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Mobiles dominate over land lines

Almost a fifth of households in Northern Ireland no longer use telephone land lines, it can be revealed.

And those who keep them for broadband internet and digital TV services have seen a hike in the cost of the lines - even though fewer of us than ever are using them to make or receive calls.

With mobile phones now dominating the communications industry, experts have said the pressure is now on providers to offer services that do not rely on land lines.

Figures provided by the industry regulator Ofcom suggest that BT has the majority of the local home phone market share, servicing around 58% of Northern Ireland customers.

The other main players across the province are Virgin (14%), Sky (12%) and Talk Talk (10%), with 'others' accounting for another 6%. All four companies, however, have one thing in common: an increase in charges for land line customers over the past two months.

On May 1, Talk Talk raised the cost of renting a line from £12.04 to £12.60 a month. That followed a hike by BT, the UK's largest provider, which increased rates from £13.60 to £13.90 a week earlier.

Virgin Media put up its rates at the start of April from £12.24 to £12.99, while Sky will announce an increase in its charges this month and currently charges £11.25 for line rental. The moves are the latest in a series of price increases over the last nine months. BT's landline charges are up 9% and daytime call charges are up 29%, according to Uswitch.com, the comparison website. Talk Talk has increased land line costs by 10%, while daytime rates rose by 31%.

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Virgin Media's package includes access to 65 channels such as SKY 1, CNN and Discovery as well as their catch-up feature. There's also unlimited weekend calls to UK landline and Virgin mobiles.

Sky provides a selection of popular entertainment channels. Evening and weekend UK landline costs are free and Sky+, its on-demand system, is also included.

Statistics provided by the regulator Ofcom show the use of land line services has been steadily falling, whereas mobile use is becoming more popular.

Around 79% of households in Northern Ireland had both a fixed line and mobiles in the first quarter of 2006, while only 10% had mobile only. In the first quarter of 2010, however, 75% had a fixed and mobile service, while 18% had a mobile only. Over the years, the cost of mobile phone calls been falling as land line fees have been rising.

Mobile calls have fallen from an average 15.1p a minute in 2004, to 8.8p in 2009, according to Ofcom.

Meanwhile, the cost of land line calls has risen from 6.6p to 7.3p.

Land line use would, in all likelihood, have fallen much further if it wasn't for most providers insisting on customers using a land line for their broadband and TV services.

Northern Ireland's leading retail expert Donald McFetridge said more companies should follow in Virgin's footsteps by offering broadband and TV-only deals.

"Customers should be able to avail of these deals, especially after the latest rise in line charges," he said.

A BT spokeswoman said the cost of land line packages is decreasing and that the company's Anytime deal is 75% cheaper than it was in 2003.

Virgin is the only firm to offer non-land line deals, but they're expensive compared with the 'bundled' land line, broadband and TV offers from their competitors.

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