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There's a broadband plan to suit everyone, but don't abandon the landline just yet

IT has been a long time since the quality or value of a telephone service was the main factor in determining your choice of telecoms provider.

Today it's all about broadband internet, whether through DSL, cable, fixed wireless, 3G mobile and, in a small number of cases, satellite. The humble telephone is now typically offered as one of a number of services as part of a broadband package, and can be provided on a cable or fixed wireless service as well over the traditional line.

You can also choose not to have a telephone service at all. After all, you can make cheaper voice calls over the internet, or you can join the growing ranks of households that are "mobile-only".

According to a recent EU survey, just over one-third of Irish households have moved to mobile phones only -- making Irish households the fourth fastest in the EU to ditch landlines.

However, the big question for value-hunters is: does doing away with a fixed line telephone and just getting broadband on its own really save you money?

"For DSL broadband customers, it is generally cheaper to take a bundle that includes a phone number and calls than to take broadband alone," says Simon Moynihan of price comparison site Bonkers.ie. "This is because an active phone line is necessary to make DSL work."

"A Vodafone [At Home] customer will pay €40 per month for just broadband. You can add a phone and off peak calls for the same price -- so why not?"

An Eircom 8Mbps service with unlimited usage on its own costs €29.99 a month, but you still need an active phone line to make it work, which costs an extra €25.36 a month, making a total of €55.35 a month.

"Take the same broadband with line rental and off-peak calls and it'll cost €44.98 on the discounted rate and €51.78 on the standard rate per month," says Mr Moynihan.

If you have the option of a cable company, such as UPC, you can get a 20Mbps service on its own for €25 a month if you can do without its fixed line telephone service. Otherwise the cost rises to €40 a month for the two combined.

Magnet offers a service called Simply Broadband, which offers up to 24Mbps unlimited broadband for €40 a month with no telephone service (and therefore no line rental). Mr Moynihan says this is a "great deal", but warns that because this is still a phone-line based service, you'll need to check that your line can support it.

"If your phone line tops out at 8Mb, you'd be as well off with a bundle from Digiweb or Vodafone for the same price."

Which brings us to the other big question: is speed everything?

Experts say a service reliably providing close to 8Mbps is probably enough for most people at the moment.

Last year, according to data from telecoms regulator ComReg, nearly 75pc of households had a broadband service with a speed of between 2 and 10Mbps. Nearly 20pc of homes now have a service with speeds in excess of 10Mbps.

But broadband lobby group Ireland Offline says Ireland is continuing to drop down the download speed ratings to 53rd place in the world with an average download speed of 7.86 Mbps -- worse that some third world countries, it seems.

Spokesman Eamon Wallace says most of the advances in average broadband speeds have been down to the expansion of UPC's network in cities and large towns, leaving many rural areas behind. He says this is creating a "digital divide" across the country because the average Eircom speed is now still only 4.67 Mbps.

If you are a heavy-bandwidth user, the good news is that locating faster broadband services in your area is now pretty easy, as you can enter your location or phone number into a variety of search facilities, such as Bonkers.ie.

Irish Independent Supplement