Virgin Media's launch of 50Mb broadband promises faster download and surfing speeds, but why would you want it and are there any catches?

You'll get faster downloads


With a 50Mb broadband line, if it's working at full speed, you'll be able to download stuff incredibly quickly. According to Virgin Media you'll be able to download a 60MB music album in 11 seconds, a 350MB TV show in just over a minute and a HD movie from somewhere like the Xbox Live marketplace (5.5GB) in just over 15 minutes. In comparison to 56K dial-up modem a 5MB song would take roughly 12 and a half minutes.

You could surf via more devices


With the average household owning more and more devices, chances are you are connecting to the Internet more than you think. It's not just a single PC anymore, but probably your games console, maybe your radio and most likely your phone, and that's before you start to count the extra PCs you've got around the house. With such a fast connection you should be able to connect multiple devices to the system without seeing a noticeable drop in performance.

Can I get it in my home?


Does the news excite you enough to want to sign up to the new service? Thought so. However, chances are you're going to have to move house. Although Virgin Media has launched the service today it's only available to around 1.3 million possible customers in parts of Scotland, the Midlands and South London. The rest of the 12.6 million UK homes covered by the fibre optic network will be ready for 50Mb next summer - i.e., 2009.

How much is it going to cost me?


Surfing the world wide web at such speeds isn't going to be cheap. Virgin Media is offering a broadband-only package for £51 a month with a sign up and activation fee of £80. If you want it cheaper you can get them to bundle in your phone line and this will reduce it to £35 plus £11 for the phone line. You'll also have to pay an additional £5 a month if you don't set up direct debit. If that wasn't enough to put you off you'll also have to wait up to 28 days to get it installed. Virgin Media is bundling a free wireless "N" router and wireless "N" USB adaptor - currently a launch offer only.

Could you get faster speeds?


You could, but again you are going to have to move house. BT offers double the speed - 100Mb - in Ebbsfleet in Kent via fibre optics. Approximately 10,000 homes at Ebbsfleet Valley, along with six million sq. ft of commercial space and three million sq. ft of retail, leisure and community facilities will have access to the cabling being provided by BT. Additionally it's worth noting that to get the 50Mb speed as promised you'll have to use wireless N devices. If you use a Wireless G router or Wireless G enabled computer (most likely your current laptop), your broadband service will still work, but the wireless distribution of the service will be limited to around 20-24Mb.