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Computer Accessories

BT Broadband Accelerator: Half a meg faster or your cash back

We tried out BT's new broadband improvement scheme -- its engineer squeezes another 0.5Mbps out of your connection or you get your £90 back

BT sells broadband to millions of people in the UK and realises it can all be rather difficult, especially if you're over 50 and think a router is a special kind of pig. Happily, it offers a bunch of home IT support services to keep you consuming the Internets, the latest of which is the Broadband Accelerator. Simply put, you pay £90 for an engineer to come and make your Web go faster and if he fails to improve it by half a meg (0.5Mbps), you get your money back.

Crave enjoyed this very experience yesterday morning and welcomed BT engineer Dennis (pictured) to our bijou flat (not pictured, sadly). Don't worry, we wore socks and everything. Dennis and his equally dapper colleagues offer a two-part service to improve your broadband speed: they check your wiring and see if they can make your computer faster. We checked our connection with CNET.co.uk's Broadband Speed Test and off we went.

Your home's telephone wiring can be a significant impediment to your Net velocity -- Dennis plugged our BT Home Hub router into the flat's main socket, bypassing the wiring, and instantly achieved the half-meg improvement that keeps him in aftershave and collar starch. Your BT engineer will install a new faceplate on your main socket that splits your broadband from your telephone, freeing your data from the ancient copper shackles that bind it. Dennis said this has doubled download speeds in some older properties he's visited. (There's nothing stopping you buying a new faceplate and wiring it up yourself, but if you can be bothered doing that, you're not the target market for this service.)

The only problem is that you have to plug your router into that socket. This isn't an option for us, as we like to plug in the old Xbox 360 and BT Vision with Ethernet and Mrs Crave wouldn't be too happy if she came home and found metres of extension cable littering her hallway.

Dennis then addressed the thorny issue of boosting Crave's ancient laptop. We know how to maintain a PC running on Windows XP, more or less, so there wasn't much he could add. He recommended freeing up a little more memory and defragmenting the hard drive more often. Setting up broadband for older people, he said, he usually has to remove reams of bloatware installed by the PC vendors. He recommends using Firefox 3 because it renders pages significantly faster -- this is good of him, because BT itself offers a skinned version of IE. At no point did he insist on us using BT software, not even its speed measuring app.

Dennis kindly improved the security and reliability of Crave's wireless, too. Apparently WEP encryption is too easily hacked, so he swapped us to WPA. He also changed the channel it was broadcasting on to make it less likely to clash with that of a neighbour, which often results in our Wi-Fi annoyingly dropping its signal. Again, nothing terribly complicated or beyond someone tech-literate, but useful if you don't know what you're doing.

All very handy, but is it worth £90? It depends on your circumstances. We didn't see any performance increase, so we would've got our money back plus a few handy tips for free. But if you're too busy to spend time researching how to improve your PC, if you live in a very old house with awful wiring, or if you're very uncomfortable and unfamiliar with computers, we think this is a pretty good deal, comparable to getting the plumber out. Plus you get to spend a morning with the delightful Dennis*. -Nick Hide

*Other engineers may be less charming.

Update: BT will give you a call 10 days after the visit to see if you're happy with the improvement. If not, you can arrange a refund. In our case, however, because an increase was possible but we opted not to have the new faceplate, we would not be eligible for the refund. Which seems fair enough.