BT explores slower ADSL in search for long-range broadband

Is your house located too far from the local exchange for 512Kbps broadband to work? BT is working on a possible solution

BT is examining the possibility of offering a 256Kbps ADSL product that would extend the reach of broadband across the UK.

Trials are still at an early stage, but it is possible that this product could help to close Britain's broadband divide. A significant proportion of homes are located too far from their local exchange for BT's current consumer broadband product -- which runs at 512Kbps -- to work, because of technical limitations.

A slower ADSL product could be commercially viable if it works well enough over a longer distance, BT hopes.

"We are looking at ways of changing the distance restrictions of ADSL, and examining how we can offer broadband over longer distances by reducing the guaranteed bandwidth," a BT Wholesale spokesman told ZDNet UK on Wednesday. "This is still at a very early stage, though," he added.

BT is understandably keen not to talk up the idea at this stage, for fear of raising false hopes. So far, it is only running a very limited trial involving some 10 people, all located beyond ADSL's current range.

"Hopefully, the next stage is to start a proper trial involving a few hundred people, perhaps in late March. We'll then be looking at the feedback from that larger trial, to see whether the customer experience was acceptable," the BT Wholesale spokesman explained. "This is a fairly logical way for us to be looking, if there is demand for this kind of product."

The trial follows other initiatives aimed at those trapped on the wrong side of the broadband divide, including BT's pre-registration scheme and an ADSL product aimed at communities with small numbers of potential users.

Both these trials are different to another forthcoming trial, of a sub-broadband product called Midband, which is based on ISDN and will run at 128Kbps.

ADSL's performance drops off over distance. Currently, homes that are more than around 5.5km from their local exchange usually cannot sign up for ADSL-based broadband, because the noise level on the line is too great. Other people have also been told by BT that their phone line is unsuitable for ADSL, even though they live within 5.5km.

It is thought that these technical limitations mean that around 5 percent of homes in each exchange area cannot actually get ADSL.

It isn't yet clear, though, over what distance 256Kbps ADSL would work.

BT has also talked to some Internet service providers about the possibility of offering this 256Kbps "long-reach" broadband product, to see if they believe there is a market, as well as to discuss the next phase of the trials.

A spokesman for one ISP told ZDNet News that he is unsure that this product could be much cheaper than today's 512Kbps ADSL, suggesting that "the costs are virtually the same. You'd spend less on network backhaul per user, but other costs including billing and equipment would be pretty identical."

He added that his company could well be interested in the product, though.

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