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5 Hidden Truths Behind BT's Free Broadband Upgrade

BT announced that it will be offering free ADSL2+ upgrades to all users with up to download speeds set to increase from 8mbps to a staggering 20mbps. Is it the complete picture though? As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle as we investigate.

(1) A fraction of BT users will get the broadband upgrades

549 telephone exchanges which cover around 10 million UK homes and businesses will be upgraded and BT says that 40 percent of the population will get the new speed with that percentage rising to 55 percent by next year. The bottom line though is that the upgrades are likely to affect users that already have the widest broadband choices in terms of broadband providers. This is because BT, as a private company, will be looking to maximise its return on investment by tackling densely populated areas first.

(b) The broadband is not free per se

BT might say that the upgrade is free but looking at the small print and you will find that the upgrade requires that the customer signs for a new 12 or 24 months contract. It is not known whether customers have to sign a new contract BEFORE or as the upgrade is being done but it will tie customers into longer contracts, preventing them from switching to potentially more competitive offers.

(c) You are unlikely to get the 20mbps

because of the increased attenuation on ADSL2+, some users could even get lower speeds than on ADSL. Furthermore, the change to ADSL2+ may also require a new modem and the installation of the new BT iPlate which will be provided free. The other issue that has to be considered is the fact that the upgrades are done at the exchanges means that BT's copper network - the same that was used during the dial up era - is being pushed to its utmost limit. BT will be moving to fiber optic soon but the roll out is likely to be very targeted.

(d) Data allowance and Traffic shaping will remain

BT has been caught throttling BBC's iPlayer and will still keep traffic shaping. In addition, many users have reported that it aggresively slows the speed of P2P or Bittorrent downloads. Furthermore, data caps - Option 1 has 10GB monthly usage and Option 2 20GB, will still be in place which to be fair are too low for normal usage. To put things in perspective, 3 Networks currently has £15 15GB mobile broadband dongle that may possibly be better (and cheaper) than BT's own Option 1 given that you can use it anywhere AND you don't need a BT phone line. As it stands, BT is woefully unprepared for the likes of BBC, Youtube and other bandwidth hungry applications.

(e) BT is still not the cheapest and is terribly late

BT's 12 month contract for Broadband Option 1 - which is the norm in the broadband market - will set you back a whopping £15.65 a month excluding line rental. This rises up to £24.46 for the Unlimited Option 3. ADSL2+ technology, which BT is introducing right now, was rolled out by Be Broadband five years ago which begs the question.

Why only now? Also, a quick look at BT's fiercest rivals shows that the incumbent telecommunication giant does not fare as well as it should. O2's Premium package costs only £14.68 per month with no throttling or traffic shaping. Carphone Warehouse is even cheaper and includes landline fees. Ironically, since BT will be upgrading exchanges under the WBC scheme, it is likely that BT's broadband competitors will soon be offering the same speed increases.

Other broadband providers, like BT have been upgrading customers for free. Virgin Media for one, has been moving all entry level users from their 2mbps to a more substantial 10mbps for free and as far as we can remember, without having to renew their contracts.

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.