BT will begin a series of trials later this year to attempt to push broadband coverage in the UK closer to 100 percent.
At present, around 0.2 percent of people who are connected to an ADSL-enabled exchange can't actually get broadband. In some cases, this is because they live too far from the exchange for ADSL to work, or because their line quality is too poor. In other cases, it's because they are connected to their local exchange by legacy fibre-optic cables known as TPON (Telephony over Passive Optical Networks). TPON, unlike copper, can't carry an ADSL signal.
BT announced on Monday that over the next few months it will run trials aimed at resolving both problems. Trials in rural Yorkshire and Northern Ireland will put broadband DSLAM equipment into street cabinets close to subscribers and linked back to the exchange by fibre-optic cables. In effect, the cabinet becomes a digital extension of the exchange.
A second set of trials starts in December and also connects local DSLAMs to exchanges via fibre-optic, in this case replacing TPON installations. TPON was rolled out by BT in the 1980s and early 1990s, typically to bring telephone services to new housing estates.
Back in 2003, BT announced that it was planning to run copper alongside the TPON fibre links to allow ADSL signals to be supported. A BT spokesman explained on Tuesday that this copper overlay programme was continuing, but that it did not address the needs of some people who are based a long way from their local exchange.
BT's trials will not address another issue holding the UK back from universal broadband, the fact that some of the most remote local exchanges remain incompatible with ADSL; BT has said that technologies such as wireless rather than ADSL could play a part here.