'

BT launches virtual home-engineer service

For ten pounds a month, BT promises to sort out all your home IT woes

In a bid to become "the AA of IT", telecoms giant BT is offering a "virtual engineer"; to sort out home users' tech problems remotely for £25 a go, and will even send a real specialist around to get new broadband installations set up.

BT's Home IT Advisor; can also be had for £9.99 a month for "unlimited" support for up to 20 connected devices in a home. It covers other broadband providers' customers, including networks and applications, and sorting out virus attacks and network configuration issues.

"I don't envisage this as a loss-leader, and it's not an attempt to charge a premium for broadband," said Emma Sanderson, director of value added services for BT Retail. "It's important in our overall relationship with consumers."

The service, which is available 365 days a year, is not limited to BT broadband customers, but users must have a BT phone account for billing. It supports Windows systems going back to Windows 98 - and promises a ‘virtual engineer’ that will log in remotely to adjust settings and clean up supported PCs.

BT has had a similar remote IT support offering for business, since 2004 - which is now supporting 22,000 PCs, with a 98 percent satisfaction rating, according to Sanderson: "The business version is paying for itself. That's what's giving us confidence to launch into the consumer space."

The package includes general IT support for one PC, including operating system installation, and configuration, application set-up, patching, virus identification and removal. Faults in software can be identified remotely and repaired, and hardware faults can be diagnosed, and advice given. Applications covered include Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook, Outlook Express, and BT's Yahoo products.

BT is also preparing a Home IT visit service, currently being piloted before a formal launch this summer, in which new BT Broadband customers can pay £50 to have an engineer call, get them up and running, and give them a short demonstration. "This is in a pilot stage, and we will be testing market demand with different price points," said Sanderson.

There will also be a call-out service for supporting existing installations and other IT problems. Again, BT is testing the waters, but a £70 call-out fee is likely here, with a per-hour charge thereafter. "We will give an indication of the total charge before starting work," said Sanderson, who explained that non-BT broadband installations will be covered, although work might be hampered by the use of different CPE.

The visit services will be available anywhere in mainland Britain, said Sanderson.

None of these services support Mac OS, or Linux (though Linux users are less likely to go for this kind of service anyway, said a BT spokesman). A fair usage policy will weed out any corporations attempting to get IT support for large businesses on the cheap, said Sanderson.

The monthly support is available for a minimum period of three months. For Home IT Advisor, call 0800 876 6542, to find out about the Home Visit service, call 0800 032 1118.