Page last updated at 07:43 GMT, Thursday, 12 June 2008 08:43 UK

Experts question BT's fibre trial

Ebbsfleet, LandSecurities
Ebbsfleet is earmarked for 10,000 fibre-enabled homes

BT's trial of super-fast broadband is unlikely to put the UK back in the fast lane analysts have said.

The telecoms firm is offering fibre to the home to 300 newly built homes in Ebbsfleet, Kent.

Speeds will start at 2.5Mbps (megabits per second) with "bursts" of 100Mbps and the service could be free to consumers on the trial.

"These speeds make it the slowest fibre service in Europe", said Jupiter Research analyst Ian Fogg.

"I am surprised. This is a trial and I see no reason why they aren't trialling the highest speed the technology can deliver. What is the point of a trial if you don't really test things?" he said.

But a BT spokesman said that the speeds would be "very decent".

"Higher in fact that anyone currently needs," he added.

BT pointed out that while 10Mbps would be a baseline minumum for customers, download speeds would increase depending on what the user was doing, such as downloading a movie.

And while the capacity is shared, customers would still get speeds of more than 50Mbps when required, said BT.

It is also hoping to offer the service free for the first two years to all the 10,000 homes which will eventually be built at Ebbsfleet, in a bid to kick-start next-generation broadband.

This plan has yet to be approved by Ofcom.

Conservative company

2.5Mbps download speed/ 0.5Mbps upload speed
10Mbps down/2Mbps up
10Mbps down/2Mbps up, burst to 30Mbps for downloads
10Mbps down/2Mbps up, burst to 100Mbps
Source: BT Wholesale

The UK has been criticised for its slow adoption of super-fast broadband.

Cable provider Virgin Media is currently the only company offering speeds of up to 50Mbps - albeit a trial - while some other ISPs are rolling out service offering speeds up to 24Mbps.

BT pointed out network capacity using fibre affect all services across Europe.

Virgin customers with 20Mbps connections have it "throttled back" during certain times of a day.

The longest you can actually run your 20Mbps package at "top speed" before the throttles apply is seven minutes, said a BT spokesman.

In Europe a handful of operators are offering download speeds of between 20 and 100Mbps, with most also offering very fast upload speeds as well.

Ebbsfleet will have 10,000 homes connected via fibre, although building will not be complete until 2020.

BT has not yet announced any other new-build sites earmarked for fibre.

Part of the reason for BT's decision to market fibre trial speeds lower than they are techinically capable of could be natural caution.

"BT is historically a conservative company and has a tendency to suggest a lower performance than will be the case," said Andrew Ferguson, editor of ThinkBroadband, a broadband comparison and news site.

"How often people at Ebbsfleet will see 100Mbps speeds depends on how much capacity is available to link the site to broadband providers, and how much capacity they have out to the internet," he said.

Uploading speeds

In the first instance, with just 300 homes earmarked for the trial, speeds are likely to far exceed 10Mbps.

"But as more people sign up they may find that at peak times such as Friday and Sunday evenings they are only getting 10Mbps," said Mr Ferguson.

He said he was more disappointed by the upload speeds, which peaks at 2Mbps.

Having a fast upload speed makes it far quicker for people to put their own content online.

Services which allow people to upload voice, pictures and videos needed higher speeds, said Mr Ferguson.

"Uploading has been undersold but it offers the potential, for example, to bring about a sea-change in how media is produced," he said.

"The BBC has been criticised for its regional coverage but with decent speeds people in those areas could upload their own video clips," he said.

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