Business broadband coverage to double

The rollout of SDSL will continue across the UK, as long as one of BT's suppliers upgrades a key product in time

BT is aiming to upgrade its high-speed two-way broadband network to cover twice as much of the UK, possibly before the end of this year.

The telco said on Friday that it plans to install symmetrical DSL (SDSL) kit in another 150 local exchanges over the coming months. This will raise the total number of SDSL-enabled exchanges to 300.

Unlike ADSL, SDSL offers a broadband-speed uplink, as well as a fast downlink. This makes SDSL more suitable for firms that need to both send and receive large amounts of information, such as branch offices that need to send lots of data to head office each day, or graphic designers who regularly send and receive high-resolution images.

The latest 150 exchanges are located in urban areas, including Greater London, Manchester, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Scotland, Wales, and in towns across the Home Counties.

It isn't clear how long it will take for all 150 exchanges to be upgraded. Thirty four are scheduled to be enabled in July, and 34 more before the end of November. Dates for the remainder won't be set until September.

It is understood that the uncertainly over these remaining exchanges is due to the fact that they currently contain Alcatel DSL equipment. Alcatel is due bring in an upgrade by September that will make it easier to upgrade its kit to offer SDSL, at which point BT will set a deadline for the exchange activation.

The 68 exchanges with upgrade dates contain Fujitsu DSL kit, which already has an upgrade path to SDSL.

SDSL rollout in the UK has been a slow process, compared to the way that ADSL coverage has expanded so rapidly over the last two years.

BT says that these latest 150 exchanges are being upgraded because ISPs have reported that there is genuine demand for SDSL in these areas. As reported last month, BT asked ISPs to name areas where they wanted to be able to offer SDSL.

Since January 2003, Eclipse Internet has been running a scheme called "We want broadband" through which businesses and individuals can register their interest in getting a high-speed Internet service. It claims to have passed on around 4,500 registrations of interest in SDSL to BT.

"People like us give BT a very good pointer about where to upgrade their network next," said an Eclipse spokesman.