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BT, Pipex rivals, not potential bedfellows

Still waiting for the man

BT yesterday announced its latest quarterly financial results. What it didn't do, it seems, was make a bid for the next leap forward in national broadband coverage by attempting to take over internet service provider Pipex.

Pipex, one of the UK's top five ISPs in terms of customer numbers, has one of the country's only two licences to provide WiMax - commonly described as 'wireless broadband' or 'wireless on steroids'. It has been conducting trials into the provision of WiMax in Stratford-on-Avon since last summer and has favourable reports about its ability to carry both data and VoIP (voice over internet protocol) telephony.

The ISP is now investigating how well the technology, which operates in the 3.6GHz frequency spectrum, will be able to serve up remote access applications such as the ability to call up and play back video and TV content using WiMax's synchronous broadband.

Pipex's Mike Read says its trials will be complete within the next few weeks and will shortly begin looking in to providing WiMax to metropolitan areas such as London and Birmingham. This, he says, will be done in preference to rural areas simply "to get the numbers up".

The company has received a lot of interest from organisations including small towns and conurbations keen to use WiMax for applications such as CCTV to monitor bus lanes. It will also begin the process of enabling broadband in rural areas and locations that are simply too far from an ADSL-enabled BT exchange to receive broadband.

WiMax's major attraction, says Read, is that "you can stick up an aerial anywhere" and get broadband coverage. The caveat, he says, is that it's not ideal for use indoors as it is not able to operate through several walls.

Another plus is that, unlike ADSL (asynchronous digital subscriber line) - the type of broadband offered via suitably-enabled BT telephone exchanges - WiMax offers the same connection speeds in both directions. So, rather than being able to download or stream music, video and TV at several megabits a second, but upload or broadcast at only a fraction of that rate - usually 256MBps (megabytes per second) or 512MBps - WiMax means businesses- and home-users will be able to send and receive data at exactly the same pace.

With Pipex's trials apparently successful and Pipex the holder of the largest capacity WiMax block - "about four times that of only rival PCCW", according to Read - it's clear why BT may have wanted to hop aboard the wireless broadband bus.

Some elements in the media have floated the idea of BT now biding its time until licences for WiMax came up for review. But, according to Read, Pipex's licence has no end date and the only aspect of its licence he's in discussion with regulator Ofcom about is the amount he has to pay for it.

BT is already conducting wireless broadband trials of its own in conjunction with mobile operator Vodafone but this operates in the unratified 5.8GHz spectrum.


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