TalkTalk's freebie broadband offer under the microscope


Like many Netters, yours truly was amazed to hear about TalkTalk's (aka Carphone Warehouse) offer of free broadband for around 70 per cent of British phone users.

Under the deal, provided you allow TalkTalk to unbundle your phone line from BT, and pay £20.99 a month for your line rental and flat-rate calls to UK 01- and 02- numbers, as well as a cluster of international landline destinations, you get your broadband for free.

I know Carphone Warehouse very well. They're a spiffing company, and moved into landline with TalkTalk three years ago. I use 'em on both the home and office lines. They can offer super landline call rates 'cos they acquired Opal Telecom's network in the late 1990s.

The broadband deal is radically different. Carphone must install its own kit in BT's exchanges and then take over most of the call processing, with the transfer of service being provided by BT Openreach, the new name for BT's wholesale operation.

I fear for the integrity - and security - of broadband users who port to the TalkTalk service, for two reasons.

Firstly, BT's ground staff are not happy with the way unbundling is progressing. Things can - and will go wrong. Purely by accident, you understand sir...

Secondly, the TalkTalk broadband financial figures only make sense if TalkTalk truly contends the service to its 50:1 limits.

Most current broadband users enjoy real contention ratios of around 5:1 or 10:1. Even under heavy loading at peak times, users can still squeeze 300 or 400 kbps out of their 2 Mbps circuits.

With TalkTalk, the carrier will be completely within its rights to offer a real 50:1 contended broadband service. Remember, we're talking about an unbundled service here. No BT Wholesale/Openreach network - TalkTalk will control the contention.

At a 50:1 real world contention, your 2 Mbps download speed turns into a 40.6 Kbps data stream - that's slower than a 56K dial-up modem.

Now, this is a worst-case scenario and, as they say, your mileage may vary, but I wonder how many punters will be happy to see a real data download rate measured in 10's of kilobits per second on the TalkTalk service?

But hey - the service is free, so what you are you complaining about?

You want to leave sir? Certainly, that will be £70.00 to bale out of your 18 month contract.

Don't get me wrong. I think the TalkTalk move is a significant one for the broadband industry - its just that you do get what you pay for when it comes to comms.

The good news, though, is that I think broadband rates will come down in the next year or so and you'll see similar bundling deals from other carriers, although probably not as ludicrously cheap as TalkTalk's.

I like Newnet's ADSL/telecoms deal myself, which gives you a 10p discount on your monthly broadband bill, for every quid you spend on phone calls...