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Milton Keynes gets commercial WiMax service

A council-run business has launched a new wireless service, offering a cost-effective alternative to ADSL and SDSL

A commercial WiMax service has been launched in Milton Keynes, following extensive trials of the wireless broadband technology.

Run by a council-owned business called ConnectMK, the service offers local residents and businesses a wireless alternative to the relatively expensive symmetrical DSL (SDSL) connections. The connectivity is provided by Freedom4 — until recently known as Pipex Wireless — which has been trialling fixed WiMax in Milton Keynes since last year.

ConnectMK's service is not the first commercial WiMax deployment in the UK — that accolade goes to Urban Wimax's Westminster-based business network — but it does appear to be the first deployment in conjunction with a city council.

According to Steven Jewell, the chief executive of ConnectMK and also the head of IT and e-government for Milton Keynes Council, the commercial side of the deployment was designed in part to sustain community improvement. "ConnectMK is a trading company created by the council with the twin objectives of bringing improved broadband to the Milton Keynes community and [driving] forward a whole programme of work regarding digital inclusion," Jewell told ZDNet.co.uk on Tuesday. "A lot [of ConnectMK] was spawned [from] the work we did for the [governmental e-inclusion initiative] Digital Challenge. When we submitted our bid we didn't stop after that and indeed we were given continuation funding by the government."

WiMax connectivity and laptops are already being provided at a nominal rate to the families of some disadvantaged local children, with a view to "improving educational attainment", Jewell said.

However, the commercial side of the business provides an interesting offering to local businesses and residents, because WiMax does not require the use of a telephone line, unlike SDSL and ADSL (asymmetric DSL). WiMax can also provide a faster uplink than ADSL: ConnectMK's offering offers upload speeds of between 512Kbps and 2Mbps.

WiMax also tends to be cheaper than SDSL. ConnectMK's business offerings are priced between £60 and £160 per month, while its residential prices range between £20 and £50 per month. By way of comparison, ConnectMK's symmetrical 2Mbps service is, at £100 per month, roughly half the price of some equivalent SDSL services. Installation costs are also much lower with WiMax because there is no wiring to be completed. ConnectMK simply loans users a USB antenna, which makes it easy to set up and provides a degree of mobility.

Jewell also revealed that, although ConnectMK's products have download limits, those limits will not be enforced for the next six months because Freedom4's back-end billing systems will not be ready in time. "Anybody that signs up in the first six months will pay for a capped product but [will] in effect get it uncapped," he said, adding that ConnectMK would nonetheless be trying to keep an eye on "fair and acceptable use".