Superfast broadband is nearly here, but will it be available to everyone, and will subscription costs create a nation of web haves and have-nots? PC Advisor investigates.
Broadband Britain: Making the switch
The methods involved in changing from one ISP to another are largely the same as they've always been. The one change has been the adoption of a voluntary code of practice by broadband service providers that will see them make good on their connection speeds claims or make it easy for you to take your custom elsewhere.
The change itself still involves giving notice to your current provider and receiving a MAC, or migration code, that you pass to the new ISP. The migration needs to take place within a 28-day timeframe from receipt of the code. If you're having new hardware installed, as you will need to do if you're moving from ADSL to ADSL 2+ or BT Infinity, an engineer's visit will need to be arranged.
You need to give notice to your current provider – or tell BT you want to move over to BT Infinity from your existing broadband service. Note that only a handful of ASDL ISPs (those that use BT phonelines and sell packages based on the BT infrastructure) currently offer fibre-optic packages. In general, you'll need to become a direct customer of BT Broadband – or wait until your current ISP begins to offer fibre broadband services. You may also need to complete the minimum contract period of your current broadband service before you can switch to a new provider.
Once you've got a migration code releasing you from your existing ISP, you can arrange for a BT Openreach engineer to visit and install the BT Infinity hardware. As well as arranging the high-speed router, you need to consider its location. The connection from the cabinet outside your home needs to be direct to the master telephone entry point – unlike ADSL broadband, you can't bounce the connection via connecting cables to another part of the premises. Extension cables are possible from the main connection point, but the BT engineer is only allowed to tack cables along the skirting board and not under carpets or through walls.
Broadband Britain: Super-fast broadband options explained
The best options are currently those offered to Virgin Media customers. Having been a fibre-optic service from the off, the cable network has always been in a better position to ratchet up the connection rate. BT, meanwhile, has had to install a whole new infrastructure and leave behind the 'plain old telephone service' (POTS) we've depended on for the past decade's broadband. But the picture may not stay the same for long.
BT is allowing rival ISPs to offer both LLU or ADSL 2+ broadband and fibre-optic services. However, it's not giving the likes of Demon and Zen Internet an easy ride. In August, BT began aggressively marketing its own BT Infinity product with a no-cost installation and half-price subscription offer for three months.
Even so, it may be worth registering your interest in fibre with your existing provider. Given enough interest, many will offer next-gen broadband and are likely to work hard to keep and acquire new users prepared to take out a lengthy subscription with them. Given that they'll then be looking to sell you TV and phone services further down the line, your business is valuable to them. And as the mobile phone market attests, competition makes for some great deals for customers.
Once you've got 40Mbps broadband, reports suggest you won't want to go back – and the initial connection rates are only going to get faster and faster, so 100Mbps may be only a short wait. In fact, with the rate at which Virgin Media is upping the speed and market-share stakes, it's a safe bet.
Virgin Media trials of 100Mbps in 2009 were sufficiently successful for an initial rollout of services to begin being offered to existing cable customers this year. As of this summer, Virgin Media said it had 50,000 subscribers on its 50Mbps cable broadband service. By Christmas, Virgin Media says subscribers using the special router required for the Virgin XXL 50Mbps service may be offered 200Mbps or even 400Mbps connections. With trials in Ashford, Kent, having proved the viability of such connection rates, other metropolitan areas are now being offered such speeds.
As we've already outlined, you can get a good idea of the speeds that can be achieved where you live using the real-world data displayed at Top10.com's Street Stats site. Here, you can see on a map the recently measured connection speeds achieved by neighbours in the surrounding streets. The nearest telephone exchange location is also shown, since this affects most users' ability to get online. You can allow the site to detect your current location or type in a postcode you want to view.
Broadband Britain: Other options
The fastest broadband is yet to come, but that's not to say you can't already get a very fast web connection. Business users have options in the form of the 21CN leased line network that BT offers, while BSkyB partner company Easynet offers 100Mbps business broadband too. Where fibre broadband isn't available, ADSL2+ of up to 24Mbps is likely to be offered instead. Some 20 million homes and businesses should see such offerings by next year – double the number that will be able to access fibre-optic broadband.
Further options for both business and home users are offered in select metropolitan and urban areas. In Manchester there's a city council-funded 100Mbps service being installed in the Oxford Road area of the city. In Bournemouth and Dundee Fibrecity has set about signing up business interests to help justify its OpenCity initiative. When this comes to fruition (dependent on sufficient people committing to joining the service), 100Mbps fibre-optic broadband will be offered for as little as £9.99 a month and come bundled with TV and phone services.
Another workaround we've heard about is to install multiple ADSL lines and bond them together to achieve improved throughput. For most people, this will be a prohibitively expensive option, but it can be done if you really need faster broadband and it's not otherwise available.
- What's happening in Broadband Britain?
- Fibre and the final third, fibre-optic broadband in practice, and what's available now?
- Using mobile Wi-Fi, fibre-optic broadband, and the waiting game
- Making the switch, super-fast broadband options explained, and the other options