BT have announced today that they will be rolling out faster speeds to their consumer and business broadband customers this summer, utilizing BT's 21CN to give download speeds of up to 20Mbps. Upload speeds are also set to increase, giving users upto 1Mbps, which will allow them to submit content online, such as uploading videos or photos much more quickly. The news will give a welcome boost to consumers' broadband speeds without denting the wallet as the upgrades will be provided for free. Users who already have a fast line will benefit the most from the speed upgrades, and it's possible that some could actually be slower. It is estimated that only 25% of telephone lines can connect at a line speed of 6.5Mbps and above, and only these 25% may see speeds over 11Mbps. Only those that live very close to the telephone exchange will actually get broadband speeds near 20Mbps.
Not everyone will be able to get the faster speeds of course, as only those on a 21CN enabled exchange can benefit from the new ADSL2+ technology. Nearly 40% of UK business and consumers are covered (549 exchanges), and this is set to increase to 55% by 2010. One gotcha, is that existing customers who wish to upgrade will be asked to sign a new contract. Business customers can sign up now, whilst consumers will have to wait for a bit later in the summer (no exact date has as yet been announced).
Another announcement with this is that BT will be giving away the 'BT Broadband Accelerator', another name for the BT I-Plate, for free (£2.50 P&P) to customers who it believes performance can be improved. The I-Plate is a simple device that plugs in to the telephone socket which helps improve broadband speeds due to poor quality telephone wiring. Thinkbroadband produced a video guide earlier this year which shows how you can fit an I-Plate to your telephone socket to help consumers through the process, and to aid them get better broadband speeds.
How much of an improvement will the speeds updates actually bring?
In the last few days BT have been accused of artificially reducing the speed of their broadband customers through throttling or traffic management. Customers on BT's Option 1 broadband will find that between 5pm and midnight, their speeds for watching streaming video such as BBC iPlayer and Youtube are reduced back to under 1Mbps. This is detailed in the BT Total Broadband Fair Usage Policy.
We do not impose any restrictions that affect the viewing quality of services such as BBC iPlayer or Catch Up on Channel4.com or ITV.com, as these stream at up to 800Kbps. However, we do limit the speed of all video streaming to 896Kbps on our Option 1 product, during peak times only, which is between 5pm - midnight every day.Quote from BT Fair Usage Policy
Sources at the BBC said that their data showed that speeds for BT's iPlayer users average around 700Kbps at these peak times, which means that users are reduced to the lowest quality streaming for their iPlayer service. Currently the iPlayer has three different speeds which give different quality video- 500Kbps, 800Kbps and 1.5Mbps. There is also a 3.2Mbps high-definition service.
BT are of course by no means alone when it comes to traffic management- it can be very useful to ensure a few users don't make broadband unusable for everyone. Virgin Media also operate a similar policy on their broadband service, although they are a bit more generous with how much they throttle by. Their 2Mbps, Broadband M product is reduced to 1Mbps during peak times if you go over their download trigger level, however 2Mbps users are currently being migrated to a faster 10Mbps service which is throttle down to 2.5Mbps. Users that are interested in seeing how fast they can stream video can use our Broadband Meter to monitor speeds in real time.
Any increase in speeds such as these being introduced by BT are welcomed, however the main benefit of these is to streaming video services which can make good use of faster speeds to bring higher quality video. If adjustments are not made to the traffic management policies, many users may find no benefit at all to having a faster line when using it at peak times.