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Lastest BT trial throws up broadband smokescreen

ISDN is dead. Long live BT Midband

In a bid to prove its commitment to widen broadband availability to the third of the UK that still can't get ADSL, BT has conjured up a 'new' type of internet access. It's called Midband.

As its name suggests BT Midband sits somewhere between old-fashioned 56Kbps (kilobits per second) dialup and standard residential cable/ADSL broadband, offering speeds of 128Kbps.

A trial of BT Midband is due to begin in spring 2003 and is based on grafting some of broadband's key features on to what is essentially a version of Home Highway/ISDN.

BT describes Midband as providing an 'always-on' email notification service — an improvement on ISDN, which requires you to dial up. But the fact that BT only refers to email as being 'always-on' would seem to indicate that internet access itself can't be turned on and off at the click of a mouse as it can with ADSL.

It's likely that the service will work with one 64Kbps channel remaining permanently connected, while the second 64Kbps pipe is used if the bandwidth is needed. If you make or receive a phone call, one channel can be dropped allowing you to take that all-important sales query.

Pricing details are vague, though a monthly charge of £20 to £25 (if the product ever comes to market) is being bandied about. According to BT, Midband could potentially reach 97 percent of the UK, though industry experts are concerned that the service might act as a distraction to the major issue at hand: the upgrading of rural phone exchanges to ADSL.

It's also worth pointing out that 'trials' don't equal product availability. BT is extremely good at rolling out trials — take the company's wireless Mesh pilot scheme, for example, which could potentially deliver broadband access speeds to the UK's rural outposts but as yet hasn't made it into BT's broadband portfolio.

Trials are an excellent way of keeping governments and industry busybodies off your back by making a company look like it's investing, without actually committing the necessary capital for a nationwide rollout.

Our experience is that if you hold your breath waiting for BT's trials come to fruition you may not live to see Britain's broadband paradise.

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