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Friday, 23 November, 2001, 13:20 GMT
Plucking the future out of thin air
More Welsh homes have bought digital television than the UK average, experts have revealed.

The findings - 40% next to Britain's 39%, according to this week's Digital Audio-visual Revolution event in Cardiff - are surprising.

Wales sits at the bottom of the UK internet league and the latest high-speed internet offerings - otherwise known as "broadband" - have not captured the public's imagination.

Queuing
Broadband speeds can help users beat the queue
Just one in 32 UK homes is wired to the broadband cable and telephone options from the likes of ntl and BT - and a smaller handful west of Offa's Dyke.

A free-thinking group of technologists and artists in Wales plans to change all that by conjuring up the broadband future out of thin air.

An invisible alternative to fixed-line internet's failures, Arwain - an eclectic, 20-strong networking club - uses a licence-free portion of the broadcasting spectrum to deliver enhanced television, high-quality music and business benefits over the internet.

High-speed heaven

Piloting a free service to local designers, hobbyists, film makers and businesses, Arwain's Evan Jones - chairman of an otherwise informal congregation - boasts the building of a wireless Wales is a solution.

"We're having to find some fairly imaginative ways of changing things," says Jones.

"It's a no-brainer. Our network is 20 times quicker than cable, the fastest alternative.

Pringles tubes
Crisp, clear signals could bring broadband to the masses
"We're happy to share the technology with anybody at all.

"Anyone can put up an aerial and share the bandwidth."

Even a Pringles tin, says Jones with a straight face, can be used as an makeshift aerial.

Using the four-year-old 802.11 wireless networking standard, Arwain is inspired by Consume.net, a London project piloting the same technology, and Seattle Wireless, an American version.

Users can achieve a mighty 10mbit connection over a mile radius - enough to send animation frames for editing in California or to videoconference with granny in Australia to great aplomb.

The group, annual membership for which is a measly 5, also hopes to roll out the 10mbit project in Swansea, Bridgend, Newport and northwest Wales.

It has already rolled out the trial before that of BT, also set to pilot wireless broadband in Cardiff from 2002.

Turn off, tune in

Despite recent government investments, consumers have not flocked to adopt fixed-line broadband access.

Speaking at a conference to digital television professionals in Cardiff on Wednesday, assembly member Phil Williams said it meant it "politically unacceptable" to switch off normal analogue TV because the assembly had not encouraged take-up of the broadband alternative.

Cardiff skyline
Talking in the air: Better than cables in the ground?
"If, by 2006, we haven't cracked the problem of providing broadband connectivity, we are in a crisis," he said.

"People relying on terrestrial transmissions in large parts of Wales could find themselves without any television at all."

Welsh Culture Minister Jenny Randerson, however, told BBC News Online the criticism was futile, saying she had already agreed with the UK Government - analogue should remain on until everyone in Wales can pick up digital.

See also:

10 Oct 01 | Wales
Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow
10 Oct 01 | Wales
Broadband boost to wire country
24 Oct 01 | Wales
Cash to boost broadband take-up
19 Nov 01 | dot life
Is broadband working?
24 Sep 01 | Business
Speed freaks sign here
28 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
Cost of broadband net 'must fall'
08 Jul 01 | Business
Cable giants join to boost broadband
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