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Kent businesses to be offered wireless broadband

It's all happening in Austria too

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Two operators have joined the ranks of the companies offering wireless broadband in European rural areas.

Telabria has launched a broadband wireless network serving businesses and residential customers in Kent, in the south-east of England. The launch follows a six-month trial. Separately, WiMax Telecom said it had chosen Alcatel to supply a broadband wireless network to cover the south-eastern counties of Styria and Burgenland in Austria. The network is already serving customers and the operator is accepting orders for new customers.

Both operators are driven by support - either monetarily or simply vocally - from groups within their respective governments. WiMax Austria has received a federal grant to build its network and Telabria is encouraged by local councils and economic development offices. In both countries, customers in the regions that are outside of major metropolitan areas have had little choice for broadband access.

"The problem we have here in Kent is that competition is thin on the ground," said Jim Baker, Telabria's chief executive officer and founder. Telabria, which is marketing the service under the Skylink brand, is also based in Kent. Residents and businesses in some areas of the region can order DSL from BT, but DSL isn't available to everyone. Businesses in the region that wish to order a higher speed dedicated leased line from BT pay about £15,000 (US$27,500) per year, Baker said.

Skylink is offering businesses a symmetric 3Mbit/s connection for £80 per month. A 10Mbit/s connection will cost £370 per month. The operator offers other connection speeds including some that are targeted to residential customers in the region as well. All of the offerings support VoIP and the business services can also include service-level agreements and PBX functionality.

The network currently covers 850 square miles. Telabria uses equipment from Alvarion and SkyPilot Networks. Telabria also operates 75 hotspots, including 14 in London, and access to the hotspots is available to Skylink users as part of their regular subscriptions.

The Skylink network uses the 5.8GHz frequency. Ofcom, the UK regulator, requires operators to register to use the spectrum but the spectrum is available to anyone. The band is different from other frequencies where the regulator allows just one operator to use the spectrum. European operators have generally been less receptive than their U.S. counterparts to using such unlicensed or lightly licensed bands for fear that interference will affect the quality of service. However, Baker says customers haven't expressed concern. "At the end of the day, the customer sees the RJ45 Ethernet jack installed and broadband comes out of it like water out of a tap. They don't care how it's delivered to them," he said.

Telabria has been driven to build the network by local authorities, keen to respond to the needs of businesses in the area. "Our biggest allies are the local development offices and councils," Baker said. "They're the people who get the flak from the business people who are attracted to Kent because it's more rural and less stressful than the city, but if they can't get metropolitan-quality communications, they're going to think about it."

WiMax Austria chose its initial markets because there is little competition for broadband services there, but also because the operator received a grant from the Austrian government to serve the area. "The Austrian Federal government chose this region to be provided with funds for building a broadband network," said Georg Widdmann, the head of marketing and sales for WiMax Austria.

WiMax Austria has built the network using the 3.5GHz band. Late last year the operator received a nationwide licence to use the spectrum. It will initially target residential customers, the main focus of the government's grant programme, but because small companies will have similar needs, the operator will also market the service to them.

Other broadband wireless networks in Europe include Altitude Telecom, the operator with a nationwide 3.5GHz licence in France. Altitude also receives money from the French government to build networks in underserved, rural areas.


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