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Friday, June 25, 1999 Published at 07:07 GMT 08:07 UK

Business: The Company File

BT to launch high-speed Internet access

Surfing the Internet could become much faster

BT is set to roll out its high-speed Internet network service in August.

The new system, called ADSL, will allow Internet users access to much higher download speeds and the ability to view high quality television and video through their computer.

According to the Financial Times newspaper, BT Financial Director Robert Brace told an investment conference that the company was just weeks away from launching the new service.

BT is believed to have placed substantial orders with manufacturers of the equipment needed to launch the service.

Launch delayed

BT has been testing the system, known as Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL), since 1994 at sites in West London. But it has angered media groups and Internet service providers by the long delay in offering the service.

Other network operators, who lease lines from BT, have been unable to offer ADSL until BT clarifies the charges for access to its network.

BT is believed to have delayed the launch because of fears that ADSL will take business away from its existing, highly profitable ISDN lines, which are being marketed for Internet use as Home Highway.

ADSL provides connection speeds of up to 2m bits per second, nearly 20 times faster than ISDN services, and most business users would be likely to switch to ADSL once it becomes available.

Cable competition

BT has been forced to act because of the potential competition from cable operators, who plan to market high-speed cable modems that will deliver multi-media programmes through fibre-optic cables connected directly to the home, bypassing the BT network entirely.

Cable and Wireless Communications plans to unveil its plans for a digital service which will launch in July, while NTL is also planning to market a high-speed service.

The cable systems will combine the delivery of digital television programmes with high-speed Internet access and cheap phone calls.

High-speed Internet war

In the United States, fierce competition between cable operators and the regional telephone companies over the provision of high-speed Internet access is already underway.

The largest US telephone company, AT&T, has spent $100bn to purchase a large stake in the cable industry in order to roll out its high speed Internet services, known as At Home.

Rival America Online has teamed up with a number of local telephone companies to offer ADSL services.

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