IT Focus – Is it really free and easy?

In this exclusive research, the first independent test of its kind,’s sister site has commissioned leading internet industry experts from the to cut through this hype and evaluate the services offered by eight of the main players in the British unmetered net access market.

Because almost everyone wants something for nothing and almost everyone wants to surf the internet, companies promising unmetered services have the potential to dominate the UK ISP market. But only if they are able to deliver what they are promising.

The quality of these services is not only crucially important for the growing number of businesses and remote teleworkers using the offerings.

E-business managers and internet professionals looking to build their presence in Britain ignore unmetered access at their peril because, if the model does manage to limp into the limelight and become mainstream, it will increase internet penetration and usage levels, potentially fuelling an e-commerce boom.

The fact that the US is already enjoying the fruits of this boom is largely because its residents do not have to pay for local calls. For the UK to catch up it is vital that the unmetered model takes off , but this can only happen if the companies offering unmetered services are able to provide technologically and financially viable offerings.

Will the unmetered revolution propel to the top of the e-business league? To get to the bottom of this very important question, and the ITlabs have spent two months putting some of the biggest names on the market under scrutiny.

Test 24-7 Freecall

24-7 Freecall has teamed up with Swedish carrier Telia to offer a service that, although solid, would benefit from some extra lines, as during our testing it sometimes took up to seven attempts to get a connection.

But we always got a connection in the end.

Out of the box, the service was easy to set up and use. The monthly fee is £19.99 and according to the company, this covers the cost of using BT’s local loop so all of its users are guaranteed sufficient personal bandwidth.

Installation of the service can be performed online, where you are asked to download a configuration file which sets up all the dial-up networking configurations automatically. You are not restricted to a single telephone number, as before access to the Telia servers is granted, you are prompted for a second user name and password.

One thing we did find a little strange was that when logging out, it is not a simple matter of closing the browser window. You also have to log out of the Telia servers. This step can easily be missed, and if you only have one phone line, it could be left busy accidentally. An automatic logout would have been a useful addition.

On paper the service is not quite up to some of the others on test. Only one e-mail address is unsatisfactory, and 10Mb of web space is more than a little stingy. However, the lack of any automatic cut-off period, and the welcome absence of pop-up advertising banners some ISPs include to raise revenue, help to make up for these deficiencies.

With average page download results of 20.385 seconds at 9.00am, 21.049 seconds at 1.00pm and 23.756 seconds at 6.00pm, we found 24-7 Freecall to be a credible service.

The help desk was not great. After being on hold for three minutes 26 seconds, being charged at national rate, a 24/7 representative answered the phone. The technician could not solve our problem.

Excite – The Free Internet (TFI)

The Free Internet from Excite is a reasonable unmetered offering, but it does come with its own set of quirks. There is no need to order a CD-Rom, as all you need to get sÿ¯.

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