BOOT CAMP ARCHIVE 2004

  

 

BOOT CAMP 307 (06/01/04)

 

RURAL BROADBAND, part 2

 

In five years we’ll probably look back at this period in the development of broadband and have a good laugh.  However, the first faltering steps to bring high-speed Internet access to every household and business in the UK probably don’t seem quite so funny to the hundreds of thousands of people who live beyond the reach of suitably-equipped telephone exchanges.

 

In part one we looked at key broadband technologies and the possibilities for those living and working in small communities or remote locations. At the moment they have relatively few options the principle one being a newly introduced satellite service and for those able to muster enough local support there are ways to prod the powers that be into action, and more importantly, alternative technologies in the pipeline that are paving the way for full and affordable coverage, but more about that in a moment.

 

For most of us British Telecom are broadband gatekeepers but services are normally only available to those living within 6 kilometres of an exchange, and only then if the exchange has been upgraded. If you are still waiting and not too far from civilisation then in most cases it is probably only a matter of time before you can join in the fun. Over the past three years BT has been installing the necessary equipment in thousands of exchanges across the UK but there remains several thousand smaller exchanges that BT has deemed uneconomical to upgrade, usually because of population density or low anticipated uptake and these have been given a very low priority; more than 300 others are unlikely ever to support broadband due to their location, too few subscribers or insurmountable technical problems.

 

Pressure from local campaign groups has persuaded BT to accelerate the upgrade of over two hundred of those ‘Cinderella’ exchanges and work has begun on a further 800. BT will consider an exchange upgrade once a ‘Trigger Point’ has been reached. This is an indicator of local demand and requires that between 100 and 500 BT customers register their interest.

 

Initially BT was fairly slow to respond and there is still room for improvement, but it has now simplified the registration process and there’s some useful advice for campaigners on its web site. To find out more go to: http://www.bt.com/index.jsp. Click on the ‘Connect with broadband’ link for general information and a link to the registration and campaign pages.

 

There is more good advice and registration forms for businesses and community groups on the BT ‘Wholesale’ website at: http://62.172.198.79/broadband1/index.asp. For an independent view of community broadband plus useful news and information for UK pressure groups visit:http://www.broadband4britain.co.uk/ and http://www.abcampaign.org.uk/. You can watch the process in action at: http://www.vote4broadband.com/exchangelist.asp, which publishes a frequently updated league table of the top 100 exchange upgrade campaigns.

 

We touched briefly on wireless broadband in part one and this is another possibility for deprived country dwellers. In its current form, however, it still depends on the installation of a dedicated high-speed digital line between the nearest exchange and a high point (hill, tower, mast etc.) within the centre of the community being served. Most of the wireless broadband systems that are now operating tend to be fairly small-scale affairs that use established IEEE 802.11 or ‘Wi-Fi’ technology to distribute a broadband connection to a limited number of users. Wi-Fi was originally designed for short-range connections between laptops and local area networks (LANs), over distances of up to 100 metres or so. More recently it is being used to provide Internet access for laptop and PDA users at wireless ‘hotspots’. 

 

Wi-Fi transmission power levels are restricted but the operating range can be dramatically improved, to a kilometre or more, by the use of fixed high-performance antennas at the distribution point and on the outsides of subscriber’s homes. At distances of more than a few hundred metres these have to be mounted in clear line-of-sight with the transmitter antenna and Wi-Fi has other problems. These include fairly weak encryption, limitations on the number of users, the potential for interference and reduced bandwidth caused by the many other wireless devices that use the same frequency band.

 

In all probability Wi-Fi will turn out to be only a temporary solution. The Government has allocated a number of new frequency bands for broadband ‘Fixed Wireless Access’ (FWA, see http://www.radio.gov.uk/) that will result in larger scale systems with greater coverage and more robust security, hopefully by 2005. Nevertheless, if it looks like BT isn’t going to get to your area in the near future, you’re keen to get broadband in your locality as soon as possible and you can drum up enough support – most companies require at least 50 residential and 20 business subscribers – then it’s worth further investigation. For more information try:

http://www.iap.uk.net/, http://www.pipemedia.com/connectivity_airdsl.cfm, http://www.air-band.co.uk/ and http://www.broadband-wireless.org/

 

Next week – About Time

 

JARGON FILTER

 

HOTSPOTS

Wi-Fi access points in and around hotels, airports, coffee bars and a growing number of public places

 

IEEE 802.11

Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers, technical standards for wireless connectivity. Three standards are currently in widespread use; 802.11b and g operate on the 2.4GHz band with 11 and 20Mbs data rates respectively. The 802.11a system uses the 5GHz band and supports date rates of up to 54Mbs.

 

WI-FI

Wireless Fidelity -- generic name for short-range wireless data systems that operate on license-exempt frequency bands.

 

 

TIP OF THE WEEK

If you are new to broadband then you must upgrade the security of your computer as the ‘always-on’ connection greatly increases the risks of virus infection and hacking. A good quality virus scanner is absolutely essential and you should install a firewall program that monitors all incoming and outgoing connections. The firewall included in Windows XP is not adequate as it only checks incoming connections and wouldn’t prevent a Trojan or spyware program hijacking your files and sending data from your PC. (An upgrade of the XP firewall is planned for later this year).

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