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By: MarkJ - 21 April, 2010 (7:04 AM)
2012 2mbps uk signUK Internet Service Providers (ISP) have used yesterdays Digital Britain session at the BT ISP Forum to express their strong opposition to adoption of BT's expensive Broadband Enabling Technology (BET). BT plugged BET last year (here) as a solution to rural broadband coverage because of its ability to deliver speeds of 'up to' 2Mbps at distances approaching 12km from the telephone exchange.

Existing ADSL (up to 8Mbps) / ADSL2+ (up to 24Mbps) based broadband services become slower the further you are from a telephone exchange, with homes at 5-6.5km distance usually suffering poor performance. This leads to many rural areas being left with either slow (512Kbps (0.5Mbps)) or no broadband connectivity at all.

As a result the government, supported by all of the major political parties, plan to make a minimum broadband speed of 2Mbps (Universal Service Commitment) available to everybody in the country by 2012. Most remote areas are likely to be served by a quick-fix Satellite solution or Mobile Broadband , though naturally many would prefer a proper fixed line.

However Timico's CTO, Trefor Davies (blog), reports that the 60 or so ISPs who attended yesterday's event showed "absolutely zero interest" in BET, due in no small part to the cost. Indeed with estimated installation costs of £850 for a single 1Mbps line (£1,050 for two lines offering up to 2Mbps) it's easy to see why ISPs might have a problem.

Trefor Davies commented:

"It is seen as too expensive, to the point where it is not dissimilar in price, if you need 15 users in an exchange to sign up [ED: BT's estimated minimum requirement figure], to the installation cost of running fibre into the area. BT is also looking at Fibre To The Cabinet ( FTTC ) trials this year with a view to offering sub 15Mbps connections to long line areas (ie mostly rural).

The mood of the room was that rolling out an old fashioned copper based technology such as BET was a waste of time and that we should be looking at fibre based infrastructure, or in certain areas exploring micrwave back haul links. There was also a feeling that BT should be taking the lead with a standardised rural network infrastructure so that they could easily be managed by multiple retail ISPs."

BET itself is better known as Single-pair High-speed Digital Subscriber Line (SHDSL) technology, which is a cousin of the more familiar Symmetric DSL (same speed both ways) service for businesses. SHDSL combines elements from ADSL to work using frequencies that are not as prone to deterioration over distance.

BT officially began a limited pilot of BET technology on 30th September last year and it currently has an anticipated production availability date of November 2010. However BET adoption looks unlikely with few ISPs to support it and no clear line from the government on grants or subsidies (that could cut the costs down to feasible levels).

We like the separate idea of bringing 40Mbps FTTC to longer lines, albeit at a reduced speed of 15Mbps. Sadly BT were apparently quick to warn that "nobody sees it being an economic prospect" to reach all remote areas with such a solution. Never the less ISPs have asked for BT to determine a mechanism that would allow isolated communities to raise the cash and build their own solution (much like Rutland Telecom has been doing here and here).
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