BT Retail has boosted the speed of its top-of-the-range BT Infinity broadband package from 100Mbps to 160Mbps.

BT Infinity 160Mb is a fibre-to-the-premises (FTTH) broadband service, and is currently only available from a limited number of exchanges.

Most of BT's fibre deployments are fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC), meaning that fibre optic cables are laid to street cabinets, and then traditional copper cables are used to connect homes and businesses to the street cabinets. This “last mile” copper connection can reduce broadband speeds significantly.

FTTH continues the fibre link from the street cabinets to the premises, which is a much more expensive option but massively improves connection speeds.

Customers in Highams Park, Bradwell Abbey, Leytonstone, Ilford, Ashford, Forest Hill, Chester, York, St. Austell, Truro and Exeter will be among the first to experience the 160Mbps download service. BT Infinity 160Mb’s upload speed has also been accelerated from 15Mbps to 20Mbps.

BT Retail is continuing to offer the BT Infinity 160Mb service with unlimited evening and weekend calls for £35 a month. Existing 100Mb customers will be upgraded automatically.

“160Mb now beats anything offered by our major rivals for speed and today’s substantial speed boost comes at no extra charge, as the price remains the same,” said Pete Oliver, commercial director of BT’s Consumer division.

A recent report by the FTTH Council Europe revealed that the UK has the lowest penetration of FTTH in Europe, with only 0.05% of households connected. BT admitted that only “a few thousand” people in the entire country were using its FTTH service.

The FTTH Council Europe criticised BT for putting too much emphasis on upgrading its copper network to offer FTTC, rather than bringing the country “real” broadband as part of the Broadband Delivery (BDUK) project.

Hartwig Tauber, director general of FTTH Council Europe, said that countries that fall behind on FTTH deployment may miss out on their chance to build a sustainable future for their citizens.

He added that extra efforts are required to ensure that Europe reaches the Digital Agenda 2020 broadband target of at least 50% of households using broadband connections of 100Mbps or more – a target that will cost the EU €192 billion, according to the FTTH Council Europe.

“The decision to invest in FTTH – the only future-proof solution – needs to be made today,” he said.

BT said that its FTTC service is now available to more than 11 million homes and premises in the UK. Around two-thirds of UK homes and premises will have access to fibre-based broadband by the end of 2014 – a year earlier than the original target.