7Mb|
For a while in 2013 they were the UK's fastest provider for up to 16Mb, and after slowing down in 2014, have regained their fastest ADSL2+ title - beating even BT into second place with average speeds of 8.9Mb to 11.8Mb.
But according to our own, highly scientific tests (read: in one house), Plusnet's higher speeds come at the cost of increased variability; TalkTalk may be slower, but their speed is more consistent. See how they compare with each other more deeply here.
Plusnet fibre broadband is now taken by enough people to be counted separately in Ofcom's figures. In Ofcom's last survey, they measure up like this:
|24-hour average||Peak (8-10pm weekdays)|
|Up to 38Mb||32.3Mb to 34.2Mb||32.1Mb to 34.0Mb|
|Up to 76Mb||54.8Mb to 58.1Mb||53.8Mb to 57.1Mb|
On top of that, the regulator says Plusnet's 76Mb fibre is among the fastest for uploads, offering average speeds of above 16Mb. Only EE's up to 76Mb service consistently beats them.
They were somewhat unusual in offering similarly fast uploads to their 38Mb customers too, but in June 2015 they changed the upload profile for new 38Mb customers to up to just 2Mb.
In the meantime, Plusnet still rank as one of our top four for fibre broadband in the UK.
More on traffic management
Plusnet are unusual in that they take considerable effort to explain their traffic management system, so it's worth mentioning here.
All traffic management aims to keep speeds up by prioritising the activities that we need to keep running quickly and smoothly as we go about our day-to-day online business - like browsing the web, for example - and slowing others, like downloading files.
There's also a limiting system which restricts certain activities - such as P2P file sharing and streaming - at peak times.
Plusnet's traffic management system is slightly different from others, however, in that it does all this on a house-by-house basis - no Plusnet home will be slowed down for the sake of another. Instead, it's the traffic within the house itself that's monitored and controlled.
Traffic is managed in the following order of priority, ranging from what Plusnet refer to as Titanium for the top spot, to Silver for the lowest:
- Titanium: VoIP and gaming
- Gold: Browsing and email, streaming, VPN, FTP, "all other online activity"
- Silver: Updating software, P2P
While it's not immediately obvious to casual browsers of the Plusnet site, their Pro add on still exists, at a cost of £5 a month.
For that, customers are promised lower latency and ping times. Their online usage is all given Gold or Titanium priority - and "other" services (which could include applications not using a standard port number) are bumped up to Titanium priority.
This is worth knowing about especially for those looking at fibre: often when we say we want fast broadband, actually we want something more like broadband that doesn't stall.
And that's what Plusnet are going out of their way to try to offer here.
Plusnet users used to pay based on monthly usage but, since June 2014, all their new deals have come with unlimited data. Considering they only started to offer unlimited packages in 2012, that's a quick turnaround.
They're also one of only a handful of providers to offer a no contract option, with a minimum term of 30 days on their standard broadband (e.g. not fibre), at £12.49 a month plus setup fees.
Take broadband and home phone without a contract and there's a setup fee of £25; take broadband without home phone off-contract and that fee will rise to £50.
While contracts at least a year long are standard practice in the broadband world, Plusnet's opt out does mean that customers can leave at any time with 30 days notice and no penalties.
This might be useful, for example, for student house shares. We've looked at these savings, as well as other short term packages, in our student broadband guide here.
All in all: the best Plusnet deal
All in all, Plusnet broadband deals have a number of unique features - from unlimited downloads to a unique traffic management policy - which have seen them slowly garner customers over the years and keep them, even in spite of some rough months in terms of service.
They also remain one of the UK's cheaper ISPs.
Don't forget to keep an eye out for Plusnet's special offers, which are frequently changed.