Veteran TechDigest readers may recall this news item about Be’s Unlimited 24mbps broadband – then as now the fastest available in the UK - back in August of last year.
Like a good little guinea pig I signed up in early Spetember as a regular subscriber – no special favours here (yet!) – and waited for activation.
And waited. And waited. Eventually, on the 11th of May 2006 my Be broadband went live. Broadband installations are frequently delayed due to unavoidable issues between the ISP and BT. In this case though, I really could have created a whole new human being in the time it took between signup and logon. That, however, is pretty much all the bad news: It really is the fastest ADSL you can buy in these British Isles right now.
Your gateway to these ultra-nippy speeds is a rebadged Alcatel Speedtouch 716v5 modem with a nice little ‘*box’ Be logo on the top. It offers four Ethernet ports, a USB if you need it and 16 possible WiFi connections. There are also two telephone ports for some fancy VoIP tricks if you’re motivated. It requires a little more setting up than (say) Skype and a USB handset but once you’re done, it’s a very slick operation. Generally though, the modem is configured before despatch, so all you have to do is connect it (and the included filter) between your landline and computer to get started. Unlike a few other broadband modems I’ve tested it generates no line noise so landline calls are as quiet as pre-broadband days.
Be also offer email and web hosting, although it’s not easy to find out basic things like smtp and pop server names from their website. Luckily lots of Be subscribers have been there before you and Be’s forums are positively humming with useful configuration tips. Overall, support is pretty responsive: Although there is the predictable automated switchboard it only takes a couple of button presses to get through to a real, and surprisingly helpful tech.
So, the big question: How fast is it? The quoted 24mbps figure is of course a theoretical maximum that can be adversely affected by all sorts of transient issues and even your distance from the exchange. I can see my local telephone exchange from my back window, and the (very clear and informative) BeBox web front end tells me that right now I’m sucking down 19,800 kbps. That’s not far from my average. In real-world conditions that means that you dare click on the HD trailers from Apple without scheduling a tea break before you can watch them. Most sites – with the curious exception of TechDigest – load within a couple of seconds, and streamed audio and video content almost never choke.
Overall, if you’re already within Be’s catchment area there really is no contest – especially considering their very aggressive discounting policy. If you’re not then you maybe have to accept that top speed comes slowly.