By Justin Springham
Incumbent wireline operator BT Group plc (NYSE: BT - message board; London: BTA) is gearing up for a commercial wireless broadband network launch in Britain this year, but is keeping its distance from hype surrounding the development of 802.16 technology
Last year the carrier launched four trials in the U.K. -- in Ballingry, Scotland; Pwllheli, Wales; Porthleven, England; and Campsie in Northern Ireland -- using fixed wireless kit from Israeli vendor Alvarion Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: ALVR - message board). These trials, aimed at providing free wireless broadband access for three months to 105 users in rural locations, were later followed by a commercial launch in Northern Ireland at the end of 2004 (see BT Dances Wireless Jig).
"We have been rolling out the Irish service in anger now for a couple of months," Chet Patel, GM Internet Access Products at BT Retail, told Unstrung at the 21st Century Communications World Forum event in London today. "There are four to five sites up and running, and by the end of March we hope to have ten to 11 launched. We will have the full 33 sites by the end of the year." The Northern Ireland service offers speeds of 512 kbit/s and is intended to serve consumers and businesses in rural areas not connected to fixed ADSL services.
BT is now preparing to commercially deploy its fixed wireless service across Britain, having launched its first service last month in the business district of Slough, an industrial town approximately 30 miles west of London.
"We are building and launching a 2-Mbit/s service across sites in the U.K.," says Patel. "We started the pilot in Slough Trading Estate in January, and it now has four or five business users. We have identified about a dozen other sites and will be launching them in the next few weeks and months, subject to the pilot being successful. Ideally I want seven or eight of them running by the end of April... We are targeting approximately 40 businesses per site all taking a 2-Meg service... We are expecting to get to tens or hundreds of sites by the end of the next financial year."
Patel states the carrier will continue to work with Alvarion on its U.K. plans, but will not yet commit to the emerging 802.16d fixed wireless WiMax standard. "It's all pre-WiMax equipment," says Patel. "We could upgrade to WiMax and I will review it as necessary."
As for 802.16e mobile WiMax services, Patel states that such technology is "around two and a half years away. I am keen not to jump on the bandwagon yet."
Despite BT's wary stance, it's worth noting the carrier has already joined the WiMax Forum, announced last April (see Carriers Join WiMax Forum).
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