BT boosts broadband speed to 20Mbps40% of homes to have access to superfast broadband

05 June 2009

BT Home Hub in a lounge environment

BT Broadband option 3 includes BT's new BT Home Hub 2

BT plans to more than double the headline broadband speeds available to around 10 million UK homes to a maximum broadband speed of 20Mbps.

BT broadband business customers have already started to receive faster broadband speed, while BT home broadband customers in enabled areas will be upgraded over the summer.

BT’s superfast broadband speed offer follows Virgin Media’s recent roll out of 10Mbps speeds to its broadband customers.

Of course, speed is just one element of broadband service – to get the full picture, the Which? broadband review shows how BT and Virgin Media compare to other broadband providers such as TalkTalk and Sky for overall customer satisfaction.

In a separate move, BT Retail will begin the first trials of up to 40Mbps super-fast fibre-based broadband in Whitchurch, South Wales and Muswell Hill, London this summer.

How to get BT’s up to 20Mbps broadband speed

From early summer, new customers or recontracting BT Total Broadband customers in an enabled exchange area (which will eventually cover around 40% of UK homes) will automatically be eligible for up to 20Mbps broadband service from £7.78 per month.

BT says it is upgrading existing BT broadband customers for free, however they will have to sign a new, lengthy broadband contract.

The reality of headline broadband speed

Up to 20Mbps is just a headline broadband speed – in reality the speed you can achieve will be dictated by your location, as explained in the Which? guide to broadband speed.

Where you live is not the only thing that can affect the broadband speed you’ll get in practice. Among other factors, your broadband ISP’s traffic management policy will also affect the broadband speed you'll get at different times of day.

BBC iPlayer affected by broadband throttling

BT recently came under fire from the BBC, which raised concerns that BT’s broadband traffic management system was affecting the viewing experience of BBC iPlayer for some users. The Which? guide to online TV has more on watching iPlayer.

The BBC reported that customers who opt for BT's Option 1 broadband deal - which currently has a headline broadband speed of up to 8Mbps - will find that the speed at which they can watch streaming video is throttled back to under 1Mbps between 1700 and midnight.

Sources at the BBC said their data showed that speeds for BT's iPlayer users was reduced to around 700kbps at peak times, leading to a reduced iPlayer viewing experience.

In a statement to the BBC, BT said it was not capping speeds down to 700kbps on iPlayer. The firm said: ‘Where we manage bandwidth, we do so in order to optimise the experience for all customers, whatever they want to do online.’

Broadband fair usage policies

Many broadband companies have clauses in their small print explaining their right to limit broadband speeds during peak times so that the network does not get overloaded.

The BBC reported that BT has a clause in its Total Broadband terms and conditions stating: ‘We do limit the speed of all video streaming to 896Kbps on our Option 1 product, during peak times only.’

Which? broadband expert Ceri Stanaway says: ‘While this particular fair usage clause applies to BT Broadband Option 1 in its current form – with a maximum speed of up to 8Mbps – it seems unlikely that an increase in speed to 20Mbps will totally do away with a need to limit broadband speeds at peak times.

‘While fair usage policies and broadband traffic management may sometimes be necessary to share a broadband network fairly, we believe all broadband speed and usage limitations should be made clear when a customer takes out a broadband contract so that they can make an informed choice.’

For more on fair usage limits and the range of speeds offered by different broadband providers, including some like O2 broadband and Be broadband who already offer maximum broadband speeds higher than 20Mbps, take a look at the Which? broadband review.

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