Choices, Choices, Choices
March 16, 2006 6:36 AM   Subscribe

I'm moving to London in October. Help me decide on phone, internet access etc...

So I'm moving to London in October, and want to know what to expect when it comes to deciding on a phone provider, internet access, TV etc... I've read many threads that are similar, but they don't quite have what I'm looking for. For reference, I'm not sure where we'll be living yet but most likely will be in the North West suburbs of London.

These may seem like silly questions, but when you're not sure of the lay of the land it's nice to get some pointers from more experienced types.

So, without furthur ado:

1) Telephone (landline): who are the basic providers in the UK? Does BT do all the home phones or is there a selection of providers

2) Internet access (broadband only please!!): DSL or cable? Who are the players, what's an average fee? For comparison, I'm use Rogers Cable in Canada for about $45 CDN/month

3) TV: Cable or Satellite? Again, who are the major providers (or the better providers). Bonus points if we can get some German language programming. Extra bonus points if there's any Canadian content available.

4) Computer Equipment: What's the cost of computer equipment like in the UK? Should I purchase most of my stuff here in Canada before I head over?

That's all I can think of asking right now. Any information is greatly appreciated.
posted by smcniven to Grab Bag (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
1) There are loads of providers, but the difference in costs with these things are so minor, they're not worth it unless you're hugely budget conscious (ie £60 a year savings matter). Go with BT.

2) This is a huge Q. Try

3) Perhaps neither: Broadcast TV is perfectly acceptable, and with a digi box you get news channels and a slew of extra BBC stuff.

4) Oh yes, absolutely. Buy it there, bring it here.
posted by bonaldi at 6:45 AM on March 16, 2006

Utility comparison websites such as Uswitch would be a good start to working out both the standard price and the best options for 1, 2 and 3. Some of the options will vary according to where in London you end up - but most won't.

Re 4 my only point of comparison is between the US and UK. In this case the price gap is narrowing and dependent on state tax, etc. Still worth getting an internationally portable equipment - such as laptops in the US - assuming you are not worried about a local return point for warranties.
posted by rongorongo at 6:46 AM on March 16, 2006

Telewest do broadband internet (known as Blueyonder) and digital TV (with some packages you can definitely get German channels, not sure about Canadian stuff).

I also say go with BT for your landline.

Also, I live in North London (Muswell Hill, in Haringey) - if you want to know anything about that neck of the woods I can provide info.
posted by Lotto at 6:50 AM on March 16, 2006

1. BT is pretty much the only provider. If you're in an area covered by a cable company such as NTL or Telewest then you can opt with them. Otherwise, all other telecom providers use BT exchanges but bill you themselves for the same cost.

Unless broadband speed is so important to you that you're willing to use the telecom provider they normally tie you into (eg Bulldog), then BT is probably going to be your only option.

2. It depends on where you live. Outside of cable areas, any broadband provider is (again) going to use BT equipment, even mega-speed ones like Bulldog.

I used to use NTL when I was in a cable area - the connection was always rock solid, but a little slow. Now I'm with Bulldog - very fast speeds, but the quality of the connection is not so good. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

3. If you're a TV fiend, or indeed want to keep up with American-esque programming, then you'll be wanting satellite or cable, simply because they carry stations like ABC1, SciFi, and Paramount Comedy (lots of American comedy sitcoms).

Satellite does give you many many many channels, plus since Sky is the only real provider of digital satellite TV, you can also use their Sky via broadband service, which lets you download programmes and films to watch on your home PC. If I had Sky, I'd be drooling over that.

Bear in mind that if you're renting, you will have to negotiate with your landlord as to whether you can have a satellite dish installed. Most will say no.

Cable (NTL or Telewest) in comparison, carries slightly fewer channels, the user interface is incredibly slow and shoddy, and they have yet to get their act together re: convergance. Damn shame really. Availability dependent on where you live.

Freeview is your last option for digital TV - you just plug the set-top box (cost: £40) between your aerial and your TV, for about 20-30 extra non-subscription channels. If you buy a box with a slot, you can enrol with TopUp TV to get a few extra subscription channels.

4. I'd buy it in Canada and bring it over. Chances are it will be cheaper - and besides, at some point you'll want to move back. Laptops are highly recommended, of course.

Feel free to email if you want to ask more Qs.
posted by badlydubbedboy at 6:59 AM on March 16, 2006

1. I use Onetel for both long-distance and landline. Virtually all my landline calls are to the US, and for me, they seem to be the cheapest option.

2. ADSLguide is a good resource for checking reliability of broadband providers. Based on their ratings, I chose and have found them to be very good. However, be warned that the free webhosting service that comes with your broadband service is pretty mediocre--they're very good Internet service providers, but not-so-hot webhosts.

3. At least in my neighborhood, and Telewestare the major TV providers. Sky's advantage seems to be that they offer a Sky+ box, which is the closest thing you can get to a TiVo in the UK. Telewest offers a similar box but you have to rent it from them instead of buying it for a one-time fee. Telewest offers a combined phone/Internet/TV package that might make sense for you, depending on your needs in those things. I don't use Sky or Telewest--we're satisfied with the small number of channels you get over Digital Freeview

4. Electronics are substantially more expensive in the UK than in the US. I gather that Canada is cheaper than the US, so the price difference will be even more shocking for you. Any electronics you can buy there that will be usable in the UK are worth buying in advance. However, be warned that you'll have a few problems in bringing electrics over:
A. Apparently, any item that depends on an internal clock will have troubles here, since the power is, erm, at a different frequency or something. (You can tell I'm not an electrical engineer.)
B. The UK TV system is on a different standard--PAL here, vs NTSC in North America. It's not too hard to find a region-free, dual-format DVD player here in the UK, so you can likely play your DVD collection from home, but you'll probably have to buy most of your TV equipment in the UK.
C. If you want to use any North American electrical appliance that does not have a "brick" on the power cord, you will almost certainly need a step-down transformer to prevent a meltdown. We've found that for small kitchen electrics (blenders, mixers, etc), it was worth paying the UK price premium to have something we could just plug into the wall, without having to lug out the transformer.

Actually, I've wandered a bit off topic, since you were asking about computer equipment. Most computers seem designed to work anywhere with small modifications. My Mac, for example, had a little switch I flicked to change it from US power to UK. Many other electrical items have a "brick" (that big square lump on the power cord.) Usually, these will work just fine in the UK, although you'll need to spend £2 or £3 to get an adapter to make the plug fit the wallsocket. When in doubt, take a look at the brick--it will usually tell you the range of inputs it accepts.
posted by yankeefog at 7:03 AM on March 16, 2006

If you're in a cabled area of London, there'll be an option for a bundled TV + VOIP + broadband package. Alternatively, there are a number of fairly competitive ADSL deals. Expect to pay more than you are now for decent bandwidth, though.

Computer equipment can be tricky as far as HM Customs & Excise is concerned. Generally, you'll get waived import duty if you've owned something for six months, and paid the appropriate sales tax when you bought it. You'll also need to declare it on your C-3. So buy now, or expect to be slapped with a bill. Remember that the UK uses 240V: that's less of an issue with laptops or items running off power bricks, though you may need to get adapters. As far as basic comparisons go, computer kit is much more expensive in the UK.

As for TV, you're out of luck as far as foreign channels go, unless you're prepared to customise a satellite dish: Sky Digital equipment can receive German stations, but only by pointing to a different satellite to the one serving up English-language ones. Canadian channels? Not a chance.
posted by holgate at 7:05 AM on March 16, 2006

BT is easiest. Any savings you make with someone else is pretty minimal.

Also, for #4, you're going to need adapters for every plug. Or at least make sure you buy a canadian (at least) 6-way power adapter.

As for xDSL, I'm currently in the process of switching to bethere, for 24 meg wireless DSL, for £24 per month. I can't recommend it as of yet, 'cause we're currently migrating (from pipex) but the way I see it, it's gonna be worth the money.

*blatant self advertising*
Also, ahem, if you decide to go for bethere, let me know and I can act as a referee. We both get a month's connection for free. My e-mail's in on my blog via my profile.
*blatant self advertising*

There's also a few places that offer all #1-#3 (or combinations) in one package. Like telewest, ntl or bulldog.

As an extra note, that you may already know about, if you plan on using the public transport (which, if you're not a glutton for punishment, is a good idea) get an Oyster Card as soon as you can.
posted by slimepuppy at 7:06 AM on March 16, 2006

On preview, what EVERYONE else said already.
posted by slimepuppy at 7:08 AM on March 16, 2006

Also, you can usually buy the correct UK power brick from the local distributor: saves having to use plug adapters for printers, routers, etc.
posted by holgate at 7:10 AM on March 16, 2006

Also if you get Sky and care about North American sports you can get a subscription to NASN. More American then Canadian though.
posted by JPD at 7:16 AM on March 16, 2006

Unless you have cable (NTL/Telewest), it's pretty much impossible to get any kind of phone or broadband without first opening an account with BT. Everyone else piggybacks on top of this.
posted by cillit bang at 7:24 AM on March 16, 2006

Nobody's mentioned homechoice yet but it can be very good value as a combined phone/broadband/tv package. Only available in certain postcodes, though.

slimepuppy: I've had a bad experience with bethere and wouldn't recommend them to anybody... becareful.
posted by blag at 7:48 AM on March 16, 2006

Agh. Thanks for the warning, blag.

We're moving out of the flat in about 6 months time, so we'll re-appraise the situation then. [optimism] The customer support has been fantastic so far, and I would like to think all the problems have been with bethere being a new service. [/optimism]

posted by slimepuppy at 7:53 AM on March 16, 2006

Just like to raise a word against using NTL. For anything.

And make sure you stay North of the River
posted by MrMustard at 8:07 AM on March 16, 2006

It really matters where you live.

Your bourough government web page should give you some basic information on your options.

Here's what I do:

Bulldog for internet and phone -- it isn't the fastest, but it is the cheapest that also allows for unlimited downloading. Land line is BARELY used it -- we all have mobile phones.

Mobile phones, by the way, if you don't have a bank account you have to do pay-as-you-go phones. The rates are terrible compared to the U.S.

For TV, I really just download bittorrented TV shows from the UK or the U.S. (see note above). There is SO MUCH TO DO in London that I barely watch TV, seriously.

I find that computer stuff is much cheaper in North America than it is here -- buy your laptop there, but if you need a new mouse or whatever, you can buy it here in London.

Hope this helps!
posted by k8t at 9:13 AM on March 16, 2006

Oh, printers don't work well through a power adapter. Get a printer here, if you need one.

Don't buy a router in Canada, because the routers here have internal DSL modems, generally.

If you want to buy my router and internet repeater, multi-region DVD player, alarm clock... well, I'm leaving London in late June and would be happy to give you a deal.

Heck, if you want to rent my house starting in October, it is a great place. We have great landlords. It is in Islington, about 20 minutes - 40 minutes from Central London and very very safe. :) This place is generally passed to other people through word of mouth rather than advertising.

PS, renting in London is tough - finding a place to live can be hell!
posted by k8t at 9:17 AM on March 16, 2006

k8t: Gorgeous looking flat. Unfortunately (or fortunately) my employer owns/leases its own staff quarters. I won't know until sometime in April where they are placing me. Thanks for the offer though!
posted by smcniven at 10:01 AM on March 16, 2006

Everybody is saying that you don't save much by using alternate land line providers, but with, I save about £1/month over BT. Not a vast fortune, but it was worth the three minutes it took me to switch.
posted by yankeefog at 10:58 AM on March 16, 2006

That's saved you a tenth of a pence an hour. The minimum wage is £4.80 an hour. So it wasn't worth the three minutes, no.
posted by bonaldi at 12:26 PM on March 16, 2006

1) The UK has something called Local Loop Unbundling (LLU) whereby other vendors can put equipment in the BT exchanges. Essentially your phone decision will be dictated by your DSL provider; if you go Bulldog for DSL (for example), you'll take the Bulldog phone package.

2) I'm paying GBP20 for an unlimited 8MB/512k from Bulldog and they've been fine after some issues last summer. They also charge GBP10 for the phone rental, which is the same as BT. Don't get cable. It's more expensive, less reliable, and service is appalling. More below.

3) I don't do TV, but people who have Sky (satellite) seem to be happy with their choice. Sky+ is the PVR version and is probably worth the small extra cost. Also, in theory the satellite dish can be moved to point to another satellite to get different programming. And again, don't get cable. I've never met a happy cable customer, everyone regrets the choice. The service is just terrible, and since the 2 big cable companies (NTL and TeleWest) merged, it's allegedly worse. Just don't do it.

4) Unless it's a laptop, I would buy it in the UK. Yes, you might save some money, but (for me) the savings don't justify the effort in getting power/frequency adaptors and the like to work. The biggest difference in price is usually related to the 17.5% VAT, so if you can get it through a company as an expense, you can save that and the difference is negligible.

You haven't mentioned a mobile phone, but I'm assuming that your employer will sort that out for you.

People tend to come to me for this kind of info, so email in profile if you'd like more.
posted by quiet at 5:07 AM on March 17, 2006

That's saved you a tenth of a pence an hour. The minimum wage is £4.80 an hour. So it wasn't worth the three minutes, no.

Bonaldi, you might want to check your math. I saved £12 with 3 minutes of work on my part. That translates to £240 an hour, which rather more than minimum wage.

In short, if your time is worth less than £240/hour, then it probably is worth it to switch to a cheaper phone provider.
posted by yankeefog at 5:14 AM on March 17, 2006

Disclosure - I work for Telewest.

Depending on your postcode you may be able to get service with us - I'd be happy to let you know about the service (and if anyone has service with TW - let me know if y'all have any problems or questions and I can sort them for you - email in profile).

What you've been told about the number of channels is true - even on the top TV package you will only receive ~120 channels - it depends on how much you care about TV. We offer a PVR service with HDTV capability as well as streaming broadcast tv (limited channel/programming line-up however). Broadband is available up to 10mb throughout the servicable areas of London and has no download limits (possibly one of the few UK companies that doesn't have that hidden away in the T & C's). Telco is as good a value as most other companies and we have quite a few advantages over LLU lines from 3rd party companies. New services being introduced over the next few months should put us head and shoulders above the other telco service providers (at least until they rip off our ideas at any rate).

To those with NTL - sorry, as and when we start taking over responsibility for NTL's fuckups we'll do our best to show you what decent service is ;)
posted by longbaugh at 10:10 AM on March 17, 2006

Yankeefog, you saved £12 a year. Why not just make it over ten years? Then you saved £120! That means you actually saved £2400 a hour! Coo, I'd better change my provider right now, that's the sort of money I like to see.

£12 a year = £1 a month.
£1 a month = 4p a day
4p a day = .2p an hour

£4.80 an hour wages = 8p a minute. So the surprisingly short call to switch cost you 24p. It'll take 120 hours to pay for itself. Almost a week.
posted by bonaldi at 6:13 PM on March 17, 2006

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