Technical problems and battles threaten to blight the smooth deployment of digital subscriber line (DSL) technology, in the wake of BT's decision to roll it out commercially.
Early adopters of the technology have warned that as success hinges on the quality of the copper in the ground, BT may be unable to offer consistent service level agreements.
Richard Feasey, director of international regulatory affairs at MCI Worldcom, said since DSL is extremely sensitive to the length of copper and the condition of the line, it doesn't promise to be a smooth ride for users in the UK.
"There has been blood, sweat and tears in deploying DSL technology in the US," said Feasey.
One early user of DSL technology, Peter Smith, data communications officer at Thurrock Borough Council, said: "If you're talking to BT, prepare for a protracted and painful bedding-in period."
Thurrock is using synchronous digital subscriber line (SDSL) over BT KeyLine (64Kbps or 128Kbps analog leased lines) to provide remote access to satellite sites. Smith said the cost benefits are impressive. The council is now paying £1,000 a year for 1.2Mbps links, compared with its pre-DSL system that weighed in at £8,000 a year for a 64Kbps line.
Although the service is now working successfully, the council had to endure two faults in six months, which each took a week to fix.
"BT said we had 'foreign' kit on the line. We then got into long arguments before we finally got the service working," said Smith.
He added that BT needs to improve its levels of support for analog services in the interest of all users deploying DSL.
Thurrock obtained its service through remote access integrator BTN, which has had helped 25 local authorities to deploy SDSL technology. Another BTN customer is Hertfordshire County Council which uses the same kit as Thurrock.
Dave Mansfield, the council's telecoms manager, said: "The quality of what you get, and what problems you have depends on the copper in the ground. So how will BT be able to offer consistent service level agreements?"
"The cost savings with DSL technology can be staggering," said Kevin Goodley, account manager at BTN. "But it is inevitable that if you have 40 year old BT copper in the ground the QoS (quality of service) will be affected."
BT chief executive Sir Peter Bonfield promised the rollout programme would be "very aggressive" by international standards. But while the telco said it will equip the first 400 exchanges before next spring, it refused to talk about what services would be offered where and at what cost.
A BT spokesperson said it would be "speculative" for the company to say what levels of support it would provide for ADSL services.
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