BT 20 Mbps broadband - really?

Recently BT Retail announced that it will boost its top tier broadband downstream rate from a theoretical headline speed of 8 Mbps to up to 20 Mbps. Upload speeds will also increase, theoretically, from up to 448 Kbps to up to 1 Mbps.

However, these faster broadband speeds will initially only be available through exchanges covering 40 per cent of the UK's homes and businesses. Even in six months time coverage will only increase to 55 per cent.

It will take almost two years for all exchanges to be upgraded, during which time businesses in those areas will be disadvantaged. Businesses outside the major urban areas are the ones with the longest wait.

Steve Weller, of uSwitch said in the Daily Telegraph in June: "There will still be a second class of Internet citizen who will not benefit from this move from BT."

Living in a small seaside town that was very late to get broadband at all I was curious as to our fate under this new initiative. I discovered two things, that living close to an telephone exchange my current maximum speed is the full 8Mbps and that there seems to be, currently, no date for me to enter the 21st century and 20Mbps.

Then I checked my parents phone line - they live in a populous suburb of Leeds, and discovered that their current maximum broadband speed is 6.5Mbps - which isn't bad - and, as expected, they have an upgrade date - of 28th February 2009. I was about to grumble when I noticed that their expected maximum speed after the 20Mbps upgrade was just 9Mbps - barely faster than I am getting under the 8Mbps regime in our east coast isolation!

So, by increasing the downstream theoretical maximum speed by 150% BT will actually increase my parents' broadband speed in Leeds by less than 39%.

Does this mean that the millions of people who currently enjoy broadband speeds of less than 2Mbps will max out at well under 3Mbps even when their exchange has a headline downstream speed of 20Mbps?

I can predict even more complaints about headline speeds being forthcoming next year if these results are in anyway representative of the experience of BT's subscribers.