A free speed upgrade to 20mbps for BT's broadband customers suggests that communications minister Stephen Carter's plans for a universal service running at one-tenth the speed are unambitious.
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BT announced today that following successful trials of ADSL 2+ technology, 4.8 million retail customers will enjoy a free upgrade from the present maximum download speed of 8mbps to 20mbps, with upload speeds rising to 1mbps, for £7.78 a month. Business customers will receive the boost immediately.
BT's main competitor, Virgin Media, which uses a different technology, is already upgrading its minimum broadband speed to 10mbps and testing 200mbps technologies.
Based on its 21st Century Network (21CN) platform, BT's upgrade will be available initially from 549 telephone exchanges that serve more than 10 million (40%) of the UK's homes and businesses. BT plans to extend coverage to 55% by March 2010 subject to customer demand.
BT said that a main cause of slow broadband is customers' home wiring. BT will offer a broadband accelerator that eliminates electrical interference from telephone extension wiring, improving broadband speeds and reliability. The devices will be free to consumers and businesses that are likely to benefit.
As a result, more customers with marginal broadband speeds will exceed the 2mbps threshold required by Lord Carter, BT said. However it has asked the government for financial guarantees to roll out broadband to rural areas.
In a separate move, BT Retail will begin trials of 40mbps fibre-based broadband in Whitchurch, South Wales, and Muswell Hill, London, this summer. Openreach is already delivering speeds of up to 100mbps to customers in the Ebbsfleet Valley in Kent, using fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) technology.