02 is on the verge of launching broadband services more than a year after acquiring independent ISP Be Unlimited for £50m.

The company will market the broadband offering to its 18m mobile users, who will be invited to surf the web via (theoretically) 20Mbit/s connectivity, which is perfect for gaming and downloads.

02 is doing a couple of interesting things. It is marketing a ‘20Mbit/s’ package, based on Be’s existing 24Mbit/s option (which I currently use at home). The Register has the detail on pricing and also reports that 02 doesn’t want to advertise the theoretical maximum speed of 24Mbit/s as it doesn’t want to ‘over-promise’, with heavy demand likely to reduce speeds.

Even without the 02 influx I’ve never seen my connection speed surpass 20Mbit/s, and it could fall further, but here’s where 02 is going to get all customer-centric and Do Something Good

The company intends to check up on new customers after one month to analyse connectivity, and, if you can only attain speeds of 8Mbit/s then it will only charge you for an 8mbit/s connection (rather than the 20Mbit/s you signed up for). A great, honest idea.

O2 wants to bag 1m broadband customers by 2010, which seems thoroughly achievable. By comparison, Sky, with roughly 8m customers to market to, has around three quarters of a million broadband lines installed just a year after it launched.

The company will have to deal with the limits of Be’s network, which is focused on metropolitan areas with a high density of households. Rural customers may be excluded for the time being, unless 02 coughs up the cash to extend the network nationwide.

The launch is squarely opposed to the concept of ‘free’ broadband that was all the rage last year among competitors such as Orange and Carphone Warehouse’s ‘TalkTalk’.

Many of these ‘free’ services have underperformed and may have done more harm than good. The Guardian reports that 02 “believes many consumers are dissatisfied with the customer service they have received with their ‘free’ broadband access and want to switch”.