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BT customers get free broadband speed boost

If you're frustrated by your 8Mbps maximum broadband speed, BT has a little treat in store for you: greatly increased broadband speed, as long as you're connected to a capable exchange

If you're wondering why you can't get more than 8Mbps broadband when companies such as Be and Sky can offer broadband up to 24Mbps, prepare yourself for some good news. BT has finally announced that its customers will get the benefit of higher-speed Internet access. And the best bit is it's a free upgrade.

That's fantastic news, to be sure, but, before you go crazy with excitement, there are some things you need to know. The higher-speed ADSL2+ requires that your exchange has been migrated to BT's 21CN network, and about 570 have, thus far. BT will tell you if you're able to get the faster service, via its Web site.

For people who hate BT's appalling site, you might want an alternative. So we suggest you visit Samknows.com to find out if your exchange has made the switch to 21CN. For example, the Wimbledon exchange has been migrated, but Bagshot, in Surrey, has not.

This is, of course, good news for people who live on exchanges that the LLU (local loop unbundling) suppliers, such as Be, Sky and Tiscali, don't want to install equipment in because of the prohibitive costs involved and limited return on that investment. Eventually, every phone exchange will be ADSL2+ enabled by BT, so even people in rural areas could benefit, as long as they live close to the exchange.

As with standard ADSL, the faster ADSL2+ is very sensitive to your distance from the exchange. As a rule, to see speeds of more than 8Mbps, you'll need to live within 2km. To get full speed, you'll need to live well under 1km away, and the quality of your phone line will also need to be top-notch. If you're line isn't up-to-scratch, then you'll probably see dropped connections and reduced speeds. For customers with poor internal wiring, BT will provide a free I-Plate -- if you pay postage and packing -- which may help improve speeds.

In addition to getting a potential download speed of 20Mbps, ADSL2+ also offers an increased upstream of 1Mbps. This is really useful if you upload video or photos to online communities, as the normal upload speed of standard ADSL is truly pathetic. Faster upload speeds also make more people on the same connection more bearable, as the upstream is less likely to be swamped.

It also seems important to point out, if you're an existing customer, you'll be expected to sign a new contract to take advantage of the speed increase. New and reconnecting customers will be automatically moved on to the higher speeds if they sign up this summer.

BT has suffered some PR blows recently due to its involvement with behavioural ad-serving company Phorm and, more recently, the BBC claiming it's throttling iPlayer traffic. The BBC says it's seen greatly reduced speeds to BT customers using iPlayer during peak hours. Most ISPs throttle traffic at times of high demand, of course, but with iPlayer becoming essential to some people, it's likely that this will annoy punters and, very probably, it will cause many people to switch to another ISP that doesn't have such caps.