About 40% of the British public can now get 20Mbps downloads for no extra charge, but BT still lags behind Virgin's speediest 50Mbps service
BT (BT) has upgraded its broadband network to offer home and business users download speeds of up to 20Mbps and uploads of up to 1Mbps.
The shift to ADSL2+ technology brings BT's speeds closer to those of competitors such as Virgin Media, which for a higher price offers speeds of up to 50Mbps to some of its cable customers. Until Wednesday, BT's maximum download speed was 8Mbps using ADSL2 technology.
Prices are unchanged, although existing customers wanting the faster speeds will need to restart their contract with BT, with a minimum term of one or two years.
Forty per cent of the population can get the new speeds through 549 telephone exchanges, which cover around 10 million UK homes and businesses. BT says it will extend that coverage to 55 per cent by March next year "subject to customer demand".
The faster speeds are based on BT's next-generation 21CN platform but have nothing to do with fibre-to-the-home, a technology currently being trialled by the company. Currently, 100Mbps fibre-to-the-home connectivity is available to customers in the Ebbsfleet Valley development in Kent, and BT says it will trial 40Mbps fibre-to-the-cabinet technology in Whitchurch, South Wales and Muswell Hill in London this summer.
Jerry Thompson, director of products and online at BT Business, acknowledged that some rival service providers had adopted ADSL2+ years ago but said now was "the right time [for BT] in terms of customers' adoption and the state of the technology".
Real-world broadband speeds almost never reach the so-called 'headline speeds'—in this case 20Mbps. This situation is the result of several factors, chiefly the user's distance from the exchange and the quality of wiring in the user's building.
Thompson said that, when customers sign up, BT will always tell them what speeds to expect given the state of their line. He also said that the ADSL2+ upgrade will effectively double users' real-world speeds—a customer who got 2Mbps on their "up to 8Mbps" package, for example, will now get 4Mbps.