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Midband falls short of early promises

BT's interim solution for those stranded by the broadband divide will cost as much as ADSL but only offer a fraction of the speed

Technical and pricing details of BT's Midband service were released on Thursday, and the reality is significantly different from the picture painted by the company last year.

The 128Kbps ISDN-based product will cost £35 per month, almost as much as BT's consumer broadband service once line rental is taken into account, but will only be a quarter of the speed of ADSL.

Midband will actually drop to 64Kbps when the service decides that this lower speed is all that is required, based on what applications are being run. It also drops to 64Kbps when a voice call is being made.

Users will also only get a limited amount of time online per month in return for their £35. They will be restricted to a total of 150 hours of surfing at 64Kbps, or 75 hours at 128Kbps, per month. Unused time can be carried over each month, up to a maximum of 50 hours at 64Kbps.

Unlike true broadband products, Midband will not be always-on. It also will not support always-on email access, despite the fact that Pierre Danon, chief executive of BT Retail, has previously said that it would.

Danon announced Midband at last November's e-summit, and billed it as the solution to Britain's high-speed digital divide.

As well as promising always-on email, Danon also said that Midband would be "cheaper, but not much cheaper" than BT Broadband, BT's no-frills ADSL broadband product which costs £27 per month.

BT has now said that because Midband's £35 price tag includes line rental, which normally costs £9.50 per month, the service is effectively £1.50 cheaper than BT Broadband, for which people must also pay for a standard phone line.

Where Midband does shine is in its coverage. ADSL is only available to around two-thirds of homes, but Midband will be available to 97 percent of the population, according to BT.

BT, which is aiming to reach 90 percent coverage for ADSL, says Midband is an interim solution for people who want faster Internet access but whose local exchange isn't yet ADSL enabled.

Some of the telco's rivals, though, are scathing about the product, with one source yesterday slamming it as "Noband", and drawing a disparaging comparison between BT and "Comical Ali", the former Iraqi Information Minister.

Midband orders can be placed with BT from Thursday, and it will be rolled out from 1 June.


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