"Optus has sparked a fresh wave of competition in broadband, unveiling its new broadband network and uncapped download speeds of up to 20Mbps," the company said in a statement this afternoon.
Optus Local Direct and DSL Direct will be provided on the back of the telco's AU$150 million rollout of ADSL2+ hardware, which it said had so far reached around 100 telephone exchanges. The rollout is eventually expected to reach 340 exchanges, covering 2.9 million households and businesses.
Optus claimed it was "the first major telecommunications provider" to offer such speeds, but other large telcos have claimed to be offering even higher speeds for some time.
For example, the nation's third largest Internet service provider, iiNet, claims to have around 690,000 customers and has offered speeds of up to 24Mbps since mid-December, with 12Mbps on offer since June 2005.
A number of other large ISPs such as Internode and Adam Internet have also offered 24Mbps for some time.
An Optus spokesperson acknowledged some of its rivals were already offering ADSL2+ services, but said in a brief telephone interview that "they were not at the same scale as what we can offer."
However, iiNet said in November that it had installed hardware at 185 of Telstra's telephone exchanges, and announced in March it would extend that rollout to an additional 150, matching Optus's investment.
Regarding the speed downgrade, the Optus spokesperson said 24Mbps was not realistic for all customers.
"We believe that 24Mbps is actually the theoretical throughput that suppliers claim is possible, but you've got to ask the question, in reality how many customers do get that," they said.
"We're actually stating what is a fair representation."
However, Optus is similar to iiNet in one respect -- to achieve the higher ADSL2+ speeds customers are required to buy both telephony and broadband services from the same provider. This is not the case with some of their competitors.
In its statement Optus said it had started migrating some customers from December last year to its ADSL2+ infrastructure, a move which it said would deliver some price benefits as it moved away from reselling Telstra's wholesale services.
"Customers currently paying 22 cents for local calls, will now pay 20 cents under Optus Local Direct; and depending on a customer's current plan they may also receive a $4 monthly line rental discount," the telco said.
Optus also said it would offer wholesale broadband and telephony services to other Internet service providers. Optus "is currently testing wholesale DSL services via the Optus network with its customers and expects the service to be commercially ready in the second half of 2006", the telco said.
In conjunction with the speed increases, Optus also said it will introduce a new entry level broadband plan at $19.95 a month. The plan includes 100MB of on-peak and 200MB of off-peak (between noon and midnight) data downloads.
Optus will also offer a 30-day broadband trial, and bundling options such as no connection fee and a $99 ADSL modem for customers who sign up for 24 month broadband contracts.