Internet users in many urban areas around the UK may soon be able to get a broadband connection of eight megabits per second -- four times faster than the quickest consumer service being trialled by BT.
UK Online announced this week that it has launched Broadband 8000. This service uses Easynet's unbundled network of local exchanges to provide the 8Mbps connection, as BT doesn't offer such a service at present.
Broadband 8000 will cost £39.99 per month, compared to around £30 per month for a 1Mbps service today.
But there is a catch. Easynet has only unbundled some 230 of the UK's 6,500 local telephone exchanges. Because it has concentrated on major towns and cities, this lets it reach about 4.4 million homes. UK Online's service is currently only available from a "handful" of exchanges, but the company aims to roll it out to all 230 unbundled exchanges by early 2005.
The service will restrict users from regularly downloading more than four gigabytes of data per day, but this limit should still allow a great deal of downloading and surfing.
UK Online also appears to have ambitious plans to move beyond just offering Internet access over Easynet's unbundled exchanges. It says it is looking to "add voice, TV and video-on-demand during 2005".
BT Wholesale announced last month that it is testing a 2Mbps ADSL service, which is likely to be available to all UK ISPs in early 2005.
Easynet already offers business broadband speeds of up to 8Mbps. These packages -- which include service level agreements, multiple IP addresses and a more favourable contention ratio than UK Online's Broadband 8000 -- can cost £200 per month.
Bulldog, another company unbundling the UK local loop, is selling a 4Mbps service in central London and parts of the South-East. It plans to extend its coverage following its takeover by Cable & Wireless this summer.
UK Online has published a list of areas where Broadband 8000 will be available on its Web site.