Telewest said on Wednesday that broadband connections as fast as 5Mbps or 6Mbps could be available to its customers within a few years, as it strives to offer faster services than BT.
Chad Raube, director of internet services at Telewest Broadband, said that Telewest is determined to keep speed a key factor in the broadband market.
Because Telewest owns a modern fibre-optic network, said Raube, it is in a much better position than ISPs who sell ADSL as they are largely restricted to the products that BT Wholesale makes available.
"A 28Mbps link to the home would be feasible, but you're talking theoretically. Five or 6Mbps is within our range," said Raube. "When there's desire for faster speeds we'll offer it."
The fastest service available from Telewest is the 3Mbps service, which launched last month. Some rival providers have claimed that there is little real need for such a fast service, but the cable company believes that paid-for Web content will drive the need for faster services.
"We're positioning cable as the preferred platform for premium content partners. In 12 or 24 months, the key question will be how to use speed to provide better content," predicted Raube, implying that cable broadband services faster than 3Mbps could be available as early as 2005.
The subtext to Telewest's comments on speed is that the ADSL products sold by BT only work over a certain distance. The faster the ADSL link, the shorter the distance over which it will function. Telewest thinks this gives it a clear, long-term advantage, as under present conditions only a small proportion of existing ADSL customers live close enough their local exchange to actually get a 2Mbps connection.
BT, though, may be able to resolve this issue. Work is underway in Milton Keynes to raise the maximum distance over which a 512Kbps ADSL connection will work from 6km to as high as 10km. If it works for a half-megabit-per-second link, it should also work for faster ones.
"When the market for faster broadband services exists, we'll deliver it," a BT spokesman said. It could, though, be argued that if customers across Britain could actually get Internet access at 3Mbps down their phone line today, there would be a greater incentive for content creators to offer services that would take advantage of such bandwidth.
BT was also keen to point out that Telewest's network only reaches fewer than five million UK homes and businesses, while it can now offer ADSL to 90 percent of the population.