Plusnet plc
Company typeSubsidiary
IndustryISP, Telecommunications, IPTV
Founded1 February 1997; 27 years ago (1997-02-01) (as Plusnet Technologies Ltd)
HeadquartersSheffield, England, UK
Key people
Marc Allera (CEO, BT Consumer)
ProductsInternet services
Landline telephone services
Mobile virtual network operator
ParentBT Consumer
(BT Group)
Websiteplus.net Edit this at Wikidata

Plusnet plc is a British triple play internet service provider (ISP) providing broadband, landline and mobile services. The company was founded in 1997 in Sheffield, England, and became a public limited company (plc) in July 2004 when it was floated on the Alternative Investment Market. On 30 January 2007, Plusnet was acquired by BT Group, but it continues to operate as a separate business. By December 2013, it had over 750,000 customers across the UK.[1]

In 2018, Plusnet was brought into BT Group's BT Consumer division, the CEO of which is Marc Allera.[2] In November 2019, Andy Baker stepped down as CEO of Plusnet.[3]

Plusnet Mobile operates as a mobile virtual network operator using the network of EE. This service closed to new customers in early 2023 and is due to close entirely within the same year.

History

Origins

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Plusnet's origins go back to 1 February 1997, when Choice Peripherals, a PC computer-peripherals company launched Force9 Internet. Heavily involved in early Plusnet was founder of Choice Peripherals, Paul Cusack (chairman), who later went on to create the hardware retailer Ebuyer, and Lee Strafford (managing director), who later went on to lead Plusnet through most of its development up to the sale to BT in January 2007.

Screenshot of the original Force9 webpage, from 1998

The first Force9 Internet products followed the dial-up internet model popularised by Demon Internet (monthly subscription, plus the cost of local phone calls), but offered at a lower cost to subscribers (£6 a month + VAT), and including more value-added features.[example needed] By October 1997, Force9 had achieved the milestone of 5,000 subscribers, assisted by a marketing partnership with Yorkshire Cable (later to become part of Telewest), in which Yorkshire Cable customers were offered a reduced subscription on a Force9 account. In addition, software which used Force9 Internet as the default ISP was supplied with every modem ordered through Choice Peripherals.

As the business grew, Force9 was split out as a separate operation from Choice Peripherals, with new premises and an umbrella company under which it would operate. This company, Plusnet Technologies Ltd, opened its doors at Internet House, Victoria Quays, Sheffield, in November 1997.

Although the company was named Plusnet, the brand was first used for products by the business sales team at Force9, for leased line and server colocation services to small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

In April 1998, Insight Enterprises, an American PC-peripherals company, made a move into the UK market by acquiring Choice Peripherals. However, Insight were principally interested in the online commerce side of the operation, and not in the internet service provider, Force9. Because of this, Insight largely left the ISP side of the business operating as it had been, with Lee Strafford remaining in charge of the operation.

This coincided with the April 1999 launch of Force9's version of 'unmetered' dial up – which gave 0800 free call rate internet access during weekend hours. The website was re-branded as F9 in order to promote it.

In June 2000, the Force9 brand was changed to Plusnet. This coincided with the introduction of the Surftime dialup internet products, the first real 24/7 unmetered dial-up service in the UK.

Plusnet continued to see month on month growth in the dial-up market, and this growth was further augmented with the launch of a 512 kbit/s ADSL broadband internet service in August 2000. Plusnet launched their first broadband products on the same day that BT first made them available to the UK market.

Plusnet continued to develop their product set over the next few years as new broadband speeds and technologies became available. The initial broadband product performed at a speed of 512 kbit/s, and required a BT Engineer to visit the customer premises to install the service. As time went on, the maximum speeds increased to 1 Mbit/s, 2 Mbit/s and, today, up to 16 Mbit/s. In January 2002, Plusnet launched a 'Self Install' broadband product that the end user was able to set up themselves without the need for a visit to the premises by a BT Engineer.

In November 2005, Plusnet acquired Parbin Ltd and its consumer ISP MetroNet – which at that time provided a range of 'pay as you go' broadband packages. As part of the Parbin acquisition, Plusnet assumed ownership of several other brands; Pay as You Host, INUK and Port995.

Acquisition by BT

Plusnet offices in Burley, Leeds

On 16 November 2006, it was announced that BT were making an offer for all shares in Plusnet. The BT deal, worth approximately £67 million, was declared unconditional on 24 January 2007 (after Office of Fair Trading (OFT) approval was granted).[4]

On 5 March 2007, shortly after the BT acquisition, the Plusnet chief executive, Lee Strafford, and the finance director, Neil Comer, were dismissed by BT.[5] Strafford was replaced as CEO by a former BT employee, Neil Laycock, who had been with Plusnet in various senior roles for the preceding three years.

BT bought the Brightview Group in July 2007, and Brightview's subsidiary Madasafish became a trading name of Plusnet.[6]

Services

ISP services

Hardware

Plusnet provides asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL/VDSL) broadband and full fibre broadband products to residential and business customers. It also offers landline telephone services to the same customers.

Plusnet previously provided two variants of router:

Plusnet now supplies the Plusnet Hub Two router with any new Fibre contract. You will also receive the Hub Two router if you re-contract your fibre broadband. The Hub Two is a re-branded version of the BT Smart Hub 2, which retails at £200.

Despite this router being a rebranded BT Smart Hub 2, Plusnet's user interface has been modified. This router is a significant markup from the Hub One, due to the aerial improvements and internal filters which help block interference. It allows you to change the DNS setting, which was previously unavailable on the Hub One. In the router's admin controls under Advanced settings > Access control, you can block or limit internet time to any connected device. Hub Two only has 3 Lan ports on the rear, and the fourth socket is reserved as a WAN port. The Hub Two does not offer a separate guest Wi-Fi, and the dual-band 2.5Ghz and 5Ghz work in sync and cannot be independently split. The router, unlike its BT counterpart can work in bridge mode, thus meaning it can serve as just a modem, this is only necessary when using it for ADSL/VDSL. For fibre an ONT is used as the modem.

Network capacity

Plusnet was one of the first ISPs in the UK to use network quality of service (QoS) techniques, which it introduced in November 2004, in order to control the finite data bandwidth available to them at peak times. This move was a reaction to the cost of bandwidth, £210 per Mbit/s per month in November 2006 for ISPs using the BT Wholesale network. Critics[who?] have suggested that the decision to employ QoS on the network was driven by Plusnet's focus on delivering to tight profit targets dictated by investors during the time when they were a public limited company (plc). Plusnet replaced its QoS technique with a Sustainable Usage Policy (SUP) in 2005.

In 2007, around the time of acquisition by BT, an additional 930 Mbit/s of data bandwidth was made available by adding six BT IPStream segments to the network. This additional capacity has brought the Plusnet total broadband network capacity to 22 155 Mbit/s BT Central segments. This is delivered over five full 622 Mbit/s BT Centrals (four 155 Mbit/s in each BT Central) and two BT Centrals with one segment of 155 Mbit/s active in each. This services a total of just over 200,000 customers at October 2007.

This total data bandwidth figure is only slightly higher than Plusnet's capacity in January 2005, before Plusnet used Network QoS, when they had a total of seventeen segments (ten 155 Mbit/s Centrals and seven segments delivered over two 622 Mbit/s pipes) and 100,000 customers. At that time, there was an imbalance on their network as a result of issues that are caused from using a mixture of pipes. In February 2005, Plusnet reduced to a total of sixteen segments delivered over five 622 Mbit/s pipes (622s are slightly more efficient than 155 Meg segments, so this allowed for a similar amount of throughput).

In August 2005, Plusnet was forced through contractual obligation to upgrade to seventeen segments, and in January 2006, moved to eighteen segments. Plusnet's acquisition of Parbin Ltd in November 2005; with 16,000 customers and three 155 Mbit/s segments gave Plusnet a total of twenty-one segments. However, Plusnet absorbed all of these new customers and decommissioned the three segments, bringing them back to eighteen segments. This was further reduced by two segments, bringing it to sixteen in total – at around the same time as nearly 20,000 customers were moved to the Tiscali local-loop unbundling (LLU) network in July 2006.

There is controversy that the last two segments should not have been removed. Particularly as at that time, Plusnet increased allowances on all the residential packages. When this contradiction was exposed in December 2006, Plusnet defended their actions, but the explanation given was not positively received by the community at the time.

Plusnet reported that the slowdown in the increase of capacity from January 2005 was due to two major reasons. The introduction of their lower cost, lower capacity allowance, broadband product; which many existing customers moved to, and the introduction of Network QoS and the general network management policy to combat the spiralling usage of a small portion (around 1%) of the customer base. However, it was not fully explained how Plusnet expected to deliver the performance of their broadband packages to 180,000 customers on the same capacity as they had when they only had 100,000 customers.

Usage restrictions

Plusnet has, on a number of occasions, redefined their product usage guidelines in order to reflect changes in overall customer usage or in the costs they incur from their suppliers. This has resulted in customers being asked to restrict their usage, upgrade to a different product, or leave the company entirely. This practice has become common within the ISP market in the UK and is generally accepted, however Plusnet has sometimes made these changes without warning or notice to their customers.[citation needed] Plusnet has argued that the changes made didn't require any notice to be given because they don't consider them to form part of the legal contract with the consumer.

Plusnet is one of the few UK ISPs to publish a full breakdown of its wholesale costs, as part of the Plusnet Broadband Blueprint document.[7]

Deep packet inspection and bandwidth management

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Plusnet used to make heavy use of traffic prioritisation (this ended in 2017) to maintain a stable service. Plusnet acknowledges on their website[8] how network QoS impacts individual protocols and as a result what experience they expect the end-user to receive. This broadband experience is subject to periodic changes without notice in order to preserve the quality of network performance for the protocols that demand extremely low latency. Customers are notified of changes by checking Plusnet's website, freephone telephone number or RSS feed.

The use of Arbor Networks E30 Ellacoya platform to perform traffic fingerprinting using deep packet inspection and Juniper Networks ERX switches to perform protocol shaping has seen a situation where all protocols, including encrypted P2P traffic are identified and managed on their network.

Plusnet's position is that this prioritisation is in place to ensure time-critical applications like VoIP, gaming, browsing and video streaming (from sites like YouTube) are prioritised above applications that would otherwise swamp their available network capacity to the detriment of other customers' broadband experience. File sharing applications and binary Usenet are the most heavily managed protocols on Plusnet's network, and are collectively treated as low priority on most of their consumer products.

Plusnet announced that as of 29 July 2017, traffic prioritisation was to be removed from its residential customers.[9]

Identification of traffic

Deliberate traffic shaping is deployed on the Plusnet network in order to ensure QoS. Mistakes when this system was first implemented resulted in misclassification of some protocols, which made certain applications unusable at peak times.[citation needed] This was improved when the classification of unidentified traffic was raised in priority. Non-standard applications still remain susceptible to misclassification (e.g. running SSH on a non standard port other than 4500 or 10000 which are set aside by Plusnet for this purpose).

Continual improvements in protocol identification along with a significant increase in available bandwidth mean that the implementation is generally considered to be working successfully.[10]

IPv6 support

As of April 2020, Plusnet did not in general provide IPv6 connectivity to its customers, but were trialling IPv6 with selected customers. In December 2013, Plusnet started its "Next Phase" IPv6 trial.[11] Participating in this trial required the participants to provide and reconfigure their own IPv6-compatible routers. The trial was active from December 2013, but is closed for new applicants.[12]

Plusnet had earlier run a small trial with real end-users for World IPv6 Day in June 2011, with both their website and broadband customers on IPv6 on that day.[13] The first IPv6 broadband user "technical trial" ran until July 2012.[14]

Virtual ISPs

Plusnet has operated a number of "Virtual ISP" brands, both for its own company and for others. These alternative brands use the Plusnet network and software infrastructure. These brands include:

Virtual mobile network

In November 2016, Plusnet acquired mobile virtual network operator LIFE Mobile as part of BT's acquisition of EE.[16] LIFE Mobile was subsequently re-branded as Plusnet Mobile. The network was closed to new customers in March 2023,[17] and is expected to close altogether later in 2023.[18]

Former services

ISP brands

YouView TV from Plusnet

In 2015, Plusnet started to offer Plusnet TV via the YouView platform[21] which used the Freeview digital television free-to-air service, supplemented by IPTV provision of premium bundles. Plusnet offered two types of YouView boxes, the YouView + box and a standard YouView box. The YouView + box had recording facilities whereas the standard box did not.[22] Plusnet TV closed on 1 November 2021.[23]

Marketing

Plusnet's growth strategy is centred on its customers recommending people within their social circle to Plusnet. In the 10 years of its existence Plusnet has shown year on year growth in customer numbers, significantly attributable to existing customer referrals. By 2007 30% of Plusnet's new customers joined Plusnet as a result of a referral. In order to incentivise customer referrals, Plusnet pays the referring customer a recurring monthly fee for as long as the referred customer stays with Plusnet. This can prove extremely lucrative to those customers who refer many people. Plusnet's reliance on this strategy can have negative effects whenever the business suffers service problems.[citation needed]

In October 2010 Plusnet launched an advertising campaign designed to increase brand awareness nationally which emphasised the company's Yorkshire roots, using the strapline "Good Honest Broadband from Yorkshire".[24][25] The strapline was replaced in April 2012 by "We'll do you proud", but the new campaign remained heavily influenced by Northern stereotypes.[26] From 2013, the company became sponsors of the Yorkshire Marathon, run in York.[27] The spokesman in the adverts is Craig Murray.

Plusnet are an active player in the UK's web community, playing an active role in web community events around the UK, especially in the north of England. Events like OpenCoffee and Geekup[28] often see a Plusnet presence. Plusnet also work with local universities on graduate recruitment, internships and multimedia projects. In June 2005 Plusnet became the official shirt sponsors of Sheffield Wednesday, of the Football League Championship. The original deal ran for 2 years up to the end of the 2006–07 season. In November 2006 it was announced that the sponsorship would be extended to the end of the 2008–09 season.

PlusNet also sponsored a local LAN gaming party "Sychosis 2", which was hosted in Doncaster Dome in July 2008, PlusNet offered prizes of a year's free broadband for the Call of Duty 4 winning team.

Controversies

In February 2001, the company asked 1,100 dial-up customers to leave the service after they had stayed connected to an "unmetered" (but contended) dial-up service for long periods of time.[29]

On 9 July 2006, Plusnet lost 700 GB of customer email data due to human error. During a routine maintenance upgrade to the email system, an engineer mistakenly reformatted a live disk pack instead of the intended backup disk pack. Plusnet provided updates on their investigation[30] but did not reveal the size or cause of the problem until 10 July 2006 at 15:39. Plusnet explained that the engineer responsible had accessed both the live and backup disk packs from a single workstation. The engineer believed his reconfiguration was to the backup storage when it was actually connected to the live email disk pack.[31] In the following days, Plusnet did recover some email data and explained that other data may have been lost to corruption during the recovery. The official Plusnet UserGroup launched an "Email Stability & Resiliency Campaign" to attempt to ensure Plusnet made suitable investments and put in place measures to prevent future issues.[32]

In March 2017, it was fined £880,000 by Ofcom for continuing to bill customers for cancelled services.[33]

References

  1. ^ "Plusnet Home". Home Phone Choices. 27 December 2012. Retrieved 29 January 2014.
  2. ^ "What BT's new consumer group mindset means for the BT, EE and Plusnet brands".
  3. ^ "Plusnet boss steps down in shake up". 7 November 2019. Archived from the original on 8 November 2019. Retrieved 25 November 2019.
  4. ^ "BT reel in Madasafish and Plusnet: should customers be worried?". Choose. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  5. ^ "BT dismisses PlusNet's chief executive and CFO". Financial Times. 7 March 2007.
  6. ^ BT buys Madasafish operator Broadband Finder. 6 July 2007
  7. ^ "Plus.net". Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  8. ^ "Plus.net". Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  9. ^ "UK ISP Plusnet Removes Broadband Internet Traffic Prioritisation - ISPreview UK". 30 June 2017. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
  10. ^ "Community.plus.net". 10 April 2008. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  11. ^ "community.plus.net – "Plusnet IPv6 Trial Next Phase"". 11 December 2013. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  12. ^ "community.plus.net – " IPv6 Trial Tests and Feedback"". 13 December 2013. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  13. ^ "community.plus.net "IPv6 when?"". 19 September 2010. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  14. ^ "community.plus.net – "Withdrawal of IPv6 Technical Trial"". 12 July 2012. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  15. ^ Ferguson, Andrew (19 December 2011). "Vodafone At Home customers moving to Plusnet in February 2012". Think Broadband. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  16. ^ Jackson, Mark (14 November 2016). "UK ISP Plusnet Launches 4G Mobile Service, Gobbles LIFE Mobile Users". ISPreview UK. Archived from the original on 23 September 2017. Retrieved 23 September 2017.
  17. ^ Jackson, Mark (29 March 2023). "Broadband ISP Plusnet Stops Selling Own Brand UK Mobile Plans". ISPreview. Retrieved 27 May 2023.
  18. ^ "BT will shut down Plusnet Mobile to consolidate the EE brand". MobileNews. 24 May 2023. Retrieved 27 May 2023.
  19. ^ Richardson, Tim (28 November 2005). "PlusNet swallows Metronet". The Register. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  20. ^ Jackson, Mark (4 October 2022). "ISP Plusnet UK to Close Down John Lewis Broadband Division UPDATE". ISPreview UK. Retrieved 27 May 2023.
  21. ^ "TV package with YouView Box – Exclusive to our customers". Plusnet. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
  22. ^ "YouView TV from Plusnet". Plusnet. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  23. ^ Brown, Lucy (21 August 2021). "Existing Plusnet TV customers to lose service". www.choose.co.uk. Retrieved 3 February 2022.
  24. ^ "Plusnet: Good Honest Broadband from Yorkshire". all our best work. Retrieved 11 June 2013.
  25. ^ "Plusnet 'good honest broadband from Yorkshire' by Karmarama". Campaign: The Work. Retrieved 11 June 2013.
  26. ^ Farey-Jones, Daniel (11 April 2012). "Plusnet drops Yorkshire from strapline". Marketing Magazine. Retrieved 11 June 2013.
  27. ^ "Plusnet Yorkshire Marathon: About". Retrieved 11 June 2013.
  28. ^ "Geekup.org". Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  29. ^ Richardson, Tim (1 February 2001). "PlusNet boots 1100 users from its service". The Register. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  30. ^ "Portal.plus.net". Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  31. ^ "Usertools.plus.net". Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  32. ^ Williams, Christopher (11 July 2006). "PlusNet obliterates customer emails". The Register. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  33. ^ "Plusnet slapped with £880k fine for billing ex customers". The Register. Retrieved 11 August 2020.