Page last updated at 11:08 GMT, Wednesday, 11 June 2008 12:08 UK

BT offers to 'speed up broadband'

Engineer cutting wires
Sometimes faulty wiring slows connection speeds down

A service launched by BT which offers to improve broadband speeds or "your money back" has been branded expensive.

As part of its Home IT Support service, BT has pledged to improve broadband speeds by at least 0.5Mbps (megabits per second).

But with a price tag of 90, some industry watchers suggest users find alternative ways of upping speeds.

Broadband speeds vary for a variety of reasons, including distance from the telephone exchange.

Accurate speed

O2 - 6.4Mbps
Be - 5.5Mbps
Virgin Media - 4.1Mbps
Sky - 3.8Mbps
PlusNet - 3.2Mbps
Post Office - 3.0Mbps
TalkTalk - 2.9Mbps
BT - 2.8Mbps
Demon - 2.8Mbps
Orange - 2.7Mbps
*Average speeds. Data supplied by Top 10 Broadband

The BT Broadband Accelerator service offers to investigate reasons for a slow connection, including tweaks to the performance of a PC, as well as more complex problems such as rewiring sockets or improving the general wiring in the home.

It promises to boost broadband by at least 0.5Mbps with the promise of a refund if that is not achieved.

The service will be offered by BT's Home IT Support service, which sends engineers to peoples' homes to sort out technical issues.

Speed, and the lack of it, remains an extremely hot topic among consumers.

The subject attracted more comment on the BBC's website than any other in its history when it was discussed last week.

Many consumers are disappointed that services promising speeds of up to 8Mbps are falling far short of this.

As a result of complaints, regulator Ofcom now wants companies to publish accurate estimates of the maximum connection speeds people can expect before they buy broadband packages.

Browser settings

A living room
Household objects from TVs to lights can slow down speeds

Independent online speed tests are proving extremely popular as people vie to see what speed their home connection is achieving. A test run by the BBC attracting over 700,000 users in one day.

But there are many variables that affect speed, including how many users are on the line at any given time.

"Between 7pm and 9pm there is a peak and capacity on a line is reduced because everyone is using it," said Alex Buttle, marketing director of Top 10 broadband, a broadband comparison website.

It sees about 6,000 people using its speed test every day and is careful to warn them that speeds will be affected by a variety of factors

"We tell them that it is a rough estimation. There is no speed test out there that is 100% accurate," he said.

Ian Fogg, an analyst with JupiterResearch, thinks customers paying out for the BT Accelerator could find they only get improvements when there is plenty of capacity.

"It may be that their speeds goes up but only at certain times of the day," he said.

BT said that it tests the speed between the broadband home hub and the telephone exchange and that ensures the test is accurate and any hike in speed remains more stable.

Many of the tweaks that can improve speed are things that users can do for themselves, said Michael Phillips, product director of consumer website broadbandchoices.

"There are basic steps users can take to optimise their broadband connection to improve speed of performance without getting their wallet out," he said.

These include adjusting browser settings, removing bandwidth-heavy applications and monitoring the performance of download programmes such as the iPlayer.

Faulty lights

Mr Fogg pointed out that, in some cases, speed could be improved just by moving the modem.

"Many people plug their ADSL modem into a socket away from the master socket and this can reduce speed and affect reliabilty," he said.

"BT has raised a genuine issue about speed although it is fairly easy for people to tackle themselves by identifying the master socket, plugging the modem into it and using wi-fi," he said.

BT Wholesale is about to launch a product, known as an iPlate, which it said can dramatically improve broadband speeds.

The iPlate- expected to sell for around 10 - cuts out electrical interference from other household objects, including TVs and set-top boxes, and, according to BT tests, can improve broadband speed by an average of 1.5Mbps.

In one test a faulty fluorescent light was shown to cause a drop in speed from 3.8Mbps to 700Kbps.

The boxes are fitted into the master socket.

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