Telewest‘s phone exchanges have been unable to cope with demand for the ISP’s unmetered internet service launched earlier this week.
Customers have been battling against engaged tones to
access the £10 a month service, called Surfunlimited. This is
despite Telewest telling vnunet.com earlier this week that it
was confident it could keep up with demand.
Telewest’s problems send out a harsh warning to BT and
other telcos planning to launch unmetered internet services
this year to prepare for high demand. Previous unmetered
Internet services, such as screaming.net, have had similar
The Surfunlimited problem is not with Telewest’s modems, which have not yet hit capacity, but with the telco’s phone exchanges, according to reliable sources. Worse still, calls that cannot pass through the Telewest exchanges are being routed through other operators’ networks and in turn are jamming their exchanges.
Telewest is taking urgent measures to increase the capacity
of its exchanges. Heads are also believed to be rolling within
the company over the bad preparation.
Despite the technical problems, the launch of Surfunlimited
has boosted Telewest’s internet customer base from about
50,000 to in excess of 135,000, according to unofficial
“We’re absolutely delighted with the response,” said a
Telewest spokeswoman. “The demand we’ve seen has been
unprecedented. It’s testing our service and we apologise to
customers for any inconvenience.”
“Due to the great response we have increased capacity.
Connections should be fine.”
Researcher Durlacher said in a report released this week that
UK internet use would treble if online time was unmetered.
Sarah Skinner, an analyst at Durlacher, said Telewest’s
problems are similar to those experienced in Silicon Valley.
“You get what you pay for. I think customers would be
happier if [ISPs] said you may not get in first time,” she said.
Customers who cannot connect to their local point of
presence (PoP) can try dialing into any of Telewest’s other
PoPs in the UK at no extra charge.
One Surfunlimited customer who contacted vnunet.com
confirmed the problem.
“Perhaps Telewest’s confidence in its
capacity needs to be checked. The past two evenings I have
not been able to connect before 10pm and the help line is
continuously engaged,” he said.
Sources within Telewest confirmed that the customer
helpline is frequently engaged. They said one of the main
problems is that the lines are being jammed by sales calls.
Earlier this week Telewest said it had spent more than two
months updating its infrastructure in preparation for the
service. The company’s franchise – the area of the country it
is allowed to offer services under its operating licence –
covers a potential 4.6 million homes, of which the operator
says it has signed up about 1.3 million as cable television or