Industry groups representing telecom users have warned that delays in deploying broadband technologies such as very high-speed DSL (VDSL) could damage the UK's ability to establish an e-commerce market. David Harrington, director general of the Telecom Managers Association (TMA), said unless uptake of VDSL and ADSL is widespread, UK companies could suffer. "In the e-commerce future, businesses will need to exploit new channels to market, as well as having their own broadband access. UK businesses won't be able to succeed in this without widespread consumer access to broadband," he said. Harrington added that VDSL is a viable alternative to leased lines for larger businesses: "VDSL is a long way off and the size of the market will depend on what BT decides to charge for it. If it is run over short distances and it costs a lot, like asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL), the market will be small," she said. BT argued that VDSL would not be sold as an alternative to leased lines: "Like HDSL and SDSL, VDSL could also be used as a leased line technology, but it wouldn't be sold as an alternative. We sell leased lines rather than the technology behind them," said a spokesman. Gaining acceptance Harrington said ADSL will need widespread acceptance in the UK before VDSL is a realistic option. BT has promised to roll out ADSL in March to 400 exchanges, at speeds of up to 2Mbps upstream and 1Mbps downstream. While the telco has been strongly criticised over its pricing model, ADSL is expected to attract the small business and consumer market. The TMA is campaigning to extend the Universal Service Obligation to data as well as voice, which means that in addition to the right to access a telephone line, everyone should have access to affordable 2Mbps broadband data services. Depending on the length of copper, VDSL could support up to 52Mbps upstream with 6.5Mbps downstream, or 20Mbps symmetric speeds, making it suitable for larger businesses to use between buildings or as access lines to a local exchange. Suitability testing BT is running VDSL tests at its Martlesham research centre and has tested several thousand lines for suitability, but it has not announced a definite rollout of the technology. A spokesman for the telco said: "We have the most advanced VDSL facility in the world, but it has no market requirement at present and is a long way from being commercially available." Concerned that Oftel is not promoting competitive broadband access sufficiently, Harrington complained BT's leased line prices are up to four times higher than EU recommended levels. He warned that even unbundling might not loosen BT's grip on access. He added: "What Oftel is proposing is a free highway that is still owned by BT. Alternative operators would have to ask its permission to roll out something like VDSL. It could find ways to say no." Alcatel, which has already developed its VDSL offering, expects that by 2004, more than three million VDSL lines will have been deployed. David Gregains, chairman of the ADSL Forums' Emerging DSL study group, estimated that VDSL will not hit the public network until at least 2003. However, he thought some UK companies could start using VDSL on campus networks next year. "VDSL will bring important advantages for business. Companies need high-speed symmetry, and standardisation shouldn't deter the technology because of its localised nature," he added. VDSL CAPABILITIES - Over 300m of copper: 52Mbps downstream and 6.4Mbps upstream, or 26Mbps symmetric - Over 1,000m of copper: 26Mbps downstream and 3.1Mbps upstream, or 13Mbps symmetric - Over 1,500m of copper: 13mbps downstream 1.6Mbps upstream, or 7.5Mbps symmetric.
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