BT to let broadband users boost their bandwidth

In unveiling its strategy for Broadband Britain 2006, BT has promised users a future of flexible bandwidth, converged communications, digital content management and remote network management

BT lifted the lid on a range of products on Thursday that will shape its consumer broadband strategy for the next few years.

The telco plans to trial a 'flexible bandwidth' service that will allow users to increase the speed of their broadband connection from 512Kbps to 2Mbps on occasions when a faster downloading speed is needed.

It has also created a 'converged communications' product -- BT Communicator -- that will let users conduct voice calls over the Internet; a digital content platform to help individuals distribute broadband content; and a remote management system for fault-finding and fixing on home networks.

All four services will launch separately over the course of 2004. BT says they are a crucial part of its broadband strategy as it aims to sign up five million broadband users by 2006.

The telco is looking for several hundred triallists to test the flexible bandwidth product, which is due to launch commercially this autumn. Duncan Ingram, managing director of BT Openworld, believes that the product will appeal to users who want to go beyond what they've already paid for and take advantage of faster connectivity for a short time.

"Flexible bandwidth puts the control into the customer's hand. Rather than being dominated by the fixed speed of their broadband line, they will be able to boost their connection up to 2Mbps," Ingram told ZDNet UK.

BT anticipated that flexible bandwidth will appeal to customers looking to watch high-quality streamed media, or to play games online. Ingram says that there should be no technical problems if a large number of users in the same area, connected to the same local exchange, attempt to boost their bandwidth at the same time.

Pricing details for the flexible bandwidth service aren't yet available.

According to Ingram, BT Communicator -- which was developed in partnership with Yahoo -- will "fundamentally transform the way people communicate".

This software platform will attempt to bring various communications methods such as voice calls, instant messaging and text messaging together at a single point. BT says users will be able to make voice-over-IP calls from their computer, over broadband, to another PC rather than using their landline.

If taken up widely, this could erode BT's existing profitable business in handling voice calls.

Ingram wasn't able to reveal any pricing details for BT Communicator either, as customer trials are scheduled to start in May. He did say that BT believes that one in ten instant-messaging conversations lead to a phone call, either over fixed line or mobile. BT Communicator would, he said, make it much easier for people to switch from instant message to a voice call -- although this is something that's already possible over most IM clients.