BT it will this week break through the ten-million broadband connections barrier, exceeding its initial target of five million connections by the end of 2006.

The original target, set in April 2002 when there were fewer than 150,000 DSL connections, was viewed as highly ambitious. Then, broadband coverage was 66%, where it has now reached more than 99.8% of the UK.

The ten million wholesale connections are shared between BT Wholesale and Openreach. BT Wholesale supplies services to more than 8.7 million customers (via service providers including BT Retail), while Openreach supplies more than 1.3 million lines to customers via those telecoms companies and internet service providers (ISPs) who act as local loop unbundlers.

The company said broadband has become the fastest growing consumer product in recent years vastly outpacing the growth in televisions, CD players, video recorders or mobile phones. More than 13 million people in the UK (including cable customers) now use the service, making the UK one of the fastest growing markets in the G8.

The success of Broadband Britain has resulted in the UK leading Europe in online shopping and ecommerce – a trend that has been evident over the festive season, with an estimated £3.55bn spent online in December alone according to the Interactive Media in Retail Group.

It also said broadband over BT’s network is fast outpacing broadband over cable. Whereas three years ago, more than half of all new connections were carried over cable, that percentage had declined to just 11% for the quarter ending September 2006, meaning 89% of new connections bring in revenue for BT’s network.

BT Retail’s share of the total broadband market (including cable) has remained the same year-on-year at around 24%, accounting for more than three million broadband customers.

Going forward, BT said broadband speeds are set to increase with the roll out of its 21st Century Network. Speeds of up to 24Mb/s will be increasingly available across the UK from January 2008, although it said actual speeds will depend on a variety of factors including distance from the exchange.