For those of us who hate waiting
for modems to connect, and all the attendant hassle of modem
standards and speeds, one of the most rumoured and discussed
events of the UK telecom scene has been the arrival of genuine
digital connections for all at a price that all could afford.
BT's "Home Highway" service -
which has been variously billed over the past year as the
rumour mill has been grinding, as anything from "ISDN for
the price of a regular phone line" to a full blown 4Mbit
ADSL to the home service.
Dream on, chaps and chapesses. The BT
marketing department has done its worst, as usual.
In their own words:
"BT BusinessHighway is an exciting new product from
BT designed to bring the benefits of digital technology into
your work place and will be launched this autumn! "
What emerged from all the hype is a
product called "Highway", that is to all intents and
purposes ISDN2 with two analogue ports as well as two digital
ports on the wall. There is Home Highway and 3 flavours of
Business Highway, so what we have here is in effect a fourth
permutation of traditional ISDN2.
The pricing is sufficiently non-creative
to suggest that someone at BT woke up and realised that they
still enjoy a very handy monopoly of basic rate ISDN delivery,
so why bow to non-existent competitive pressures..? The
install cost is £116.33 (inc VAT) and the rental is
£40/month, including £15/month "free call"
allowance. It's not clear (yet) what the minimum commitments
are going to be.
ISDN2 has always been delivered down
standard copper circuits. There are some issues about distance
from the exchange equipment, but delivery of ISDN to the home
has always been available. About 18 months ago, BT took the
very simple £400 install, £83/qtr rental and standard call
charge proposition (which had been the case for around 5
years), and buried in the most astonishing contrivance of a
demented marketing person's mind ever seen. Although as you
and I know full well, the price of communications technology
hardware has collapsed at least tenfold in ten years, BT
actually had the nerve to put up the cost of ISDN in this
world-class smoke and mirrors performance.
I won't begin to try and describe the
current state of the ISDN2 offering to you, because not only
can I not interpret the barmy proposition, nor could the BT
sales lady I spoke to. In essence, it's a blend of specious
waffle about various start-up costs coupled to varying amounts
of "free calls" and long term committements. I would
like to advise you all to forget it and buy a competitive
digital offering available in all homes of the land, but I
can't. It's still a monopoly with precious few exceptions.
Moreover, although ISDN can pick and drop
call connections in milliseconds, good old BT still charges a
minimum of 4.2p a call even when you can dive and out for the
email in 5 seconds, you pay for 5 minutes. Nice One BT. And
most ISDN connection devices still don't have the intelligence
necessary now how to manage this in terms of call timeout
settings. If you
want to know the current BT charges, then tune in to:
And the marketingspeak continues:
"BT's Highway service, available
from September 15, transforms a customer's existing telephone
line into a new fast, reliable and multi-functional digital
Internet and multimedia connection. It emphasises ease of use,
flexibility, comprehensive customer support and speed - taking
the wait out of the World Wide Web. "
The new service uses the latest
digital access technology supplied by Marconi Communications
and Ericsson, and operates over existing BT telephone lines at
speeds several times faster than the fastest modem. "
Compare one channel at 64k versus
analogue at 56k and this is not "several times". BT
also fail to point out that at 128k, you will pay double the
"Other uses of BT Highway include
the ability to view goods on the Internet using a digital data
channel, and phone over the order on the spare telephone
So there you are, admiring a new hard
disk on sale at a US web site; but instead of pressing the
order button and continuing the deal on a single local rate
call, you decide to dial them directly at BT's usurious long
distance rates; fight your way through some God-awful
voicemail scheme, and eventually order by voice. I don't think
Since BT has not shown the necessary
imagination or urgency to help the UK compete with the costs
enjoyed in places like the US and increasing numbers in
Europe, Oftel could threaten to divest BT of the local loop
entirely. With so many competing carriers waiting at the
nearest exchange to offer you 5p a minute to the USA and all
manner of fabulous deals, the local loop remains BT
stranglehold, so let's try and find a way to give this back to
the users in the form of locally franchised services, since
there is apparently no prospect of there ever being effective
competition on a national scale. BT's agenda and local loop
monopoly is contrary to the national interest, as the world
moves towards fixed circuits with packet data switching.