BT trials high-speed broadband service as competition grows

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The Independent Online

BT Group is to launch a trial of a new broadband internet service offering connection speeds four times as fast as its standard offer.

However, as its retail arm was celebrating news of the new 2Mb trial, Ofcom's telecoms adjudicator, Peter Black, issued a stern warning that BT's wholesale arm still needed to "raise its game" in co-operating with rivals that need access to its network to offer consumers their own broadband services.

The progress and speed of this process, known as local loop unbundling (LLU), has been a constant bugbear for BT's rivals and Mr Black was appointed earlier this year to make sure up to a million local lines are unbundled by June 2006. Its initial target is 50,000 by January.

"A lot of what we've done so far is go through the process of planning with BT and it's been getting reorganised to deliver the plan. They are not finished yet but coming closer," Mr Black said. "The big job now is delivering. We have to break the back of this in the next six months, that's the main issue now. BT has demonstrated its intentions and that's great. Now it has to demonstrate it can deliver, as does the industry as a whole. There is a continuous raising of its [BT's] game to do in the next few months."

In an industry update, Mr Black said the actual volumes of unbundling were "lagging slightly" and that "significant operational problems remain". But he reported there was now an "intensity of interest" from senior BT management that was having a "noticeable and welcome impact".

Operational details of how BT is going to co-operate with the industry are still being hammered out, however. Mr Black said BT's care levels, including how long essential repairs to damaged circuits would take, had yet to be agreed and contained "significant areas of uncertainty". This was back with BT for further work, Mr Black said.

Earlier this month, Ofcom laid out a new regulatory regime that requires BT to give rivals access to its wholesale network equal to that enjoyed by its own BT Retail arm.

Alongside its trial of 2Mb "superfast" broadband for consumers, BT is also testing a new wholesale broadband product that will allow rival internet service providers (ISPs) to offer their own 2Mb services without having to rely on LLU.

The BT IP Stream Home 2000 product will allow ISPs to upgrade customers from the standard 512K to 2Mb. But even these latest high speeds promised by BT may start to look sluggish against other, even faster services, planned by rivals such as Cable & Wireless. Through its acquisition of the Bulldog ISP business in May, C&W has the capability to offer a 4Mb broadband service and is investing in LLU to deliver it.