In a bid to regain the broadband-speed crown, NTL plans to start upgrading its cable customers to 10Mbps connections before the end of the year.
The move will be free to all NTL broadband users, the company said on Monday. NTL plans to roll out the service first to its 3Mbps users this year, but insists that all cable customers will be eligible. The rollout is scheduled to be finished by the end of 2006.
Companies such as Bulldog and UK Online already offer 8Mbps services in some urban locations, and BT announced its own plans to offer 8Mbps broadband across the UK last October.
Other suppliers are promising speeds of up to 24Mps on the latest flavour of ADSL broadband, called ADSL2+, which is due later this year.
NTL hopes that its latest strategy will put it into a market-leading position once again. "Our broadband services will become amongst the most innovative in the world and certainly well ahead of anything else in the UK," said Simon Duffy, NTL's chief executive.
NTL is hoping to establish to 10Mbps as standard for cable broadband products. Its strategy is to offer practically unlimited speed, but to impose extra charges on users who download very large amounts of data.
These 'experienced users' will pay extra for the usage. NTL says it will supply tools to help customers to track their usage. The basic usage allowance will increase broadly in-line with the increase in speed, to 75GB per month. Today, NTL's 3Mbps users have a basic data limit of 30GB per month.
Mark Main, senior analyst at Ovum, believes that rival cable operator Telewest may soon follow NTL's lead.
"Both companies have both been at or near the front in announcing speed increases for consumer broadband. This latest rise is not so much an incremental speed increase over BT's current 2Mbps retail/wholesale offering but rather a response to the 8Mbps speeds from the LLU [local-loop unbundling] players such as Bulldog and UK Online," said Main.
"The new service will give cable broadband users the fastest broadband on offer, and it will put the heat on BT and the loop unbundlers to press on with ADSL2+," Main added.