Intel to expand BT broadband range

The chipmaker is planning to add Ethernet and wireless LAN products to BTopenworld's broadband arsenal, removing some of the limitations of its USB modem
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

Intel is to release a range of Ethernet ADSL modems and wireless LAN gateways for use with BTopenworld's broadband products, ZDNet UK has learned.

The products will offer improvements over Intel's Intel Pro/DSL 3220 USB modem, which BTopenworld is using with its self-installation business broadband product. BTopenworld recently announced its Plug & Go products, which eliminate the need for an engineer visit, as a way of reducing the price barrier for customers wishing to sign up for high-speed, always-on Internet access.

BT Group has also reduced the wholesale cost of ADSL to encourage takeup.

ADSL is the technology used by BT and its licencees to provide broadband over standard phone lines. Broadband is considered key to moving the Internet economy forward, but so far customers have been slow to sign up because of high prices and limited availability.

Self-installation offerings like BTopenworld's theoretically make the process of getting connected to broadband vastly easier for customers, allowing them to simply sign up, receive a modem, and tell BT to remotely connect the line. They are also significantly cheaper: for example, BTopenworld's Business 500 Plug & Go will cost users £150 for the modem purchase and a connection fee, compared to £210 for the standard Business 500 engineer visit and modem rental. BTopenworld is also giving free connections for three months, beginning later in March, reducing the Plug & Go price by another £65.

The consumer offering has the same pricing. BTopenworld is trialling a "wires only" product for customers who already own an ADSL modem, or wish to buy their own, but has announced no definite plans for bringing the offering to market.

Alcatel will supply the modem for Home 500 Plug & Go consumers, while Intel handles the business side. But both modems use USB connections for ease of installation, which can add excessive data traffic to a PC's crowded USB bus and potentially cause a slowdown in the ADSL access speed, or in the speed of certain data-intensive USB peripherals.

Intel's response will be a line of modems which connect to the PC via Ethernet, the standard generally used for office network connections. The company will also offer a wireless LAN gateway, which will connect directly to the ADSL line and allow several wireless LAN-enabled PCs or laptops to use the same broadband connection.

The products will be offered through BTopenworld, and, like the USB ADSL modem, won't be available through retail channels.

Intel and BTopenworld made the decision to stick with a USB self-installation product to keep installation as simple as possible, despite the business focus of Intel's offering. "This is targeted at residential customers," said Tim Hatch, Intel's European product marketing manager for ADSL. "It is generally going to be teleworkers buying this, or companies buying it on behalf of their teleworkers. For bigger organisations, though, Ethernet will be a priority."

Intel allows that it isn't known as a telecoms equipment maker, but the company has been trying to change this perception lately. Intel makes a variety of chips aimed at the telecoms market, and devoted the most hype at this week's Intel Developer Forum to telecoms and mobile products.

"It's true, we don't have a huge background with ADSL, but we've got some compelling products now," Hatch said.

He added that despite cutting 7,000 jobs in its communications unit over the last year, Intel still sees communications as core to its business. "Despite the recession, we will continue to invest in communications technologies," he said.

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