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Britain plays broadband catch up

UK lags behind Europe for high speed internet uptake, but alternatives to ADSL offer hope

The UK is still lagging behind its European counterparts in the broadband rollout race, according to the latest figures from research group Nielson NetRatings. But US-based Internet Broadcast Corporation, claims it can clear this British broadband bottleneck.

Nielson NetRatings' figures showed just nine percent of UK residents have a broadband connection, compared to 39 percent in Germany and 33 percent in Sweden.

"This summer we did see a lot of aggressive marketing of broadband and there are signs that uptake is rising, but it'll take more than just advertising to catch up with markets like Germany," said Nielson NetRatings internet analyst Tom Ewing.

This is where IBC comes in, offering hope to those so far excluded by the broadband revolution. The company has applied to the Radiocommunications Agency for a licence to roll out its FWB (Fixed Wireless Broadband) product which is aimed at rural areas currently out of the reach of ADSL exchanges. The service is similar to one launched by ISP Tele2 earlier this year.

FWB provides customers with their own 'virtual wireless path' to the internet. This means the number of people using the system at any one time will have little impact on connection speeds. With ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line) broadband connection speeds have been significantly affected when many users have tried to get online at once.

To use FWB's service, users must be in line of sight of the antenna. A single hub can serve 45,000 customers within a 25-mile radius but each network can be quickly extended to cover 'shaded areas' within a 50-mile radius.

IBC hopes to trial its service in Essex and Suffolk throughout October. Users will be expected to pay an installation fee of £150 to £200 plus a monthly charge of £20 to £30 a month.

But ISP Tele2, now known as Liberty Broadband, has moved away from the unprofitable consumer market to focus on small businesses. The company found that, despite its low setup cost, the technology needed a certain number of residents to sign up in order to make a profit.

"IBC fixed wireless technology [costs] significantly less than anything I have encountered before in the industry," countered IBC spokesman Tim Reynolds. "This means for a 5,000 customer installation it will be economically viable if only 2,000 customers in the coverage area sign up to the service."

IBC feels its 2,000-customer target will be easy to achieve. "I may be wrong but I would be surprised if it is not possible to get a minimum of 2,000 customers in most 25-mile radius circles in the UK," added Reynolds.

One of the main problems for ADSL has been the large number of people required to justify upgrading the telephone exchange. BT set up a scheme to register demand for broadband in the areas not yet covered.

This week, Todmorden in Yorkshire, became the first town to reach its 200-person trigger point required under BT's Demand Tracker, proving that Reynolds could be right about the demand for broadband being out there.


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