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BT Infinity does badly in real world speed test

In the UK, we accept that broadband speeds can be variable, but we also expect a connection to exist almost everywhere we go. Recently, BT has pushed a wad of money into the creation (and marketing) of its ‘Infinity' product. It's supposed to deliver the very best experience possible – but how fast is it? We set up a novel test to see how well BT Infinity really works.


You can get as scientific as you like with a broadband speed test, but there's nothing like the ‘Genuine every day user experience' to give you the real flavour of what's going on and whether a service really delivers.

With BT Infinity, we were told that 70Mb/s download and 19Mb/s upload was possible. That is ACTUALLY what was delivered. But once you start using it, what happens?

Location, Set-Up and Contention
With a KitGuru associate located very close to a modernised exchange (almost exactly ‘line of site'), we checked carefully on the initial installation process. The BT engineer confirmed that there was no one else using BT Infinity on the local box – which means that we managed to largely eliminate ‘contention' from the equation. Contention is when a service DOES provide a huge amount of bandwidth, but there are 50 other people using the same connection – which limits what each person can have. Having BT's engineer confirm that this was not going to be an issue, helps us understand more about BT's actual network – rather than random variations for locals. We tested the BT Infinity system using a laptop plugged directly into the back of the router – the ‘check' was done with using a handheld Wi-Fi device from ‘3' which we accessed using a Blackberry and the original laptop.

BT Confirmation that ‘All is well'
Before starting, we placed a call with BT to say that there were ‘Issues with the broadband connection'. Using our knowledge of networking and the interwibble, we managed to convince them to send an engineer out. He dutifully told us that any issue must have been ‘a one off', BT's network was working properly and that, after testing, BT was sure that ‘everything was working properly at their end' and ‘It checks out perfectly'. Nice.

Confirmation System
We purchased a hand held, Wi-Fi, broadband solution from ‘3' to use as a system checker. If, at any point, we discovered a drop in line speed using a hard wired connection to the BT Infinity box, we could immediately switch to wireless over the portable Wi-Fi device and see what speeds were achievable – using EXACTLY the same hardware (in terms of PC), but with BT Infinity ‘removed from the testing loop'. Over the 5 day period, we would do the testing with BT Infinity and then run Broadband Speed Checker with the hand held device as well.
The ‘3' Wi-Fi unit showed almost zero variation in performance over the 5 days – so we're certain that the equipment at our end was (a) fine and (b) didn't change.
The shot below shows a ‘typical connection scenario' with the ‘3' Wi-Fi device and a Blackberry: 5.73Mb/s download and 1.53Mb/s upload.
Satisfied with out ‘simple, but effective real world methodology' we began.

It's sad to see a poxy '3' device smash BT Infinity for speed on such a regular basis. Remember, a BT engineer confirmed that everything was fine with Infinity before we started. Graph paper background selected to make everything feel more scientific.

Kick Off

Having spoken to our operative, we believed that delivery from BT Infinity was ‘wobbly' – despite the onsite BT engineer's confirmation ‘100%' that everything was OK.
Remember, we checked with BT's first, second AND third line support teams – AND we made them send out an engineer to confirm everything was ‘working perfectly'.
We decided to take the first reading on Thursday 21st June 2012. We varied the times of day when we tested, to try and map the ‘real world experience' of living with BT Infinity.

Before you look at the pictures, would you care to hazard a guess as to just how ‘fast, reliable and stable a perfect BT Infinity connection is'?

BT Infinity: The Real World Experience

Thursday morning, pre lunch time rush hour, we have 1.59Mb/s coming down while a monster 7.17Mb/s head up the connection. Whenever you see your upload speed arse-master the download like this - you know it's wrong.
Later the same day and we have 5.43Mb/s coming down, while the upload speed is 6.35Mb/s. Still not right. Remember, '3' gives the same download speed.
Let's try Friday afternoon. This time BT Infinity offers 13.09Mb/s down and 2.92Mb/s up. It's starting to look right. Starting.
Saturday lunchtime and we're back in the toilet with BT's expensive Infinity. The '3' mobile Wi-Fi device is looking amazingly reliable as BT's poxy Infinity only manages 5.62Mb/s down with 2.99Mb/s up. This is getting sad.
By now, you're wondering if the BT Infinity connection ever delivers the kind of speeds we're promised in the advertising. Sunday evening sees 10.85Mb/s coming down with 5.88Mb/s going up. Respectable, but rare.
Monday morning, just after the masses hit the web for an 'email and Facebook catch-up', BT Infinity manages 19.32Mb/s down with 7.38Mb/s up. This is better, but still under HALF what was promised on installation.

Taking all of this data together, we can plot a graph of what is delivered against what has been offered. To say that the BT Infinity experience ‘falls a long way short of the offer' is an understatement. Before we sign off with a final graph, let's be clear again:-

  • On delivery, the BT Infinity system being tested would regularly deliver around 30Mb/s download and more than 10Mb/s upload. That's only around 50% of the offer, but it's probably ‘good enough' in the real world
  • BT engineers checked everything for us – before we tested – and confirmed that all of the equipment was working fine, that there was almost no contention on the box in the street and that the local exchange was very close and in a straight line from the installation
  • We checked during different times of the day and, on each occasion, compared the result to a handheld ‘3' Wi-Fi device. In some cases, the ‘3' device was close – in others it won. Which should never happen on a ‘BT checked, fault free system'

Recently, BT adverts for high speed broadband have been banned after the Advertising Standards Authority upheld multiple complaints that the network delivery does not match the advertising. We have to agree with the ASA. While the ASA focused on BT's inability to beat other high speed broadband services, our real world testing shows that it actually struggles to beat hand held devices as well. We've contacted BT for a comment.

BT Infinity is all over the place - and FAR below the promised speeds that WERE achieved when first installed. All of the equipment has been checked and passed by an onsite BT Infinity Engineer visit - so must we conclude that BT's network is screwed ?


One last gem from BT. Despite the fact that BBC, Telegraph, Independent, Guardian etc all say that Broadband Speed Checker is a great tool, BT thinks it has a better one. However, it is ‘Flash only and not compatible with Apple technology'. Whoops.

KitGuru says: From this test, it looks like BT has got a LONG way to go. There were times when we achieved a MUCH better result with a handheld ‘3' internet connection device than we could with BT Infinity. Which is really sad. The variation in speed was amazing. Also, you have to have the patience of a saint to go through with BT's first and second line support to try and identify an issue. We believe that there are issues with BT's high speed broadband network and these are not being addressed anywhere near aggressively enough.

Comment below or in the KitGuru forums.

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