Britain's major cities will be the first to benefit from BT's new broadband Internet services launched today.
As revealed exclusively by VNU Newswire on Tuesday, BT plans to equip around 400 exchanges with asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) technology by March next year. (see Newswire 27 July 1999)
ADSL turns regular copper phone lines into data pipes that provide "always on" Internet access up to 40 times faster than current modems.
BT is planning to launch a range of new services to run on ADSL, including online shopping, ecommerce, interactive gaming, teleworking, videoconferencing and distance learning.
BT gave no prices for its own ADSL service, but said it would sell services to resellers, likely to include ISPs, at between £40 and £150 per subscriber per month.
Around six million homes and businesses will be served by the first phase of ADSL roll out. First locations to benefit will be London within the M25, Cardiff, Belfast, Coventry, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
No indication has yet been given about when the rest of the UK can expect ADSL. BT bosses are expected to provide more details at a news conference this afternoon.
BT's chief executive Sir Peter Bonfield said the move will stimulate ecommerce in the UK. "This roll out plan is a major step towards making Britain a world leader in the information revolution," Bonfield said in a statement.
Internet analyst Tim Johnson described the plans as "more of a trickle out than a roll out" but said he expected many more places to get connected within two years. BT itself has said it wants to cover 70 per cent of the population by 2002.
"To one extent it's a practical limit. To the other extent it's a financial limit," he said. "It's not surprising that it's more of a trickle out than a roll out, but it's very much in their interests to get comprehensive coverage by 2001 when unbundling happens."
Telecoms watchdog ruled last month that BT must open up its local networks to competitors by mid 2001. New entrants like MCI Worldcom are desperate to get their hands on BT's copper and launch broadband services.
Earlier this week, Oftel put a spoiler on today's announcement by suggesting in a new consultation document that BT should be obliged to rollout an ADSL service to every home in the UK - no matter how costly this proves for BT. (see yesterday's story)
"It might mean requiring BT to roll out higher bandwidth access technologies such as ADSL to all parts of the country, whether or not a commercial case can be made for it," Oftel said in the document, which is now open to comments.
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