BT: Everything you need to know

BT logo

BT is the largest provider of consumer fixed-line phone and broadband services in the UK. It’s also the UK’s largest mobile network operator and the country’s second-largest pay-TV sports broadcaster. Its name, which you’ll know stands for British Telecom, gives a clue as to its importance to the country’s telecommunications infrastructure. We’re going to give you the full picture as we run you through its history and what it offers customers today.

About BT

This section will provide you with a bit of background on BT, taking a look at the history of the company and then going into detail about the company as it is today. Let us take you back to how BT started:

History

It’s difficult to know where exactly the beginning is for BT. A company called the Electric Telegraph Company was founded by Sir William Fothergill Cooke and Joseph Lewis Ricardo in 1846, which is said to be BT’s earliest ancestor. The company opened the world’s first central telegraph station in Founders’ Court in the City of London in 1849, and a couple of years later an Act of Parliament established the United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company.

An 1869 Act of Parliament gave the Postmaster-General a monopoly in telegraph communication in the UK, and in 1870 the 60,000 miles of privately-owned and run cables was nationalised and placed under the supervision of the Post Office. The UK’s telephone service, pioneered mostly by private companies in its infancy, was also made a nationalised monopoly in 1912, following the absorption by the Post Office of private companies such as the National Telephone Company.

These services continued to be delivered by the Post Office as a government department until 1969 when the Post Office Act made it a public corporation. Telecommunications was then split from the rest of its services in 1977, and the resulting arm (Post Office Telecommunications) was renamed British Telecom in 1980. A year later, the British Telecommunications Act transferred responsibility for telecoms services from the Post Office, and initial steps were taken to introduce competition into the industry.

Old BT logo

In 1984, the government sold 51% of its shares in British Telecom to private investors. It moved further into the private sector in the early nineties, when all of its shares were sold off in two flotations. The first of these came in 1991, a year in which the company rebranded with the unveiling of a new trading name - BT. In the decade that followed, BT extended its reach abroad and became a global leader in communications solutions.

The early 2000s marked the beginning of a change in the UK telecoms market, with the introduction of a new industry regulator (Ofcom) and a new set of regulations. In 2005, BT, which until then had managed the country’s telecoms infrastructure and granted licenses to competitors entering the market, signed legally-binding undertakings with Ofcom to improve the UK’s regulatory framework. The result of this was the establishment of BT Openreach, a separate business within the BT Group responsible for managing the UK access network, in 2006.

Since then, BT’s four other arms (BT Global Services, BT Business (link coming soon!), BT Consumer and BT Wholesale) have operated on an equal footing to other telecoms providers. This marked the beginning of a fruitful period in the company’s history, with the launch of BT Vision, its television service; BT Infinity, its superfast fibre broadband service; and later BT Sport within its television packages by 2013.

Timeline

  • 1846 - The Electric Telegraph Company is founded by Sir William Fothergill Cooke and Joseph Lewis Ricardo.
  • 1849 - The world’s first central telegraph station is opened in Founders’ Court.
  • 1870 - UK’s network of telegraph cables is nationalised and placed under the supervision of the Post Office.
  • 1881 - The National Telephone Company is established.
  • 1912 - National Telephone Company is taken over by the Post Office, and for the first time a unified telephone system became available throughout most of Britain.
  • 1937 - The ‘999’ emergency telephone services is introduced, initially only to callers in London.
  • 1958 - ‘Subscriber Trunk Dialling’ (whereby callers can make calls automatically without an operator) is introduced, and the Queen dialled a call from Bristol Central Telephone Exchange to Lord Provost of Edinburgh.
  • 1965 - Prime Minister Harold Wilson opens the Post Office Tower (now the BT Tower) in London, then the country’s tallest building.
  • 1969 - The Post Office ceases to be a government department and is made a public corporation.
  • 1980 - The Government decides to separate the Post Office’s operations and a new name, British Telecom, is given to its telecoms business.
  • 1981 - British Telecom severs ties with the Post Office under the British Telecommunications Act, becoming a public corporation in itself.
  • 1984 - The Telecommunications Bill is passed and British Telecom becomes British Telecommunications plc.
  • 1991-93- The government sells off all its shares in the company in two flotations.
  • 1996 - BT Internet is launched.
  • 2006 - BT Openreach is launched to deliver installation and maintenance services for the UK’s phone and internet service providers.
    BT Vision, a new television service, is launched.
  • 2010 - BT Infinity, a superfast fibre broadband service, is launched.
  • 2013 - Launch of BT Sport 1 and 2, and ESPN is added to BT’s TV offer.

Present day

Nowadays, BT is one of the world’s largest communications services companies, serving customers in the UK and in a further 180 countries worldwide. Its main activities include fixed-line phone, broadband, mobile and TV products and services, as well as networked IT services. Its consumer business is focused on the UK market, where (if you include EE and Plusnet, which BT Group owns) it serves almost 30 million customers, making it the largest provider of consumer mobile and fixed broadband communications services in the UK.

BT share price

BT shares seem to have been sliding down a slippery slope since the startling highs of late 2015. At its peak, its value on several occasions reached nearly £500 but has since seen a steady decline, dipping below £159 this August. The final quarter of 2019, however, has so far seen its value increase to over £200, so it is experiencing something of a resurgence. The initial dip and following resurgence over the past three months are evident in the graph below.

BT share price graph

BT & BT Openreach jobs

If you’re looking for a career with BT, you should visit the Careers Centre on its website. There you’ll find listings for jobs in several areas, including the following:

  • Technology
  • Customer service
  • Openreach*
  • Security
  • Sales
  • Corporate functions
  • Digital, marketing and products
  • Media and TV
  • Graduates and apprentices
  • Engineering
  • Commercial services
  • Business services
  • *Via the BT Careers Centre, you’ll be directed to the Openreach careers page, which is a separate site.

On the site, you can explore job openings either by typing keywords into the search bar (you can also include your location) or by clicking ‘Find out more’ under the area you’re interested in. There’s also a ‘Life at BT’ section which will give you an insight into what it’s like to work there, with sections on employee benefits, flexible working and career development - everything you could want to know!

BT in the news

  • 18-10-2019 - BT launches biggest TV campaign for two decades. The company has launched its biggest TV ad campaign for 20 years to reinvigorate the brand.
  • 18-10-2019 - BT brings 5G future to Belfast Harbour with live demonstrations of augmented and virtual reality. The demonstrations, performed over BT’s 5G network, showed two 5G-enabled applications that are being explored by the harbour as part of its vision for creating a “smart port” and an iconic waterfront for the city.

Products

Now let’s take a look at the range of products BT’s consumer arm offers (for business services, have a look at our dedicated page):

Broadband

BT offers two types of broadband: standard BT Broadband and BT Superfast Fibre. Its standard package will suffice only for households with minimal usage, with download speeds of around 15 Mbps and snail-paced upload speeds. Its Superfast Fibre deals are split into four different speeds, here’s what they look like:

Superfast Fibre Essential Superfast Fibre Superfast Fibre 2 Ultrafast Fibre
36 Mbps 50 Mbps 67 Mbps 145 Mbps

All of these deals come with unlimited monthly usage; BT’s Smart Hub, which it claims is more powerful than hubs from other major providers; BT Virus Protect on two devices; and BT’s Stay Fast Guarantee, which entitles you to £20 back if your speeds dip below what you were promised.

The big problem with BT Superfast packages is availability. If you live outside the UK’s biggest cities, when you enter your postcode on the BT website to see what’s available you may only see the two slowest speeds. If you’re in one of its most secluded areas, you may see none at all. The only way to find out is to enter your postcode in BT’s postcode checker, but if you’re able to sign up to Ultrafast Fibre you’ll be among the lucky few!

For full details on BT’s broadband packages, see our dedicated page (link coming soon!).

TV

BT’s TV deals are only available to BT broadband customers and are split into five packs. Here’s what you get with each of them:

  • Starter with BT Sport -
    • 80 Freeview channels, with 15 in HD plus BT Sport.
    • Seven days of catchup TV and buy/rent films in the BT TV Store.
  • Essential (with Standard Broadband) -
    • Recordable TV box.
    • 80 Freeview channels, with 15 in HD plus BT Sport.
    • Seven days of catchup TV and buy/rent films in the BT TV Store.
  • Classic (with Superfast Fibre) -
    • Recordable TV box.
    • 80 Freeview channels, with 15 in HD, plus AMC and BT Sport.
    • Seven days of catchup TV and buy/rent films in the BT TV Store.
  • Entertainment (with Superfast Fibre) -
    • Recordable TV box.
    • 80 Freeview channels, with 15 in HD, plus AMC, BT Sport, and 21 other premium channels.
    • Seven days of catchup TV and buy/rent films in the BT TV Store.
  • Max 4K -
    • Recordable 4K enabled TV box.
    • 80 Freeview channels, with 15 in HD, plus 55 premium channels including HD and BT Sport.
    • Seven days of catchup TV and buy/rent films in the BT TV Store.
    • Plus App Extra, allowing multi-room viewing and downloads.

The TV and broadband deals that BT puts up on its website are ever-changing, so you can often snatch a deal with little extras included. You can currently add HD free for three months to the Classic and Entertainment bundles, and all deals at the time of writing come with free Amazon Prime membership for a year. We’d advise keeping your eyes peeled if you want to get the most out of them when you sign up.

For a full summary of what you get with each BT TV deal, plus all the info on add-ons and the small print, go to our dedicated page where you’ll find everything you need to know.

Landline deals

BT offers three main calls packages. You can get them either simply with line rental or as part of a broadband and calls package. Here’s a quick summary:

Unlimited Weekends Calls Unlimited Evening & Weekend Calls Unlimited Anytime Calls
Includes UK landline calls at the weekend Includes UK landline calls at the weekend and 7pm-7am on weekdays Includes UK landline calls at any time during the week

All of these deals come with BT Call Protect, which helps to divert nuisance calls, and the option for add-ons for making international calls. The Unlimited Anytime Calls package also offers improved rates to UK mobiles, and includes 1,000 free minutes to BT Mobile customers.

Other extras you can add to your calls package include Caller Display, Call Waiting and BT Answer 1571. You can find full details on BT’s website.

Mobile

BT also has an expansive mobile offer, but we’re not going to get into it here. We’ll leave that to the mobile boffins at Selectra Mobile, who have their own BT Mobile page where you can find out everything you need to know.


Prices

In this section, we’ll run you through BT’s pricing of its many and varied packages. We’ll start with plain old broadband-only:

Broadband only deals

Oddly, BT is currently not advertising prices on its standard broadband packages. If you’d like to inquire about standard BT Broadband, we suggest you get in touch via the BT website and ask an adviser there using the live chat function. If information on BT Superfast Fibre is what you’re after, we can definitely help you out. Here’s a breakdown of the pricing on these products:

Superfast Fibre Essential Superfast Fibre Superfast Fibre 2 Ultrafast Fibre
£29.99/month £35.99/month £39.99/month £39.99/month
£37.99/month after 24 months £43.99/month after 24 months £47.99/month after 24 months £47.99/month after 24 months
£29.99 upfront £9.99 P&P £9.99 P&P £9.99 P&P
No reward card £30 reward card £60 reward card £60 reward card

It’s always important to note (and we’ve included it in our table) that once your initial 24-month contract is over, your bill will go up substantially. As you can also see, BT offers reward cards as an incentive to sign up. Many customers will be limited in choice to just Superfast Fibre Essential and Superfast Fibre. If your choice is between these two we’d have to say that, for the faster speeds you get and the incentives on offer, Superfast Fibre seems like the better deal.

BT advertises that it will not put its broadband prices up in 2019, but says nothing about 2020, which is just around the corner. With prices likely to go up in March, a fixed-rate contract with another provider seems to us a much more sensible option than signing up to BT now only to have your bill go up in a couple of months.

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One thing you will be guaranteed, as we’ve mentioned, is that if during a given month you’re not getting the speeds BTs promised you, you’ll be refunded £20. Of course, BT is not going to want to part with that, so you can be quite confident that you’ll at least get the speeds you’re paying for - not true of all providers!

For full details on what you’ll pay and what you’ll get for your money with BT, see its website.

TV and broadband packages

BT currently only offers three main bundles. At the time of writing, they’re on special offer, but we’ve published the standard price to avoid confusion. We recommend keeping an eye on the BT website for when you can get the best deal.

Classic Bundle Entertainment Bundle Max 4K Bundle
£44.99/month £49.99/month £54.99/month
£52.99/month after 24 months £57.99/month after 24 months £62.99/month after 24 months
£49.99 upfront £39.99 upfront £29.99 upfront

As we mentioned earlier, BT is also currently offering free Amazon Prime membership for a year with each of these bundles. Each price includes line rental, which you’ll have to get set up with BT if you’re going to sign up to any broadband or broadband and TV deal - you can also add a calls package to this, the prices of which you’ll find further down.

Again, we think it’s potentially the wrong time to sign up to a changeable deal like these, with broadband prices at least likely to go up this coming March (2020). We’ll leave you to weigh up your options, finding the full details about BT broadband and the prices associated on its website.

Landline

With all of BT’s broadband and TV deals including line rental within their prices, we find it unlikely that you’ll want to pay to take out just line rental. If you do, however, you’ve got two options:

Line rental Line rental + calls features
£19.99 £21.99 (*or +£2)

*This reflects the added £2 to your broadband or broadband and TV deal (in which line rental is included).

If you just want your landline with BT, this will be your base and you can add calls packages to your deal in the same way you add them to a broadband or broadband and TV deal. If not, just sign up to the deal you want and line rental will be included. Here’s what BT’s three main calls packages will set you back:

Unlimited Weekends Calls Unlimited Evening & Weekend Calls Unlimited Anytime Calls
Free £4.50/month £9.99/month
12-month contract 12-month contract 12-month contract
Connection fee may apply Connection fee may apply Connection fee may apply

As you can see, Unlimited Weekend Calls comes as standard with BT line rental, whether you’re paying directly for it or it comes with your broadband or broadband and TV package. For less than a fiver a month, we’d say the best option is the Unlimited Evening & Weekend Calls pack - though be careful not to make a call between 7am and 7pm on weekdays, as you’ll be charged the standard rate per minute.

If you make a call outside the periods included in your package, you’ll be charged the standard rate per minute. With BT, the standard rate is 15p per minute to UK landlines and 18p per minute to UK mobiles, with a 23p setup fee for all calls.

As with all providers, you need also be aware that should your call run on for longer than an hour, you’ll be charged the standard rate for every minute over 60 minutes that you’re chatting. Be sure to hang up and redial if you’re nearing the hour mark and you want to avoid paying!

BT also offers two options for international calls add-ons to your calls package. They are as follows:

  • Friends & Family International - £2/month for discounted calls to 236 locations.
  • International Freedom - £8.50/month for 600 minutes per month to 36 popular locations, plus discounts on 199 further destinations.

For full details on its international calls add-ons, see the BT website, where you’ll find lists of the countries included and details about the discounts and further charges you could incur.


How do prices compare with the market average?

To see how their pricing compares to the market average, we’re first going to look at BT’s cheapest fibre deal and how its price compares with that of the market average for similar broadband speeds (36 Mbps):

As you can see, BT’s pricing comes in at just barely under the market average. We’re certain you can find the same speed for less elsewhere, but you may also find it from BT - at the time of writing this same deal is down to £27.99 for a limited time, so we recommend checking to see if you can get it cheaper.

For further reference, we’re going to see how BT prices compare further up the speed ladder. Let’s see how it compares to the market average across 67 Mbps speeds:

This time BT’s prices come even closer to the market average, falling just a penny short! It’s almost as if they planned it. It’s worth noting, however, that BT’s faster package - Ultrafast Fibre - comes in at exactly the same price. We find this strange, but aren’t thinking of questioning it. If you’re lucky enough to have these 145 Mbps speeds available to you, you can (for now, at least) get them for the same price as your average 67 Mbps package!


Get in touch with BT

There’s a multitude of ways to get in touch with BT. Which route you’ll need will depend on whether or not you’re a customer, what kind of product or service concerns you, what your problem is, etc. The best way to find out which number or method of contact you need is to consult our BT contact page, but if you’re just looking to discuss signing up for one of its services, this is the number to call:

Blue telephone

BT sales inquiries
Please check with your provider if you don't know how much a call will cost.
From the UK: 0800 800 150
From abroad: +44 1793 596 931
*Monday to Friday: 8am-9pm; Saturday: 8am-8pm; Sunday: 9am-6pm

Alternatively, prospective customers can sign up entirely online - which we would recommend as the most straightforward option.

Support for customers

If you’re already a customer, there are obviously several more options in place for you to deal with issues you may be having. Here are a couple of handy places to turn to when you need help with your BT account or service and you don’t want to waste time waiting on a call:

My BT app

For everyday management of your account, you won’t need to contact BT at all. You can simply log in to the My BT app, which has a range of features to let you know what’s happening with your account, control it to an extent based on your needs, etc. Here’s the full list of the app’s features:

  • Check recent usage.
  • View and pay bills.
  • Check service status.
  • Get help from BT experts.

These features can be used for your BT landline, broadband, TV or mobile deals, and can be accessed with your BT ID - once you’re set up you can add a pin or use fingerprint login for easy access. Don’t have it yet? Download it for Android or iOS via the links below:

BT Community

If you’re experiencing problems or just have a simple question that needs answering and you don’t want to jump through a dozen hoops to ask the right person, you can put it to the BT Community. The community is a section of the BT website where customers can find answers to common questions and solutions to common issues experienced by other users.

The Community page can be used in several ways - you can click through to find your issue via its different sections (Broadband, BT TV, Landline & Mobile, etc.), you can type keywords to find previously resolved issues you could learn from, or you can post your own question for another user to answer. At the time of writing, over a hundred thousand discussions have been had on the site and over 27,000 solutions have been provided.


BT Reviews

So you’ve learnt pretty much everything you need to know about BT’s offer, but what do you know about what it’s like to be a BT customer? Very little. For this reason, we’ve scoured the internet in search of customer reviews, and we’ve compiled an impression of what the general customer experience is like. Read on for the details:

Reviews

Reviews for BT’s broadband and television service give a poor impression of its service. A worrying 90% of 5,844 reviewers gave it the worst rating of Bad on the review site Trustpilot. Less than 5% have reported a positive experience. This is by and large the nature of these sites - customers mostly leave reviews when they have a negative experience to report. This much smoke, however, does not come without a sizeable fire, so let’s get into what customers are complaining about.

In short, it’s a bit of everything. Many customers feel that they have been wooed by a sales-hungry organisation only to be repeatedly let down, as once the sale is made BT loses interest in customer care:

Day one of a new contract and BT still proving to be totally unreliable and clearly driven by sales. A day off work hanging around for an engineer that never showed. I gave BT the benefit of the doubt and have again been let down. No surprises really. Offshore call centres a complete waste of time.

Engineers missing appointments is a common enough complaint, as well as call centres based abroad with unhelpful advisers who it’s sometimes reported don’t speak English well. Many customers also complain that, after years of loyalty to BT, they receive nothing approaching the same in return. The best deals are given to new customers, and those already signed up feel like they’re being treated like cash cows:

After 28 years with BT I am leaving this company. There is no loyalty recognition unless I leave and come back. I don't want to play games so goodbye BT.

The consensus seems to be that, even if you see a tempting deal from BT, you won’t feel like you’re getting great value once you’re signed up. Its customer service team and engineers come in for a lot of stick, and few reviewers speak of feeling valued as customers when problems arise (which seems to be often). All in all, the best advice seems to be to avoid.

Pros and cons

Pros Cons
  • Often puts out tempting deals and incentives.
  • Prices in general slightly cheaper than the market average.
  • Call centres based abroad with unhelpful staff.
  • Unreliable engineers.
  • Poor treatment of loyal customers.