Northern Ireland hits broadband saturation

Every local telephone exchange in Northern Ireland now offers ADSL, after BT received a £10m subsidy

Northern Ireland has become the first region after London to have all its local telephone exchanges broadband-enabled.

BT announced on Thursday that every one of the 191 local exchanges in Northern Ireland now offer high-speed ADSL connectivity to local homes and businesses. This gives the area 98.5 percent broadband availability, as some people will live too far from their local exchange for the technology to work over their phone line. They are likely to soon be served by wireless technologies such as WiMax.

As Northern Ireland is relatively sparsely populated, the region had lagged behind much of the UK for broadband availability. To address this, in March 2004 Northern Ireland's Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) awarded a contract to BT to make broadband available to everyone by the end of 2005.

BT declined to say how much the upgrade had cost, but a DETI spokeswoman revealed that around £10m had been handed over to fund the exchange upgrade programme.

BT has repeatedly insisted that some rural and remote parts of the UK will only get broadband with the help of subsidies. One Northeast, the regional development agency for North East England, also signed a £10m contract last year with BT to get all the local exchanges in the area upgraded. Only 12 of the 111 have yet to be upgraded.

Analyst group Ovum reported earlier this week that the UK government's target of having the most extensive broadband market in the G7 had been met, but the aim of also having the most competitive market has not been achieved.