BT service promises ISDN speed over phone lines

British Telecom will give a thumbs-up to e-commerce, video and graphics-intensive Web sites next month when it finally launches its Home Highway service.

Promising ISDN-like speeds over existing phone lines without the price premium of ISDN, Home Highway is expected to bring fast and affordable digital lines to the masses. That means more users will have the ability to download larger Internet files more quickly paving the way for an increase in video and graphics Web content. It will also give users a chance to view goods on Web shopping sites while phoning in orders simultaneously.

The main thrust of this service is that it will be more affordable to a larger number of people. "We've made no secret of the fact that this will be positioned somewhere between ISDN and the cost of residential line rental," said BT spokesman Simon Gordon, who confirmed that this service will be offered starting September 3.

Home Highway has been on trial since the beginning of the year and unlike ISDN, does not require any re-cabling. A box with four outlets is attached to an existing phone line and this turns an old analogue line into two digital channels offering a total bandwidth of 128Kbps. "Any attempt to increase bandwidth for Internet access is a good thing although it shouldn't change the way in which good Web pages are designed," Evan Rudowski, director of European operations at Excite. "There is currently a tendency to over design Web sites and over burden the bandwidth that people have but good designers will see any potential increase in bandwidth as an opportunity not for over elaborating but for getting a message across more quickly."

Rudowski said that it could be the case but he questioned whether or not people would demand the service in the first place. "The question is whether people will be motivated to increase their bandwidth," said Rudowski. "That of course is key to the success of this."