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O2 and Be customers suffer network congestion

Heavy investment promised to ease evening jams

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O2 and Be broadband subscribers are reporting severe network slowdown in the evening and that some online games are unplayable, sparking rumours the pair have deployed bandwidth-throttling equipment.

O2, which bought Be in 2006 before launching its own-branded packages on the same ADSL2+ network in late 2007, today blamed the problems on its own success and denied any interference. "We do not throttle speeds on our network," a spokeswoman said.

She said customers were noticing the effect of more lines being plugged into the network and pledged investment to ease congestion. "We are aware that some parts of our network are experiencing congestion at peak times. We are monitoring this closely and are investing heavily to increase the capacity in these areas."

She was unable to provide a schedule for the work, saying the timing of capacity increases would depend on location.

O2/Be gained 62,800 net new customers in the last quarter, at a time when more established players such as Orange and Tiscali are seeing their subscriber base shrink. O2 and Be also frequently top or come near the top of ISP customer satisfaction surveys with reliable service and well-regarded call centres.

Still, disquiet over peak time access is growing. A thread (login required) on Be's active customer forum comprising complaints about speeds and latency extends to more than 60 pages. Meanwhile, 88 per cent of more than 300 voters on O2's forum said they notice a "dramatic" slowdown in the evening.

In a recent interview with ISP industry analyst house Samknows, Be managing director Felix Geyr acknowledged the problem, but said O2/Be customers were particularly sensitive to network performance. "Our customers normally come to us for our high speeds and good performance and a lot of them are in to gaming and downloading, so performance is very important to them, and so they've noticed any drop in speed, whether real or perceived, far more than another ISP's customers would," he said.

According to Samknows, the capacity improvements will "start easing congestion within a month to six weeks". Read the whole thing here.

O2/Be's rapid rise up the broadband ranks has been deserved, but like all unbundlers it has targeted its network rollout to exchanges in densely populated areas. Presumably then, it was always planning to sell internet access to many more customers than when Be was a startup serving a few savvy users.

In that light and after several quarters of rapid subscriber growth, perhaps it might have seen the jams coming? ®

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