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The internet has opened up a whole new world of consumer choice. A few minutes spent on price comparison websites can yield cheaper gas bills, cheaper electricity, discount shopping codes, a price comparison for practically any product under the sun, and the ability to switch your telephone provider from BT to a myriad of alternative operators that are now springing up.
The most well-known rival to BT is currently TalkTalk, a service owned and operated by the Carphone Warehouse. They use BT and Opal Telecom lines to route calls and generally offer small savings over BT's 'Together' options. In particular, their Talk70 plan is attractive as it offers slightly better value than BT's Option 1 with no monthly fee.
I won't go into all the talk plans here, as it would make for quite boring reading, but you can see all call charges in a comparison chart at http://www.talktalk.co.uk .
--> WHY GO WITH TALKTALK?
Although switching phone suppliers is a bit of a hassle, my sister is on TalkTalk already. The company offer everyone one 'call a friend for free' number which you can ring as often as you like for nothing, as long as your call is less than three hours long. It seemed to make sense to be able to phone her for nothing, and vice versa, rather than paying BT's 6p per hour Option 1 charge.
I also decided that whatever savings I could make were worth making. My last BT bill was bigger than the previous two, but seeing as my boyfriend and I only really have a landline for ADSL use, we couldn't work out why we were paying so much every quarter. TalkTalk only allows you to pay via Direct Debit, but the payments are monthly, and so come as less of a shock. I was also unimpressed that BT often gave less than a week to make payment, whereas TalkTalk promise to bill 14 days before payment is taken from your account.
Having said all that, I had heard nightmare stories about TalkTalk before signing up, and may have chosen another operator had my sister not been a customer already.
--> WHAT ARE THEIR PRICES LIKE?
Generally TalkTalk have undercut BT by small margins all all call rates. A daytime UK call on a BT Option costs 3p - with TalkTalk it's 2.7p. With BT you can phone for an hour for 6p - with TalkTalk it's 70 minutes for 5.5p. TalkTalk offer 11 Calling Circle numbers, whereas BT only offer 10 Friends and Family - and TalkTalk's Calling Circle has more flexibility too. For example, you can mix and match mobiles, landlines and even an 0845 number, choose one landline TalkTalk number as a free number, and then pick your second most called number as the Prime number and receive an additional 5% off the cost of calling that number.
In reality, I was a little disappointed to see that the Free number is actually taken from your Calling Circle allowance. So although it's still a great offer, you don't get eleven discounted numbers - you really get ten discounted and one free. Also, changes you make to your Calling Circle only take effect monthly - whereas with BT they take effect overnight.
One advantage is that the option equivalents that TalkTalk have put together have significantly lower monthly fees. This means your basic line rental can be reduced by two or three pounds. It's worth considering TalkTalk for that reason - after all, no point in paying for a benefit if you can get it for nothing!
--> SIGNING UP
I ordered a mobile phone from the Carphone Warehouse in late November and got quite a lot of sales-speak from the assistant that served me, Laura. I was already thinking of signing up anyway, and had heard about TalkTalk repeatedly all week on TalkSport (somehow, TalkTalk managed to actually rename the entire station as part of their ad campaign - it was known as Talk with TalkTalk and the promotion was almost stifling).
Laura gave me her direct line to call back if I was interested. I tried, but failed, to get back to her. I'd been impressed with her service and I wanted to get her the comission she deserved, but alas, I only ever got her voicemail. So I decided to call TalkTalk direct and sign up over the phone through the normal call centre route.
The first thing I asked was about a referral bonus, as my sister had a voucher that would entitle one of us to some free calls if I connected. The assistant knew nothing about the voucher and said the promotion didn't exist. I went ahead with the sign-up anyway but I thought this was a touch worrying.
After she had taken my details, I was told I would receive a letter ('Welcome Pack') from TalkTalk within two weeks. I would also receive a letter from BT confirming the switch-over date. The entire process would take about 20 days before I was ready to 'go live', as they cheesily put it.
--> GOING LIVE
The letter from BT came as promised, as did several annoying and persistant sales calls from their retentions department. In the meantime I smugly told them they were too expensive, and waited for my TalkTalk paperwork.
And waited. And waited.
I phoned TalkTalk back two days before the activation date and they said they would put another Welcome Pack in the post. I knew my address was correct because Carphone Warehouse had taken it directly from my mobile phone order.
Hey-ho, another welcome pack mysteriously goes walkies.
The 'live' day arrives and I haven't a clue what I'm doing. I'm on TalkTalk, or so BT told me, but I don't even know what the Terms and Conditions are, when my billing date might be, who to phone if I have problems, or how to set up my calling circle. I'm starting to actually appreciate BT's pestering or I might not have realised I'd switched at all.
--> BATTLING WITH HOLD MUSIC
I decide to call Customer Services again (the third time in five days) and ask for my account number so I could log on to Online Billing, as it seemed TalkTalk couldn't be relied upon to deliver any paperwork anyway. For the third time I used the 08000 sign-up number to avoid having to pay for the call - I found if I sounded confused enough, the sign-up operator would put me through to the 0870 line without an argument.
Armed with the details of my acount, I went to www.mycarphonewarehouse.com to set up my online account. I was greeted with the charming message 'This line has been barred!'
Two days later, a new error message; the system was down. I couldn't log in, and I still can't.
Finally my sister dug out the freephone number and I was able to set up my Phone a Friend for Free number and my calling circle.
A few days later I phoned TalkTalk again about my welcome pack. This was the fourth call about the issue, and the Customer Service rep said that all three previous reps had been wrong - I wouldn't get a pack until I'd been connected anyway. So where were the two packs I had been sent that were apparently recorded on the system? Nowhere to be seen, she said.
--> SNAP, CRACKLE AND POP
Four days after I went live with TalkTalk I noticed a few clicks on the line. I remember in the 90s I could hear the odd bit of line noise on my home phone - a 'brr-brr' click, as though I was listening to someone else's ringing tone. I didn't think much of it, but the next day, the line noise was really incredible. It was hissy, with the occasional loud pop, and would come and go every few minutes. I phoned BT's fault reporting on 151 and I couldn't actually hear the automated voice, even on speakerphone. BT checked the line and said that the problem was with TalkTalk's lines, as outgoing calls are routed through their network, whereas incoming calls still came from BT.
I then tried calling out to my mobile to test this theory and noticed that my number came up 'Witheld'. TalkTalk say all such problems are BT's fault, so I phoned BT and they told me TalkTalk were to blame.
So I made the fifth call to TalkTalk in a week - an 0845 number I found on the internet, which took me to the same call centre as the 0870 number, but was significantly cheaper to ring. The operator told me that the number would ALWAYS come up as Witheld when calling mobiles - "This is why we can offer you such cheap rates to mobiles".
Yes, their rates are cheaper than BT, but they are by no means cheap - it's a few pence in most cases, and using the 18866 prefix (reviewed in my other ops) in the daytime brings the price down far more than dialling through TalkTalk.
Had I known about this 'feature' I may not have signed up. But nobody told me, it's not mentioned on their website, and I didn't get any paperwork from them so I never would have known had I not asked.
If another operator comes along that can beat TalkTalk's rates, the way I feel right now, I will discuss it with my sister and try get her to switch with me, so we can get free calls to each other from another company. The noise on TalkTalk lines is inexcusable and the lack of communication - both by post and on the phone - is simply shoddy and unprofessional. I don't like having to call an 0870 number - which generate revenue for TalkTalk - to report a line fault. They're providing a service, albeit not a great one, and they should pay for their technical problems.
I would still recommend TalkTalk to new customers. My priority at this time of year has to be saving money, and with that in mind, I'm glad I switched to TalkTalk. I think BT have a lot to gain by customers being too confused or too ill-informed to switch to a cheaper provider, and competition can only bring prices down, which has to be a good thing, and TalkTalk promise customers £500 if their new phone bills aren't cheaper than their previous BT bills.
They're a new company, so I'll give them a chance, but if things don't improve, I will be in the market for a new telephone service provider.
I just joined Talk Talk and it's been a disaster so far as they are routing my incoming calls to someone else's number. However, reading this review, I'd like to correct this 0870 issue, in the welcome pack it says that all 0870 numbers to talk talk support are FREE once your a customer with them. That's one of the main reasons I joined because as well as expecting massive savings ( plus massive teething problems!) their support lines are free. If you're not able to ring from the landline and have to use your mobile instead, just immediately ask them to ring you back... and they do within minutes. The tec people are based in India and do try to be very helpful and obliging.
colette1000 24.01.2008 18:33
Im with tiscali, give them a try
customtattooblue 16.10.2007 20:02
very helpful we have just been comparing the prices bt, and i must saw i do trust bt the cheap ones are cheap for a reason