BT offers SDSL broadband direct to small businesses

Business Broadband Advanced will use SDSL technology to offer speedy uploads, creating a lower-cost alternative to leased lines

BT has launched a symmetrical broadband service aimed at small businesses who need upload speeds as fast as their download speeds -- a feature usually associated with expensive leased-line connections.

The telco said its new SDSL (symmetrical digital subscriber line) service, called Business Broadband Advanced, will be initially be marketed in London and Coventry to small and medium-sized businesses that are heavy ADSL users. It will be available in 500Kbps, 1Mbps and 2Mbps speeds for monthly charges of £170, £230 and £345, plus a one-off £595 connection charge.

BT previously offered SDSL as a wholesale product.

Sales of ADSL (asymmetrical digital subscriber line) have begun to pick up steam with consumers and small businesses, but ADSL's full bandwidth is only available for download, with upload speeds considerably lower. BT said SDSL could appeal to businesses hosting Web sites or email services, using virtual private networks, transferring large files or offering music or video streaming.

"Our role is to drive broadband adoption as well as continue to push the boundaries of new DSL technologies for those that can benefit," said BT Business managing director Craig Rowland in a statement. "This will allow more firms to contribute to the development of the digital economy as well as receive the benefits of it."

Business Broadband Advanced will be rolled out in Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Bristol, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Sheffield, depending on demand, BT said. The telco has been trialling the technology with 70 customers in London and Coventry since October of last year and plans to have around 120,000 SDSL lines in place by 2008.

While the reasoning behind trialling the services in London are obvious, BT claimed that Coventry had been selected because of the "huge amounts of support the regional leadership in the county" had provided.

Questions have been raised about the potential impact of the SDSL on BT's high-end leased-line services but Mike Galvin, director of Internet operations BT Retail, said that ADSL subscribers upgrading to SDSL was a more likely scenario."Small to medium companies don't usually have the internal skills to manage a private circuit," he said. "There will always be some element of substitution but as market leader you have got a duty to grow the market."

The first Business Broadband Advanced customer will be The Jim Henson Company, which uses SDSL for transferring large video and graphics files to clients and its Los Angeles studio. The company claimed SDSL had reduced its upload times by around 75 percent in trials.

BT's Rowland said that BT's overall aim is to sell as many services and applications of the back of broadband as possible: "Thirty percent of people who have bought broadband have bought at least one application so far this year. Our ambition is to never sell a naked broadband line again but sell applications that the customers find valuable."

Mike Cansfield, research director for telecom analysts Ovum, welcomed the new SDSL service and said it was the next logical step for BT to take in the broadband market. "Companies are increasingly bandwidth-hungry so I see a big market for this service," he added.

BT claims that around 2,500 businesses are adopting BT broadband services per week, which should give the company around 600,000 business broadband users by the of 2004.

ZDNet UK's Andrew Donoghue contributed to this report.