Broadband enters the DIY age

A cheaper, foolproof ADSL product that doesn't come with a restrictive 12-month contract could be the boost that Broadband Britain needs

Tuesday saw the commercial launch of BT's self-installation broadband service -- a product that many in the telecoms industry believe could be the catalyst that speeds up the adoption of broadband in the UK.

At a reception at the top of the BT Tower in London, company executives told journalists they were confident that DIY ADSL would be a hit with the public. Bruce Stanford, BT director of broadband, explained to the gathering of champagne-lubricated hacks that the "wires-only" product would succeed because it offered a cheaper and more flexible route to high-speed Internet access.

The wholesale consumer product costs £5 per month less than standard ADSL. Rather than the £150 installation fee, customers need only pay £50 to cover activation work at the local exchange. And, rather than signing up to a 12-month contract, BT Wholesale will only need one month notice when the contract is cancelled.

Hopefully, the ISPs that sell the product to customers will pass all these benefits on. So far, the indication is that that will, although it seems that most will insist on contracts of at least three months.

The self-installation kit consists of a micro-filter, which when plugged into a phone socket will split the high-speed data traffic from the voice data. BT is confident that the equipment is foolproof, and apparently even company chairman Sir Christopher Bland managed to get it working.

As well as home users, small businesses will also be able to save money with DIY broadband.

But it is the consumer market that many believe will benefit most. Justin Fielder, local loop unbundling manager at Easynet, said before Christmas that the DIY option was "the only way that consumer broadband makes business sense."

AOL, which had been highly critical of broadband prices, agrees -- especially as it could mean the end of taking time off work in the hope of being visited by a BT engineer.

There is one potential hitch with self-installation broadband, though: Users must buy their own modem. There have been concerns that this additional cost, which could exceed £100, might put people off.

The hope is though, that consumer pressure and innovative engineering will provide the answer. Dr Peter Radley, chairman of Alcatel UK, told ZDNet UK recently that he believes increased demand for DIY broadband would soon push prices down.

Fujitsu has also confident that modem cost won't be a significant problem. It has created the FDX310, which contains both the micro-filter and the ADSL modem. Nigel Garnham, Fujitsu's DSL product manager, believes that ISPs will be prepared to subsidise the cost of the FDX310 as a way of tempting customers onto broadband.

The word from ISPs is that initial demand for self-installation broadband is high, and that few problems have been reported. As Labour MP Andrew Millar said earlier this week, 2002 could be a great year for broadband.

See the Broadband News Section for the latest on cable modems, ADSL, satellite and other high-speed access technologies, including a comprehensive guide to the best deals out there.

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