BT's broadband vision explored

BT in defensive mood as it defends its broadband strategy

On Monday, BT launched a defence of its Internet strategy, proudly showing off its new IP backbone -- dubbed Colossus -- and claiming to be "passionate" about broadband.

On Wednesday Oftel announced the fourteen operators that will roll out broadband services across the UK when the local loop is unbundled in July 2001.

Both telco and watchdog are keen to be seen to be doing something as broadband becomes the latest Internet buzz word.

Not noted for its speed of execution, BT is congratulating itself for equipping over 400 exchanges in the UK with ADSL and, with £1bn spent on broadband, defies anyone to accuse it of heel-dragging or apathy towards the new technology. Critics, including managing director of Freeserve John Pluthero, will take some convincing.

Pluthero in a recent interview with ZDNet, described BT's attitude to broadband as "appalling," -- an attitude reflected by many industry watchers who accuse the telco of delaying the rollout of ADSL, in order to protect its ISDN market. BT actually trialled ADSL in Ipswich four years ago when it was investigating interactive TV. It decided against mass rollout for commercial reasons.

Marketing director Angus Porter denies this was because the telco could make more money from its ISDN business. He is reluctant to talk about the past but claims that "ADSL's time has come." With Deutsche Telekom rolling out ADSL last January, critics argue its time came some while back.

And while BT pats itself on the head for a job well done, there remains the question of price. Compared to the US, and despite what BT says on the record, the British look like they will be paying through the nose for high speed services. Pacific Bell offers ADSL to Los Angeles' residents for $39.95 (£24) a month. It offers speeds of 384Kbps to 1.544Mbps downstream and 128Kbps upstream without contention ratios -- where online speed drops depending on how many users are online. There is no installation fee and no fee for the DSL equipment.

By contrast BT's ADSL will probably cost around £50 a month with a one-off installation fee of £150. There are also likely to be contention ratios -- although how much is up to individual providers.

Porter answers criticism about the slow roll out of ADSL, harking back to BT chairman Ian Vallance's argument that the technology needs to be "fit for purpose". BT claims it does not want to make the same mistakes made by Deutsche Telekom, which according to a BT spokesman, used an earlier version of DSL that caused interference problems. BT also claims the Germans put the cart before the horse, rolling out DSL before any real content was available. "They flood everyone with lines but haven't got the content to back it up," says a BT spokesman.

A spokesman for Deutsche Telekom is perplexed by the criticisms. "I don't know what they mean. I know of no problems," he says.

BT also makes much play of the extent of its rollout, describing it as the fastest rollout with the biggest reach. Deutsche Telekom has already rolled out ADSL in nearly 60 cities, reaching 17 million households. By contrast, BT's ADSL will reach six million households by the end of June, with a rollout in 27 UK cities.

For those getting excited by the possibilities of broadband, these are: London, Manchester, Birmingham, Cambridge, Cardiff,Coventry, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle, Belfast, Leeds and Milton Keynes, Hastings, Brighton, Aberdeen, Basingstoke, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Liverpool, Oxford, Portsmouth, Nottingham, York, Swindon, Tunbridge Wells, Winchester and Ashford (Kent).

BT's latest set of 'restructuring' announcements seems they have cottoned on to voice over IP, and are now racing ahead to become dominant in that market. Go with Guy Kewney to read the news comment at AnchorDesk UK.

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