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Schools 'crucial' to broadband revolution

ADSL's less well known cousins SDSL and leased lines will drive the market, and Telco Redstone plans to be at the forefront
Written by Jane Wakefield, Contributor

Schools will be a critical factor in the Government's plans to bring broadband to the UK, according to Redstone Telecom -- a telco with the ambitious plan of becoming the leading broadband provider in the UK.

The company has its work cut out to go head to head with BT, but has made an auspicious start being the first operator to make SDSL commercially available via an unbundled loop in the UK. The first town to get SDSL is Portsmouth, where the service rolled out this week. To speed the unbundling process, the telco is placing its equipment outside rather than inside BT's telephone exchanges.

"It has been difficult to get access to exchanges, so we decided we weren't going to play that game and instead came up with a scheme to place equipment outside in street cabinets," said Redstone's chief executive Graham Cove.

Cove believes that schools will be crucial if the government is to realise its vision of the UK becoming the best place for broadband by 2005. In order to play its part in this Redstone has acquired education-specific ISP DIALnet.

At a demonstration of DIALnet's SDSL service this week, Cove told ZDNet that he is confident schools will be queuing up for the technology when it is released later this year. SDSL has significant advantages over ADSL, especially for schools, as it allows the same speed of upload as for downloads. This means children from different schools can take part in TV-quality web conferencing, for example.

Currently, many schools still have ISDN lines, with a small but growing number on ADSL. DIALnet's ADSL Connect service starts at around £2,100 per year for a 2Mbit/s connection. According to DIALnet's marketing director Dawn Mulholland, about 20 percent of schools currently have a broadband connection, while 90 percent use ISDN lines.

ADSL enables schools to access multimedia content, bandwidth hungry learning resources and view TV quality streaming video over the Net. It is generally thought that interactive learning is a good stimulus for children of all ages. In a recent British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA) report 86 percent of headteachers said Information Communication Technology (ICT) in schools improved standards.

The government has invested millions in wiring schools, and recently announced its strategy to put the curriculum online

Leased lines, currently only used by big businesses, will also play a part in bringing broadband connections to schools believes Redstone's Cove. "It is our aim to bring that bandwidth into the educational sector," he said. He is convinced that without connected schools the broadband revolution is unlikely to impact most people. "Unless you get broadband at a local level in homes and schools you will not take part in that revolution."

Is broadband coming to your neighbourhood? Find out with ZDNet UK's Broadband Britain Guide.

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