Monday 20 November 2017

Could you save by watching TV online?

You could save hundreds a year by watching TV online - if you have the technology, writes Louise McBride

No matter how high the broadband speed advertised by a provider in your area is, if your home doesn't have a good enough broadband connection, you could only get a tiny fraction of the speed you were expecting
No matter how high the broadband speed advertised by a provider in your area is, if your home doesn't have a good enough broadband connection, you could only get a tiny fraction of the speed you were expecting
Louise McBride

Louise McBride

Footie fans in the 43,000 homes who get their TV package from Eir got an early Christmas present last week - the takeover of Setanta Sports by Eir means it should become easier for these customers to watch exclusive live matches from the comfort of their homes.

That takeover deal, which includes the Irish rights to BT Sport, should turn Eir (the new name for Eircom) into a major player in sports broadcasting in Ireland. Up until now, Sky and Virgin Media has dominated sports TV here - with Eir's offering quite limited in comparison.

The acquisition - which should go through in March 2016 as long as it is formally approved - could increase the appeal of Eir as a TV provider to the hundreds of thousands of homes who get their TV elsewhere. It should also hopefully boost competition in the market - and drive down prices.

In a bid to woo customers over, Eir is offering up to €100 cashback to customers who sign up to it by tomorrow. It is also offering one of the cheapest broadband and TV packages.

You can get a TV, home phone and broadband package for €25 a month from Eir - as long as you're a new customer and you sign up online. As you could easily pay €40 a month for a standalone broadband package elsewhere, this offer - which is available for the Eir vision TV essential & broadband bundle - seems like a good deal.

However, you must sign an 18 month contract to get the deal - and after six months of paying €25 a month, the price goes up to €77 a month. That's more than three times the initial monthly charge. At €1,074 for a year and a half (or €974 if you get the €100 cashback), this Eir deal still works out cheaper than similar packages.

Virgin Media is offering new customers one month for free if they sign up to its 240mb anytime world and horizon TV package by early January. That bundle, which includes broadband, TV and phone, costs €75 a month.

You must sign an 18 month contract to get it - if you're a new customer. So that package would cost you €1,275 over a year and a half - up to €300 more than Eir's.

A similar package from Sky - the original TV bundle, Sky fibre unlimited & talk freetime - costs €69.50 a month for a year and €79.50 a month thereafter. (The price works out cheaper if you are living in an apartment). This brings the total cost of this package to €1,311 after a year and a half, which again, is more expensive than Eir. In this case however, the minimum contract is a year - so you can move elsewhere after 12 months.

The big difference between Eir and its rivals (Virgin Media and Sky) is that you must watch your TV over the internet with Eir. So you can forget about getting TV from Eir if you have a dodgy internet connection.

Most Sky customers watch TV over satellite - though on-demand content (such as the likes of Netflix and so on) is downloaded over their broadband connection. Virgin Media customers watch TV over cable. So you can still watch TV with Sky and Virgin if you have a poor internet connection - though your ability to watch on-demand TV will usually be restricted. Sky's satellite TV service is probably the more widely available because Virgin's cable network isn't installed in all areas.

Another prerequisite of Eir's TV service is you must sign up to Eir fibre (the telco's high-speed broadband) to get it. So if you're already locked into a contract with another broadband provider (and therefore likely to get hit with a penalty fee should you break that contract), Eir TV isn't a runner for you. Furthermore, you may not be able to get Eir fibre where you live - which again, would rule you out of Eir TV.

Many homes in rural areas are unable to get Eir fibre and could instead have to get their broadband from Eir through a telephone line. The broadband speeds supported by that telephone line will usually be only a fraction of that available through Eir fibre.

No matter how high the broadband speed advertised by a provider in your area is, if your home doesn't have a good enough broadband connection, you could only get a tiny fraction of the speed you were expecting.

What broadband speeds support TV?

You need a broadband connection that can support speeds of at least 24mbps (megabits per second) to watch either standard or high definition (HD) TV online, according to Eoin Clarke, managing director of

There are many homes around the country, particularly in rural areas, which can get broadband speeds of no more than 2mbps. You'll struggle to watch tv over the internet if the best speed you can get is 2mbps.

Eir is currently building a fibre broadband network which it says will reach 1.9m homes around the country by 2020. It is already delivering its fibre to 1.3m homes and businesses, it says.

There are two types of Eir fibre. The first (and more widely available) is fibre to the cabinet, where the fibre runs to a telecoms cabinet in a town or village - and the rest of your broadband connection (that is, the distance from the cabinet to your home) runs over your phone line. In most cases, the closer your home is to the cabinet, the better your broadband speed.

You can initially get speeds of up to 70mbps with Eir's fibre to cabinet product, with speeds of up to 100mbps and higher to come, according to Eir. A speed of 70mbps is more than enough to watch TV over the internet.

However, about 100,000 people who have signed up to Eir's fibre to cabinet can't watch TV over the internet, according to a spokesman for Eir.

"Some 1.3m homes can get speeds of up to 100mbps with Eir fibre - and of the 1.3m, 1.2m homes have fast enough broadband to get TV," say Eir. "There are 100,000 homes who can get fibre broadband but who can't get enough speed to support the TV service."

For this reason, it is important to get a line test done before signing up to Eir fibre (or any other broadband product) so that you know exactly what speed internet you're getting.

The fastest broadband in the country

The second Eir product - fibre to the home - is where the fibre cable runs directly to your home. As it claims to deliver speeds of up to 1,000mbps, this would mean fibre to the home is the fastest broadband in the country.

You can download a movie over the internet in just 30 seconds with 1,000mbps broadband; it could take four hours to download a movie with a broadband speed of 10mbps.

The only other telco offering fibre to the home is Vodafone. Its product, which also has speeds of up to 1,000mbps, is known as lightspeed broadband and was launched last month in Carrigaline, Co Cork. About 1,500 homes and businesses in Carrigaline can get Vodafone's fibre to the home.

That network is powered by SIRO - a joint-venture between Vodafone and ESB. Vodafone expects to deliver its lightspeed broadband to other areas including Dundalk, Wexford, Sligo, Letterkenny, Tralee and Cavan. It costs €40 a month for the first six months - and €55-€90 a month thereafter, depending on the speed of broadband you want. Vodafone doesn't yet offer TV but is expected to do so next year.

About 28,000 people can access Eir's fibre to the home, according to an Eir spokesman. However, he would not divulge how many people had actually signed up to Eir's fibre to the home. As the Eir-fibre-to-home product was launched last September, it is very much in its early stages.

For those who prefer to watch their TV over satellite or cable rather than the internet, but who still want fast broadband for surfing the internet and so on, Sky offers broadband speeds of up to 100mbps while Virgin Media offers home users speeds of up to 240mbps. Buying a broadband and TV bundle from either usually works out cheaper than signing up to products individually.

The cheapest way to watch TV

For those whose ultimate priority is to save money on their TV, the cheapest way to watch TV is through Saorview as it allows you to avoid TV subscriptions altogether. You must be happy to do without movie and sports TV packages as Saorview doesn't include these.

So if you want to make your Christmas TV as cheap as possible this year, ditch any digital tv subscription you have and sign up to Saorview. (Check if you'll be hit with a penalty for breaking a contract first though - if this is the case, it might be better to wait until the contract expires).

You will be hit for set-up costs initially with Saorview - but once these are paid, you won't have to pay anything going forward.

Combo boxes, which combine Saorview and satellite TV in one package with one remote, are worth considering. They include more than 100 channels (including RTE, BBC and a range of satellite channels).

A Saorview and satellite TV combo box will typically set you back from about €300 in set-up and equipment costs in the first year. After that however, the service is free so you can kiss goodbye to monthly TV subscriptions.

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