BT is testing a wireless broadband service that if launched commercially could help to bring high-speed Internet access to 100 percent of the UK population.
The telco announced on Tuesday that the technology will be trialled at four rural locations across Britain. The trials, which will run for three months, are taking place at Ballingry in Fife, Scotland, Pwllheli in Wales, Porthleven in Cornwall and Campsie in Northern Ireland.
If these trials are a success, the service could then be used to bring broadband to remote areas where ADSL and cable networks don't reach, and to those who live more than 6km from their local exchange. However, BT has already warned that the product will be more expensive than fixed-line broadband technologies such as ADSL.
“BT is absolutely committed to our goal of 100 percent broadband coverage for every UK community by 2005," said Pierre Danon, chief executive of BT Retail. "We want to make broadband services available to everyone in the UK – whether they live in town centres or rural communities should be irrelevant. The benefits of broadband are extensive and we are working hard to make this target a reality."
BT's wireless broadband trial operates using the 5.8GHz band of the radio spectrum. This has not yet been opened up for full public use, but it is expected to be available from early next year under a "light licensing" regime.
"It is positive news that BT is doing a proof of concept product at 5.8GHz," said John Wilson, founder of the Access to Broadband Campaign.
Faced with Britain's broadband divide, some activists are already building wireless networks to bring high-speed connectivity to themselves, their neighbours and local businesses.
"BT's decision to launch this trial backs up what community groups have been saying for some time -- that there is a strategic role for wireless in Broadband Britain," said Wilson. "ABC firmly believes that partnership is the way forward, so will BT be looking to partner with people on the ground to create new and innovate services?"
A BT Retail spokesman declined to speculate on whether the telco would team up with local activists, but said that deployment of the technology could be dependent on some agreement with a Regional Aggregation Board (RAB). RABs were set up by the government to aggregate public sector broadband demand within Britain, and to ultimately boost the availability of broadband by encouraging telcos to deploy their networks in more rural areas. For the most remote places, wireless could be the best way of bringing broadband to a local library or school if ADSL and cable aren't available.