BT to test low-cost satellite broadband

Can't get ADSL? You might soon be offered a satellite dish that lets you download at up to 256kbps. But uploading is another matter

BT is planning to trial a satellite-based service that will give rural computer users Internet access at speeds many times faster than by dial-up, though only half the speed of an ADSL connection.

The telco's wholesale division said on Monday that the trial is due to start in late May, and will run for six months. It's not yet clear which Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will take part in the trial, or how much it will cost, but BT has said that the trial wholesale price will be less than the £15 per month that ADSL costs -- suggesting that users will pay less than £29.99 per month. There is also a £400 fee to cover the cost of supplying and connecting the satellite dish.

The product is aimed at small businesses that need constant access to Web services such as email, but who cannot get broadband via their phone line because BT hasn't yet ADSL-enabled their local exchange.

The satellite service gives a download speed of up to 256 kilobits per second (kbps), compared to the maximum speed of 512kbps promised by ADSL. Higher speeds, up to four megabits per second, will be available when a user needs to download a large amount of data quickly.

Unlike most other broadband products, though, this satellite service only works in one direction. Sent email and requests to download a Web page must be sent upstream via the phone line. This is a significant drawback, especially as it could significantly add to the cost of the service. "End users will also have to build in the cost of the phone line to upload their data back to the Internet," warned BT in a statement.

Customers will be able to request that certain Web sites are regularly automatically downloaded to their machines -- effectively giving them always-on access without having to send a request upstream.

As BT's ADSL network only covers between 60 and 70 percent of the UK, significant areas of the country cannot get affordable broadband. BT believes that this satellite service, despite its limitations, could be a solution.

"We believe this will be a valuable, additional way of providing fast Internet to areas beyond the reach of conventional broadband and shows we are pushing forward on many fronts with simple, competitive solutions for customers," said Paul Reynolds, chief executive of BT Wholesale, in a statement.

BT Wholesale added that similar services have already been successful in Europe.

BT already operates another satellite broadband service that gives download speeds of 500kbps, and upload speeds of 150kbps, but this costs at least £60 ex. VAT per month, and also involves installation fees of at least £899 ex. VAT.

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