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Fibre-optic broadband

Be Broadband has fired a broadside at Virgin Media with the news that it has successfully completed trials of a superfast broadband service that rivals the speed of Virgin Media’s newly launched 50Mb offering.

A service providing speeds of close to 50Mb from Be would more than double its premium connection speed of 24Mb – which is at present the second fastest consumer-targeted broadband offering on the market.

Be has been able to achieve the speed in its trails across the central London Paddington exchange via new technology which is able to bond two high-speed connections together, thus doubling the speed that its customers can receive. According to Be, trial participants have reported real-world download speeds of between 30Mb and 45Mb. This equates to 3Mb to 4.5Mb each second – the size of an average MP3 file.

Thus, in what could prove a vital unique selling point, Be’s service will allow the speeds to be achieved through standard BT phone lines. This is in contrast to Virgin Media’s service which necessitates either being in an area served by cable or customers paying to have their current phone line converted to use it.

Felix Geyr, managing director of Be Broadband, said “We want to push the limits of high-speed broadband. We already offer the fastest possible broadband on an ADSL line, but we want to take it a step further. If you want broadband around the 50Mb mark but don’t want to go the cable route, Be wants to offer you a real alternative.”

The news of successful trials of the service comes in the week that Virgin Media unveiled its much trumpeted 50Mb offering. This currently available to 1.6 million homes in areas in Scotland, the Midlands and south London, with plans to roll it out over the next 12-18 months so that 12.5 million homes are covered.

At the press conference marking the launch, Virgin Media chief executive officer Neil Berkett rebuffed claims that the £51 per month price point and one-off £50 connection fee for its 50MB offering would prove a tough sell to consumers struggling with higher bills and the straitened job market. It remains to be seen whether Be Broadband can offer its comparable service for a reduced price, but the lack of a one-off connection fee is likely to sweeten the deal for potential customers.

Conversely, in Virgin Media’s favour is the fact that the fibre optic network which it has invested in will be able to support speeds of up to 150MB. This, coupled with the fact that rival networks have dragged their heels over putting money into fibre wire networks of their own, should allow the company to continue to offer the fastest broadband in the UK for years to come.

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