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Friday, 28 June, 2002, 12:04 GMT 13:04 UK
Wireless web tested in hills
Mesh unit
Videos are sent to Radiant's roof-mounted antennae
Trials for the world's first commercial high-speed internet service delivered over thin air have begun in the south Wales valleys.

British Telecom is testing a new radio wave-based delivery system which could soon reach thousands of people not served by ground-based delivery systems.

Broadband gives computer users high-speed access to broadcast-quality films, video conferencing and other facilities - but that is dependent on cumbersome cables and wires.

We have been watching music videos and films. It is the holy grail

Andrew Sharpe, MeshWorks tester
In the new test, very high-frequency signals are used to carry data signals between roof-mounted antennae on 100 employees' houses to a BT computer a kilometre up a hill.

Trial customers in the 80-square-kilometre area will receive movies, music videos and entertainment shows on-demand to their living room.

BT could make the service available to television and personal computer customers shortly if successful.

Cambridge-based Radiant Networks' MeshWorks technology connects participating households in an invisible, inter-dependent chain.

Hilly web

South Wales' hilly terrain was chosen to put the equipment through its paces because the radio waves depend on a clear line of sight in the air.

But it threatens to make redundant wireless technologies such as the 802.11b standard.

They rely on each household seeing a central server aerial, while Friday's trial creates a community membrane in which each house jointly carries the signal, like a daisy chain.

Rhondda valley
Rhondda hills test out aerial abilities
It means even communities in mountainous areas like Wales could be wired together without cables.

The first commercial trial in the UK, the Pontypridd mesh also envelops nearby Llantrisant, Beddau, Newtown, Llantwit and other villages.

Cardiff interactive television provider YesTV is providing a range of programming including 100 films.

The service is walled off, however, and full web access is not yet available.

Radiant has a similar service in Germany, but BT said this was a world first.

Holy grail

"We have been watching music videos and flicking through films," tester Andrew Sharpe told BBC News Online from his newly wired Gelliwastad Grove address.

"Before, I was dialling up using a slow 56 kbps modem, but now I can't notice the difference from a TV picture. It's very impressive.

Satellite broadband could also soon be offered
"It is video on demand, which has always been the holy grail of interactive television."

Radiant Networks' chief operating officer Nadeem Siddiqui said: "What we are doing is a novel approach.

"Similar technology was designed for short ranges. It is for small, hotspot areas and needs to be connected to a telecom network."

Traditionally, computer systems have been linked by cumbersome wires and cables and broadband - simply, high-speed - versions are finally finding favour with some subscribers.

But untethered new wireless technologies could free people to use high-speed services such as video conferencing and e-mail on the go.

Tomorrow's tech

Last week, the UK Government removed licensing restrictions for operating a network using the 802.11b radio wave standard, meaning hotels and coffee shops are free to install network services for business users.

That technology has so far been used by eclectic hobbyist and community groups to exchange information and videos between computers.

But it was designed for offices and would not function well over wide spaces.

After criticism, BT also wants to test broadband services in rural areas, healing the digital divide.

But, with enough people acting as points in Radiant's mesh, the whole country could be wired in a high-speed information network.

It remains unclear whether it will boost Wales' place at the bottom of the UK's internet league.

See also:

16 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
06 Nov 01 | Science/Nature
08 Mar 02 | Science/Nature
25 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
28 Dec 01 | Science/Nature
10 Apr 02 | Business
11 Mar 02 | dot life
10 Oct 01 | Wales
18 Mar 02 | dot life
13 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
28 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
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