NTL targets broadband blackspot with wireless

Milton Keynes has been notorious for its poor broadband coverage, but high-speed wireless could be the solution

Many residents and businesses in Milton Keynes are finally getting the chance to join the Broadband Britain revolution

NTL -- in partnership with the Milton Keynes Council -- is in the process of extending its existing small-scale high-speed wireless network in the city by erecting a base station with a 10km range.

The wireless service will be operated on a trial basis at first, costing £24.99 per month for a 600-kilobit-per-second (Kbps) link. There are several hundred places available for local people who want to take part. If the trial -- which uses the 10GHz band of the radio spectrum -- is a success, it's likely that NTL will move to full commercial deployment.

Wireless is seen as a vital part of the challenge of making broadband universally available in Britain, so NTL's decision to extend its Milton Keynes service is significant for a city where only around 85 percent of people can get broadband at present.

"In order to take broadband forward to the next stage, we need more innovation -- in terms of price, products and innovative delivery methods," an industry source told ZDNet UK on Thursday.

Much of Milton Keynes was built in the 1970s, after the UK government decided a new city should be built in the area. But despite -- in part because of -- its modernity, Milton Keynes has a notoriously poor communications system.

Because Milton Keynes is based on a grid system, intersecting dual carriageways criss-cross the city. Telephone networks often route around them and some residents find their phone line goes around three sides of a square -- pushing its length beyond ADSL's 6km limit.

In addition, TPON (Telecommunications over Passive Optical Network) fibre has been used to connect outlying estates to BT's telephone exchanges, some of which are situated in the small villages that preceded the construction of Milton Keynes. This fibre cannot run ADSL, so BT recently added a copper overlay to make ADSL possible. Some of these links are also over 6km, though.

The upshot is that a much higher proportion of the Milton Keynes population can't get broadband through the phone system than is generally the case in similar-sized cities.

BT says that it is putting a lot of effort into solving these problems, as the lessons could be applicable to other broadband blackspots.

NTL itself operates a cable network, bought from BT, in the area, but unfortunately this network is not suitable for high-speed Internet services. A stretch of the Grand Union canal is also said to hamper network deployment.