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The impact of upgraded broadband technology is set to be measured to determine whether customers really see the improvements advertised by BT, Virgin Media and the rest.

Ofcom has decided to use the network of monitoring equipment it deployed in hundreds of homes last year in partnership with Samknows to study how ADSL2+, fibre and DOCSIS3 affect speed, latency and other aspects of performance.

This year will see internet infrastructure upgrades on several fronts. BT's 21CN backbone programme is scheduled to cover 75 per cent of the national network by spring 2011, offering speed of "up to" 24Mbit/s via old copper and aluminium local loops.

BT's local loop upgrade programme will reach the more than 163 exchanges so far announced. Fibre to the premises deployments will offer close to 100Mbit/s downstream, while the more widespread fibre to the cabinet rollout will be sold as "up to" 40Mbit/s. Both should offer better reliability than current technology.

Both backbone and local loop upgrade will mean BT's DSL competitors can also market faster services.

Meanwhile, Virgin Media announced today it will crank its cable network to 100Mbit/s downsteam by the end of 2010.

Samknows CEO Alex Salter said: "What we're looking to measure in the forthcoming project is how this ISP performance will improve as consumers switch to services which are being advertised as significantly faster."

Ofcom funded the monitoring network - more accurate than web-based speed testers - in 2008, clocking an average nationwide top speed of 4.3Mbit/s, prompting criticism of ISP marketing.

Today Samknows said that headline figure has not changed significantly in the last year, but that the take-up of upgraded services this year is expected to dramatically change matters.

The study is scheduled to begin in April, and Ofcom and Samknows are seeking volunteers to have the performance of their internet connection monitored. The free hardware does not monitor traffic and those who participate are given online access to their own data so they can keep tabs themselves.

There are more details here. ®

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